Friday, June 30, 2017

How to Train Like an Ancient Roman Gladiator

Roman Fitness Systems

In antiquity, stories of ancient heroes were used to inspire youngsters towards greatness. One story tells of Milo of Croton, the greatest wrestler of his generation.

Milo was so strong that after his victory at the Ancient Olympics, he carried a life-size bronze statue of himself to its stand in the alleyway of heroes at Olympia.

Just like the Olympics today, ancient athletes spent considerable time training in order to win their individual matches, as well as immortality; stories of their feats are still being recounted after generations.

Milo is one such athlete; stories of his discipline and training are legendary.

 He came from the city of Croton in Magna Graecia (now in southern Italy) and was a six-time Olympic champion, also winning numerous titles at the Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian Games.

One mantra of modern training that Milo also used is the progressive overload, where you add heavier and heavier weights as you progress. The story goes that one day, seeing a small bull that had recently been born, he hoisted it onto his shoulders and walked around with it. He got such a good workout out of it that he decided to do it every day.

As the bull grew stronger and larger over time, and so did Milo.

Ancient Heroes: The Gladiators
Forget Spartacus as the greatest gladiator of all time. He’s more famous for leading a revolt than what he accomplished in the arena.

 Remember this name: Spiculus.

 Spiculus was the Mike Tyson of his day, the greatest fighter of his generation. Men trained in order to be able to look and fight like him, and women threw themselves at his feet.

One way that Spiculus trained was with The Tetrad System. This divided training into 4-day cycles, each focusing on a different type of training.

Day 1 was the day of preparation and consisted of short, high-intensity workouts that prepared the athlete for the next day’s workout.

Day 2 was the killer day. It consisted of long, strenuous exercises and served as an all-out test of the athlete’s potential. He was meant to give 110% during this day.

 Day 3 was the rest day. Athletes would either rest or perform only very light exercise. The ancients knew that you needed rest in order to recover and incorporated this principle in their training systems.

Day 4 came after the rest day and consisted of medium intensity exercises. After Day4, the entire cycle was rebooted and started again.

Different gladiator schools used different systems, but The Tetrad System was one of the most popular systems of its time.

 Galen, an ancient Roman physician (no, I’m not talking about the smart chimps from Planet of the Apes) got his start at a gladiator school. After treating so many gladiator’s injuries, he developed several principles for training.

 The key three were:

 1. You need to vary your intensity. Do a proper warm-up and gradually increase the intensity of your workout. Galen taught the gladiators to never start exercising at their full speed.

 2. A cool down is important. This principle was stressed by many ancient physicians. In order to prevent injury, you need to cool your body down after an intense effort. Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician, recommended that everyone take a slow walk after exercising.

3. You need to rest and let your body recover. Rest was very important to the gladiators. In order to aid recovery, many gladiator schools included bathhouses. Like athletes today trying to get rid of all the lactic acid build-up, gladiators would soak in pools of hot and cold water to ease their tired bodies.

 Your Attitude is Everything
 Seneca compared the life of a gladiator to that of a stoic; the stoic philosophy was incredibly popular in the ancient world and helped many people deal with the stresses of day-to-day life, including gladiators.

 Marcus Aurelius (who you might recall from the first few scenes of The Gladiator) was a stoic philosopher who kept a daily journal to keep himself grounded. It was published after his death as Meditations and gives guidance on how to live a good life and stay sane in a world of chaos.

 My favorite quote is about how to deal with annoying, petty, or malicious people:

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine.”

 One of the main tenets of stoicism is to focus on the things that you can control and forget about the rest.
You have certain amounts of control over some things and zero control over others. You can control what you eat or if you enter each arena with your game face on, but you cannot control the weather.

If you’re wasting time complaining about things that are out of your zone of control, focus your mental energy on trying to improve things that you can control.

 One important aspect of stoicism is learning to accept things as they are or that are inevitable. You’re going to grow old. You’re going to die; it’s inevitable. Stoicism helped people accept that.

 The Mind and Body
 A gladiator would enter ever arena ready for combat, knowing that he might die that day. This was a given that he had to accept.

 Building a healthy mindset was as important to ancient gladiators as was building a strong, capable body. There are certain risks and inevitabilities in life, both of which you can never escape. Like the gladiators, you need to learn to accept them and not let them negatively affect your life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Peter Burns is a world traveler whose interests include fitness, history, gaining weight, learning languages and a wide variety of other things. He is on a quest to become a superhero. Join him on his journey by checking out his blog, Renaissance Man Journal.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Medieval Sword in Excellent Condition Accidentally Found in a Peat Bog in Poland

Ancient Origins

An excavator operator who was working in a peat bog in Poland last month, accidentally discovered a magnificent 14th century longsword, which is in an extremely good condition. Experts believe that this is a unique find to the region.

 Stunning 14th Century Sword Discovered in Great Condition
As Gizmodo reports, Wojciech Kot, an excavator operator who discovered the long-sword in the peat bog in the Polish municipality of Mircze, has donated the sword to the Fr. Stanislaw Staszic Museum. Museum experts are currently examining the weapon, while the preparations for an organized archaeological expedition have already started.

 Even though the long sword has been corroded over time, archaeologists reassure say that this is normal due to the fact that it had been in the bog for more than six centuries. The only part missing from the long sword is the original hilt, which was thought to have been made from antler, bone or wood.

 Initially, the impressive sword measured 47 inches long (120 cm), and weighed only 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg), “The elongated grip was intended for two-handed use which coupled with its long reach and light weight made the sword an agile weapon for armored knights in battle. This design is typical of the 14th century,” notes The History Blog.

