Matilda of England

Matilda was queen of England and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. So, leader of both Germany and later England. Sounds impressive right? So…why haven’t we heard of her?

"Verily, she is but a woman!" Thank you Mr. King, that was very helpful. Go away now.


To fully explain Matilda’s situation, I need to go back to William the Conqueror. As we know, the Normans were basically Viking’s living in northern France. As Vikings are want to do, William went to conquer England from the Saxons…who had just fought off a Viking invasion ironically. (I’ll get into William at a later date.) For now all we need to know is that William took over England and erased the Saxon aristocracy. It gets a bit complicated because William now owned England as a sovereign monarch, but also held lands in France making him the vassal of the king of France. That sort of arrangement seldom worked out peacefully or logically. William had two sons that fought each other (literally and figuratively) for the crown. Its amazing how dynastic succession caused so much problems but they never tried to get a better system. Hmmm….
His son William won over Rufus in a few fights and Rufus pawned off his share of the kingdom and went on Crusade instead. Well, William had a bunch of sons (most illegitimate though his chronicler said he held no lust in his heart. snicker snicker) and one of them was the next in line for the crown. He was over in France with all his brothers and cousins and friends. They got drunk and got on their boat. They never learned that you never drink and go boating together. No surprise, they had a little accident with a big rock and all of them drowned except for a butcher who happened to be on board. Aside from
This was more than a personal tragedy, it was also a national one because there was now no heir to the kingdom. The only child he left was Matilda over in Germany. She shipped off to Germany at the age of eight to the German king. She was married at twelve (an acceptable age to be married back then) and learned how to act like a queen. She wasn’t empress yet because the German kings of the Holy Roman Empire had to do this rather unusual tradition of marching their armies down to Rome and forcing the Pope to crown them Emperor. (Again, couldn’t they have come up with a more logical system or at least a more peaceful one?)
On a side note, her husband was too scared to go a second time into Italy because of our good friend Matilda, Countess of Tuscany. He left Matilda of England to rule his lands in Italy.
Well, just before all of Matilda’s brothers and cousins died, her husband, the emperor had the good graces to die which cleared up her schedule remarkably! So she came back to England and her father quickly told everyone that she was the next ruler and that they had better like it!

Matilda wondering what exactly she was the ruler of, France, England, Italy or Germany. Not many people could say that.


Well, though there was no rule saying a woman couldn’t rule England, they still didn’t trust her. She was a woman and had too many German tendencies and manners.

"Women can't rule, eh? I think I showed them. You go girl!"


The historians of her time did their best to ignore her existence and pretend she was nothing. The sharks started circling in the form of noblemen wanting to be king so she needed a husband fast. So, she married some guy that owned a lot of land in France. (all this would latter help cause Hundred Years War when England thought they owned France. They might have been right.) Her husband wanted to be king without her say so. She was used to ruling on her own so shed “Forget that junk” and promptly did her best to ignore him. Also, her father kept trying to muscle in and seize control. Again, he had the good graces to promptly die and she (while her husband was out of town) quickly went around the country assuring her control. She was slowed down by being really pregnant at the time and her husband had a little revolt in his lands in France.
But then some jerk named Stephan came in and quickly stole the throne. Keep in mind that they didn’t have the internet or news networks, news went only as fast as a horse so sometimes confusing things happened at the same time.
Well, Stephan wasn’t as good a ruler as he was a jerk. Normandy began rebelling and the barons and Dukes in England began fighting among themselves and Stephan was powerless to stop them. Slowly the nobles began to turn away from Stephan and back to Matilda.
Then Matilda made her move and with asking a blessing from the Pope, she fought for her throne. She went down to Italy where a bunch of church people held a council and judged her case. Due to a lawyer on Stephan’s side he won the case. I told you he was a jerk.
So, she went on the warpath and at the battle of Lincoln, where Stephan’s men were besieging a castle, her army came up and put a boot in their rear. The fighting went back and forth and carried on within the city. After some cool Call of Duty-esque city fighting, they captured Stephan the Jerk and Matilda rode to London to be crowned.
All seemed well, right?
Well, when she got to the gate of London, the common people said “Hey, you’re going to lower our taxes, eh?”
She said, “Not a chance!”
Then they closed the gates, refused her entry and the civil war erupted all over again. This time Stephan got the throne back and she had to high tail it to Scotland.
Lesson learned: If things are bad, lower taxes.

Empire Fail: “Why did Rome Fall?”

