Friday, 30 July 2010

Leisure Time in Ancient Rome

Most Romans worked hard for a living. Even the rich had little leisure time as they were expected to take part in government and to serve in the army. However, there were several days each year when people took time off work.

On their days off, Romans might watch chariot races (see page 70), go to a gladiatorial contest (see page 68) or go to the public baths (see page 156). Some days off work were religious festivals (see page 202).

Most Romans had a few hours of leisure time each week, and even days off which were not taken up by the most formal holiday activities. They spent this time alone or with friends.

A popular pastime among Romans who lived in or near the country was fishing. Men would sit on the riverbank with a net on the end of a pole or with a fishhook attached to a string dangling from a rod.

Younger Roman men liked to keep fit in case they had to serve in the army. Most towns had an open field called a palaestra where men could practise running, jumping, throwing weights or wrestling.

There were many libraries throughout the empire. Some were set up by the state, others by rich men. Anyone could enter a library to read a book, but the books could not be borrowed.

Gambling was popular with games based on dice or marked counters being played most often. Some Roans lost all their possessions at gambling matches.

Entertaining friends to dinner, or cena, was a popular activity. The Romans thought that nine people was ideal for a dinner party. Richer people might hire entertainers such as dancers or musicians.

When poorer people wanted to entertain friends they would often invite them to a tavern where they could buy food and drink for their friends.

Children had a wide variety of toys to play with. Dolls and model soldiers were popular toys, as were balls and hoops. Poor children had toys of wood, but richer families bought toys made of ivory or metal.

This is an extract from 1000 Facts Ancient Rome by Rupert Matthews

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Early Greek Sculptures

Mycenaean Greeks (see page 10) produced very few sculptures. The entrance gate to Mycenae itself is topped by two carved lions, but otherwise the earliest Greeks preferred abstract designs.
In about 650bc Greeks living and working in Egypt began to produce stone statues of people. The idea spread quickly and by 600bc stone statues were being produced in most Greek cities.

The most common type of statue was the kouros, a naked man usually shown walking slowly with stiff arms and legs. The head always faced directly forward, as in Egyptian statues.

Less numerous were the koure, a female statue. These statues were shown wearing long dresses and were usually used in temples.

These kouros figures were used in temples and on graves to represent gods and men, but no attempt was made to show individual faces. Even when they marked the tomb of a famous man, a kouros showed an ideal human.

The kouros and koure belong to the style of sculpture called the archaic. These statues were designed to be seen from the front and often stood in niches or alcoves.

In around 520bc the rigid kouros began to change. Sculptors began to show men resting on one foot or glancing to one side.

At the same time sculptors began to produce sculptures and reliefs to fit into the triangular spaces on the gable ends, or pediments, of temples. These showed men, animals and monsters in different poses so that they would fit into the space available.

By around 500bc sculptors began working bronze. These statues stood in similar poses to contemporary stone statues Very few bronze statues have survived as most were later melted down.

In 485bc Athens commissioned a group of bronze statues to be set up at Delphi to celebrate the Battle of Marathon. The ship carrying them sank and the statues were recovered in 1972.

This is an extract from 100 Facts on Ancient Greece by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 22 July 2010

King Edward I invades Wales

When King Edward I of England invaded Wales in 1282 it marked the end of an independent Wales. The long struggle between the Welsh and English which had begun when Hengest landed in Kent some eight centuries earlier was finally at an end.

Llywelyn, Prince of Gwynedd and of Wales, had always resented the power of the English and the way they occupied most of Wales. His great rebellion of 1258 drove the English out and united most of Wales. But in 1274 Prince Llywelyn went too far. He refused to attend the coronation of King Edward I of England. Edward never forgot the insult and when Llywelyn tried to marry a wealthy English heiress, Edward struck.

The ship carrying the bride to Wales was attacked and seized by English ships, and the hapless girl brought to Edward’s court as a prisoner. Llywelyn raised his armies and marched into Cheshire, burning and pillaging as he advanced. Edward, however, was ready and soon drove the Welsh back into the mountainous Snowdonia. By the autumn of 1277 Llywelyn was starving and abandoned by most of his men. He surrendered.

