Friday, December 20, 2013

Second Punic War

Fig.1: Long, drawn-out fight scene directed 
by Peter Jackson.
Most of the time when you go see a sequel to one of your favorite films, you end up walking out of the theater saying, "It was alright, but not nearly as good as the original." But then there are those glorious moments where the sequel actually tops its predecessor, allowing you to nerd out and buy a brand new set of action figures (I know that's what I did for Crocodile Dundee II). This was the case for the Second Punic War between the powers of Carthage, based on the African coast in present-day Tunisia, and Rome, based where at least one person you know is currently "studying" abroad. It amplified everything good about the First Punic War: large-scale land battles, cutthroat naval engagements, political intrigue, constant reversals within the chain of command, huge shifts of momentum, and (best of all) nonstop, gratuitous, family-unfriendly violence.  But what the original lacked in overall character development, the sequel came through with one word: Hannibal.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Peter the Great of Russia

Fig.1: The greatest thing about Peter the Great is that 
Johnny Depp could easily play him in a bio-pic.
Every country has a polarizing figure who transforms a nation's fortunes by saying, "And now for something completely different!" In Russia, that figure would be Peter the Great (fig.1). In some ways, he continued Russia's normal routine of expanding their landmass at the expense of ethnic groups who had at least forty different words for "snow." He even waged war against the powers of Sweden and Ottoman Turkey for seaports that weren't clogged with ice all the time, something all Russian sailors and synchronized swimmers could get behind. But Peter becomes controversial because he often looked to that dastardly West for inspiration on how to rule and, even more alarmingly, how his people should act. His obsession for the ways and customs of places like England, France, and Germany frightened his stoically conservative citizens who had been wearing their babushkas the same way forever! While Peter is still considered "Great," many Russians can't help but say that word in the same manner as, "Great, my frostbitten picky toe needs to be amputated!"

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Three Kingdoms of Korea

Korea has enough tension today with two antagonistic states vying for land, ideologies, and latent craziness (you'd think the North would have that last one in the bag, but the South have their moments). But you actually haven't seen anything yet.  If two's company and three's a crowd, people in Korea must have felt pretty claustrophobic for the first seven centuries following the baking of the first doughnut (Anno Doughnutty, or AD for the lazy people out there). The Korean peninsula played host to three different kingdoms during this time, an era that those clever historians dubbed the Three Kingdoms Period. For nearly 700 years, the states of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla scratched and clawed the living heck out of each other until a victor finally emerged. It was the sort of spectacle that almost makes you glad of Korea's present division, communism and all.

Fig.1: Official Vegas Odds
Goguryeo: 7/2
Baekje: 8/1
Silla: 25/1
Gaya: ∞/1
Even more scary is the fact that they had to whittle it down to just three separate kingdoms. The Gojoseon kingdom, which had supposedly ruled Korea for two millennia under the descendants of a bear-woman, fell apart after a Chinese invasion in 108 BC. Many local rulers then took control, and Korea was cut-up into more unfulfilling slices than an office birthday cake. The super-aggressive rulers of Goguryeo took care of their neighbors in the north, and even snatched up some land from the Han Dynasty in China as they were started to get old and fall apart in the 2nd and 3rd centuries (respect your elders, my butt). Baekje formed as a confederation of tribes near the Han River valley in southwestern Korea. They just wanted to share their resources at the local co-op, living together while holding hands and singing in harmony forever and ever. Freaking hippies. Then there was Silla, who was quite content with their corner of the peninsula, and just wanted to be left to themselves. They demonstrated this by keeping their door closed to any diplomatic relations, and shouting at the other Korean states, "Just leave me alone! I hate you!" There was actually a fourth state in the south, Gaya, but they were relatively insignificant and had their finger in their nose the whole time. And so by the 4th century, the stage was set for the Battle of the Three Kingdoms (fig.1), and each one hoped the odds were ever in their favor.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Spanish Armada

Fig.1: Yellow sky during battle, better find a paddle!
Among all the unpredictable things in the world, like the ending of an M. Night Shyamalan movie or whether or not a doughnut is jelly-filled, all are trumped by the unreliability of naval battles. It doesn't matter whether you have the most experienced sailors, best equipped ships, or highest SPF sunscreen; when two navies go at it, you might as well put all of your faith in Poseidon, or maybe even the Snorks. A good example of this is the famous Spanish Armada of 1588, which despite their superior numbers, commanders, and Catholicism, floundered away in the English Channel due to poor tactics and a simple low-pressure system. To this day, the Spanish Armada serves as a metaphor for an over-hyped project which, despite all of the faith put to it, is doomed to fail (a comparison that has been challenged by the Dallas Cowboys since 1996).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Viking Discovery of America