-Zach-
Today, me and my panel of guest historians well be looking at the reasons why empires fall. Mainly we’ll be looking at the fall of the Western Roman Empire, or “Fall of Rome” for noobs. But, we’ll also be looking at other empires that have fallen in an effort to find connections and similarities. Perhaps there are common reasons why empires fall.
With me today is my panel of guest judges. To my left is our good friend and the first woman historian, Anna Komemne.
-Anna-
Greetings to all.
-Zach-
Returning we have Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, a renowned warrior and leader.
-Matilda-
Hello everyone. (waves)
-Zach-
Next we have Charles Martel, commander of the Franks.
-Charles-
(nods)
-Zach-
And lastly we have…Bonaparte, or as you may know him, “Waterloosux1815.”
-Anna-
Why is he here?”
-Zach-
His “girlfriend” is really persuasive and kind of nice. She talked me into it.
-Bonaparte-
Ha! Josephine is very pig headed and must always have her way!
-Zach-
(cough!) Projecting! (Cough!)
-Bonaparte-
Pardon?
-Zach-
Oh, nothing. Just had something in my throat.

It was hard to get them all together, especially right after the holidays. But stars and schedules aligned.

-Zach
So, let’s get down to business. When it comes to Western history, this is really the elephant in the room. Not only did Rome and its fall shape the entire western world, it’s also a lesson of how something so successful and powerful can crumble in so short a time. Rome didn’t fall in a day true, but it weakened over a long period of time and when the final collapse did come, it happened in a few mere decades. Without exception, every one of us here was shaped by the Empire of the Romans. So, what about Rome made it so great for so long?
-Martel-
If I may, as commander of the Franks, I looked very much back to Rome. I tried to imitate their legions, their training and discipline.
-Zach-
Indeed. Your Grandson, Charlemagne was even crowned “Emperor of the Romans.”
-Anna-
I laugh at this. He was no more Roman then a Magyar chieftain.
-Matilda-
I’m not so sure of that, Anna. True, it wasn’t the Roman Empire or anything like it, but it was the spirit of the Empire. A unified political institution that could bring peace and stability.
-Bonaparte-
The Empire was not a tight, cohesive nation that we see today, not like France! It was a collection of kingdoms that paid allegiance to a higher emperor. Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire wanted to carry on with the…esssence of the Roman Empire.
-Anna-
Rome wasn’t just about political unity. It was an ideal. It was a way of life, a philosophy and a world view. To be a Roman was to be better than the rabble. To be better than the barbarians that surrounded you. To be a Roman was to be learned and with this learning, you saw the world through logic and reason.
-Zach-
But it had to be more than their philosophy and government. What made Rome great?”
-Martel-
The Legions.
-Bonaparte-
I agree
-Matilda-
Yes, the legions were the most disciplined and lethal force in the world. They carried the Imperial banners from Mesopotamia to the British Isles. Wherever they went, they built bridges, roads, walls and towns. Power came from the edge of the sword.
-Zach-
True. Once a group of people were dominated, they couldn’t rebel because the legions were too powerful. After a while they began to see the benefits of being Roman and soon Roman style cities were popping up all over Gaul, Cappadocia, and Britain. In a similar way America has McDonalds and Starbucks all over the world. So, tell me, why did it fall?
-Martel-
Outside pressure from barbarians
-Anna-
Decadence and loss of honor and cohesion.
-Bonaparte-
Christianity
-Matilda-
A gradual weakening of money and manpower.
-Zach-
I was hoping for a more cohesive answer. Are you saying all of those things or one of those things.
-Bonaparte-
Christianity alone is to blame. It made the people’s allegiance to a higher authority than the state. Also, it made them more docile and less violent. Without that blood lust and willingness to kill, the Romans as a people became weak.
-Zach-
I know Edward Gibbon, the great historian would agree with you there, but didn’t Christianity also keep the Empire afloat? Didn’t it preserve a unity and made the converted barbarians more accepting of civilization? Also, wasn’t it the Pope that met Attila outside the walls of Rome and convinced him to turn away?
-Bonaparte-
Bah!
-Anna-
It was the decadence. The people of Rome, for the most part, had converted to Christianity. They knew better yet many of them still acted no better than pagans. When a person is not moral or just, they can not lead an Empire. Their own selfish desires would come before the good of the Empire.
-Zach-
Okay, let’s look at the Venetian Republic. Why did it fall?
-Anna-
Decadence.
-Zach-
Only partially correct. They were traders above all. They managed all the trade that flowed from the east into the west. Goods from Persia, India and China went through Venice first. But when the Spanish, English and Portuguese found trade routes around Africa and to the New World, it cut off Venice’s wealth and thus their power. This made them slip into idleness and care only about pleasures. Perhaps they could have found alternate means, but the Mediterranean, the source of their wealth became provincial and unimportant. They were left in the dust with their little useless rowed galleys.
-Bonaparte-
But they could have done something to rise up!
-Zach-
Agreed, but as Anna said, decadence. They fell into pleasure seeking. So, Anna was partially correct. But was this true of Rome?  Did this alone cause them to fall?”
-Martel-
No. They still had their legions and they were still able to fight off anything.
-Matilda-
But the Germanic tribes did invade and take over. My Lombard forefathers living in Italy prove this.
-Martel-
True, true. In set field battles and army versus army, yes, the Roman legions, even in their depleted state, could win almost any engagement.
-Zach-
So…why did the Barbarians swarm over the Empire’s boarders? Why didn’t this happen in the Eastern half of the Empire? Anna, can you shed some light on this?
-Anna-
Simple. Our policy was different than the west’s. The west came to rely too heavily on the very barbarians that were taking over their lands. In the Eastern Empire, we saw this happening and we put our purple clad foot down. On a certain day, we rose up and killed all the barbarians in the army. Yes, this temporarily weakened our military, but we were stronger in the long run.
-Zach-
So, the West let the barbarians come in as allies, but in reality they were no such thing. They’d fight against Rome as often as with her. So you had large areas of the Empire, almost all of Gaul, that paid no taxes and held no loyalty toward the Empire.
