Browsing All posts tagged under »history«

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink [c.1652]

July 30, 2013

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“It is a simple innocent thing,” says this very first English-language advertisement for coffee.  There the document stands on solid ground.  Today there are some indications—possibly too eagerly seized upon by the likes of me, maybe—that coffee is a wonder drink.  However no present-day claim can come even close to the wonders and “vertues” of […]

Why Disease Conquered the Americas

May 17, 2013

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History of Aboriginal America 15. Disease and the conquest of the Americas, pt.2 The scale of what happened in the Americas is unparalleled in human history.  An estimated 80 to 100 million people died in the century or two following Columbus. Some are dying still.  For comparison, Europe itself contained only about 80 million people when […]

Flagellants in London, 1349

May 7, 2013

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Sir Robert of Avesbury, Keeper of the Registry of the Court of Canterbury, recounts the following visit of flagellants to London in 1349.  Flagellants, who became relatively common in Europe at the time of the Black Death, were attempting to repel the plague with acts of horrific ritual purity—one of many responses to that most […]

Boccaccio – The Black Death Comes to Florence

May 6, 2013

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The Decameron, from which the following passage is taken, was written in the middle of the 14th century while the Black Death–a particularly deadly form of the bubonic plague–was still raging.  The pandemic was to eventually kill one person in three in Europe.  The author of the passage, Giovanni Boccaccio, certainly witnessed the epidemic himself […]

What Defeated the Mexica?

May 5, 2013

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History of Aboriginal America 14. Disease and the conquest of the Americas, pt. 1 When Cortés entered Tenochtitlan in 1521 with his 200,000 Aboriginal allies, he made acquaintance with the true conqueror of Mexico along that great city’s causeways.  He did not salute it. Bodies lay along all the causeways in great piles, killed by […]

Genetics and the Decline of Sparta

May 3, 2013

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The quest for genetic purity may have been Sparta’s Achilles heel. When I encountered Plutarch’s Lives a decade or two ago, I was surprised to find an old history lesson embedded there.  I was surprised because Plutarch is not what I would call a reliable source.  He presents Romulus and Remus (who were supposedly raised […]

The People Who Invented the Wheel

April 16, 2013

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Once upon a time there was a guy named George.  He was a real guy.  He really lived.  Maybe his name wasn’t George. The thing about George is that one day he invented the wheel.  That was the really special thing about George.  He was the only guy who ever invented the wheel.  Not that […]