In the circumstances, Edward was generous. He allowed Llywelyn to remain as Prince of Gwynedd, though the Welshman was stripped of his other lands and had to promise to pay an annual tribute. Edward made his mistake in the area of law when he imposed English laws on Wales in place of the honoured laws of Hywel Dda. The Welsh resented the move and their resentment grew with time. Welshmen behaving, as they thought, perfectly legally suddenly found themselves hauled up before an English judge.

In 1282 Llywelyn led another great rebellion, like that of 1258. Men flocked to his banner from all over Wales and he led them to the walls of Chester. But even with his men staying with him, the rebellion still ended in disaster. By the following summer the Welsh were once again shut up in Snowdonia. When Llywelyn tried to break out and race to Brecon to raise new forces, he was cut off by the English and killed. His brother, Dafydd, tried to continue the war but he was quickly captured and executed.

This time Edward decided to treat the Welsh more leniently, while taking greater care of military matters. He still insisted that English laws should be enforced, but now he appointed Welshmen to be judges and government officials with instructions to introduce the new laws gradually and with tact. At the same time Edward began the construction of the mighty fortresses which still dominate many Welsh towns. Beaumaris, Caenavon and Conway castles were built to ring the lands of Snowdonia, for so long the centre of resistance to the English.

Finally, Edward decided to reinstate the office of Prince of Wales, but this time giving the job to somebody he could trust. Legend has it that the Welsh demanded Edward give them a Prince who was born in Wales and who could not speak English. Edward readily agreed, and the Welsh chiefs must have congratulated themselves for gaining a victory. But then Edward presented them with his own baby son, born in Wales and unable to speak English as he was only a few months old.

Whether or not the tale is true, the young prince was crowned Prince of Wales in 1301, by which time he was old enough to begin his education in the arts of government. Although there would be future uprisings by the Welsh, the new settlement worked out reasonably well. The combination of tact and military might used by Edward after 1284 ensure that peace at last came to the Welsh Marches.

This is an extract from What Everyone Needs to Know About British History by Rupert Matthews.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Fairy Ointment

Stories about the fairy folk abound in Britain. But these are not the gentle, whimsical fairies of modern fairy tales. Indeed, anyone seeing a group of the little people would be best advised to run or at least hide.

The fairy folk of Britain are a mixed bunch. Some are well-disposed towards humanity, others are not. But one thing is clear from the many stories of mankind’s dealings with the British fairies and that is that it pays to treat them with the greatest respect.

The Irish fairies seem to have taken their music especially seriously. The little folk of Knockgrafton once removed a deforming hump from the back of a local musician whose playing pleased them, but doubled the hump on the back of a man who burst into their dancing with badly played music. In Wales a fairy woman from the waters of Llyn y Fan Fach lake agreed to marry a mortal farmer who kindly offered her bread, but only on condition that he would not strike her without cause. When he did, she returned to the lake taking with her all the livestock which had been bred from those she brought as her dowry.

A farmer on Manx had a disturbing experience in the 1740s when he was taking a horse to market to sell it. Riding the horse down a quiet lane, the farmer met a well dressed man coming the other way. The man asked if the fine horse was for sale and the two men set to bargaining. After a price was agreed, the farmer handed over the horse to the stranger who mounted it and promptly galloped into the side of a hill. The startled farmer rushed home in distress, but his wife calmed him by asking if the horse had been sold at a fair price. If it had the fairies would hold no grudge and would do no harm.

Nor was it entirely wise to talk of the fairies out loud in case they heard and came to call. Instead of naming them the little people were referred to by such names as the people of peace, the good folk or such like. Respect was essential when dealing with creatures known to have a penchant for stealing children and cursing babes.

Of all the magical things spoken of in connection with the fairies, the most enduring and widespread tales feature the fairy ointment which could reveal the fairies for what they were. Although the story of a human hired to work for the fairies is related in many places, the essentials remain the same. In South Wales the story is told of a respectable young woman whose family is poor and so she goes to the hiring fair to find work for herself. She has several younger siblings whom she has cared for and so she decides it is suitable to hire herself out as a nursemaid.

At the fair the girl is approached by a tall man dressed in the most magnificent clothes and leading a fine stallion equipped with the best quality saddles and harness. The man offers her a good wage and good working conditions, but on two conditions. The first is that she must agree to be taken blindfold to her new home and the second that she should never ask questions about her charges or her employer. The girl was poor, but not naive. She supposed that her employer was a rich man of loose morals who was hiring her to care for his children born out of wedlock.

