Thursday, 30 August 2012

Gladiator Arenas in Ancient Rome

Temple in the cattle market

The first fights took place in the cattle market
The cattle market, or Forum Boarium, was a large open space beside the River Tiber. The cattle pens could easily be cleared away to make space for the fighting, while the shops and temples provided places for the audience to stand or sit to watch.

One fight took place in a swivelling arena
In 53BC the politician Gaius Scribonius Curio put on a munus, but he did not have much money and nobody would lend him any. Curio impressed the crowd by staging two plays in theatres positioned back to back. Then the theatres swivelled round to form an arena for a small gladiatorial show. The crowd loved the new idea and Curio went on to a successful career.

Most fights took place in the Forum
The Forum was the largest open square in the centre of Rome. The most important temples and government buildings stood around the Forum. After about 150BC gladiatorial games were held in the Forum and temporary wooden stands were erected in which spectators could sit.

From 100 Facts about Gladiators by Rupert Matthews

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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

10 Odd facts about Arms & Armour

Throughout history people have used arms to try to kill others and armour to protect themselves from being injured.

A 12,000 year old cave painting at Teruel in Spain shows men with bows and arrows.

The world’s oldest sling was found in an Egyptian tomb. It is 2,900 years old.

The original Olympic Games had a special race for men running in full battle armour.

Romans wore specially decorated helmets when on parade.

When Rome fell to the Goths, the Roman Emperor was hiding in a fortress over 150km away.

Before each fight gladiator weapons were tested by slicing up vegetables.

Some Celts covered their armour in gold leaf to make it look extra special.

Baby Chinese noblemen were given a miniature bronze sword as a good luck charm.

Dark Age Germans liked to decorate their swords with gold and precious stones.

from 100 FACTS ABOUT ARMS AND ARMOUR by Rupert Matthews
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Monday, 27 August 2012

BOOK REVIEW - Battle of the Granicus

My book "Alexander the Great at the Battle of the Granicus" has been reviewed on a wargaming site.

You have read the review HERE

Extracts include:
Matthews, who has specialized in this type of treatment before, in works such as The Battle of Thermopylae and Battle of Crecy, has carefully scoured the documentary sources, far richer for the Greeks than the Persians, and has supplemented these with the help of re-enactors, archaeological finds, and an understanding of the conduct of war based on his earlier work.  

 The account is well written and provides an excellent look at the campaign and the conduct of war in the period.  

 an interesting and worthwhile read even for that more serious student. 

You can buy your copy of the book HERE

In this, the third book of Spellmounts Campaign in Context series, Rupert Matthews looks to the first major campaign of Alexander the Great. One of the most famous generals all time, Alexander was just 20 when he led his army into battle at Granicus. Despite his youth and his army being heavily outnumbered, he was victorious, and it was this victory that allowed him to conquer Asia Minor. The course of this key battle remains controversial, owing to conflicting accounts in contemporary sources. As with his previous titles in the series, Rupert Matthews carefully balances the evidence from textual sources with knowledge of the battlefield and reconstructed weaponry in order to explain the events of the battle to the general reader, and the context in which it took place.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Start of the Jet Age

The concept of the jet engine had been patented in 1932 by British engineer Frank Whittle, but he was unable to solve the practical problems and development was slow until the outbreak of World War II proved the need for an engine that could power aircraft at high speed. When the jet was finally perfected it revolutionized air warfare.

It was the Germans who won the race to be first to get a jet aircraft into action. The Messerschmitt Me262 outclassed every other fighter in the world when it entered combat in June 1944. It had a top speed of 540mph, a ceiling of 37,500 feet and a range of 650 miles. It packed a real punch with four 30mm cannon mounted in the nose and proved itself to be deadly to Allied aircraft. However the Me262 entered service in relatively small numbers, with only 1,433 aircraft being build compared to over 20,000 Spitfires and 15,000 Mustangs.

