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Himiko, Tomb Raider's Real Queen

Tomb Raider

I recently re-watched the new Tomb Raider (2018, starring Alicia Vikander), and I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially when I discovered the next morning that the Japanese queen whose tomb was the focus of the film had been a real person: Himiko, a Japanese queen reportedly responsible for ending 50 years of war.

 

According to Prof. Craig G Benjamin, lecturer in "Foundations of Eastern Civilization" with the Great Courses Plus, "the extraordinary and enigmatic" Himiko ruled the Japanese state of Yamatai in 235 CE (also known as AD).

According to classic Chinese texts[i]: "The country formerly had a man as ruler. For some seventy or eighty years after that there were disturbances and warfare. Thereupon the people agreed upon a woman for their ruler[ii]. Her name was Himiko [卑彌呼]…Though mature in age, she remained unmarried. She resided in a palace surrounded by towers and stockades, with armed guards in a state of constant vigilance." (tr. Tsunoda 1951:13)

 

"After ascending to the throne, she went on to restore order and maintain peace for the next 50 or 60 years."[iii]

 

Queen Himiko had 1000 handmaidens and was apparently served dinner and had her wardrobe managed by one man. Others say "the only person that ever saw her in person was her brother…. In 238, the Wei sources tell us that Himiko sent a tribute to the Wei court in northern China seeking a tributary relationship. This request was accepted and Himiko was named as "Ruler of the Wa, friendly to the Wei." This was a powerful validation of her claims to leadership in the Yamatai."

 

"Yamatai kingdom prospered under Queen Himiko's rule and was observed in the Gishi no Wajinden records to have had more than seventy thousand households, well-organized laws and taxation system and thriving trade."[iv]

 

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New Book Reveals The Surprisingly Sophisticated Druids

The Discovery of Middle Earth, by Graham Robb

I had always thought that Druids were ancient magicians: Merlin and his group of men skulking in the shadowy forest. But Graham Robb, in his book The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts, has described a surprisingly sophisticated culture.

 

Here's the historical snapshot: "Fifty generations ago the cultural empire of the Celts stretched from the Black Sea to Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. In six hundred years, the Celts had produced some of the finest artistic and scientific masterpieces of the ancient world. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar marched over the Alps, bringing slavery and genocide to western Europe. Within eight years the Celts of what is now France were utterly annihilated, and in another hundred years the Romans had overrun Britain. It is astonishing how little remains of this great civilization."

Robb ― called "one of the more unusual and appealing historians currently striding the planet" by the New York Times -- planned a bicycling trip along the Heraklean Way, the ancient route from Portugal to the Alps, and discovered a beautiful and precise pattern of towns and holy places based on astronomical and geometrical measurements: the three-dimensional "Middle Earth" of the Celts. (Honestly, a lot of historians write compellations of other people's work or might have a unique idea based on other people's discoveries but here's a guy on a bicycle with his maps, uncovering something genuinely new. Kudos.)

 

Let's look at four common misconceptions about the Druids:

 

First, they were crude forest dwellers. While we tend to believe that the Romans brought the first roads and architecture to Europe, the Celts had sturdy and well-designed roads before they arrived. "Caesar found roads and bridges already in place wherever he went… In Gaul, the marching speed of the legion was always well above the average for the Roman empire… Which gives some idea of the resilience of the road surface.[i] The Romans could no longer take credit for the first roads."

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A Brief History of an Obsession: Fashion from Pre-Human to the Rental Box

We’ve apparently been at it for 60,000 years, this fashion thing, this daily obsession with clothing. I’ve always thought of it as a feminist issue: we get paid 80 cents on the dollar and then spend a foolish portion of that on clothing, accessories and make-up, unlike men. Not to mention the Pink Tax that reportedly costs women an extra $1,350 per year because of discriminatory pricing. And it’s always been ‘women’s work’ to create both the fabric and the clothing.