She agreed to the conditions and, having been blindfolded, mounted the great horse. Off they galloped and after some hours hard riding, the man helped the girl dismount and led her up some steps. When the blindfold was removed, the girl found herself in a magnificent house with high ceilings and beautiful decorations. The master of the house led the girl to the nursery and gave her her instructions. Most were not unusual for the work of a nursemaid, but two were odd. First the girl was ordered never to leave the walled gardens around the house without permission. Second she was told the children had an odd eye disease which meant they had to have special ointment put in their eyes each morning. But the ointment would burn those without the disease, so the girl must wash her hands carefully after administering the ointment and take care never to put any in her own eye.

The girl agreed, without asking questions, and went to work. The children of the house were graceful, well mannered and beautifully behaved. The other servants and guests in the house were handsome and well dressed. The food she was given to eat was luxurious and tasty, while the clothes she was given to wear were fine and of the softest wool or linen.

But one fateful day the girl had an itching eye when she was administering the ointment to the children and, without thinking, she rubbed her eye. As soon as the ointment touched the eye, the girl felt a sting but that quickly passed. Then she realised that what she saw out of the corner of her eye, where the ointment had touched was different. The children were impish, ugly creatures. The clothes she wore were rags and the food she was given to eat was mouldy leaves.

As soon as the Master of the house returned the girl asked for leave to go home to see her family. The Master agreed, blindfolded the girl and hoisted her up on his horse. Off they rode until they stopped hear the girl’s home, when the girl tore off her blindfold and fled. Ever after, the eye where the ointment had touched was almost useless. The eye gave pain and refused to focus properly, but it did allow the girl to see the fairies and to be aware of their antics.

This is an extract from Everything You Need to Know About the British by Rupert Matthews

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The First Life on Earth

The first living thing was very odd
Scientists studying rocks about 3 billion years old have found the earliest fossils. Fossils are the remains of living things preserved in rocks. These fossils are the remains of thousands of tiny living things called blue-green algae. These types of algae still live today. They contain just a single cell and are neither animal nor plant.

The first animals were as soft as jelly
Animals do not produce their own food, but feed on other living things such as plants or other animals. The first animals were single-celled creatures that ate single-celled pants. Later animals were made up of hundreds of cells but were all soft and lacking any hard parts. Charnia (charr-nee-ah) grew attached to the seabed, while jellyfish floated freely.

Plants appeared around 1000 million years ago
The first plants were green algae. These single-celled plants had chlorophyll, the green substance that enables plants to convert sunlight to energy. These algae produced oxygen, gradually making the Earth’s atmosphere able to sustain more advanced forms of plant and animal life.

Early land plants simply clung to rocks
By about 800 million years ago, some algae was growing together with fungi to form lichen. Lichen is able to grow on bare rock, creeping across the surface as it grows. The chemicals produced by lichens help break rocks down into grit and soil.

Plants that can stand up are called vascular plants
After many millions of years, more complex plants appeared. These had several different sorts of cell. Some formed tubes called vascules, which transported water and food from one part of the plant to another. When these vascules form stems, a plant can stand upright. One of the earliest such plants was Cooksonia (kook-soh-nee-ah).

Anomalocaris hunted other animals
Anomalocaris (ay-nom-ah-loh-karr-iss) lived about 520 million years ago in what is now Canada. It swam through the shallow seas in search of prey. Smaller animals were caught in its two pincers, then pushed into its mouth. Anomalocaris was an arthropod that grew to be about 60cm long.

I Don’t Believe It!
None of the early animals had bones. They were made up almost completely of muscle, skin and other soft tissue.

This is an extract from 100 Things You Should Know about Prehistoric Life by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Colosseum

The Colosseum was named after a statue.
The official name of the Colosseum was ‘The Flavian Amphitheatre”, named after the Flavian dynasty of emperors who had it built. Most ordinary Romans called it the Colosseum because it was built next to the Colossus, a 30 metre tall statue of the emperor Nero.

The Colosseum was built on a marsh
When the Emperor Vespasian Flavian ordered building work to begin on the Colosseum in ad72 there was only one piece of land large enough in Rome that had not already been built on. This was an area of marsh between the river Tiber and the Emperor’s palace. Before building work could begin the marsh had to be drained. 

