The sick, the sinister, and the still-active female-led cults

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Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

Whether it’s the personality cults surrounding Kin Jong-un or Joseph Stalin, or the tragic cults like that of Jonestown, you will rarely find women playing a leading role. This is not to say that there have never been any female cult leaders, however, and unsurprisingly, they can be just as destructive as men when given the opportunity.

For clarity, I will not be considering any cults where women were not the central focus of the cult — they must be the sole focus of the follower’s devotion. …

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Aeneas recounting the Trojan War to Dido (Pierre-Narcisse Guérin/Public Domain)

The archaeology shedding new light on the food that fed the ancient enemy of Rome

The Carthaginians are one of history’s greatest what-if civilizations. What would have happened if they — and not the Romans — had risen to prominence and come to dominate the whole of the Mediterranean? What would that have meant for not just the regional history, but indeed for the history of the whole world?

When talking about Ancient Carthage, it’s almost impossible to separate it from Rome. Most accounts of the city, its people and their trading empire come from Roman sources — and Romans themselves are to blame if Carthaginians’ voices have been silenced.

However, some things do remain, perhaps most famously the tales of Hannibal Barca, the general who pushed Rome to the edge of annihilation. Beyond the tales of heroism, however, we rely on archaeological records and on a critical analysis of the Roman sources to understand the people of Carthage; and one area that has yielded a bountiful treasure of information is what they ate. …

The final fate of Machiavelli’s perfect Renaissance prince

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Cesare Borgia (By Altobello Melone/Public Domain)

Perhaps no name in the Renaissance world is as infamous as Borgia. The Aragonese noble family came to dominate Italian political life under the controversial Alexander VI, better known as Rodrigo Borgia.

The family were accused of just about everything, including murder, simony (the selling of church offices), bribery, blackmail and even incest, most famously between the Pope’s daughter Lucrezia and the protagonist (or antagonist depending on your perspective) of this article — Cesare Borgia.

Cesare was an icon of his time, feared and respected, infamous and brutal. …

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Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

The not so ancient art of tasseomancy

For millennia, humans have tried to understand the world around them, and some have even dared to try and predict the future ahead of them. Over time how we’ve done this had changed, but it almost always involved divination, which simply means ‘to seek knowledge from a supernatural source’.
Early humans, and many today, believed that things vastly beyond our understanding are trying to communicate with us — if only we’d listen.

Astrology tries to divine truth from the stars, molybdomancy was the art of divining molten metal, practitioners of carromancy sought truth in melted wax, while the infamous believers in haruspicy found meaning in the entrails of animals. Divination was a huge part of many religions for centuries, but it slowly became relegated to a few outliers, the last vestige of superstition that the Church couldn’t stomp out. …

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The Earth (Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash)

The complicated history behind the world’s landmasses

Humans have found dozens of different ways to order the world and to divide it up into neat and easily categorised phenomena. However, even at the most macro level, this doesn’t always work — a fact that’s best illustrated by the continents. Exactly how many continents there are has changed greatly over the millennia and even today, geographers still argue over it. The problem is that there are dozens of factors that decide what is and isn’t a continent. These can range from cultural and linguistic factors to purely geographical features like rivers, mountains, and valleys.

North and South America were commonly referred to as one continent up until WW2, many geographers also refer to Asia and Europe as simply Eurasia, and there are even some radical notions that Africa, Asia and Europe are one continent known as Afro-Eurasia. There is no clear answer to the question of what is and isn’t a continent, but for this article, we’ll consider the seven-continent system; Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia and Antarctica. …

The fall of a once-great people and the city that survived until the end of the 17th century

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Mayan mask (Wolfgang Sauber (User:Xenophon) / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Mayan people were once one of the most powerful groups in Central America. Various kingdoms and dynasties fought, forged alliances, and conquered one another over hundreds of years, often sacrificing captured enemies to nourish a bloodthirsty pantheon of gods.

However, with the arrival of the Spanish in the Caribbean in 1492, a new Spanish empire was to be forged in the Americas, and under the brutal heel of the conquistadors, the Mayans would slowly be eradicated. …

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The Fall of Granada (Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz/Public Domain)

A unique culinary fusion from the fires of conquest

Modern Spain boasts one of the most unique culinary heritages in history, and some of the most vibrant and diverse ingredients in the world. None of this would have been possible, however, were it not for Al-Andalus, the name given to the Iberian Peninsula when it was ruled by the Muslim caliphates.

The people who lived there are known by many names, most famously ‘the Moors’, though this has some negative connotations and was largely a catch-all term for many disparate groups of the period. Similarly ‘Berbers’, while less controversial, is also somewhat inaccurate, since it refers to only one of the peoples living there. …

The rebellious town laid to waste by the wrath of Rome

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The Numantines committing suicide rather than becoming Roman slaves — the fall of Numantia (By Alejo Vera/Public Domain)

The Roman Republic, and later Empire, was one of the longest-lasting, most powerful empires in history. As a highly militaristic society, they valued strength and conquest over almost all else and due to that, they subjugated hundreds of different peoples, from the Egyptians to the Syrians, to the Gauls, and the Britons.

Yet, one people stubbornly resisted them — the Celtiberians. What’s more, their stronghold at Numantia would take decades to conquer and it would take one of the greatest generals the Roman Republic of the 2nd century B.C. …

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Battle simulation, allegory, romantic pursue, and ‘the Immortal Game of 1851’

The soldiers advance, their line uneven but holding. Knights collide in tremendous fashion, forcing the enemy back, while reinforcements sweep quickly across the battlefield, pinning them down. Rallying around their queen, the army moves in unison, ready to strike the killer blow. The enemy king retreats, but falters — and suddenly, it’s all over.

It’s difficult to think of chess today and not feel a little intimidated. The game is dominated by geniuses and computers to such an extent that learning to play it can be daunting for all but a few of us mere mortals. …

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‘The Triumph of Death’ by Pieter Brueghel the Elder / Public domain

Social, political and culinary revolutions

While the Black Death is not the deadliest disease in human history, it’s certainly one of the most impactful. The pestilence slammed into Europe in 1346, wiping out as much as 50% of the population in some parts. For many in the Middle Ages, it must have felt as if the end times were here and Hell had come to them.

When the dust settled in 1353, the survivors found themselves in a very different world to the one they had begun the pandemic in. The old laws of the land were beginning to break down and for peasants and lords alike, it was a tumultuous time. …


Danny Kane

Food fan, writer and history nerd. Sometimes I combine the three and write about them here :)

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