Despite its fame, the Me262 was not the only German jet aircraft of the war. The Arado Ar234 Blitz was the world’s first jet bomber, entering service in November 1944 and playing a lead role in German air operations during the Battle of the Bulge the following month.  The Blitz could reach 460mph – faster than most fighters – and had a ceiling of 33,000 feet and range of up to a thousand miles. It could carry 3,000lb of bombs and had a primitive form of on-board computer to aid bomb aiming at high speeds. Due to the fact it could outrun almost any fighter in existence its defensive armament consisted only of two 20mm cannon firing directly backward. Only 210 of these aircraft entered service.

The Allies were not far behind the Germans. The Gloster Meteor fighter went operational in July 1944, but was produced in even smaller numbers than the Me262 with only 210 seeing service before the end of the war. More than 3,500 Meteors were produced after the war and it became the standard RAF fighter by 1947. The Meteor had a top speed of 415mph, a ceiling of 44,000 feet and a range of 1,340 miles. It was armed with four 20mm cannon in the nose. As with all these very early jets, engine reliability and maintenance proved to be real problems.

The first jet aircraft to enter service with the USAAF, and the first to see combat after the end of World War II, was the F-80 Shooting Star manufactured by Lockheed. This fighter was one of the first products of the Skunk Works, a top-secret department within Lockheed charged with designing highly advanced military aircraft. The fighter had a top speed of 600mph, ceiling of 46,000 feet and a range of 1,200 miles. The standard armament was six 0.5in machine guns, but variants carried eight unguided rockets or two 1,000lb bombs. The aircraft entered service in July 1945, but did not see active service until the Korean War.

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Friday, 17 August 2012

Tension and warfare in 1920s China

The years between the two world wars of the 20th century are generally considered to be ones of peace, albeit with tensions rising that would ultimately explode into the Second World War. That impression is not entirely true as several smaller wars and troubles broke out around the world.

In 1919 the League of Nations was established to find a peaceful solution to any future conflict. Based in Geneva, the League was joined by all the victors of the First World War, except the USA, and most neutral countries. Germany and the USSR joined later. Although it managed to solve disputes between smaller states in the 1920s, it failed to constrain aggression by larger states in the 1930s.

Early in 1912 Chinese rebel army officers and provincial governors had seized power and announced that the 6 year old emperor, Puyi, had abdicated in favor of a republic. The new regime proved to be just as ineffectual as that it replaced. The provinces of Tibet and Mongolia declared themselves independent while several provincial governors acted as independent warlords. In 1926 a new force, the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek announced that it wanted to see a strong, united China. Gathering mass support from peasants and city dwellers in central China, Chiang seized the central government and by 1930 had imposed his rule on most of China.

In 1931 a dangerous new element entered the turbulent Chinese scene. Japan had long been a major investor in Chinese industry, with Japanese owned enterprises being concentrated in the north around Tientsin and Lu Shan which lay close to Korea, held by Japan since 1910. Worried by the instability of warlord activity, the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931, later expanding into the neighbouring province of Jehol. Two years later the Japanese brought Puyi out of retirement and declared him to be Emperor of Manchuria, though real power remained with the Japanese. In 1936 the Japanese invaded China in force and by 1939 had occupied all important coastal cities and great swathes of northern China.

from The Historical Atlas of the World at War by Rupert Matthews
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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Dover, Kent

Since this short walk is around the ancient town centre of Dover, I have for once designed a walk that does not start and finish at the tea shop. Instead it starts at the railway station and ends at the tea shop. The reason for this is that the railway station is well signposted and easy to find. In a crowded town centre where car parking is difficult on most days I thought this made sense.

Find Dover Priory Railway Station. This station was opened in 1861 to serve as a temporary terminal for the London, Dover and Chatham Railway line. It took the company six months to tunnel through the hill to Dover Harbour and erect a new terminus there. This station then became a passenger through station serving the town centre while the new stop became the main station for the docks and for passengers connecting to the cross channel ferries - the famous “boat trains”. Little of the 1861 station remains as it was almost entirely rebuilt in 1932, though that did give Dover an architectural classic of early 20th century design.