The Colosseum could seat 50,000 spectators
The huge seating area was divided up into over 80 sections. Each section had a separate door which led to a flight of steps leading to the outside of the Colosseum. It is thought that the entire audience could have left in less than 15 minutes of the end of the show. The standing room at the top was reserved for slaves and may have held another 4,000 people.

The Colosseum was probably the largest building in the world
When the Colosseum was finished in ad80 it was probably the largest building in the world. The outer walls stood over 46 metres tall and covered an area 194 metres long by 160 metres wide. The walls were covered in stone, but most of the structure was made of brick or concrete.

The first games in the Colosseum lasted 100 days
The Colosseum was finished during the reign of the emperor Titus. Titus wanted to show that he was the most generous man ever to live in Rome, so he organised gladiatorial games to last for 100 days. Thousands of gladiators and wild animals fought in these games, which some people thought were the finest ever staged in Rome.

I don’t believe it
The canvas sun shade over the Colosseum was operated by sailors from the Roman fleet. So most of the fleet had to stay in harbour whenever games were held in sunny weather.

This is an extract from 100 Things You Should Know About Gladiators by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Weapons in Early civilisations

Early Egyptians used hair for armour. Some ancient Egyptians grew their hair very long in dense plaits, then wrapped these around their heads when going into battle. Their hair looked a bit like modern dreadlocks.

Some Egyptian soldiers had shields bigger than themselves. Around 1800bc one type of  Egyptian soldier carried shields that were taller and wider than themselves. The men hid behind the shields as the enemy attacked, then leapt out to use their spears.

Only Egyptian royal guardsmen had axes. Soldiers who served in the bodyguard of the Egyptian Pharaoh, or king, carried special axes. These weapons were made of bronze and each had a heavy round weight that meant they could deliver a heavier blow in battle.

Assyrians wore long cloaks of mail. Some soldiers in the Assyrian army of about 900bc did not use shields. Instead they were covered in mail, a series of interlocking metal rings that can withstand blows from swords or spears.

Babylonians had brightly coloured armour. The city of Babylon, in modern Iraq, was famous for its wealth and power. Babylonians wore armour that they often painted with bright colours to make themselves look more impressive in battle.

True or False?
1. All Egyptian soldiers carried the same sorts of weapon.
2. Only helmets are used to protect the head.
3. Some Assyrians soldiers did not carry shields.

1. FALSE. Royal guard carried axes, other soldiers had spears or swords.
2. FALSE. Some Egyptians used their hair.
3. TRUE. Some wore long coats of mail instead.

This is an extract from 100 Things You Should Know About Arms and Armour by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 9 July 2010

New types of atomic weaons

Meanwhile, the world’s military were developing other forms of nuclear weaponry. The neutron bomb was developed by the USA in the 1970s. This was a form of fusion weapon, which resulted in a small explosion, but a huge outburst of neutron radiation. In practical terms this means that a neutron bomb would leave buildings standing, but kill the humans in them. Its prime military use would be as an anti-tank weapon as it would kill the crews of tanks over a wide area and so halt any large scale armored offensive.

Another form of nuclear weapon is the salted bomb. This is a fission bomb that has been wrapped in a thick layer of metal, such as zinc or cobalt. The metal jacket would be pulverized to dust by the blast, and would absorb the radiation from the blast at the same time. The heaviness of the metal would ensure that the fine dust fell in a relatively restricted area around the blast, where its radioactivity would remain for months or years. Effectively it would render an area of land uninhabitable for a long period of time.

A variation on this weapon is to wrap radioactive material around a conventional bomb that then sprays the radioactive material around. This is known as a dirty bomb. It would have a much less widespread and less deadly impact than a salted bomb, but could quite easily render several blocks of a city uninhabitable unless costly and complicated cleaning up operations were carried out promptly.

This is an extract from World Atlas of Weapons by Rupert Matthews

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Outbreak of the 1859 Franco-Austrian War

In 1848 rebellions broke out in nearly all the small states of Italy. These aimed to introduce some democracy, to liberalise social and economic conditions and to unite Italian-speaking peoples into one state. The Austrians at this date ruled Trentino, Venetia and Lombardy directly while Austrian puppets – mostly relatives of the Austrian Emperor - ruled in Parma, Romagna, Modena and Tuscany.

