Thursday, 29 November 2012

Plato's Academy

Plato was a pupil of Socrates. He taught that certain things - such as good, evil and justice - exist outside of human senses and continue unchanged forever.

In The Republic, a series of ten books, Plato set out what he thought was a perfect system of government. He said there should be a rigid class system and that the ruler should be a philosopher-king who was wise enough to rule in the interests of all.

The education that the philosopher-king should receive was described as being based on physical exercise, artistic appreciation and philosophy.

After travelling to many different Greek cities, Plato produced a new book called Laws. In this he abandoned the idea of a philosopher-king and instead said there should be joint ownership of all property by the citizens.

When he returned to Athens, Plato bought a field called Academus that lay just outside Athens. Plato set up a school called the Academy in the field where he taught his ideas.

Plato died in 347bc, but his Academy survived until ad529. Thousands of men were educated there and Plato's ideas have remained important down to the present day.

from "100 Facts About Ancient Greece" by Rupert Matthews
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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The madness of Henry VI and Wars of the Roses

Henry VI, son of the heroic Henry V was a very different kind of man. He was gentle and good-natured, but was simple-minded to an extent that several of his contemporaries thought he was mad. It was his misfortune to be king during the darkest days in England for many generations.

Henry came to the throne when he was just nine months old. His uncle John, Duke of Bedford was made Regent of the English territory in France and proved to be an able and efficient governor. The boy-king’s other uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was regent in England but proved himself to be unreliable and arrogant.

Henry came of age in 1438 just in time to lose most of his French lands after defeat at the Battle of Formigny. In England the mighty nobles were arguing with each other. Cardinal Beaufort and his nephews Somerset and Suffolk led the Lancastrian party supported by Margaret, Queen to the simple Henry VI. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and Richard, Duke of York, led the Yorkists with the support of the wealthy Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. For many years the Lancastrians dominated the government by bullying poor Henry VI to sign acts in their favour, and they even organised the murder of Gloucester.

In 1455 the Lancastrians summoned a council of nobles on the pretext of  protecting the king against traitors. They did not, however, invited the Duke of York or the Earl of Warwick. Realising that they were the supposed traitors, York and Warwick called on their supporters and soon had a force of 3,000 men mustered at St Albans. They were met by 2,000 Lancastrians and a savage street battle broke out. York and Warwick won the day and captured the king. It was just the first of many battles in what became known as the Wars of the Roses, for York had a white rose for his badge and the Lancastrians adopted a red rose.

The Duke of York took over the government and ruled in Henry’s name. York struggled to impose some form of order and honesty on a government for too long dominated by corrupt and self-seeking noblemen. He also tended to favour the new, rising class of merchants and tradesmen over the old landed aristocracy. This angered many powerful nobles, who began to speak in support of Queen Margaret.

It was only the first round...

Monday, 26 November 2012

What do the pub signs mean?

Up and down the country of Britain pubs, or more properly public houses, announce their presence with bright and colourful signs. The history of the pub sign is one of the quintessentially British stories.

The British pub has a long and honoured history. Starting as the local ale house, the pub has developed into more of a social centre for villages and town districts than a simple place for drinking. Pubs have darts teams and football teams, they collect money for charity, they provide places for courting couples to meet and for old men to escape their wives. Everything, in short, that the local resident might need. And the pub provides for travellers and passersby as well with food and drink, toilets, parking for cars and bicycles and sometimes a place to sleep.

The signs advertising the pub today generally follow a set pattern so that a traveller can recognise a pub whatever part of the country they happen to be in, and it was always so. In medieval times an alehouse would hang a small bush outside the front door to show its trade. In towns the bushes were not so readily available so by Tudor times an empty barrel did service.

At about the same time the custom arose of placing easily recognised symbols outside business premises. This enabled a customer to find the premises he was seeking in a busy and crowded street - there being no such thing as house numbers in those days. A candlemaker, for instance, might be found at the sign of the candlestick.