Fig.1: "Dibbs!"
Everyone and their uncle's monkey knows that in fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But what those sly kindergarten teachers failed to tell you was that around the year ten-hundred, Leif Erikson reached the New World and plundered! That's right, conclusive evidence exists that history's greatest bullies, the Vikings, actually became the first Europeans to discover America (fig.1)! While the old Norse legends had long claimed that great explorers voyaged west and made landfall in a place called "Vinland," it wasn't until the 1960s that crazy people digging in the dirt (a breed commonly known as archaeologists) confirmed these stories through the finding of an old Viking settlement on the Canadian island of Newfoundland. Although no long-term colonization occurred at this time (as other Europeans would conceitedly graciously do 500 years later), this initial journey remains a remarkable feat of Norse ingenuity, curiosity, and insatiability of the desire to find more heads of lob off with their axes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Queen Ranavalonas of Madagascar

Fig.1: More like Catherine 
the Great Cross-dresser!
Even though those of us with testosterone and Adam's apples don't like to admit it, many kingdoms' best rulers have been of the female variety. Elizabeth I (England), Catherine (Russia), Maria Theresa (Austria), and Zelda (Hyrule) are all great examples of queens that have led their nations to military success, established economic stability, and some have even dressed as a man in order to teach the only decent swordsman in the kingdom various tunes for his ocarina in order to help him on his quest to defeat this really evil ginger guy (that would be Catherine the Great, of course, fig.1). In the case of the African island kingdom of Madagascar, you can argue that their three most notable monarchs have been ladies, and coincidentally, they all had the same name! Well maybe not coincidentally, cause all three took that name while becoming queen, but don't mess up my groove! Ranavalona I (r. 1828-1861), Ranavalona II (r. 1868-1883), and Ranavalona III (1883-1897) were all significant in shaping their country's future in the wake of increasing European jerkiness influence in the region. Their legacy is so great that approximately 10% of Malagasy girls today are named "Ranavalona," with the rest being "Emily" since there has to be at least a billion of them on Earth at one time.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Angkor Wat

Fig.1: The Who Temple of Angkor Wat, located 
behind the Why Garden and the I Don't Know 
We've all seen the Abbott and Costello bit where Abbott visits the Angkor region of Cambodia, and Costello inquires about the specifics of his vacation:

Costello: Which temple did you see in Angkor?
Abbott: Angkor Wat.
Costello: That's what I'm asking you.
Abbott: I'm telling you: Angkor Wat.
Costello: Yes, Angkor what?
Abbott: That's right.

And then it goes downhill from there. Well lost in the hilarity is the fact that Angkor Wat, the object of confusion, is considered the largest religious monument in the world: at over 20 million square feet, it is 12 times larger than the Temple Mount in Israel, can fit about 800 Christ the Redeemer statues from Brazil within its walls, and is approximately 3.8 billion times holier than that Celtic symbol you got tattooed on your lower backside. On top of that, it is the largest tourist attraction in Cambodia, as well as its national symbol, making it akin to the Eiffel Tower in France, the Taj Mahal in India, and practically any old marble piece of crap in Greece.  It is still considered a holy place of worship by Cambodian monks to this day, which I'm sure the million visitors per year does absolutely nothing to diminish.

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.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Inca Empire

Fig.1: The poor treatment of 
the Inca civilization gives me 
an ugly, stinky llama face!
In terms of powerful empires in history, many get the short end of the stick just because they're not European or Mongol or Galactic. The Inca Empire can certainly be considered one of them. They possessed the largest state in Pre-Columbian America, and implemented a successful political and social system that governed and educated millions of people. And yet what are they known for? Getting their butts kicked by the Spanish, and being the focus of a cartoon with a talking llama (fig.1). The Inca even get shortchanged with their name: the word Inca really only denoted the rulers of the state, while the empire itself was called Tawantinsuyu. On second thought, maybe I'm better off using "Inca" just so I don't get carpal tunnel typing that monstrosity of a name out every time. Nonetheless, the Inca deserve more credit from the general public than they deserve, and it is my patriotic duty (as an author of a small-time blog that really only my mother subscribes to) to spread the word about this underrated civilization. It really is the least I can do.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Toledo War