At first the revolts were successful. The rulers were driven into exile or forced to concede democratic reforms. King Charles Albert of Piedmont, a relatively liberal kingdom in northwestern Italy, sensed Austrian weakness and invaded Lombardy. His advance was halted at the Battle of Custoza where Austrian reinforcements marched over the Alps defeated the Piedmontese. The defeat of Piedmont took the impetus out of the revolts. Over the course of the next year the autocratic rulers, with Austrian help, reimposed their rule and abrogated any democratic reforms.

The events of 1848 had convinced most Italians that any future success for democracy and liberalism would come only under the leadership of Piedmont. However, the new king of Piedmont, Victor Emmanuel II, feared the Austrian armies and refused to co-operate with any of the plans put to him.

However, in 1859, Emperor Napoleon III of France was looking for a small foreign war in which he could emulate the success of his famous uncle Napoleon I. His agents told him that the Italian states were ripe for another rebellion and that Austria was suffering internal problems. Napoleon III therefore offered to help Piedmont defeat Austria in return for Nice and Savoy. Victor Emmanuel agreed and war was declared on 26 April 1859. The peoples of Tuscany, Parma and Modena at once rose in rebellion, tying down the Austrian garrisons located in those states and safeguarding the southern flank of the French-Piedmontese advance.

This is an extract from Historical Atlas of World at War by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 5 July 2010

Romans vs Samnites

After the humiliating defeat of the Caudine Forks in 321bc, Rome remained at peace with the Samnites. But the people of Rome were eager for revenge and, in 316, saw an opportunity when several cities in Apulia rebelled against the Samnites.

The Romans sent one army to Apulia to aid the rebels while a second force marched south towards the Greek cities of Campania in the hope that they too would rebel. These Greeks, however, preferred to be ruled by the Samnites who they knew interfered little in their laws and customs. They kept the  Roman army in bottled up while a striking force of Samnites headed north into Latium. The speed of the Samnite advance took the Romans completely by surprise and a force sent out to hold the road north was wiped out. The Senate sent orders that the Latin army guarding the Liris Valley should fall back to face this Samnite army, but this merely made matters worse as a new Samnite army was able to march across the Liris and head north to join up with their comrades.

The Samnites were just 20 miles from Rome when they learned that a large Greek fleet carrying an army from Sparta had arrived in Taranto. Fearing the army was about to invade their homeland, the Samnites turned back and hurried south, only to find the Greeks had sailed on to Sicily. Two years later several Etruscan cities joined the Samnite cause and declared war on Rome. Rome managed to disrupt communications between the Samnites and the Etruscans to such an extent that co-operation between the two was impossible. The Etruscan armies were defeated piecemeal and their cities captured. The war returned to the desultory skirmishing and futile manoeuvres of the first years of conflict. In 304bc, both sides having failed in their objectives, peace was made between the Romans and the Samnites. 

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Lost Railways of Berkshire

There is something evocatively romantic about lost railways. Now overgrown and disused, these were once the main arteries of life in the rural areas of Berkshire. Businesses relied on the little tank engines puffing back and forth along the short branch lines, while passengers travelled to work, to visit friends or to court their sweethearts.

But it was not simply romance that drove the railways over the downs and along the valleys of Berkshire. It was cold financial sense as well. When the fastest alternative was a good horse, the railways offered fast, safe and cheap transport for people and goods. Towns made their fortunes by being on the railway, Reading leapt from being a second rate market town to being the biggest town in Berkshire within two decades of the railway arriving.

And the railways transformed the way people lived their lives. No longer were people forced to live crammed up against the dirty factories where they worked. Commuting allowed Berkshire citizens to live in pleasant surburbs or villages and then travel to work. Nor did families have to subsist on the bread baked from local grain or on meat from local livestock. The speedy railways brought fresh fish from the coast, delicacies from specialist market gardeners and all wonder of new and exciting tastes.

The railways made Berkshire the place it is today. But it could not last. The competition from road transport and the sheer convenience of the private motor car spelled the end for all but the most profitable lines. One by one the old branch lines closed down. The tracks were torn up, the stations converted to other uses and the bridges taken down for safety reasons. Gradually they faded from view as redevelopment swallowed the old sites and regrowth of trees and brambles, quite literally, covered their tracks.

This is an extract from Lost Railways of Berkshire by Rupert Matthews