Why Did Byzantine Empire Survive For So Long

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History and War

Introduction

Byzantines saw their conflict with Islam as a “conflict of civilizations” between traditional Roman world and a desert menace. But at first, this was not actually the case. Whereas Muslims had, from the start, separated the world into dar al-Islam (“Land of Islamd”) and dar al-harb (“House of War”), from Roman point of view, the conflict was a confrontation between a civilized society and uncivilized barbarians, the “godless Saracens”. Only from late eighth and early ninth century does a nuanced understanding of Islam develop in the Roman world, and only in the ninth century is Islam understood as an existential threat to the Roman Empire. Roman identity itself was highly religious, with expansion of Islam reducing the Empire to areas with almost exclusively Orthodox Christian population. This identity was a key for resistance to invasion, with Arab conquest having taken almost exclusively the areas where this identity was weak.

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Western Hunter-Gatherer facial reconstructions and media manipulation [Short post]

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Last night I was making the below image for a short article explaining why Western Hunter-Gatherers were not “black” (I will publish the longer version some other time).

I noticed that the Loschbour Man reconstruction video (https://youtu.be/2NJ6Ks9qwRQ?t=382) clearly uses different lighting on his skull versus his face, subtly darkening the image to the point that his features blend into the background. The difference is pretty subtle, but it’s definitely there.

Something similar was done to the La Brana Man facial reconstruction sketches used in the press release (https://phys.org/news/2014-01-spanish-hunter-gatherer-blue-eyes-dark.html). It looks like someone messed with the brightness/contrast levels and darkened the whole image. You can see that it looks pretty unnatural and grayed-out compared to the adjusted version below. Again, the difference is small but it’s definitely there. I’ve been photoshopping things for a long time, so it’s quite easy to spot these minor tweaks.

The same thing was done to…

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Ancient History: 16,700 Year Old Tools Found in Texas

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Archaeologists in Texas have found a set of 16,700-year-old tools which are among the oldest discovered in the West. Until now, it was believed that the culture that represented the continent’s first inhabitants was the Clovis culture. However, the discovery of the ancient tools now challenges that theory, providing evidence that human occupation precedes the arrival of the Clovis people by thousands of years.

According to the Western Digs, archeologists discovered the tools about half an hour north of Austin in Texas, at the site called Gault. They were located a meter deep in water-logged silty clay. The site contained more than 90 stone tools and some human remains including fragments of teeth.

The discovery changes everything people have been taught about the history of North America – that is, that the Clovis culture represented the first inhabitants of the continent. The results of the research were presented at the meeting of the Plains Anthropological Conference in 2015. According to Dr. D. Clark Wernecke, director of the Gault School of Archaeological Research:

“The most important takeaway is that people were in the New World much earlier than we used to believe. We were all taught [North America was first populated] 13,500 years ago, and it appears that people arrived 15,000 to 20,000 years ago.”

Read the Remainder at Ancient Origins

Ancient History: 10 Forgotten Conquerors

In Shelley’s famous poem Ozymandias, a broken statue lies in the empty desert, its pedestal hollowly boasting, “My name is Ozymandias, king of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

The conquerors on this list boasted that they had “all the lands at [my] feet” or promised to make “Egypt taste the taste of my fingers!” But in the end, they, too, have been largely forgotten. Look upon their works and despair.

10. Lugalzagesi

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Civilization was born in ancient Sumeria, in the rich lands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. But by 2330 BC, the region was in an uproar and ancient cities lay in ruins. The culprit was Lugalzagesi, the king of Umma. Before inheriting the throne, Lugalzagesi was a priest of the goddess Nisaba and he has been labeled an “ecstatic” and a “bone fide berserk” by historians seeking to explain the unprecedented destruction he unleashed.

Shortly after inheriting the throne of Umma, Lugalzagesi also became king of Uruk, probably through marriage. He then launched a series of frenzied campaigns against the kingdom of Lagash, eventually conquering the city itself. A priest of Lagash reported that he “set fire to the [temples] . . . he plundered the palace of Tirash, he plundered the Abzubanda temple, he plundered the chapels of Enlil and Utu.”

In another inscription, the defeated king of Lagash bitterly cursed the conqueror: “The leader of Umma, having sacked Lagash, has committed a sin against Ningirsu. The hand which he has raised against him will be cut off! May Nisaba, the god of Lugalzagesi, ruler of Umma, make him bear the sin.”

But the conquest of Lagash only increased Lugalzagesi’s strength. Before long, he was ruler of all Sumeria, lord of primeval cities like Ur, Zabala, and Nippur. His armies raided from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean: “Enlil, king of all lands, gave to Lugalzagesi the kingship of the nation, directed all eyes of the land toward him, put all the lands at his feet . . . from east to west, Enlil permitted him no rival.”

