Monday, 29 April 2013

The Colosseum

The Colosseum
The largest and most complex of all arenas was the Colosseum in Rome. This arena was begun in ad72 and took eight years to complete. It could seat 50,000 spectators on three levels. The arena floor was built over a maze of corridors and was equipped with trapdoors and hidden entrances.

from "Action File - Gladiators" By Rupert Matthews
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Book Description

1 Aug 2008 Action Files
Action files gladiators lets you witness the awesome spectacle of gladiators in battle in this fully interactive book. Packed with fascinating facts and activities, it contains all you ever wanted to know about the warriors of Rome.

Friday, 26 April 2013

World War I - Russian advance of 1914

The Russian “Plan A” involved an attack on the Austrian Empire as soon as enough troops had been mobilised to mount the offensive. The attack began on 17 August 1914.

The Russian 4th Army under General Ivanov attacked near Lublin, supported by the 3rd Army and the 8th Army under General Brusilov. The Austrian 2nd and 3rd Armies fell back slowly. On 30 August the Russians captured Lemberg (now Lvov).

On 4 September the Austrians launched a large scale attack on the Russian centre designed to halt the Russian advance. The attack failed and the Austrians began a retreat that soon became a rout as the supply system collapsed and soldiers fled.

By 20 September the Austrians had lost 110,000 men killed or wounded and 220,000 men taken prisoner. Another 100,000 men were cut off at Przemysl. The Russians were advancing quickly through Galicia towards the vital German industrial area of Silesia.

German commander in the east, von Hindenburg, took two thirds of his men from East Prussia and formed them into a new force, the 9th Army, to protect Silesia. Again, swift transport by rail allowed the Germans to get in position in time.

from "100 Facts on World War I" by Rupert Matthews
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Thursday, 25 April 2013

Early Roman Poets

The earliest Roman poet that we know about was Quintus Ennius. There were poets before Ennius, but their work has not survived. This early work seems to have been dominated by short poems composed to honour a famous man or an event.

Ennius began by writing similar poems to those of earlier writers. Then, about 200bc, he adopted Greek styles of rhythm and rhyme to the Latin language. Later poets followed his lead, so he became known as “the father of Roman poetry”.

In 180bc Ennius began composing a poetic history of Rome that ran for 20,000 lines and took him over 15 years to complete. Only 550 lines have survived.

Titus Lucretius Carus, known as Lucretrius, was a Roman nobleman who began writing poetry about the year 75bc. He wove allusions to the gods and myths in to works about nature and famous events.

The most famous work by Lucretius is De rerum natura, a poem running to six books in length. It shows a passionate concern for nature and all living things and includes vivid descriptions of forest fires, earthquakes and other natural events.

from 1000 Facts About Ancient Rome by Rupert Matthews
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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Panathenia of ancient Greece

One of the most solemn and impressive ceremonies held in ancient Greece was the Panathenia. This was held in Athens every four years.

The Panathenia was held in honour of the goddess Athena, who was the patron goddess of Athens. Athene was the goddess of wisdom, but was also a warrior who would protect Athens.

It is thought that the Panathenia was first held in Mycenaean times, perhaps around 1600bc. It continued to be held for nearly two thousand years, until it was banned when Christianity took over.

The main purpose of the Panathenia was to present the goddess with a new cloak, which was draped around the statue of the goddess on the Acropolis. The cloak was made by the finest weaver in the city.

The ceremony began when the weaver handed the cloak to the chief priestess of Athene. The priestess then took her place at the head of a long procession.

from 1000 Facts on Ancient Greece by Rupert Matthews.
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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

William Wallace and Battle of Bannockburn

The Battle of Bannockburn is traditionally the struggle which gave Scotland back her independence from England. In truth the Scots had fallen under English domination through the machinations of their own nobles and this situation would remain a source of trouble until a Scottish King eventually sat on the throne of England.