The Long Sword. Image: Fr. Stanisław Staszic Museum

The Sword’s Origins
The rear bar of the sword features an isosceles cross inscribed inside the shape of a heraldic shield, which was most likely created by the blacksmith. Museum’s director Bartłomiej Bartecki focused on the find’s uniqueness, “This is a unique find in the region. It is worth pointing out that while there are similar artefacts in museum collections, their places of discovery is often unknown, and that is very important information for historians and archaeologists,” he stated as Gizmodo reports. As to how the sword ended up in a peat bog, Staszic explained, “It’s possible that an unlucky knight was pulled into the marsh, or simply lost his sword.” The History Blog, however, attempts to give a more detailed explanation about the sword’s likely origins:

 “The area is first appears on the historical record in the 13th century where it’s mentioned as the site of a few hunting lodges surrounded by forest. The region was part of Ruthenia (aka the Kievan Rus) then and was absorbed by the Kingdom of Poland in 1366 century after the disintegration of the Rus. The Polish governor built a castle in Hrubieszów in the late 14th century. So at least the second half of the century offered good employment opportunity for knights. Or he could have just been riding through and made a wrong turn into the bog.”

The sword found in the peat bog in Poland. Photo: PAP/ Wojciech Pacewicz

Excavation Expected at the Peat Bog
 In the coming days, a team of Polish archaeologists will return to the discovery site to carry out limited excavations at the peat bog. No bones have been found near the sword's location, but the team hopes to find any possible artifacts or other belongings from the knight. As for the sword, it is expected to undergo conservation in Warsaw, "This treatment will also help determine its owner. We believe that there could be engraved signs on the blade near the hilt; those were most often made by swordmakers who marked swords for the knights. This could help us determine the origin of the weapon," Bartecki told PAP, and assured that after the conservation and analysis end, the sword will become part of the main exhibition at the Museum in Hrubieszów.

Top image: Bartłomiej Bartecki, director of the Museum in Hrubieszów presents the sword found in the Commune of Mircze. Photo: PAP/ Wojciech Pacewicz

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Historical recipes: How to make Russian Easter sweet bread Kulich

History Extra

Often baked in a coffee tin so its shape resembles that of the hats of Russian Orthodox priests, kulich remains a tasty treat after the restrictions of Lent. Traditionally it is decorated with the letters XB – Христос Воскресе (Khristos Voskrese – Christ is risen).


 - 20g dried active baking yeast
- 350ml warm milk
- 200g caster sugar
 - 80g sultanas
 - 50ml rum
- 750g plain flour, sifted
 - 5 eggs
 - 1tsp vanilla extract
 - pinch of salt
- 250g butter, softened
- 80g almonds
 - 80g chopped mixed peel

 Icing (optional):
 - 1 egg white
 - 250g icing sugar
- 1tsp lemon juice

 Dissolve yeast in 100ml warm milk, add ½tsp sugar.
Soak sultanas in rum.
 Sift 120g of flour into a bowl, add remaining 250ml milk and mix well.
 Add yeast mixture, cover, and let it stand in a warm place for 30 mins.
 Separate egg yolks and beat with sugar until fluffy and pale in colour.
 Stir in the rum, add vanilla and mix. In a separate bowl, add a pinch of salt to egg whites. Whisk until peaks form and set aside.
 Add egg yolk mixture to yeast mixture and mix. Fold in the egg whites. Add the remaining flour in small batches, mixing well each time.
 Knead until dough separates from sides of the bowl. Transfer dough to a flat surface and knead for 10 mins.
 When pliable add butter, 50g at a time.
 Knead for 2 mins and form into a ball.
 Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and wrap in a tea towel.
 Leave to rise in a warm place for 90 mins. When dough doubles in size, remove and knead for 2 mins. Knead in sultanas, almonds and mixed peel.
 Line a tin with baking paper, fill 1/3 full with dough and cover with a tea towel. Leave to prove until dough rises to the top.
 Preheat oven to 180°C.
Bake for 45–60 mins.

 Icing (optional): Mix raw egg white with icing sugar and lemon juice. Spread over the top of the bread and let it drizzle down the sides.

 Difficulty: 4/10
Time: 220 mins
 Recipe provided by

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Experts map ancient hill forts of UK and Ireland


Castle Law hill fort, Perth and Kinross. Almost 40% of the hill forts of the UK and Ireland are found in Scotland

 The locations and details of all ancient hill forts in the UK and Ireland have been mapped in an online database for the first time.

Scientists found 4,147 sites - ranging from well-preserved forts to those where only crop marks are left.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford and University College Cork spent five years on the project.

Nearly 40% are in Scotland, with 408 in the Scottish Borders alone.

Information on all the hill forts has been collated onto a website that will be freely accessible to the public so they can discover details of the ancient sites they see in the countryside.

The University of Edinburgh's Prof Ian Ralston, who co-led the project, said: "Standing on a windswept hill fort with dramatic views across the countryside, you really feel like you're fully immersed in history. "

This research project is all about sharing the stories of the thousands of hill forts across Britain and Ireland in one place that is accessible to the public and researchers."

Brown Caterthun near Edzell, Angus. Sometimes only vegetation marks and remnants of the forts show where they once stood

Prof Gary Lock, from the University of Oxford, said it was important the online database was freely available to researchers and others, such as heritage managers, and would provide the baseline for future research on hill forts.

 He added: "We hope it will encourage people to visit some incredible hill forts that they may never have known were right under their feet."