Early Clothing

Surprisingly enough, there’s evidence that we were making clothing before we became modern humans (!) “The oldest example is 60,000 years ago, a needle point (missing stem and eye) found in Sibudu Cave, South Africa. “Sewing needles have been dated to at least 50,000 years ago (Denisova Cave, Siberia) – and uniquely associated with a human species other than modern humans, i.e. H. Denisova/H. Altai. Other early examples of needles dating from 41,000-15,000 years ago are found in multiple locations, e.g. Slovenia, Russia, China, Spain and France. The earliest dyed flax fibers have been found in a prehistoric cave in the Georgia and date back to 36,000.” By 5,000 BC (nearly two millennia before writing) we had become fairly sophisticated at making fabric: “Archaeologists have discovered  Read More 

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More to Battle the Sexist Assumptions of Paleontologists

Seated Goddess of Catalhoyuk

I am currently reading A People’s History of the World: from the Stone Age to the New Millennium by Chris Harmon, and it makes me bristle, again, over many traditional assumptions about human history, human nature, and the position of women:

    • Harmon’s analysis of the Paleolithic period recognizes that for tens of thousands of years humans lived in cooperative groups that were completely egalitarian, with no sign of accumulated wealth or social status. (It’s a fascinating concept that I’ll be digging into later.)

 

    • But Harmon, like many classic authors, suggest that the reason for the oppression of women is due to their relegation to the gathering side of the hunter-gatherer society and their focus on rearing children. We now know that in the Paleolithic era women had children only every 3 to 4 years [Harmon pg. 13] so how is this justification for wholesale exclusion? They just didn’t have children often enough to be taken up entirely with their care.

 

    • Look at the math: Paleolithic groups ranged from 20-40 number of people. 50% were women. Let’s say that 40% of those were of child-bearing age (since life expectancy was short), so how many children were there? Surely not so many that one woman couldn’t supervise them all.

 

    • And why is there an automatic assumption that mothers would only care for children they had borne? Where is the speculation  Read More 

Queen Margaret I of Denmark, The Lady King

Effigy of Queen Margaret 1 from 1423 on her tomb in Roskilde Cathedral

In studying for an upcoming trip, I have come across Queen Margaret I of Denmark, who was the “builder of the greatest personal position ever achieved in Scandinavia.” Ruling in the 1300s, she governed with “farsighted tact and caution.”

Her rise to power came through shrewd diplomacy. Her father, King Valedmar, had agreed that the Danish throne should pass to the son of Margaret’s elder sister Ingeborg, but on her father’s death in 1375 “Margaret scored her first great diplomatic success by inducing the Danish Council to elect her five-year-old son Olav instead.” As regent she displayed “a capacity for the management of men which caused a Hanse [German] representative to describe the turbulent nobility of Denmark as being seized with “respect for that lady’s wisdom and authority, so that they offered her their services.”

Five years later, when her son was 10 years old, he inherited Norway from his father King Haakon VI “whereupon Margaret’s second regency marked the beginning of a Dano-Norwegian Union which was to last for more than four centuries.”

When her son Olav died unexpectedly at 17, “Margaret reacted with astonishing promptitude and resource. Within a week she had been hailed at the Skane landsthing as Denmark’s ‘sovereign lady, master, and guardian,’ and in February 1388 a meeting of Norwegian lords accepted her as their ‘mighty lady and master’ in defiance of the law of succession. Fortified by these testimonies to her skill as a ruler of two kingdoms, she made a treaty in March with the Swedish nobles who…recognized her as Sweden’s “sovereign lady and rightful master.”

Later, she chose her grandnephew, Eric of Pomerania, as hereditary sovereign, with her serving as regent. “Although Eric came of age in 1401, Margaret continued for the remaining 11 years of her life to be sole ruler in all but name.”  Read More 

Empress Deng: A Just and Capable Ruler in Second Century China

In my search for women to write back into history…I’ve discovered three (so far) in The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of the Revolutionary Invention, by Alexander Monro.