-Martel-
This drained the manpower that Rome could recruit from and also lightened their purses at the same time. You can’t have large groups of people within your boarders that hold no allegiance to your government.
-Zach-
Is there another case of this?
-Anna-
Unfortunately “Byzantium” as you call it, illustrates this. We Romans are a very religious people. In Syria and Egypt they had a different form of Christianity that didn’t conform to the Orthodox Church. Empress Theodora asked for leniency with these “heretics” but future emperors did not listen. They tried to stamp out their sects. When the warriors of the Prophet came into Egypt and Asia Minor, the Egyptian and Syrian Christians sided with the Muslims because the Muslims were more tolerant of their beliefs. So, instead of a loyal group of citizens, we had people that viewed the invaders as liberators and added strength to Islam.
-Bonaparte-
Divided loyalties is poison for a state.
-Zach-
But religion can also be a unifying force, can’t it? Isn’t that why Constantine the Great changed the religion of the Empire to Christianity? To unite it?
-Anna-
The Church kept our Empire together for more than a thousand years.
-Zach-
So, there were dived loyalties inside the Empire. That’s one reason.
-Martel-
But those people were never loyal to begin with. They were barbarian invaders that happened to be invited in. That’s not necessarily an internal problem. I still say it was my ancestors, the Germanic tribes. The Barbarians caused this. If it weren’t for them, the Empire would NOT have fallen.
-Zach-
Anyone else agree with this?
-Matilda-
Well, certainly the Empire had its problems, but I suppose that none of them were cause enough for the Empire to fall.
-Bonaparte-
True this. The barbarian invasions caused enormous stress on a weakened system. Was its fall inevitable? No. Not at all. Look at the Eastern Roman Empire. It was under the same stresses, but they dealt with the problems differently.
-Anna-
We were more unified in our religion. The barbarian Christians were Arian Heretics and not true Catholics. That caused a divide.
-Zach-
So, getting back to the Barbarians. The East, rather violently, stopped relying on Barbarian manpower while the West came to rely on it so much that eventually all their powerful generals were barbarians. The capital of the Empire moved from Rome up to Milan, Ravenna and elsewhere to be closer to the problems along the boarder. They clearly viewed the Barbarians as a top priority.
-Matilda-
At the end, the generals were assigning who would be emperor and eventually they tired of it and set themselves up as Emperors.
-Anna-
Theodoric had the nerve to ask Constantinople for Validation as King of Italy! I think not! The arrogance!
-Martel-
But the Barbarians did move in and set up their own kingdoms with in the boarders of the Empire. This bled the empire dry as one province after another melted away until Rome was left with very little real power.
-Zach-
That leads to an interesting point. Most historians give 465 as the date of the fall of Rome, when the last emperor, Romulus Augustalus was deposed. (Ironic name) However, the Roman Empire had, in effect, ceased to be before then and certain institutions such as the Senate continued to go on for a long while after. Charles, I do believe the Roman Senate was still around in your life time.
-Martel-
That is correct.
-Anna-
And technically, Theodoric claimed to be a vassal of the Eastern Empire and ruled Italy under our authority. It wasn’t true though. He was just and independent barbarian chieftain. When we took Ravenna a few decades later, we made sure to throw his entombed body into the ocean.
-Bonaparte-
At least you are not a vengeful people.
-Anna-
I would watch your tongue, Corsican.
-Zach-
So, anyways….The Barbarians, little by little took over the Empire. I think its safe to say that.
-Matilda-
I would also say, though some might argue with me, that Rome failed at keeping the loyalty of its subjects. I don’t mean citizens, I mean the common people that didn’t speak Latin or consider themselves Romans. The locals, if you will. The Empire, starting with Diocletian, imposed such strict regulations on the economy that it stifled all individuality and progression. By this I mean, Diocletian ordered that all social movement be stopped. All economic movement be stopped as well. If a man was a blacksmith, he had to remain a blacksmith. Then his son had to be a blacksmith. One couldn’t move from town to town. Taxes were so high that it was literally devastating to the poor farmers. When they couldn’t pay, they were forced to sell their farms to the rich landowners that grew in power and practically became feudal lords and kings. These rich land lords owned everything and held no loyalty to the crumbling empire. In fact, many of them embraced the coming barbarians because the barbarians would allow them to live as they would.
-Zach-
Okay, let’s look outside Western Europe for a moment. What about the Ottoman Empire? What can we learn from their fall that might help us understand the Fall of Rome?
-Anna-
The Ottomans, when they conquered Constantinople, (Shakes her fist) they were led by a strong leader that involved himself with the progress of his empire. Many of these early Ottoman rulers were powerful individuals trained from birth for leadership. However, as time went on, these leaders became more and more isolated from their people until finally, they weren’t even allowed to leave their palace and never had contact with the outside world in any real sense. They lived isolated, sheltered lives.
-Bonaparte-
Ha! What fools! A leader cannot be so isolated that they do not understand what is going on around them! If the leader becomes so detached from the common man, then the common man will rise up against him! That is what happened in France and with your American Revolution!
-Zach-
So, to recap; large groups of people that are not loyal to the government. Outside pressure from foreign powers that want what you have, Stifling government that makes the people resent it, incompetent, out of touch leaders that care only about themselves. Does that cover it?
-Anna-
We can get into education, economics and military prowess, but I believe we are out of time. That’s what this blinking red light means, right.
-Zach-
Crap. How long has that been on?
-Matilda-
A while now.
-Zach-
Well, I hope our readers are able to draw something from all this and perhaps research it themselves and come to their own conclusions. We didn’t by any means cover all of this subject. I’d like to thank my guests for taking time out of their bus schedules to be here today.