In England, Northumberland leads the way with 271 hill forts, while in the Republic of Ireland, Mayo and Cork each have more than 70 sites.

Powys is the county with the most hill forts in Wales, with 147, and in Northern Ireland, Antrim has the most, with 15.

Hill forts were mostly built during the Iron Age, with the oldest dating to around 1000 BC and the most recent to 700 AD, and had numerous functions, some of which have not been fully discovered.

Hill fort near Alyth, Perth and Kinross. The researchers have found 4,147 sites across the UK and Ireland

Despite the name, not all hill forts are on hills, and not all are forts, the experts said.

Excavations show many were used predominantly as regional gathering spots for festivals and trade, and some are on low-lying land.

The research team from the University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford and University College Cork were funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to gather information from citizen scientists.

 About 100 members of the public collected data about the hill forts they visited, identifying and recording the characteristics of forts, which was then analysed by the team.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Match Made in Greek Legend: What Happened When Heracles Met the Snake Woman?

Ancient Origins

While completing his Twelve Labors, the Greek hero Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules) got up to tons of mischief—and that included bedding a lot of women. In the process, he fathered a whole host of legendary sons, called the Heracleidae, from whom many clans across the Mediterranean claimed descent. According to Herodotus, the “Father of History,” the Greeks living in Scythia—an area of Central Eurasia—were descended from one of Heracles’s most interesting sons.

 Heracles Meets a Half-Human, Half-Serpent Mate
The Greeks who lived on the Black Sea (a.k.a. “Pontic Greeks”) created a founding myth directly tied to their homeland. During Heracles’s tenth labor—capturing cattle belonging to the monster Geryon—the hero arrived in what would eventually become the fertile land of Scythia, then a desert. Geryon himself lived on an island, so Heracles decided to rest up before sailing out to tackle him. He must have forgotten to tie up his horses, though, since they ran off while he was asleep.

Heracles and the Horses of Diomedes. ( Public Domain )

While searching throughout Scythia, Heracles came across an area called “The Woodland.” In that cave, he discovered a hybrid creature whose upper half was that of a human woman, but her bottom half was 100% pure snake. Both she and the famed Greek monster Echidna, mother of the likes of the Sphinx and Cerberus, were half-snake, half-woman. Our viper madam was never given a first name, so she’s more likely an echidna, not the Echidna.

Echidna. Sculpture by Pirro Ligorio 1555, Parco dei Mostri (Monster Park), Lazio, Italy. (Gabriele Delhey/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

 Heracles asked this unusual half-human, half-serpent if she’d seen his horses; she said she was hiding them, but would only give them back if he had sex with her. Emotional and sexual blackmail? Par for the course for Greek mythology, Heracles agreed to the bargain, but the snake woman was so into him that she pulled a Circe and tried to keep him there forever by refusing to return his horses.

An Echidna fighting Hercules in the TV program ‘ Hercules: The Legendary Journeys ’.
( CC BY SA )

Eventually, he got really annoyed—and then she told him she was pregnant! The snake lady said she had three of his sons in her belly and asked the hero what she was supposed to do with them when they grew up. Heracles gave her a belt with a golden goblet hanging from it and a big bow. He told her that, when they were adults, the youths should all try to draw the bow and put the girdle on; whoever drew the super-stiff bow and wore the girdle best would inherit her land in Scythia. The other ones, she should send away.

Heracles drawing back his bow. ( Public Domain )

Heracles’ Three Sons with the Snake Woman Compete
Years later, the snake woman’s three sons grew up into nice young men. The oldest was Agathyrsus, the second Gelonus, and the youngest Scythes. The eldest two guys couldn’t draw their dad’s bow or put his belt on properly, so their mom banished them, but little Scythes was able to do the job.

Scythes went on to found the kingdom of Scythia, and, as Herodotus claimed, “from Scythes, the son of Hercules, were descended the after kings of Scythia.” And those very monarchs also wore belts with goblets hanging from them, in the tradition of their legendary ancestor.

‘Ovid among the Scythians’ (1862) by Eugène Delacroix. ( Public Domain )

And Agathyrsus and Gelonus fathered tribes named after themselves in the same general area; not bad for failures. Interestingly, some medieval Irish chroniclers traced the ancestry of the Picts, a confederation of tribes in what is now Scotland, to the Agathyrsi and Geloni.

Hand-colored version of Theodor de Bry’s engraving of a Pict woman (a member of an ancient Celtic people from Scotland). De Bry’s engraving, “The True Picture of a Women Picte.” ( Public Domain )

Top Image: ‘Heracles and Omphale’ (1724) by François Lemoyne. (Deriv.) ( Public Domain ) Like the Echidna, mythology counts Omphale as another of Heracles’ lovers.

By Carly Silver

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Unmasking King Richard: Does the Lionhearted King of England Have a Better Reputation Than He Deserves?

Ancient Origins

Cruel. Courageous. Scheming. Chivalrous. These are just some of the contradictory words that have been used to describe the English king with a ‘Lion heart.’ But lions are not always majestic creatures, they can be downright vicious… perhaps this nickname really does suit the famous king Richard I?

 Richard I was an English king who lived during the 12th century. He is famous, amongst other things, for his epithet, Cœur de Lion, which is often translated as ‘the Lionheart’. This is an attestation to Richard’s skill as a military commander and to his courage as a warrior. For many, he is seen as a hero, especially with regards to his military campaigns against Saladin in the Holy Land. Nevertheless, there seems to be a darker side to Richard’s life, one that is often left out when his story is told.