In 1290 the young girl, Margaret, who had inherited the throne of Scotland died. The direct line of descent of the Scottish kings was extinct and several of the nobles were cousins or nephews of the last king, Alexander III. The nobles could not decide among themselves who should sit on the throne, so they turned to King Edward I of England to arbitrate. The three main contenders for the crown were Robert Bruce, Sir John Comyn and John Balliol. After a great deal of investigation into genealogical tables and after consulting the nobles of Scotland, Edward decided on John Balliol. It was a poor choice.

Balliol was a genial, but a weak man. Edward had chosen him because he hoped to be able to wring concessions from him. At first Balliol agreed with Edward, but he soon found that he had more to fear from his own nobles, who were on the spot than from the King of England. In 1296 Balliol agreed to an alliance with France. Edward was furious and marched north to defeat the Scots in a swift, merciless campaign. Balliol was captured and thrown into the Tower of London. In 1302 Balliol was released and given estates in Normandy where he could live in comfort, though he was forbidden to leave.

In Scotland, meanwhile, Edward set up Englishmen in the main government offices and bought off the nobles with gifts of land and impressive titles. The gentry and common folk, however, were subjected to harsh taxes and strict laws. In 1297 William Wallace, the son of an impoverished knight, led a small band of Scots in rebellion against the English governor in Ayr. The revolt soon spread and within weeks Wallace found himself leader of an army which crushed the English occupation forces at Stirling Bridge and drove the English out of Scotland.

It was the Scottish nobles who ensured that independence would not last long. No sooner were the English gone than the nobles fell to squabbling with each other. Edward invaded in 1298 and easily defeated the forces which remained loyal to Wallace. Wallace led a guerrilla war for some years, but in 1305 he was captured near Glasgow, taken to London and executed.

Having defeated Wallace, Edward tried to crush Scottish resistance once and for all. But all he succeeded in achieving was stirring the hostility of the nobles and encouraging them to unite against him. In February 1306 Sir John Comyn was killed in a scuffle by Robert the Bruce, grandson of the Bruce who had earlier claimed the throne. That left Bruce as the only man with a reasonable claim to the Scottish throne and in April he was crowned at Scone.

For some years Bruce enjoyed mixed fortunes and in 1307 he had to flee to Rathlin Island, off Ireland. It is to this period that the legend of Robert the Bruce and the spider belongs. It is said that he was feeling downhearted and was close to giving up the war when he saw a spider trying to build a web. Several times the spider tried to attach a thread to complete its web, only to fail each time. But the spider kept trying and eventually it succeeded, Bruce took the lesson well and went back to Scotland to try again.

The death of Edward I gave Bruce his chance for the new English king, Edward II, was weak and indecisive. Gradually the Scottish king took control of his own kingdom and by 1314 only Stirling Castle remained in English hands. At long last, Edward II decided to do something about the situation and led a massive army north to face the Scots. The two armies met at Bannockburn on 24th June.

The battle opened when Sir Henry de Bohun challenged the Scottish king to single combat. Bohun couched his lance and charged at the king. Bruce sat his pony until Bohun was almost upon him, when he dodged his pony to one side and slashed down with his battle axe as Bohun passed. The blow split the Englishman’s skull in half from top to bottom. The first English attack faltered on the points of Scottish pikes, and while the English were reforming, Bruce led his own attack. The English were pushed back against a bend in the river where they were all killed or captured. Edward II himself managed to flee before the end, and returned to England in shame.

The battle had made Scotland free from English rule. Robert the Bruce was the undisputed King north of the border and he set out to make Scotland impregnable. He built a navy and ensured that his army was filled with trained men, ready to take arms at short notice. Even so, it was not until 1327 that the English recognised Scotland as an independent kingdom.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Robbie Burns

Robbie Burns

The great poet of Scotland, Robbie Burns has been hailed as a poet who managed to make the local universal and to have raised the poor folk of Scotland to international stardom.