Fig.1: The Toledo Strip, home to the Toledo Strip Mall with a Dunkin Donuts, 
a Krispy Kreme, and a Tim Horton's all in one convenient location!
Boundary disputes have perhaps caused more wars in the past two hundred years than any other issue, save for who is entitled to that last slice of pizza. Even in the 21st century, skirmishes between countries over where my stuff starts and your stuff ends occur regularly in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and in the snack bar at the United Nations. But did you know that a war almost occurred between two states in the United States over a chunk of land about the size of Andorra? It's true: Michigan and Ohio both raised and armed militias in 1835 in order to keep a less than 500 square mile swath of territory known as the Toledo Strip under their own sovereignty. Both wanted access to the vital port linking the Maumee River to Lake Erie, the fertile farmland in the west, and to play home to the storied Toledo Mudhens minor league baseball team. The ensuing standoff left a staggering zero dead, one slightly wounded, and countless people's feelings hurt. It remains the largest internal dispute in United States history. And by that I mean it remains the largest internal dispute in United States history that deals with a strip of land in the Midwest with the same name as a city in Spain in which no one actually died.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Code of Hammurabi

Rule #1: Don't bring up King Hammurabi's nose.
Rules, rules, rules! They seem to be everywhere! In the classroom, at the airport, on that bottle of super glue (why can't I use it to stick sequins all over my sleeping roommate's face?). You can't go anywhere without having to follow some set of rules! Well we can blame an 18th century BC Babylonian king for that, who should have spent more time inventing the doughnut so they would stop living BC (Before Crullers). While Hammurabi (Rule #1) was not the originator of codifying the laws of the land, he was the first to popularize the idea, as well as transcribe it in the common language so that most everyone could understand it. After him, all civilizations from the Egyptians, Persians, Romans, and Grumpy British Nannies began to lay out everything that was expected from the population in writing for all to see, which is never good for folks like me that don't want to put their toys away or go to sleep by 9:30.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Fig.1: The greatest contribution 
Zanzibar has ever given the world, 
suspenders and all.
If you're looking for a beautiful island with a rich history, colorful personalities, and one-of-a-kind wildlife, look no further than good ol' Zanzibar (even though it might be far from where you are, since it's on the east coast of Africa). While it is merely an autonomous region of the African nation of Tanzania today, Zanzibar boasts it's own unique independent history, and it even became the seat of power for monarchies as far away as the Arabian peninsula. While the mix of cultures present in Zanzibar have caused some conflict over the years, its blend of African, Arabian, and Indian peoples and customs have only added to the allure and flavor that make up the island. Most importantly, Zanzibar is the birthplace of a gentleman named Farrokh Bulsara, later known as Freddie Mercury (fig.1), lead singer and songwriter for the legendary rock group, Queen. Even though Mercury only lived on the island for a short period of his life, it had such a profound effect on him that nearly every Queen hit song was about the history of Zanzibar. Don't believe me? Well, let's go through and find out, shall we?

Archaeologists believe that Zanzibar has been inhabited for at least 20,000 years; since it is an island about twenty miles off the coast of the mainland, it must have been pretty difficult to "Keep Yourself Alive" with food and a fresh-water supply if you were an Ancient Zanzibarian. But they succeeded, and Zanzibar Town on the west side of the island is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Africa, which is one of the few accolades with "oldest" and "Africa" in it that the Egyptians haven't snagged up. A first century Greek text on ports in the Indian Ocean refers to an island named Menuthias in the location of Zanzibar, and praises its booming trade of tortoise shells, as well as even cryptically refers to "Fat Bottomed Girls" putting on a "Bicycle Race." Zanzibar was certainly one-of-a-kind even back then!

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Darien Scheme

In the 17th century, colonialism was the cool thing to do. Everybody in Europe was getting in on it: the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, the English, and even those crafty Swedes! It was like Pokémon Cards or Beanie Babies, only more bloody and with an extra dose of religious fanaticism. If you didn't have a colony to exploit and call your own, you were a loserface. And that's what Scotland was during this time: nothing but a pimple-skinned, four-eyed, mouth-breathing, booger-picking loserface. Sure they tried to get their foot in the New World ground with lame-brain attempts like Nova Scotia in Canada (translated from "New Scotland" in Latin) and Perth Amboy, New Jersey (translated from "The Toxic Runoff from Staten Island Settles Here" in Algonquian), but neither of those remained in Scottish hands for longer than a decade. The men of the highlands needed to get a little ambitious in order to stop the bullying and constant wedgies from the other European nations, and hatched a plan (or scheme, if you will) to become masters of two oceans by taking a crucial point in Central America called the Darien.