My history with history

My first love was with history. I remember the exact moment and occasion. I was in junior high and I was flipping through one of my older brother’s history text books looking for pictures of knights to draw. Then I stumbled upon a map of Europe in the Middle Ages and I saw something called “The Eastern Roman Empire.” But…it was after Rome fell and it wasn’t in Italy. What the heck? So I began to search around trying to find out what this Eastern Roman Empire was. Was it really some Roman Empire in the east? A pretender country? Misnamed? I couldn’t find anything and I spent the next several years finding out as much as I could. I swallowed any tidbit of information I could get my greedy hands on. This search for something that wasn’t commonly known began a love affair with history that lasts until this day. I found a powerful empire that lasted over a thousand years that was virtually forgotten and hardly taught in schools. What else was I missing? What else didn’t I know?

Thus began my wanderings in search of the forgotten parts of history

Keep in mind that this was before the Internet so my searching had to be done the old fashioned way, with books and going to the places when I could. I had the fortunate advantage of living in Virginia and if you’re going to study history in America, there is no better place. I grew up surrounded by history and when other kids went to water parks, beaches or where ever normal kids go, I went to historical sites like Martin’s Hundred or James Town.
Then I finally went off to attend college at Southern Virginia University where I majored in history and art. ( I couldn’t choose between them so I did both.) There, with the help of some amazing professors, my knowledge of history expanded more than I ever could have managed on my own.
All was going well for little ole’ me when suddenly the sound of record scratching could be heard and my life abruptly came to a stop. My National Guard unit was activated and I was off on a paid vacation to sunny Iraq. Now, I suddenly (and violently) found my self taking part in history instead of merely reading it. All my life I had read about the soldiers slogging through the cold and mud or suffering in sweltering heat. I now understood what it was like to be at war and I imagined how the Byzantine soldiers must have felt. Like them I found myself in a hot, hostile land doing patrols and wearing oven-like armor. (so, maybe I’m a bit of a romantic. Don’t judge me.) It didn’t help that the place I found myself in looked like a castle complete with walls and towers. Then we were attacked and I found myself defending our castle against hostile locals. Some things never change I suppose.
The one thing that changed my opinion of history by experiencing a war first hand was the surprising complexity of it all. However, the most shocking thing I discovered was the smothering hatred that covered everything around me like a thick mist. It seeped into every pour and infused itself into my bones. Everything I saw and did was filtered through an opaque haze of anger and hatred. It was like a poison or being constantly drunk, affecting every thought and action I did.
I came home from the war and without a pause went right back into school. There I was greeted with “So, did you kill anyone?” “See any action?” etc etc. Not only that, but I saw that all these young students didn’t have any idea what life really was. Their biggest concerns were stupid TV shows and vain gossip. I despised everyone and everything. I had hoped that being home would calm me down, but no, my anger and hatred grew and grew.
THEN, at the end of the semester I, at the suggestion of my art history professor, went with the school group to Italy. I had always wanted to go to Italy, loving art and history Italy was full of both.
What awaited me in Italy was beyond what I could have imagined. There I was, surrounded by Roman ruins, famous Renaissance paintings, art, culture, beauty, happiness and the best food I’ve ever tasted in my life.
And I felt my anger and hatred melt away. I began to remember that life could indeed be beautiful and good. It was worth living and people deserved to be happy.
So, if you may have noticed that I pay particular attention to Italy, there is a reason. It was where I found salvation and happiness. I forgave God, I forgave the world and I forgave myself there. The whole country was my church and my temple. Years and another deployment later I found myself in Italy again with a tiny apartment in Rome. For a short time I lived as a Roman and enjoyed fine food, art and beauty in all its forms.