Robert Burns was born to an impoverished Ayrshire farming family on 25th January 1759. Ten days later a gale struck Ayr and blew down the end wall and roof of the cottage where he had been born. He and his mother took refuge with a neighbour while his father rebuilt the cottage.

Although poor, the local farming community pooled their resources to hire a teacher, William Murdoch, to instruct their children. It was Murdoch who introduce the young Burns to the great classics of English literature as well as to historic writings. At home, Burns was exposed to the traditional tales and songs told and sung by Betty Davidson, an old woman who worked for the family as a maid and kitchen hand. It was the combination of influences that were to make Burns’s poetry so far above the average.

His first poem was written when he was just 16. Titled ‘Handsome Nell’ the work was a tribute to a good-looking girl who helped with the harvest. It was typical of Burns that his first work was in praise of a pretty girl. For the rest of his life he had an eye for the girls and a wayward attitude to love and sex. As a young man he tried his hand at both farming and flax processing, but never really prospered. In 1784 his father died and Burns inherited the family farm. He soon got a servant pregnant and at the same time began a love affair with Jean Armour, a farmer’s daughter who lived nearby and was widely admired for her beauty and learning. When Burns discovered Jean was pregnant he proposed to her and was accepted. Jean’s family, however, preferred the scandal of an illegitimate child to seeing their Jean marry such a notorious womaniser and forced her to break the engagement. Burns promptly began an affair with a girl called Mary Campbell, whom he referred to as ‘Highland Mary’, and began saving up money to emigrate with her to Jamaica.

It was at this turbulent point in his life that Burns had the first of his poems published. On 20th July 1786 his Kilmarnock Volume of poems was published and sold out within a month. The poems were written in the dialect of the Ayrshire farming communities and were a blend of local folklore and sophisticated ideas gained from his literary studies. The reading public of Ayrshire loved the works and the feckless son of a poor farmer found himself welcome in polite society. Burns loved it.

The autumn of 1786 saw the sudden death of Mary Campbell and an invitation to Burn to travel to Edinburgh to promote a new printing of his works. William Creech, the most respected Scottish publisher of the time, printed 3,000 copies of Burns collected poems. In Edinburgh Burns became a hit with Society, but had an unhappy love affair with a widow, Mrs Maclehose, and failed to find any inspiration for more writing.

In 1788 he sent £300 to his brother and sisters to help them buy their own land to farm and himself bought a farm at Ellisland in Dumfriesshire. He settled down with Jean Armour, whose family was now reconciled to Burns after he had won fame and respectability in Edinburgh. In 1792 Burns gave up the farm, which had not been a huge success, and took a job as a customs officer. In 1796 he caught a chill, but went out on duty in bitter winter weather and fell victim to the chest infection which eventually led to his death in July.

Burns created in his works a picturesque version of Scottish farming life which appealed enormously to the middle classes. His world was free of the grinding poverty which affected many families, but instead painted a picture of humour and rustic occupations which were a idealised version of the truth. His imaginative use of local dialect and literary rhythm was unequalled by others working at the time. As an embodiment of what Scottish country life should be about, Burns’s work has never been bettered. He rightly occupies the role of national poet of Scotland.

Each year on his birthday Scots all over th world celebrate Burns Night. The festivities traditionally include a feast of haggis, mashed turnips and mashed potatoes accompanied by whisky. The entry of the haggis to the dining room is accompanied by a ritual which sees bagpipes being played and the host reading out Burns’s own poem ‘Address to the Haggis’, which celebrates Scotland’s national dish in poetic form.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The prehistoric world was very different from our own

The prehistoric world was very different from our own
The world we live in has not always been as it is now. Human beings have changed the world dramatically in the past few thousand years. Forests have been cut down, cities have been built and marshes drained. These changes continue today. Even before humans evolved, the world was changing. New types of animals or plants were constantly appearing, and older types becoming extinct.

from the book "100 Things you should know about prehistoric life"

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