Fig.1: William III of England was 
only known as William II in 
Scotland, just to low-ball him a 
little bit.
Scotland's urge to become better economically was really based on its relationship with England. While still two separate countries, Scotland and England shared the same monarch, so they were en route to becoming the cluster that is the United Kingdom. The king in the 1690s, William III (fig.1) didn't much care for the Scottish part of his realm, and only allowed England's overseas exploits to prosper and be adapted into adventure novels. Like a good redheaded Celtic stepchild, Scotland still tried to win their monarch's affection, and presented a plan to build a colony in the Darien (present-day Panama). It would be the perfect spot for a trading post in the Caribbean, especially if some sort of canal was eventually constructed in this Panama region that linked the Atlantic and Pacific. I'd call it a long shot of that ever happening, but that's just me.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ashoka the Great

Fig.1: You know you're great when your emblem includes multiple lions.
I know there are a lot of rulers out there that are nicknamed "the Great." It's almost like they just give the title away sometimes; I will personally go on a manhunt if I ever seriously hear the words "George W. Bush the Great." But some historic figures are truly deserving of the cognomen (Alexander, Charlemagne, Timur, Peter, Wayne Gretzky) not only for their conquests, but also for the cultural impact they left in the land and/or hockey league they dominated. A little-known and under-appreciated "the Great" tucked away in the forest of ancient history is man named Ashoka, who ruled the Maurya Empire in present-day India. Sure, Ashoka was a beast on the battlefield (and with the ladies, which is a requirement to earn "the Great"), but he is perhaps more revered as a patron of Buddhism, allowing it to become the dominant religion in South and East Asia over the next millennium. Not even Gretzky had that kind of hold over those impressionable Canadians, and that's saying something.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Eureka Rebellion

Think back to the American Revolution. What got the Brits in trouble in the first place? No, besides the gaudy red color of their uniforms. That's right, it was taxes on everything imaginable, from sugar, to tea, to playing cards, to newspapers, to sugary tea-flavored playing cards with news articles on them. The American colonists didn't appreciate being taxed without any representation in Parliament, or at least that was their excuse to get drunk and dump a bunch of tea into the harbor (soon followed by cow-tipping out in Farmer Wittenton's fields). Long story short, the Americans rebelled, and shook off British rule. You'd think they would have learned their lesson, but Britain nearly goofed again in another colony almost a century later: Australia. Yet another instance of "taxation without representation" caused a rebellion that changed the fabric of a quickly-developing nation. Yeah, the rebellion pretty much laid an egg, but details details...

Fig.1: A "Canvas Town" south of Melbourne, where you 
could find all the amenties of the big city, like a butcher, 
a doctor, and at least 57 liquor stores.
In 1851, a man with an unfortunate name, Thomas Hiscock, became very fortunate by discovering gold in Victoria, the southeastern-most colony on the Australian mainland. Sure enough, folks from all over the world migrated to the island or continent or whatever it is to claim a piece of that action, with most settlers camping out in tents throughout Victoria (fig.1). The British government didn't miss a beat either, and created a law that not only made the profits from discovered gold taxable, but also forced people to purchase a £1 monthly permit in order to even be allowed to look for gold. At first this was circumvented by miners pretending to be searching for their lost lucky penny or dog that wandered away from home, but the local magistrates cracked down on this and became rigorous in inspecting everyone's permits. This upset many Australians, old and new, and many banded together into unions in order to protest against this grave injustice...or practice their boomerang skills. One of the two.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Battle of New Orleans

Fig.1: Andrew Jackson failed to check his text messages to see if the war was over.
There are battles that help decide wars, give one side the momentum, or become so significant in the long run that it takes on a life of its own and enters into the national consciousness. And then there are battles that are rather pointless and are actually fought after the peace treaty to end the war is signed. The Battle of New Orleans in the winter of 1814-5 is one of the latter. Despite the fact that the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom, was signed on Christmas Eve 1814, the soldiers in New Orleans didn't get their copy of USA Today in time, and the major fighting took place on January 8 of the next year. Imagine the look on their faces when they eventually found out the war was over! It really is a fantastic long as you look past the fact that over three thousand people were killed, wounded, or missing. Other than that, what a knee-slapper!