1) Leave the station along the access drive to reach Folkestone Road. Turn left. At a roundabout turn right into York Street.

2) Follow York Street to a second roundabout. Cross the main road and walk across the pedestrianised area to reach the seafront. To your right is the Dover Marina. To your left is the beach and seafront.

In the Marina you can catch a boat to take you out fishing on most days in the summer and irregularly in the spring and autumn. Although the Marina is for the use of private yachts and other small craft, it is part of the Port of Dover, which also includes the Eastern Docks - used by cross channel ferries and other ships - and the largely disused Western Docks. On average Dover handles 16 million travellers, 700,000 trucks, 1.6 million cars and motorcycles and 118,000 buses each year, raising £15.5 billion a year and making this the busiest of the Channel ports.

There was a small port here in prehistoric times as the sheltered mouth of the River Dour (from which the town takes its name) was ideal for the small fishing craft and trading ships of the time. The Romans named the place Dubris and built a major naval base here. They built a lighthouse up on the hill where the medieval castle now stands, and that is still in pretty good condition - indeed it is the tallest Roman structure still standing in Britain. Not much else is left from Roman times due to the constant growth and redevelopment of the town and its fortifications over the centuries.

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Eden Valley

The Eden Valley is almost as idyllic as its name might suggest. There is no real Garden of Eden here, but the gentle valley does include some of the most pleasant countryside in the county that has rightly been called the Garden of England. The Eden rises in Surrey, so this route takes you just over the border to view the headwaters before returning to Kent for most of the route.

The Swan Inn lies north of Edenbridge proper in Marlpit Hill, which was once a separate village but has now run together with Edenbridge as housing has expanded. Find the Swan just off the high street about 50 yards north of the railway station.

Leave the Swan and head south along the B2026 to Edenbridge. It is worth stopping here to view the eponymous bridge over the Eden. About a mile south of Edenbridge, turn right along the B2028 through Marsh Green and Dormans Land to reach Lingfield. This small town is famous for its racecourse, but the 15th century Church of St Peter and St Paul is open more often and has more to offer the visitor than a way to gamble. When this church was rebuilt, the tombs of the earlier church were retained. Of particular interest are the tombs of the 1Street, 2nd and 3rd Baron Cobham dating from 1361, 1403 and 1446 respectively. Each shows their occupant dressed in battle armour and allow historians to track changes in the armour of a medieval knight during these years.

from Pub and Teashop Drives in Kent by Rupert Matthews

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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A Fateful Event at Normans Bay, Sussex

Normans Bay lies on a dead end road off the A27 between Eastbourne and Bexhill. It is signposted off the roundabout just north of Eastbourne where the A27 meets the A259. The place takes its name from the fact that it was here that William the Conqueror first landed when he invaded England in 1066.

As the ships were driven up on to the beach, William was the first man to leap ashore. Unfortunately for him he missed his footing in the surf and fell flat on his face. The massed ranks of his army gasped in alarm - surely this was a bad omen right at the start of the hazardous task of invading England. William was, however, equal to the moment. He sprang to his feet and held up a handful of sand that he had grasped as he fell.

“See”, he called out to his men, “by the splendour of God, I have taken hold of my kingdom, the very earth of England is in my hands.” A knight, his name is not recorded, followed William and ran up the beach to grab some thatch from an abandoned fishing hut.

“Take this,” he said, “as symbol that you won not only the earth of England, but also everything that stands on it.” William accepted.

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About the book
If there are two marvellous things about England that can be found nowhere else on earth, they are pubs and tearooms. Both types have their fans but together they sum up so much about England that is special and unique. And Sussex had some of the finest in the kingdom. With seventeen drives designed to start with a light lunch, then afterwards, a leisurely drive through the beautifiul Sussex countryside. Finally stopping off for afternoon tea. What better way to spend an afternoon!