Enlil must have changed his mind. Lugalzagesi’s conquests soon brought him into conflict with a minor ruler named Sargon. In a stunning upset, Sargon’s well-drilled troops defeated the primitive armies of Sumeria. Lugalzagesi was paraded in chains through Nippur and was soon all but forgotten, while Sargon of Akkad went on to found the first great empire in history.

9. Modu Chanyu

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The horse was first domesticated on the great Eurasian Steppe, the seemingly endless ocean of grass that runs from Mongolia to Eastern Europe. Every so often, the nomadic horsemen of the plains would unite under some great ruler and erupt on the civilized world. Some of these conquerors remain famous—-Attila, Genghis, Timur the Lame—-but Modu Chanyu, who was one of the earliest, is now almost forgotten in the West.

Modu’s father was king of the Xiongnu, a people who lived in what is now Mongolia. The king preferred Modu’s brother, so Modu had him killed and took power anyway. According to the Chinese historian Sima Qian, Modu invited his bodyguards for some archery practice and told them to use his favorite horse as a target. When some objected, Modu immediately executed them. Then, he told them to use his wife as a target. Again, some objected, and Modu killed them on the spot. Finally, he told the survivors that their new target was his father. They shot him without hesitation.

After murdering his siblings, Modu launched lightning campaigns against the Donghu and Yuezhi, forming a sprawling empire that stretched across the eastern steppes. In 200 BC, he lured the Chinese Emperor Gaozu into an ambush and forced him to sign a humiliating treaty. The Chinese had to pay tribute and Gaozu agreed to give his daughter as a concubine to Modu (he sent some other girl and lied that she was his daughter instead).

In a way, Gaozu was lucky—-the king of Yuezhi had his skull turned into a drinking cup by Modu’s son. Modu himself died in 174 BC, as the ruler of an empire that rivaled Alexander the Great’s in size.

8. Cyaxares

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For centuries, the mighty Assyrian Empire dominated the ancient Middle East. Its influence even extended to the lands of the Medes, in what is now Iran. The Medes had mixed feelings about this and a nobleman named Phraortes led a revolt around 653 BC. But the bowmen of Assyria were justly feared, and the rebellion was crushed. Phraortes was executed and his grieving son Cyaxares swore to finish what his father had started.

This was no mean task, particularly considering that the Scythians had invaded Media in the meantime. But Cyaxares quietly submitted to Scythian rule until he was able to lure their leaders to a banquet. Once the Scythians were drunk, Cyaxares had them slaughtered. Next, he united the Medes into one kingdom under his command. He reformed the Mede army with new weapons and a focus on horsemen, which the Assyrians lacked.

In 614 BC, the Medes attacked, sacking the Assyrian stronghold at Ashur. Over the next two years, they ground closer to the Assyrian capital Ninevah, which fell in 612. Cyaxares had avenged his father and destroyed the greatest empire of the day. The Median Empire seemed destined to dominate the ancient world—-and it might have, had Cyaxares’s successor not had the misfortune to cross an young man called Cyrus, the leader of an obscure tribe called the Persians.

Read the Remainder at ListVerse

World War II History: Could Long-Lost Amber Room Be Stashed in a Nazi Bunker in Poland?

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There is perhaps no lost-treasure mystery more seductive than that of the priceless Amber Room of Peter the Great, which disappeared in the chaotic closing hours of World War II. Now Bartlomiej Plebanczyk, an unassuming historian and museum director in northeastern Poland, believes he has found it.

Elderly villagers told Mr. Plebanczyk that they had seen a German convoy unloading big crates into a secret chamber in a stark, moss-covered Nazi bunker near the Russian border in early 1945. So the Mamerki Museum, whichhe leads, recently completed a ground-penetrating radar scan of the derelict bunker that he said confirmed the existence of a hidden chamber.

“This is the perfect place to hide something if you have to move it quickly out of eastern Prussia,” Mr. Plebanczyk said.

Poles are used to hearing extravagant tales of lost war loot, and also to hearing the tales debunked. Last year, two men claimed to have found a buried train containing Nazi gold, but an investigation found no such thing. Despite that, war-treasure hunting is such a popular pastime in Poland that enthusiasts have their own web forum.

The Amber Room is a singular treasure. It was originally completed in the 18th century in a palace near St. Petersburg, Russia, paneled with six tons of precious amber, elaborately carved and decorated with gold. After advancing German troops captured the palace in 1941, the 600-square-foot room was dismantled and carted off to Königsberg Castle in East Prussia, where it was later exposed to British bombs and Soviet shells. Berlin sent orders in January 1945 to evacuate high-value cultural items from the castle, but what happened after has never been clear.

The Soviets declared that the Amber Room was destroyed in April 1945, as Königsberg was falling to the Red Army, and in the 1970s they built a replica. Others said the precious amber panels had been aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German military ship, when a Soviet torpedo sank it in the Baltic. Further theories abound.

Read the Remainder at NY Times