A Drastic Take on ‘Rebelling Against Your Father’
Richard I was born in 1157 in Oxford, England. His father was Henry II of England and his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1173, Richard joined his brothers, Henry and Geoffrey, in their revolt against their father. The king had to invade Aquitaine twice before Richard finally surrendered. After the failure of this rebellion, Richard begged for his father’s forgiveness, which he received. Additionally, Richard swore allegiance once more to his father.

‘Richard Duke of the Normans and of the Aquitanians and Count of the Angevins.’ (Public Domain)

 Richard was pardoned by his father for his participation in the rebellion and after that was occupied with putting down uprisings by disgruntled barons in his own duchy of Aquitaine, especially in the region of Gascony. Richard’s cruelty in governing his duchy eventually resulted in a major revolt by the Gascons in 1183. Additionally, the rebels sought the aid of Richard’s brothers, Henry and Geoffrey, in their attempt to oust Richard from Aquitaine. The uprising collapsed, however, when Henry died suddenly in June 1183.

The death of his elder brother meant that Richard was now the new heir to the throne. Henry II wanted give Aquitaine to Richard’s younger brother, John, a plan that the future king vehemently opposed. As a result, Richard formed an alliance with the King of France, Philip II, and drove Henry II into submission. Henry II, who was forced to acknowledge Richard as his heir, died shortly after this in 1189.

Richard the Lionheart, Richard I of England, being anointed during his coronation in Westminster Abbey. (Public Domain)

A Warrior King Who Barely Saw His Kingdom
Although Richard was crowned King of England, his interest was not in ruling the kingdom left by his father. Instead, he fantasized about leading the Third Crusade, which had for its goal the recapture of Jerusalem, following its fall to Saladin in 1187. Of his ten-year reign as the King of England, only six months of it were spent in this kingdom. Furthermore, in order to fund his military campaign in the Holy Land, Richard emptied his father’s treasury and sold sheriffdoms and other offices. In 1190, Richard set out for the Holy Land with a formidable fleet and army.

Richard I Leaving England for the Crusades. (Public Domain)

In June 1191, the king arrived in Acre. The city fell in July and Richard’s brilliant victory over Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf resulted in the control of the southern Levantine coast all the way to Jaffa by the Crusaders. In 1192, Richard concluded a treaty with Saladin, which included a truce of three years and permission for Christian pilgrims to access the holy places in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the Third Crusade ultimately failed to achieve its main goal, i.e. the recapture of Jerusalem.

Tiles depicting Richard I of England and Saladin, now in the British Museum. (CC BY SA 3.0)

Diplomatic Issues Take their Toll
Richard seems to have not been on good terms with the other leaders of the Crusade. For instance, he had quarreled with Philip II, the King of France and insulted Leopold V, the Duke of Austria, by tearing down his banner. The former had returned to France following the fall of Acre and was plotting to take over Richard’s lands in France. This was one of the reasons that prompted the English king to leave the Holy Land and to return to Europe.

Richard and Philip of France, French manuscript of 1261. (Public Domain)

On his way back to England, Richard was driven ashore near Venice due to bad weather. As he had previously offended Leopold V, Richard decided to disguise himself, though he was recognized in Vienna in 1192 and subsequently imprisoned by the duke.

 Richard was then handed over to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI and was only released after a huge ransom of 150,000 marks was paid. After returning to England, Richard was crowned as King of England for a second time, as he feared that the ransom paid to Henry VI had compromised the independence of his kingship.

Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI grants a pardon to Richard I of England. ( Public Domain )

Shortly after this, Richard left for Normandy and fought against Philip II intermittently for the last few years of his life. In

1199, Richard was fighting against Viscount Aimar V of Limoges, who had revolted against him. The insignificant castle of Chalus-Chabrol was besieged by Richard, which, according to some sources, was due to Aimar’s refusal to hand over a hoard of gold unearthed by a peasant to the king. It was here that Richard was wounded by an arrow. He died several days later.

Tomb of Richard I of England at Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon, in Anjou, France.
 ( Public Domain )

Top Image: King Richard I. Source: vikingstovirgin

By Wu Mingren

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Three Boat Burials of Viking-era Chiefs Found in as Many Days at Icelandic Site

Ancient Origins

Archaeologists have announced that they found three Viking-age boat burials in quick succession on a fjord along Iceland’s northern coast this week. They believe they may find more Viking burials in the vicinity and hope they will be unlooted. Two other burials had been discovered in previous years, making these recent burials the third, fourth and fifth.

 The discovery earlier this week of a boat, sword and dog bones, buried along with some human bones from the 9 th or 10 th centuries, indicates an important chief was memorialized there. Archaeologists are working quickly to excavate the burial because some of it has already been washed away by waves. Another ship burial was located right next to this first one and the third not far away.

 Archaeologists are unsure what has been lost to the waters of the fjord so far because half the boat has been washed away, says a story about the excavation in Iceland Magazine online. The experts expect to find that the other boat burials have also been washing out to sea, says another article in the magazine.

Hikers came across this Viking sword last September in southern Iceland. The sword from the ship burial is not in as good condition as this one. ( Photo: Árni Björn)

While the dog and sword burial is heavily damaged from erosion, archaeologists believe they will find still other burials in the vicinity.

Two of the names of the site, near Akureyri town on Eyjafjörður fjord in northern Iceland, contain words for burials.

Says Iceland Magazine:

The area where the ship burial was found is known as Dysnes, a name which points to Viking age graves, as dys is an old word for burial mound. The word Dysnes could be translated to ‘Burial ness.’ The precise location of the boat grave is then known as Kumlateigur, kuml being another old word for burial, and Kumlateigur translating as ‘Burial stretch.’ Both place names are ancient and point to more than one grave.