Pubs, for some reason, took to displaying heraldic symbols such as red lions or white harts. Although shops and businesses have largely dropped their signs, the pubs have kept them. A great many retain their heraldic symbols, often showing a knight’s shield on the pub sign as well as the charge itself. In some places the origin of the symbol is obvious. The Onslow Arms in Clandon, Surrey, for instance displays the heraldic arms of the Onslow family, the local large landowners. Others are scarcely less clear, the Bear and Ragged Staff being the symbol of the once powerful Earls of Warwick.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Some peculiar gladiators

Women gladiators were rare
They first appeared in around ad55 when they performed in Rome as a novelty act. The women fought only other women or took part in fights against animals. Women gladiators were more popular in the eastern parts of the Empire. They were banned in ad200 by the emperor Septimius Severus.

The andabatae gladiators fought blindfolded
The Romans loved anything new or bizarre. The andabatae gladiators were specially trained men who wore helmets with no eye holes at all. They listened carefully for sounds of their opponent, then attacked with two swords. Sometimes the andabatae fought on horseback.

from "100 Facts You Should Know about Gladiators" by Rupert Matthews.

Buy your copy HERE

Book Description

1 Jan 2007 100 Facts
Discover everything you need to know about gladiators with this brilliant book.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Aztec Weaponry

Spears were thrown at the start of a battle. The Aztec people built up a large empire in what is now Mexico between 1400 and 1510. Their warriors won a series of battles in these years against other American peoples. Each battle began with men on both sides throwing light javelin at the enemy. Then the men would charge at each other to fight at close quarters.

Obsidian stone was razor sharp. The Aztec, Maya and other peoples of America did not know how to make iron or bronze, so they made their weapons out of wood, stone and other natural materials. The most effective weapons were edged with slivers of obsidian, a very hard stone that has a very sharp edge when first broken.

Spears were tipped with stone. Spears were often tipped with flint, which was easier to shape and found in greater quantities than obsidian. These spears were designed to wound the enemy so that he could not fight so well.

from "100 Things You SHould Know About Arms and Armour" by Rupert Matthews

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Ironclad Rams - a revolution in naval warfare?

The technological improvements in steel shipbuilding combined with revolutionary gun manufacturing techniques would revolutionize naval warfare between 1870 and 1890, but the true importance of the changes in weaponry would not become apparent until the Great War of 1914-18.

Warships had been carrying iron amour since the 1850s and the first all iron warship was the British HMS Warrior of 1860. These early ironclads, as they were known, carried a similar armament to warships of three centuries earlier: a number of muzzle-loading guns arranged to fire outward from the sides of the ship.

It quickly became apparent that the old style weaponry was effectively useless against the new style armor. At the same time coal-fired steam engines were replacing sails as the main means of locomotion for warships. Compared to a sailing ship, a steam ship needs no masts and far fewer men, but it does need large below decks space for the engines and the coal needed for long voyages. These factors resulted in a series of sometimes bizarre experimental designs.

One idea was to abandon guns when fighting a rival ironclad and instead ram the enemy. The US Civil War saw some early experiments in ramming, but it was the Austrians who first used the weapon with real success. At the Battle of Lissa on 20 July 1866 Admiral Tegetthoff with a fleet of seven ironclads and assorted wooden support vessels attacked an Italian fleet under Admiral di Persano who had 12 ironclads plus several wooden warships. Tegetthoff ordered his ironclads to fire only at the enemy wooden vessels and to engage the rival ironclads by ramming. Within under an hour the Italian flagship and another ironclad were sent to the bottom of the Adriatic. The Austrians lost no ships, though one was damaged and a few men killed.

The world’s navies hurriedly began building ironclads with vicious-looking metal rams attached to greatly strengthened bows. The fashion for rams lasted about 20 years before admirals realized that the maneuvers needed to get a ram into action were unlikely ever to produce results in a battle where the enemy was aware of the danger, as Persano had not been in 1866.
Battle of Lissa