Me at the pizzaria that invented pizza in Naples.

 

Me at St. Peter's. The most impressive building I've ever seen.

 

Where I found peace

So, history and in particular, Italy, hold a special meaning to me beyond the interesting stories. Besides, they’re not made up stories in books, they are the stories of real people who were as flesh and blood as you and me. They were real people and they deserved to be remembered. That is one of the reasons I search out the dusty corners and forgotten parts of history. Don’t forget to ask “So what?” Why are these people and events important? If something interests you, look it up yourself. Find out more. The more you look, the more you’ll find that there is even more that has to be discovered.

Go find out what you can. Go on adventures. You may find yourself in some surprising places that you may never have imagined.

Venice: Part II

What does this Masked man have to do with Venice? Stay tuned to find out!!

When we last discussed Venice, it was transforming from a local sea power of separate island communities into a trading power that spread all over the Mediterranean. Officially it was an autonomous province of the Byzantine Empire but “Officially” in this case meant “Not really.” Venice could now do what it wanted to do and that was get rich.
To understand Venetian history you have to understand the Venetian mind set. Right now, we are set square in the dark ages, the tenth century. (that means the 900’s btw) While the rest of Europe is wallowing in filth, poverty, disease and ignorance, Venice was a Democratic Republic that was rich and quite happy. The rest of Europe had armed thugs they called “kings” but Venice had a “Doge.” A doge is similar to an American president. He’s elected and has very limited power. In fact, the Venetians were so anti-tryant that they mistrusted and disliked anyone that had a cult of personality, was too charismatic or thought too highly of himself. They thought a single strong leader was a great danger to their individual liberties. (they were right, you know.) As a result, most of the doge’s in Venetian history go down quite unremembered. That was how they liked it. If a doge tried to get around the law or their Senate, that doge was usually quickly (and violently) removed. The people didn’t have a impeaching power, but they did have swords, crossbows and a strong 2nd amendment type liberty. It was the duty of every male citizen to learn to use the crossbow in defense of Venice. Often civilian sailors had to go to war in times of great danger. That’s like if America called up all its truckers to go fight.
Okay, to show you all of this in action, I’ll start at the year 900. Venice had just defeated a whole invasion by Magyars (Hungarians) and had fortified the islands of the Rialto. They felt pretty good about themselves. They had a long period of peace with four doges of the same family all named Pietro. (sometimes Venetians could be unimaginative)

Here's a picture of Pietro...but I don't know which one. They all look alike.

The only real problem they faced were a few Slavic barbarian pirates. If there was one thing Venice hated above all else, it was pirates. They detested pirates more than anything because pirates interfered with trade and that meant they messed with their bank accounts. Never mess with a Venetian’s bank account.
Now its the year 942 and the third Pietro is Doge. However, his son, Pietro, was a rich spoiled little brat that caused nothing but problems, riots, occupying St. Mark’s square, and throwing bottles at riot cops. Well, the people had had enough of this spoiled jerk and banished him. Instead of going off to live at the expense of some foriegn noble like most banished people do, he went off and became a “military contractor” and then stepped up his game and became a pirate. Needless to say that this didn’t make his dad very happy. Eventually papa died and due to vague promises and catchy slogans, Pietro IV was elected Doge! The former rebel/mercenary/pirate was now Doge.
Now, there were a few things the Venetians expected of their Doge’s. One: fiscal responsibility. They had to make the Republic rich. Two: they had to be morally straight like a boyscout. Three: they had to be patriots and respect the Republican form of government. Our young Pietro was none of these things.
Instead of making money, he spent it like a drunk sailor in Vegas. He ignored his responsibilities and lived the vida loca. He governed more like a Medieval king than an elected servant of the people. Then he went off and married a Lombard wife from the Italian mainland and got all her feudal lands as a wedding gift. Owning these lands technically made him a vassal of the German emperor. The Venetians really didn’t like their doge acting like a feudal lord, let alone one that was under the authority of the Germans. As if that wasn’t enough, he made his son the bishop of Torcello and gave him a bunch of Venetian land as his personal property and basically was as corrupt as anyone could be.
So, now he was the tyrant of both state and the church. He thought he was invincible and ignored the approval ratings in the poles.
Eventually some Italians began attacking his new lands in Italy and he said “Hey, you lazy Venetians, go fight for my land over there! Why? Because I said so!”
This was the last freaking straw. The people rioted and attacked the Doge’s palace. Back then it was more like a fort than the one that stands today so they didn’t quite get in, so they began to set fire to all the buildings around the palace and caused the flames to catch the palace on fire. When the Doge tried to escape, they caught him. He promised to do better but they were having none of it. They stabbed him a bunch of times and threw him in the canal. Then they dragged his body to a butchery and were about to put him in the shredder when one nice guy said, “Hey, that’s kinda…um…wrong. He’s dead already guys.” So they just threw him in the dirt instead. That’s a Venetian impeachment right there.
The next Doge was a saint. Literally. He was the only Doge and the only democratically elected official to ever become a saint. His name was Pietro. (that’s the 5th Pietro) He gave his own money to help rebuild Venice and restore their credit rating. However, he raised taxes so the Venetians threw him out. He was followed by several lame and deservedly forgettable Doge’s until the end of the century.