 A boat burial was discovered at Kumlholt or “Burial hill” south of this site 11 years ago.

The recent finds are important for a couple of reasons. Experts say that while many important Viking chiefs were buried in boats in mainland Scandinavia, only a few such entombments have been found in Iceland. The island nation has few trees, and timber was scarce for boat-building there, so it’s thought in Iceland such burials were uncommon. Boats were just too valuable, says Iceland Magazine.

How a Viking boat may have looked in a 1912 reproduction in the Homes and Gardens magazine (Flickr’s The Commons/ Wikimedia)

Another reason the first find is important is the discovery of the sword, which is rare. The inclusion of a boat and sword in the burial both indicate the chief was very important and powerful. Last September a Viking age sword was found in southern Iceland.

Another unusual thing about the find is that Viking burials that have not been looted are rare. Many such burials in Iceland that have been excavated have been robbed. The boat burial at Kumlholt from 11 years ago was robbed at some time. Of course we will never know what valuables were taken from that grave.

Waves have washed away half of the boat in the most recent find and all the artifacts contained in that part of it have been lost. The sword and dog and human bones were near the surface. The discovery of the sword leads the experts to believe the grave had been previously undisturbed.

Top image: Archaeologists dig at the site of the first ship burial, where the human and dog bones, the ship and sword were found. You can see how close the waters of the fjord are in the background.        ( Iceland Magazine /Auðunn)

By Mark Miller

Friday, June 23, 2017

Vikings Used Sherwood Forest Long Before It Was Known as the Hideout of Robin Hood

Ancient Origins

A team of archaeologists has made a significant discovery at an ancient monument which served as a Viking meeting point in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, England. Archaeologists stated that the newly found ruins mark the site of ‘Thing’ or Thynghowe of great archaeological significance not only nationally, but internationally as well.

 Vikings Used Ancient Monument Way Before Robin Hood Makes it Famous The new discovery suggests that long before legendary figure Robin Hood was hiding in Sherwood Forest, Vikings held their most important meetings there. The site, known as a Thynghowe, is at the top of Hanger Hill, on the boundary of the Budby, Warsop and Edwinstowe parishes, and on the edge of Birklands wood. 

The Thynghowe was discovered by local residents Stuart Reddish and Lynda Mallett in 2004, who have since founded the community action group The Friends of Thynghowe. Over a decade later, Mercian’s Geophysical Magnetometer Survey findings are putting a spotlight on their discovery, opening a window for new study and further examination of the Viking influence in Sherwood. “It was the group, their drive and passion, who have helped to find and protect this site,” archaeologist Andy Gaunt of Mercian Archaeological Services told Observer.

Consequently Gaunt explains how these meetings worked, “It’s where they [Vikings] signed laws, settled disputes and all sorts of things like that. The ‘thing site’ is definitely where they’d meet and where they would hold assemblies. And, if we’re correct, they would’ve stood within the circle and discussed laws and the question of the day, and then they’d pronounce the verdict from the top of the hill from the ‘thing mound’. That’s how it might have worked,” he says according to a report from local news site Notts TV.

A scan of the Viking meeting point in Sherwood Forest. Credit: Mercian Archaeological Services CIC

The Ancient Parliamentary Plains of Iceland
 Only a handful of ‘Thing sites’ have been found all over the Viking world: in Dublin, the Isle of Man and the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands and Iceland – arguably the most famous Viking Thing Site.

 Also known as the country’s first parliament, the Althingi (literally meaning the all thing, or general assembly), is over a thousand years old. As reported in a previous Ancient Origins article, the Althingi was founded in 930 AD and was originally used for the general assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth.

Þingvellir National Park, iceland . Photo source: UNESCO.

These assemblies were conducted at Þingvellir (the ‘assembly fields’ or ‘Parliament Plains’), which is in the south western part of the island. The gatherings typically lasted for two weeks in June, which was a period of uninterrupted daylight, and had the mildest weather. During these meetings, the country’s most powerful leaders would decide on legislation and dispense justice. At the center of the assembly was the Lögberg, or Law Rock. This was a rocky outcrop which the Lawspeaker, the presiding official of the assembly, took his seat. This Lawspeaker was an important national official, and was elected for a three-year term as the chairman of the lögrétta (legislative or law council). Among other duties, the Lawspeaker had to announce publicly the laws that were passed by the lögrétta.

The Law Rock, where the world’s first every Parliament congregated. Image source

 Despite the prestige that went along with this position, the Lawspeaker had, in reality, little or no official power. Thus, the Lawspeaker may be comparable to the Speakers of modern day parliaments. Serious matters of government were not the only items on the agenda. The general assembly was in fact also the main social event of the year. Hundreds of Icelanders of all professions, including farmers, traders and craftsmen, would converge on the Axe River which ran through the Þingvellir. During the two weeks that the general assembly was in session, friendships were formed and broken, news and information were passed on from one person to another, disputes were settled, and business would have been transacted. The gathering would almost certainly have had a festival-like atmosphere to it.

Vikings marching to Althing, the world's oldest parliament established in Thingvellir in AD 930. Image by Marja.

The Viking Meeting Point in Sherwood Forest is Unique
An excited Gaunt, however, argues that the Viking meeting point in Sherwood Forest is different than the rest in its own way, “The level of preservation makes it a pristine. There’s not really an equivalent. We can stand on that hill and know we’re standing where Vikings stood. There are not many places in the U.K. where you can say that,” he told Observer. And adds: “Its hugely important archaeological remains could have been lost forever and have remained unknown and unrecorded.”