Monroe is suggesting that the inventor of paper was a Chinese second-century government official named Cai Lun. While Cai is “traditionally credited with inventing paper in A.D. 105… papermaking is in fact at least three centuries older than this, but it was nevertheless Cai who refined paper for more widespread use and who first appreciated the enormous choice of possible ingredients.” However, it was the Empress Deng who rose “up like a conductor and signaled the launch of Cai’s carefully honed substance across China, in a quest to harmonize the country to this new medium.” [Page 13]

“Deng Sui was the granddaughter of a Han prime minister. (Sometimes translated as Chancellor, this was the highest administrative post and involved setting the government budget.) She was born in 81 in Nanyang in the cattle country of the near North. By the age of six she knew Confucius’s Book of Documents and at 12 she had read the Classic of Poetry and the Analects, according to her official biography.  Read More 

A Salute to Our Stone Age Sisters

Studying history means actively looking for surprises, despite the fact that it is focused on events from centuries and even millennia in the past. And I know enough to understand that “progress” through history is not a consistent march uphill but a journey during which we have frequently gotten lost, sometimes forgetting things for hundreds of years before circling back and re-learning them.

What has surprised me most recently is the number of important concepts and everyday items still in use that were developed in the Stone Age – the Paleolithic time from 2.7 million years ago up until 10,000 years ago.

Here’s what One Million Years in a Day(1) and other sources say that our Stone Age Sisters knew to create or use:

The sewing needle, the oldest of which dates back 60,000 years , which also means an understanding of the components of all clothing elements – the hat, cape, sleeve and pant; form-fitting boots and shoes; and the geometry to construct them
Linen, developed 30,000 years ago
Jewelry, the necklace, earring (including for pierced ears), bracelet and pouch – 40,000 years ago
Plates, bowls and vessels
Insect repellent and mattresses, “…ancient mattresses were lined with leaves from River Wild-Quince, a tree that naturally produces an insect repellent chemical, and this may have minimized the lethal scourge of malaria.  Read More 

The Ascent of Woman: Excellent Series on Netflix

Empress Theodora

 I discovered The Ascent of Woman on Netflix, an excellent piece by Dr. Amanda Foreman that is quite unique in that it isn’t simple, flashy biographies of a couple of women through history, it is a clear, accessible, and well-written series on the overall rights of women through history as well as revelations of great women of the time, not as an anomaly but as key players in history who have been written out.


Dr. Foreman says that the condition of women is not a straight-forward march from darkness to light, from subjugation to freedom but a journey  Read More 

Thurber, Burleigh and Dvorak Were Key to the Birth of American Orchestral Music

Jeannette Meyer Thurber
‘Had Jeannette Meyers Thurber put her name on the institutions she established, she would be as well-known as Carnegie and Rockefeller.’ That statement piqued my interest while enjoying the lecture series from The Great Courses entitled Dr. Robert Greenberg, Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances.

An accomplished but obscure woman? Just my sort of treasure hunt.

Thurber established the National Conservatory of Music of America in 1885 – the first of its kind and an endeavor that some say ushered in the first orchestral music with a distinctively American sound. But in a very radical stance for the day, Thurber championed the rights of women, people of color and the handicapped to attend her school, sometimes on full scholarship. This was 1885—not too long after the Civil War -- and her school was racially integrated, promoted women, and had an inclusive stance toward the handicapped.

“The National Conservatory of Music of America was the outstanding institution for professional musical preparation in the United States for some 25 years or more. At its height in the 1890s it boasted a faculty of international renown…and initiated a course of studies whose features became a basis for the curriculum now taken for granted in the colleges and conservatories of this country. Its achievements resulted from the endeavors of a single visionary: Jeannette M Thurber, a wealthy, idealistic New Yorker who devoted most of her life to the school…Although her innovative design for the Conservatory was influential in shaping the course of American music for the 20th century, Mrs. Thurber and her school have slipped into undeserved obscurity.”(1)

But the conservatory seemed to be her real love, and she grew it from 84 students when it opened to 3,000 students in 1900.(2) Her success was due, in part,  Read More