Friday, August 2, 2013


Fig.1: Yes, Charlemagne was so awesome, 
it was believed he was made out of gold.
There are a few people in history that I wholeheartedly admire. Of course there is my ancestor/incarnate Sima Qian, whom I would love to surpass and shame by becoming a better historian than he ever was. There is Hannibal, who showed those cocky Romans a thing or two. There is Lucille Fannybottom, who sewed the first American flag (no matter what people will tell you about some other lady). There's Sean Connery, because, well, he's Sean Connery. Can't get much more awesome than that. But perhaps my all-time hero is the one and only Charlemagne (fig.1), or Charles the Great in non-fancy talk. He took a semi-successful kingdom in present-day France and expanded it to include most of Western Europe; he was crowned the first ever Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope; he encouraged culture, literacy, and art at a time when those things were quickly falling by the wayside; and most importantly, he invented my favorite sport of water polo, and was a master at making wet passes right to the hole set. He made the "Dark Ages" just a little more bright, and that is enough to bring a grateful tear to my eye.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Genpei War

*Note: Because there are quite a few Japanese names in this post, and we English-speakers tend to get all confuzzled with that sort of thing, I will be color-coding some important names to make it easier to follow. If you're colorblind and still can't follow along, sorry...grow some new eyeballs.*

Fig.1: There's really no contest here.
The Hatfields and McCoys. The Capulets and Montagues. The Simpsons and the Huxtables. But none of these family feuds has had as much impact or cost more lives than the Minamoto and the Taira clans in 12th century Japan. Their battle for power and influence over the Emperor during the Heian period led to a five-year civil war known as the Genpei War, which is even a whole year longer than The Simpsons battled The Cosby Show for the ratings in the crucial Thursday 8pm time slot. After the war's conclusion in 1185, the political structure of Japan changed for hundreds of years, and allowed for the emergence of the samurai culture, which is several times better than the cowboy culture (fig.1).

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Fig.1: The all-holy Egyptian pantheon, in an all-holy Egyptian conga line.
History is full of stories of monotheism (the worship of a single god) against the established forces of polytheism (the worship of too many gods to shake a stick at). The Jews in ancient Israel fought for centuries to protect their religion against the polytheist cultures of Assyrians, Persians, and Romans. Roman Emperor Constantine elevated Christianity as the state religion during his reign in the fourth century, creating much strife with the population who followed Roman paganism for hundred of years. The prophet Mohammed fought for and spread the good news of the almighty, infallible religion of Islam against the hedonistic false idols popular in Arabia at that time (there, I played nice, so don't hurt me!). And adherents of Pastafarianism battled hard to make the Flying Spaghetti Monster the one true god over lesser Noodle Monsters such as Linguine, Fettuccine, or (Flying Spaghetti Monster forbid) Macaroni! But perhaps the first (albeit, unsuccessful) instance of this occurring is three thousand years ago in Ancient Egypt, where one crazy pharaoh loved the sun so much, he certainly would have married it if that was an option.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Portuguese Court in Brazil

We are quite used to the story of European nations going out and violently conquering peacefully incorporating territories all over the world as colonies, stealing all of their resources bringing great new technologies to pitiful slums underdeveloped locales, and raping and pillaging befriending the hedonistic savages friendly indigenous communities while enslaving them economically allowing them to participate in the wonderful mercantilist system of the land of jerkfaces motherland. But has there ever been a time where the colony becomes the the motherland, and rules over the entire empire? Surprisingly, yes! Unsurprisingly, it's all thanks to Napoleon!