The Republic looked prosperous, but politically she was weakened by idiot Doges and corruption. Kinda like Washington DC.

Well, eventually the Venetians looked around for one person that wasn’t corrupt and busy with inside trading. They found a 13 year old boy, named Pietro. (okay, I lost track of how many Pietros were here.) This looks like a pretty idiotic move, right? Electing a 13 year old as president? Well, it turns out they couldn’t have made a better choice because Pietro here was awesome at pretty much anything he tried. He sent a fleet after the pirates. Done. Pirates defeated and the seas were safe again. Byzantine Empire giving them the cold shoulder? Marry his son to the Byzantine princess. Now they were inviting each other over for Thanksgiving. Germans getting greedy and wanting everything south of the Alps? Promise them use of the Venetian Navy. Instant friends.
Then another problem arose. Saracens in Sicily were using the island as a navel base to launch attacks all over. Instead of launching a crusade, he opened trade with them and became friends. (much more money to be made than with a crusade.)
Then the pirates came back and he sent another fleet after them.

Warship technology hadn't progressed much since the time of the Ancient Greeks. In fact, they'd be using Galleys up until the 1700's.

At the time the Pirates were attacking towns that technically belonged to Byzantium, but they were too far away and semi-independent and didn’t expect the Empire to come to their aid, so they sent out the bat signal for Venice. Venice came, swooping in with a big cape with the Lion of St. Mark on it and kicked the pirates out. The Doge himself sailed out to fight the pirates. As a result, Venice gained control of the Eastern part of the Adriatic. Not bad.

Pietro to the rescue!!! (Told ya it was relavant.)

"Scurvy dogs! I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you Venetians!"

The tenth century could have ended really badly for the Republic thanks to a bunch of corrupt idiots that cared more about themselves than the Republic. But, thanks to one smart 13 year old kid, (he did grow quickly though) the Republic found itself more prosperous than ever.

Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter, same Venetian time, same Venetian channel.

Vampires don’t sparkle

Last time I counted I believe there were about a half billion vampire shows on TV and in the theaters. (rough estimate) Apparently they’re quite popular right now. Vampires hit “mainstream” back in France in the 1800’s so they come and go in popularity. What do all these recently made up vampires have in common? They’re all emo, metro sissy boys. I suppose I can go into the psychology of why society portrays vampires the way they do and what that means, but instead I’ll show you the history of vampires. They didn’t start with Stephany Myer or Ann Rice or even Bram Stoker. You kind of have to go a little further back than that. 1700’s? Nope. Further. 1500’s? No, still further. 1100’s? Umm…try WAAAAY further back, like how you can get a good photo of your girl friend. That’s right, we have to go all the way back to Mesopotamia and the dawn of recorded history.
We go back to ancient Persia and the ancient Hebrews where the legend of Lilith first appears.

I drew this from depictions on ancient pottary and manuscripts from Babylon...okay, I just made it up, but she's pretty sick looking.

Lilith is said to be the first wife of Adam before Eve came along. Apparently she didn’t like doing the dishes while Adam watched football and scratched himself so she left and started drinking blood which is totally not kosher.

Ok, fine. Here's a "Real" picture of Lilith. Hope you're happy.

Not only are stories of blood drinking critters very old, they’re also very common. They can be found all over the world. Don’t believe me? Alright, let’s try…China. There, they have hopping vampires. Their vampires are not sexy or even really smart. They have rigamortis and can’t move too good so they hop about with long fingernails and smell out the living.

I don't know about you, but I'd be scared of a hopping corpse.