Ultimately, Gaunt clarified that the next step for the Mercian and the Friends of Thynghowe team is to wait patiently for the results of further scientific examination of the finds from local universities, and then to conduct a wide study where more experts can participate, while everyone who’s fascinated by Viking history will get a chance to learn more about Viking legacy in Sherwood. “This is the Viking part of the story of Sherwood Forest,” he told Observer adding that between the Saxons and Medieval period, Thynghowe provides “another layer of that magical story.”

Top image: Reconstruction of a Viking meeting by jonathan_hart

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Thursday, June 22, 2017

1,500-Year-Old Mound in England Found to be Elite Anglo Saxon Burial

Ancient Origins

Students at the historic British boys’ boarding school Eton College may have been using an ancient grave as a community gathering place for centuries, not realizing that the 20-foot mound near the school is really a Saxon burial monument built 1,500 years ago, possibly holding the body of an important historical figure.

Eton Montem as depicted in The English Spy, published 1825. (public domain)

 New Finds Will Extend Knowledge of the History of Slough
The University of Reading official website reports that the circular mound in Slough, England, which is more than 100 feet (30 meters) across, was built about 1,500 years ago, during the same period of time other well-known burial mounds were created in order to “accommodate” local leaders and people of high social status. According to the archaeologists of the prestigious University, the Montem Mound in the Berkshire town, now surrounded by Municipal buildings and car parks, is no exception to that rule and most likely served as the resting place of a significant person and could also contain artifacts of significant value.

 The discovery of the “Sutton Hoo of Slough” is considered to be of great archaeological value since it is only one of the very few mounds from this period. Additionally, the newly found mound opposes the previous dominant theory that suggested that the specific structure was a Norman Conquest-era “motte and bailey” castle.

Dr. Jim Leary, the University of Reading archaeologist who led the exploration back in December 2016, stated as Phys Org reports: "Conventional wisdom placed the Montem Mound 500 years later, in the Norman period. But we have shown that it dates to between the 5th and 7th centuries, not long after the collapse of Roman Empire. This is a time of heroic myth and legend where archaeology fills the gaps of the historic record. This discovery will add so much more to our understanding of the people who lived in Britain at this time. It will also extend our knowledge of the history of Slough."

Unique Technique Used for the First Time
The mound is already a statutory Scheduled Ancient Monument which protects it from development. As Phys Org mentions, the discovery took place during a Leverhulme Trust-funded project called the “Round Mounds Project”. With the use of a novel technique which drills into and dates mottes in England for the first time, researchers get a unique chance to learn more about the age of the monuments. The specific technique allows important information to be collected while it doesn’t severely harm the precious archaeological sites.

King George III and Queen Charlotte at the “Montem”, 1778 (ink wash on paper), by Samuel H. Grimm via the British Library online gallery 

Working alongside colleagues at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre at East Kilbride, the team from Reading has demonstrated that, despite the majority of the mounds examined so far being constructed in the period immediately after the Norman Conquest in 1066, there are some extraordinary exceptions.

Dr. Jim Leary said as Phys Org reports, “We tested material from all through the mound, so we are confident that it dates to the Saxon period. Given the dates of the mound, its size and dimensions, and the proximity to the known richly-furnished Saxon barrow at Taplow, it seems most likely that Montem Mound is a prestigious Saxon burial mound."

Montem Mound, Bath Road, Slough. December 1997 (Slough History Online)

 The archaeological investigations at the site were agreed with Historic England, and consent was granted by the Secretary of State. It is managed as a historical feature as part of Slough Borough Council's parks and open spaces services. The Council is already preparing an enhancement scheme with an interpretation board so that everyone can understand the importance and history of this special green mound.

Top image: Main: Anglo Saxon Portraits (BBC) Inset: Montem Mound (CC by SA 3.0)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Solstice - June 21, 2017

The longest day of the year! The summer solstice occurs when the tilt of a planet's semi-axis, in either the northern or the southern hemisphere, is most inclined toward the star that it orbits.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sam’s historical recipe corner: Anzac biscuits

History Extra

Tasty, nutritious and easy to make, it’s not surprising that Anzac biscuits are still a popular snack in Australia and New Zealand, particularly on Anzac Day (25 April), which marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.

85g porridge oats
 85g desiccated coconut
 100g plain flour
 100g caster sugar
 100g butter, plus extra for greasing
 1 tbsp golden syrup
 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Put the oats, coconut, flour and sugar in a bowl. Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the golden syrup. Add the bicarbonate of soda to 2 tbsp boiling water, then stir into the golden syrup and butter mixture.

 Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the butter and golden syrup mixture. Stir gently to incorporate the dry ingredients.

 Put dessertspoonfuls of the mixture on to buttered baking sheets – about 2.5cm/1in apart to allow room for spreading. Bake in batches for 8-10 mins until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

 My verdict
I’ve often read that Anzac biscuits were sent out to New Zealand and Australian troops serving in Gallipoli during the First World War. According to the National Army Museum, though, this is a myth and most of these deliciously chewy biscuits were in fact sold at fetes and galas at home, often as part of fundraising efforts. You can imagine, though, that they would have been an ideal biscuit for soldiers: hearty, nutritious and long-lasting.

 On a Monday morning, the BBC History Magazine team tucked into a few that had been left in the office all weekend: they still tasted just as good!