Fig.1: Queen Maria I of Portugal...with a 
blunt object! Run!
In 1807, Napoleon decided to invade Portugal because a) they had been traditional allies of the United Kingdom, and Napoleon hated everything British (he would automatically change the channel if Doctor Who came on, which, yes, even aired as early as the 19th century), and b) he really just enjoyed invading places, and how hard could Portugal be to take over? Even Portugal knew they wouldn't be that hard to take over, so immediately after Napoleonic French and allied Spanish troops crossed the border, the House of Braganza, the royal family of Portugal, hatched a plan. The regnant of Portugal was Queen Maria I (fig.1), who was at first labeled Maria the Pious, but eventually came to be known as Maria the Mad after reports that she always heard screaming in her head, talked to her dead husband when the room was empty, and claimed that Return of the Jedi was the superior chapter of the original trilogy. As such, her son and heir-apparent, John VI, ruled in her name beginning in 1799. Thus, it was up to him to put together a plan as Napoleon's crack troops marched closer and closer to the capital of Lisbon, and what he came up with was a rather simple idea. Bail!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Betsy Ross

We all know the story of Betsy Ross from second grade. George Washington needed a symbol to bring his young nation together against the tyranny of the British, so he commissioned a seamstress in Philadelphia to create the first American flag, which she does successfully, and all the Patriots rally around the new flag to beat the British and create the best nation on Earth. Amurika! But what most people don't know is that this story didn't come about until nearly a hundred years after the War of Independence, and was told by Betsy's grandson with basically no proof or verified sources except through family tradition and word-of-mouth. Sounds rather suspicious, doesn't it? So who really is this Betsy Ross character? Is there any reason to believe that she really did create the first American flag? And if not, why have we been lied to by our teachers and textbooks all this time?  Miss Lewis, how could you?!  After all the apples we gave you!

Fig.1: I bet that's not even your real hair, 
you lying scoundrel!
First of all, "Betsy" isn't even her real name! She was born Elizabeth Griscom in 1752, one of seventeen children in a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia (I don't care if "Betsy" is short for "Elizabeth," it still sounds fishy). She was taught to sew at a young age by her great-aunt, Sarah Griscom, which normally isn't pertinent information when writing a mini-biography on someone, but I guess if an individual's possible claim to fame is sewing something, then I should just throw that in there. (Don't worry, I won't be telling you where Genghis Khan learned to sew when I write a history on him, even though it's quite a fascinating story!) During the Revolution, she apparently used this skill to make uniforms and tents for the Continental Army, but with her dubious sewing history, I really need to see embroidery that says "This was stitched by Betsy Ross" in order to even believe that.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fall of Constantinople

Fig.1: No, you can't go back to Constantinople! So stop asking!
Wise men once said that, "Istanbul was Constantinople; now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople." And they would be right! The city in Turkey that straddles the border of Europe and Asia is now known as Istanbul, but way back when it was called Constantinople. But that's been a long time gone...over five-and-a-half centuries to be more precise. So even though that's apparently nobody's business but the Turks', let's look into the reason why if you have a date in Constantinople, she'll be waiting in Istanbul.

Constantinople was technically founded in 330 Anno Doughnutty by the Roman Emperor Constantine (who, in all his narcissism, named it after himself), but it was really the site of the Ancient Greek city of Byzantium. That's like me going to Pittsburgh and saying, "I'm going to build an even better city here!" Which wouldn't be hard, cause it's Pittsburgh, but still, not cool. Anyway, Constantinople served as the capital of the eastern half of the Roman Empire, but then it became the only capital when Rome itself was bombarded with barbaric barbarians. Historians like to refer to the empire that Constantinople was centered around as the Byzantine Empire, to distinguish it from the Roman Empire and make it less confusing. But the Byzantines saw themselves as the Roman Empire, and in a sense, they were a continuation of the Roman Empire. So good job making things more confusing, you stupid historians! The nerve of those people (present company excluded, of course)!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What is the United Kingdom?

Fig.1: Seriously, what's going on here?
If you talk to someone from the United Kingdom, it really sounds like they have a identity crisis on their hands. Sometimes they'll call themselves British, sometimes English, others Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Cornish, or even Klingon (although those last people are just nerds). Sometimes people refer to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as "countries," even though they make up the country that is the United Kingdom, and sometimes they'll tack on a big word like "constituent country" to demonstrate the difference. There is a central Parliament in London, but Scotland and Wales have their own Parliaments too. They all use the pound sterling, but it's scorned upon to use a Bank of Scotland pound in England, even though it's the same country! Most importantly when it comes to power brokering and diplomacy, the constituent countries each have their own soccer team! So what is going on with this place? Why can't we call just get along? And what if God was one of us?