The only way to protect yourself from these hopping vampires is to hold your breath and hope they go away before you have to breathe.
Next up is Lamia from Greek mythology. Lamia was a queen in Libya who had an affair with Zeus. (no surprise there.) Zeus’s legitimately jealous wife punished Lamia by forcing her to eat her own children. As a result, she grew into a monster that went around eating newborn babies, like Nancy Pelosi. Some stories say that she had children that were other monstrous Lamia creatures with serpent bodies below the waist. Okay, not really a vampire but close enough for now.
Let’s try Japan now. There the vampires’ heads detached at night and went flying around on their own to suck blood and strangle victims with its dangling intestines….okay, that one was kinda weird. I think I prefer Japan’s more modern take on Vampires.

I prefer hot school girls with large swords killing other vampires. Much better than heads floating around like balloons

Next up is India. In India, their vampires are called Vetalas. At least it starts with a “V” so we’re getting warmer. Vetalas are ghosts of people who are trapped in a timeless limbo-like state so they can see the past, present and future equally well. They inhabit corpses from cemeteries and go around causing trouble late at night: tagging their names on walls, driving really fast through stop lights and honking the horns to wake their neighbors. To get rid of them you can chant the holy mantras or perform their burial rites properly. See what happens when you don’t do something right the first time? They also hang upside down from trees in cemeteries. see? That’s more like it. Take a lesson Japan.
some say that the legend of the vampire comes to Europe from the East, but some areas like Romania have had vampiric legends since there were people to record them. The Moroi is a Romanian spirit of a dead infant that was killed before it could be baptized. It can shapeshift into a man, wolf, bat or other blood sucking critter and haunts its family’s village. Romania also has the Strigoi Morti, undead witches that can change shape and feed off of a person’s energy in similar way that Chinese Hopping vampires do. They’re usually female and are said to have ginger hair and blue eyes. Watch out for red heads, I knew it!

Many old tales of vampires were more like life sucking ghosts

We can’t leave out those lovable Vikings. They had their own vampires to hunt called Drauger which means “Again-Walker.” They are undead corpses that guard the treasures of Viking kings. They can get really big and beefy like an undead Incredible Hulk and can also turn into smoke. They tend to drink blood and cause animals and people to go insane. Like any vampire worth his salt it could also shape change into a seal…wait…did I read that right? Yes, a vampire seal, a flayed bull, a horse with no ears, tail and a broken back and a cat. See? Cats are evil. And of course, they spread sickness.
We can’t leave out the Native Americans where they had the Bapet, a humanoid cannibalistic creature that ate children or seduced men and then ate them. They had poisonous breast milk….I’m not going to ask how they found that out and they could only be killed by an obsidian tipped arrow.

I'd be seduced by that any day!

As tales of vampires spread they were blamed for plagues and professional vampire hunters would go digging up graves to find corpses with grown hair and fingernails. There were spirit vampires, zombie-like vampires, shape – shifters and more sophisticated undead. Even the government became involved and in the 1700’s in Germany there were several documented cases of vampires. One of them was a man who died and later came knocking at his son’s door begging for food. Frightened, the son refused and the next day was found dead. Other examples involve someone dying and then his neighbors dying later on. (I guess even outbreaks of plague needs scapegoats.) It got so bad with people digging up graves, writing medical journals and going crazy that Empress Theresa of Austria finally got sick of it and outlawed digging up graves and sent her personal doctor to go check out all this vampire stuff.
But, in the 1800’s the tales of Vampires from Eastern Europe hit the mass media and became very popular. There were scary tales of vampires all over the place! Varny and Camilla were popular pulp fiction vamps. This is where we get the term Vampyre, a relatively new French word, but it does sound pretty cool.
Then along came Bram Stoker and brought some class to this joint. He used the historical figure of Vlad Tepes, “The Impaler” and said that he was a vampire. Stoker set a real figure from history in his contemporary setting and created what we’d consider the modern vampire. It was also a pretty kick butt book.

Dracula was not meant to be sexy or suave. He was a monster that stunk of death and left over pizza.

Okay, so what did we NOT see? Did we see sparkles? Emo mopping about about how good looking and immortal they were? Falling in love with hair brained teenagers? I say we return to the good ole days of yor when vampires were horrible blood sucking corpses…that hopped or had floating heads… wait, that’s not quite what I meant to say.

He's laughing at Edward and Lestat

Addition: The issue of red heads has been brought up.  If you’re still in doubt, here’s Lucy from Dracula.  Red head.  Vampire.  Trouble.

Vampire red heads are bigger trouble than mortal red heads...and that's saying something.

Addition 2:  I forgot one of my favorite vampires.  Aural Vampire from Japan!!

A great band, check them out! Craziest concert I've been to.

Venice, the early years

I haven’t really mentioned this yet, but perhaps my favorite topic (and place to visit) is Venice. I’m absolutely passionate about everything to do with Venice. Excuse me while I gush.

Me in my favorite place in the world. Venice.