 Difficulty: 2/10
 Time: 20 minutes

 Recipe courtesy of BBC Good Food.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Seductive Sirens of Greek Mythology: How the Heroes Resisted Temptation

Ancient Origins

Sirens (sometimes spelled as ‘seirenes’) are a type of creature found in ancient Greek mythology. Sirens are commonly described as beautiful but dangerous creatures. In Greek mythology, sirens are known for seducing sailors with their sweet voices, and, by doing so, lure them to their deaths. The sirens have been mentioned by numerous ancient Greek authors. Arguably one of the most famous references regarding the sirens comes from Homer’s Odyssey, in which the hero, Odysseus, encounters these creatures during his voyage home from Troy.

Terracotta two handed vase or Kylix, decorated with black Sirens (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sirens in Ancient Literature The number of sirens varies according to the ancient authors. Homer, for example, mentions neither the number nor names of the sirens that Odysseus and his companions encountered. Other writers, however, are more descriptive. For instance, some state that there were two sirens (Aglaopheme and Thelxiepeia), whilst others claim that there were three of them (Peisinoë, Aglaope and Thelxiepeia or Parthenope, Ligeia and Leucosia).

Ulysses and the Sirens, 1868, Firmin Girard (Public Domain)

The authors were also not in agreement with each other regarding the parentage of the sirens. One author, for instance, claimed that the sirens were the daughters of Phorcys (a primordial sea god), whilst another stated that they were the children of Terpsichore (one of the nine Muses). According to one tradition, the sirens were the companions or handmaidens of Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. After Persephone’s abduction by Hades, the sirens were given wings. According to some authors, this was requested by the sirens themselves, so that they may be more effective at searching for their mistress. Others attribute these wings as a punishment from Demeter, as the sirens had failed to prevent the abduction of Persephone.

An Archaic perfume vase in the shape of a siren, circa 540 BC (Public Domain)

In any event, this association with the myth of Persephone’s abduction has contributed to the depiction of the sirens by the ancient Greeks. In general, these creatures are depicted as birds with the heads of women. In some instances, the sirens are depicted with arms. According to researchers, the sirens (or at least the way they are portrayed) are of Eastern origin (the ancient Egyptian ba, for example, is often depicted as a bird with a human head), and entered Greece during the orientalising period of Greek art.

 Resisting the Sirens’ Seductive Song
The sirens appear in many ancient Greek myths. One of the most famous of stories about the sirens can be found in Homer’s Odyssey. In this piece of literature, the sirens are said to live on an island near Scylla and Charybdis, and the hero Odysseus was warned about them by Circe. In order to stop his men from being seduced by the sirens’ singing, Odysseus had his men block their ears with wax. As the hero wanted to hear the sirens singing, he ordered his men to tie him tightly to the mast of the ship. As Odysseus and his men sailed past the island which the sirens inhabited, the men were unaffected by their song, as they could not hear it. As for Odysseus, he heard the sirens sing, but lived to tell the tale, being bound to the mast.

Ulysses and the Sirens, 1891, John William Waterhouse. Ulysses (Odysseus) is tied to the mast and the crew have their ears covered to protect them from the sirens (Public Domain)

Another myth that features the sirens is that of Jason and the Argonauts. Like Odysseus, Jason and his men also had to sail past the siren’s island. Fortunately for the Argonauts, they had Orpheus, the legendary musician, with them. As the sirens began to sing their song, in the hopes of seducing the Argonauts, Orpheus played a tune on his lyre. The music overpowered the voices of the sirens, and the Argonauts were able to sail safely past the island. Only one Argonaut, Butes, was enchanted, and he jumped out of the ship in order to swim to them. Fortunately for him, he was saved by Aphrodite, who took him from the sea, and placed him in Lilybaeum.

 Top image: Ulysses (Odysseus) and the Sirens, circa, 1909 by Herbert James Draper. (Public Domain)

 By Wu Mingren

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pegasus: The Majestic White Horse of Olympus

Ancient Origins

Pegasus is the majestic flying horse found in Greek mythology. This creature is traditionally depicted as a pure white horse with wings. The father of Pegasus is said to be the god of the sea, Poseidon, whilst its mother was the Gorgon Medusa. Pegasus is best known for its association with the heroes Perseus and Bellerophon. In the story of Perseus’ slaying of Medusa, one can find the narration of Pegasus’ birth. This winged horse later became the mount of Bellerophon, and can be found in the stories about this hero’s exploits, including the slaying of the chimera, and his flight to Mount Olympus.

 Hesiod's Theogony
In Hesiod's Theogony, it is written that “with her [Medusa] the god of the Sable Locks [Poseidon] lay in a soft meadow among the spring flowers”. The union between Medusa and Poseidon resulted in Pegasus and Chrysaor, who were born when Medusa was decapitated by the hero Perseus,

 “And when Perseus cut off her head from her neck, out sprang great Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus. He was so named because he was born beside the waters of Oceanus, while the other was born with a golden sword in his hands.”

Perseus with the head of Medusa, Benvenuto Cellini (1554) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Hesiod also mentions that after Pegasus was born, the horse flew off to Mount Olympus, where it came to live in Zeus’ palace. There, Pegasus was given the job of carrying the god’s thunder and lightning. Alternatively, the stories in Greek mythology suggest that Pegasus spent some time on earth before flying to Mount Olympus. During this time, Pegasus served two heroes – Perseus and Bellerophon.