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Now you're probably thinking, "Sima Dave, if you want to become the next Grand Historian, you shouldn't be writing about make-believe places like Timbuktu!" Well, my naïve child, I'm here to tell you that Timbuktu is a real city, despite its reputation as a magical faraway place! It's actually a city in Africa (Mali, to be precise), but we shouldn't hold that against it. Back in the day, Timbuktu was a major Medieval trading post, and people from all over Saharan Africa and the Middle East came to buy precious commodities like salt, gold, ivory, slaves, and rare 8-tracks. Europeans ate up descriptions of the city, and even offered rewards to those who could infiltrate society there and make it out alive, much like the girls' locker room. Of course looking at the town now, it looks like just any other third-world, war-torn, desertifying North African Hooverville, so how could this place really have once been the land of wealth, culture, and absolutely delicious falafels?

Fig.1: The original inhabitants of Timbuktu.
Timbuktu was most likely settled in the twelfth century by nomadic pastorialists who wanted a nice place to chill along the Niger River. Timbuktu would pale in comparison to Gao, another city along the Niger two hundred miles to the southeast, for a couple hundred years. But then trade routes began to shift, and Timbuktu became the major city in the region by 1375; this of course caused the people already living in Timbuktu to brag that they were there before it was cool, and thus the hipster movement was born (fig.1). Timbuktu's rise to prominence can be attributed to its incorporation into the Mali Empire around 1324 (fig.2). The ruler of Mali, happily/alliteratively named Mansa Musa, peacefully annexed the city, which opened the door to supplying merchants with rare items of wealth from all over the empire. Manua Musa also solidified Islam as the dominant religion of the land, which is a great thing, since Islam is an infallible religion and nothing bad or funny can be said of it. please don't issue a fatwa on me.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Donner Party

Fig 1: The first of many traffic jams in California history.
Of all the parties thrown in the world, none ended so calamitously, not even my sixth birthday when that kid nearly choked to death on a noisemaker, than the Donner Party did in the winter of 1846-7. Even though the Donner Party is just one letter away from "Dinner Party," it certainly was nothing of the sort. Several families left the midwest pioneer-style for greener pastures and better fortunes out in California. Led by George Donner, the party 87 strong made it to Wyoming without a hitch, but somewhere along the line they made a wrong turn at Albuquerque, and they were forced to camp out for the winter in the Sierra Nevada mountains with no food or sustenance...except each other!

*cue the dramatic music*

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China

There have been many emperors of China (although if you compare it to China's population through the years, maybe it's just a handful), but only one has the honor of being the First Emperor. That would be Shi Huangdi, whose name literally translates to "The First Emperor." It's like he was born to that job! I'm going to change my name to "CEO of Google" and see how that works out.

Fig.1: These Warring States just would not get along, no 
matter how many times we sent them to their rooms to 
think about what they've done.
Shi Huangdi was born around the mid-third century BC (Before Crullers, the concept of the circular pastry would not come to pass for another 250 years) during the time that my genius ancestor/incarnate Sima Qian called the Warring States Period. China was not a unified country during this time, and was broken up into the states of Qin, Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhou, Wei, and sometimes Y and W (fig.1). Shi Huangdi succeeded his father as the ruler of Qin (pronouced "chin"), the western most Warring State, at the age of thirteen. He was merely a king during this time, but he knew if he worked hard, stayed in school, and said no to drugs, that he would become something even better someday.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Great Fire of Rome

Fig.1: The Pretty Darn Great Fire of Rome.
The Great Fire of Rome began on July 19, 64 AD (Anno Doughnutty, the doughnut being invented 64 years prior), and by the end of its six-day pillage, damaged ten of the fourteen districts in the city, including six or seven just-fantastic pizzerias. While fires were common in ancient cities such as Rome, this is the only one to be considered "Great" (fig.1), with historians considering the fire of 69 AD as "Good," and the fire of 80 AD as "Just Alright."

The main source for the fire is from a Roman senator named Tacitus, who wrote in the early second century. Tacitus was definitely the John Steinbeck of his day, who just gushed about the pain and suffering inflicted upon man by the forces of nature, and was also every 10th grade Roman schoolboy’s nightmare. Particularly uplifting is this passage from his Annals: "Some who had lost everything, even their food for the day, could have escaped, but preferred to die. So did others, who had failed to rescue their loved ones. Nobody dared fight the flames."  I would feel the same if my chicken burrito from Chipotle was destroyed, which is a food and a loved one all rolled up in one delicious soft flour tortilla.