Ancient History

Pirates of the…Mediterranean?

October 24, 2014

In response to my recent post on nineteenth century Chinese pirate Cheng I Sao, Margins reader Davide reminded me of another highly successful pirate* and then made the provocative comment that the subject of piracy in the Mediterranean is very interesting and often  neglected by historians. Challenge accepted. It’s a big question, but let’s take […]

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Shin-Kickers From History: The Trung Sisters of Vietnam

August 1, 2014

In 39 CE, two young women led Vietnam in its first rebellion against the Chinese empire, which had then ruled the country for 150 years. Trung Trac and Trung Nhi were born in a small town in north Vietnam around 14 CE, the daughters of a Vietnamese lord who served as a prefect under the […]

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Laughter in Ancient Rome

July 25, 2014

At some level, humor is a personal thing, as any one knows who’s made a joke only to be greeted with a fish-eye stare or squirmed uncomfortably as everyone around her laughs at something that seems–not funny. Humor seems to be tied to time, place, personality, age, and occasionally gender. If that’s the case, why […]

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The Nile

June 22, 2014

In The Nile:A Journey Downriver Through Egypt’s Past and Present, popular Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson leads the reader on a historical travelogue that moves from Aswan, home of the river’s First Cataract, to Cairo’s Gezira Island, from Paleolithic rock drawings to the Arab Spring. The voyage that shapes The Nile is not simply metaphorical. Wilkinson floats […]

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History on Display: Lost Kingdoms

April 26, 2014

On my annual visit to New York for writerly stuff, I always try to squeeze in a visit to a museum or that mecca for all book lovers, the Strand Bookstore. This year, with my office over-flowing with books and a move on the horizon, I promised My Own True Love that I would stay […]

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Traveling the Silk Roads

April 23, 2014

We tend to use the phrase “the Silk Road” as if it were the Route 66 of East-West commerce. In fact, it is a metaphor. German geographer Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen (1833-1905) invented the name in the late nineteenth century, long after the overland luxury routes between Asia and the West had been supplanted by […]

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Realpolitik In Ancient India

September 20, 2013

Renaissance Italy had Machiavelli. Nineteenth century Prussia had Otto von Bismarck. Ancient India had the Arthashastra*–a political manual attributed to Kautilya, chief minister to India’s first emperor, Chandragupta Maurya , in the fourth century BCE.** Kautilya described his subject as the science of being a king, which he summarizes as “the acquisition of what is […]

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Word With A Past: Parchment

September 6, 2013

For hundreds of years papyrus was the principal material on which books (or at least hand-copied scrolls) were written. Since it could only be made from the pith of freshly harvested papyrus reeds, native to the Nile valley, Egypt had a monopoly on the product–and a potential monopoly on the written word. In the second […]

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The Riddle of the Labyrinth

June 6, 2013

In The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest To Crack An Ancient Code, Margalit Fox adds a new layer to the story of how the ancient script known as Linear B was deciphered. In 1900, archaeologist Arthur Evans uncovered a cache of clay tablets in an unknown script on Crete. For fifty years, scholars across […]

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Prehistoric Redheads

May 14, 2013

Like every other redhead I know, I have a mental list of notable gingers from history:  Richard the Lion-Hearted, Christopher Columbus, Elizabeth I, Thomas Jefferson, Lucille Ball…*  It’s a natural defense against phrases like “red-headed stepchild” and that popular playground taunt, “I’d rather be dead than red on the head.” ** Not speaking for anyone […]

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