 Following the death of Medusa, Perseus is said to have been travelling home when he caught sight of a maiden chained to a rock. This was Andromeda, the daughter of the King and Queen of Ethiopia. Andromeda’s mother had angered Poseidon by boasting that her daughter was more beautiful than even the Nereids. The god then punished the people of Ethiopia by first sending a flood, and then a sea monster to terrorize them. The only way to appease Poseidon was to sacrifice Andromeda, which was the reason for her being chained to a rock.

Pegasus emerges from the body of Medusa. ‘The Perseus Series: The Death of Medusa I’ by Edward Burne-Jones (Public Domain)

Perseus offered to rescue the princess, and deal with the monster, provided that he be given Andromeda’s hand in marriage. The king agreed to this, and when the monster came to claim the princess, it was turned to stone by Perseus with the severed head of Medusa. The connection between Pegasus and Andromeda may be seen in the sky, where their constellations can be found side by side.

Perseus saving Andromeda, 1596, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. (Public Domain)

Bellerophon and Pegasus
Pegasus was also the mount of Bellerophon, who came to possess the flying horse during his quest against the chimera. According to one story, the hero had visited the city of Tiryns, where Proetus was king. The queen, Stheneboea, is said to have fallen in love with Bellerophon, though the hero rejected her advances. Feeling humiliated, Stheneboea went to her husband, and accused the hero of trying to seduce her. The enraged Proetus sent Bellerophon to his father-in-law, Iobates, the King of Lycia, with a letter. In the letter, the king was asked to kill the messenger.

 Instead of putting Bellerophon to death, however, Iobates decided to dispatch the hero on a quest to kill the chimera, believing that he would not survive the encounter. To prepare for this quest, Bellerophon is said to have consulted the Corinthian seer, Polyeidos, who advised him to seek out Pegasus. In one version of the myth, Polyeidos knew where Pegasus alighted to drink, and shared the information with Bellerophon, thus allowing him to tame it. In another version, it was Poseidon (Bellerophon’s secret father) who brought Pegasus to him. The most popular version of the story, however, is that it was Athena who brought Pegasus to Bellerophon. With the help of Pegasus, Bellerophon succeeded in slaying the chimera.

Bellerophon on Pegasus spears the Chimera, on an Attic red-figure epinetron, 425–420 BC. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Over time, Bellerophon’s pride grew, and he aspired to scale the heights of Mount Olympus on the back of Pegasus to take his place amongst the immortals. Zeus was aware of the hero’s ambition, and sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus. Bellerophon lost his balance, and fell back to earth. Pegasus, however, continued the journey to Mount Olympus, and went on to live in Zeus’ palace, and was given the task of carrying the god’s thunder and lightning.

Bellerophon riding Pegasus (1914) (Public Domain)

Top image: Pegasus. (

By Wu Mingren

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Archaeologists Stumble Upon 10 Egyptian Late Period Rock-Hewn Tombs

Ancient Origins

An Egyptian mission from the Ministry of Antiquities recently came across 10 previously undiscovered rock-hewn tombs on the West Bank of Aswan. They say the tombs date to the Late Period (664‒332 BC) and contain sarcophagi, mummies, and funerary collections.

The team was working at the nearby Agha Kahn mausoleum when they found the tombs. Nasr Salama, director-general of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities, told Ahram Online the tombs are architecturally similar. All feature sliding steps leading to an entrance, followed by a small burial chamber. Inside those chambers the researchers have found stone sarcophagi and mummies, as well as artifacts such as a gilded coffin, painted mummy mask, clay pot, and canopic jars.

A painted mummy mask found as part of one of the funerary collections. ( Ahram Online )

Funerary goods were very important elements of ancient Egyptian burials. As Ancient Origins writer Dhwty explained in an article on enigmatic funerary cones :

 “Ancient Egyptians were extremely concerned about the afterlife, and they did all they could to provide for the dead. Funerary goods were buried with the dead to provide protection and sustenance in the afterlife. Amulets and magic spells, for example, protected and aided the dead in their journey through the Underworld, whilst little figurines called shabtis could be magically animated to perform tasks for the dead in the afterlife. Other common items buried with the dead include jewelry, pottery, furniture and food.”

A canopic jar found in one of the Aswan tombs. ( Ministry of Antiquities )

An initial study of the tombs suggests that they are likely an extension of the Aswan necropolis containing overseers from the Old, Middle, and New kingdom. The team will return to excavations and conservation work on the tombs in September. They hope to learn more about the deceased at that time.

 In June 2015, Mark Miller reported for Ancient Origins that six other ancient Egyptian tombs belonging to elite members of the 26th dynasty of the Late Pharaonic Period were found in the necropolis near Agha Khan’s mausoleum. Before that, only tombs from the early and middle dynasties had been excavated in that part of Aswan.

Those tombs were looted in the unrest of 2011, but a number of stunning artifacts were still found including some sarcophagi with mummies intact, statues of the falcon-headed god Horus and his four sons, and amulets of different colors, shapes and sizes.

Statues found in the 26th dynasty Aswan tombs in 2015. (Ministry of Antiquities/ Egitalloyd Travel Egypt ) 

The 26th dynasty has been called both a Renaissance, after Assyrian conquerors left and Egyptian governors declared themselves kings, and as the last gasp of a once great culture. As Mark Miller wrote: 

“Historians say the prosperity of the time is evident in the many temples built then and the precise care taken to reproduce ancient artworks and literary texts. Also, archaeologists have found that the number of contracts written on papyrus from this era was increasing.”

The Brooklyn Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian medical papyrus dating from about 450 BC. ( Brooklyn Museum )

Top Image: Part of a gilded coffin which was found in one of the Aswan tombs. Source: Ministry of Antiquities

By Alicia McDermott