Thursday, March 31, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
By: The Scribe on January, 2008
While most of the modern world could likely not conceive of the possibility of not celebrating New Year’s Day on January 1st, the reality is that celebrating the New Year in January is a relatively recent idea.
The first New Year’s celebrations were held about 4000 years ago, when the Babylonians celebrated the first new moon that appeared after the Vernal Equinox. This fell around what is now known as late March, which made logical sense to theBabylonians – it was a time when spring was just beginning and the crops could be planted, giving it an agricultural significance. The Babylonians also had a longer holiday than the modern celebrant – the New Year’s festival lasted for 11 days.
In ancient Rome, New Year’s was celebrated on March 25 – the only problem was, each emperor kept tampering with the Roman calendar and causing the sun’s synchronization with the date to shift. To get everything back in order, in 153 BC the Roman Senatedeclared that January 1st be known as the start of the New Year… but it didn’t last for long. More emperors meant more tampering, until Julius Caesar set the record straight at January 1st again, but in order to get the dates back in sync with the sun, Caesar allowed the year 46 BC to drag on for 445 days.
This was all well and good, until the Catholic Church decided that New Year’s festivities were pagan and evil. In order to provide an acceptable alternative – instead of trying to shut down the popular celebrations – the Church started to have its own celebrations on January 1st. This was often referred to as the celebration of the ‘Feast of the Circumcision of Christ’, which corresponded to December 25th as the Christ child’s birth date. Jewish tradition dictates that newborn males are circumcised on the 8th day after their birth, which in this case falls on January 1st.
Similarly to today’s festivities, in 600 BC the ancient Greeks began using a baby to symbolize the New Year. The Greeks used the start of the new agricultural year to honorDionysus, the god of wine and fertility, and parading a baby around was intended to symbolize the god’s rebirth. Although the early Church would see this practice as pagan, the popularity of the symbol resulted in the church conceding to using a baby in their own festivities – and explaining it as symbolic of the birth of baby Jesus.
With the arrival of the Middle Ages, the Church still abhorred New Year’s celebrations, and in some areas, the festivities were banned outright. It wasn’t until around 400 years ago that Western countries actually started celebrating January 1st as a holiday again.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Let’s take a trip to Sicily, where the cannoli flow like water and every family is actually a ‘family.’ Before the island decided to settle for a life of organized crime it was home to the ancient Greek city of Syracuse, a port on the southeastern corner of the island. During the city’s siege in 214 BC, mathematician and engineer Archimedes devised a wily plan to fend off Roman ships; tossing them around with a giant claw.
A brief history lesson: Although Syracuse was a province of the Roman Republic, newly crowned King Hieronymus fell in with a bad crowd. His anti-Roman rhetoric upset the guys in charge and they consequently decided to reclaim the city for their own.
The city was well prepared for this attack. Knowing that their greatest weakness was the ramparts along the coast and hearing whispers newly invented Roman siege ships, Archimedes came up with a plan. He invented an anti-siege device to lay waste to any ship that attempted to get within proximity of the city walls. Despite the Roman’s constant attempts to scale the walls with ship-mounted ladders and grappling hooks, the Claw of Archimedes prevailed.
The exact workings of the claw is unknown, but historians and scholars have maintained that it’s a crane-like device strong enough to lift ships out of the water. Mounted on the top of the battlements, the claw consists of a long rod with a grappling hook on one end and a counterweight on the other. When a ship comes within reach, the arm swings into place and attaches itself to the hull. What happens next is up for debate, but most believe the claw either flipped the enemy ship while it was still in the water, or was actually powerful enough to lift the entire ship out of the water and drop down to its doom.
- A student project from the University of Reggio Calabria
A crushing success, Archimedes’ Claw kept the Roman invaders at bay for a full two years. When it looked like a stalemate was in order, the Romans caught a break. During a festival, a few sneaksy soldiers were able to scale the walls on the land side of the city and open the gates from within. Although there were express instructions not to harm the inventor of the device, a Roman guard unwittingly killed Archimedes, not knowing who he was.
While there has never been any conclusive proof of the device’s existence, schools and television programs around the world have made recreations of the device in recent years. All of the neo-claws have worked, reinforcing the possibility of its existence and use.
- The claw in (tiny) action
As always, if YOU have an idea for a Historical Thursday, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org