Venice isn’t an ancient city but its a city whose history is so deep and rich that it carries more weight than much older cities. It’s also the city with the most character. When visiting the city, it’s not one or two landmarks that draw you there, but the city itself. Its the most beautiful city and also the most unique. But where did it come from? If it isn’t ancient, it had to come from somewhere.
Venice had its birth in the death of the Roman Empire. As unwashed heathen hordes of Huns, Visagoths and other barbarians swarmed over the dying body of the Empire, many people fled the mainland to the islands out in the ocean for safety. These islands had a few scattered huts of fishermen and salt gatherers, nothing like a real settlement. So, as the Romans, rich and poor alike, watched their cities burn from these islands, many decided to stay and set up shop. The Germanic barbarians weren’t very good swimmers I suppose.
There was a problem though, the islands were just soggy marshes and you really couldn’t build on them. So, they took these large wooden pillars and sunk them into the ground and built upon those. Here’s an interesting little fact, these wood pillars when submerged for a long time in salt water, petrify and become more durable than stone. Go figure. Now that these Roman refugees had something close to solid ground, they began building. But, the main settlement wasn’t on what we now call Venice, but on a smaller island a little further north called “Torcello.” Venice still didn’t really exist, but it was a collection of scattered and semi independent settlements. When something important happened, the leaders would gather together and talk it out. It was the beginnings of the Venetian Senate. It also made the Venetians very mistrusting of monarchs. They valued their voices being heard in government. They never had a king and the Catholic Venetians even didn’t like taking orders from Pope and frequently (but politely) told the Pontif to stuff it.
Then the Byzantines moved into Italy with dreams of reuniting the Roman Empire. They took most of Italy and declared the settlements in the Lagoon to be a colony of Byzantium. That meant they were left to themselves but Byzantium would come by once in a while, collect a tax or two and protected Venice from invasion. Well, most of the time. When the Franks invaded Italy they saw all the money Venice was making from the salt trade. (they were traders from the very beginning.) The Franks thought the lagoon was an easy target because “Venice” didn’t have a real army. The Venetians (I’ll just call them Venetians from now on.) did however, know the Lagoon and all its complexity. The Venetians set up their little militia army on one of the many sandy islands and acted like they would put up a last/first stand. The Franks, tired of bug hunts and wanted a stand up fight, gladly took the bait and landed all their men on the island. Meanwhile…. a small group of Venetian special forces with night vision goggles, head bands and silencers snuck in and torched all of the boats the Franks had brought with them.

A Venetian soldier looking at the Franks (French) and being unimpressed.


As soon as the Franks’ boats went up in fiery explosions, the Venetian army quickly jumped back in their boats and sailed away. Well, the Franks were left there scratching their heads and trying to get a cell phone signal. But what they didn’t know was that the island wasn’t really an island, but a sand barge and when the tide came in, the water rose and drowned the entire Frankish invasion force. Oops.
This isn’t the last time the sea would protect Venice. In fact, due to the treacherous waters around Venice and the skill of their sailors, Venice was never invaded, never taken over by force and remained intact throughout its long history. Rome, Paris, Constantinople, Moscow could never boast of that. So eat it land lubbers!
Eventually, the Venetians became more populace, rich and organized. Instead of some lame megalomaniac king and his inbred family, they opted for an organization more like a democracy mixed with a corporation with the CEO being called a “Doge” which is their term for “Duke.” The Venetians never liked cults of personality and preferred faceless, powerless bureaucracies. The Doge, with only a few exceptions, was never strong or powerful.
The Venetians also got their own diocese and a cardinal of their own. Torcello was the most populace of the islands so the Cardinal set up shop there.

Today, Torcello is a lonely, desolate, melencholy island and perhaps my favorite spot in Venice.


The church on the left is the oldest church in the lagoon, where the Cardinal was. The Church on the right is a latter Byzantine one.


The Doge eventually set up shop on the island of Rialto, “High River” because it had a river on it. The river eventually became the “Grand Canal.” Because the Doge brought the government there, eventually it became more populated than Torcello.
The Venetians claimed that St. Mark visited the Lagoon and promised to be buried there one day. The Venetians always remembered this. One day, a group of Venetian Merchants down in Alexandria found the tomb of St. Mark. But it was under control of the Muslims. So, they stole the body, covered it in pork and went down to the docks. The Muslim cargo inspectors wouldn’t touch the pork so the Venetians snuck out and sailed to Venice. The Venetians loved Mark so much that they built a huge church just to house the body. Thus we get St. Mark’s church.

They blinged the church up with loot and plunder from around the world.


The Venetians then began to grow in power, but not from military conquests, from trading. They were traders like no others. Their military navel ships, when out fighting pirates or turks, were trading. They had the only warships that were half cargo ships. So, when they weren’t fighting pirates or Normans, they stopped at ports and did some hagglin’. Unlike the nobility of other European countries, the nobility in Venice got their wealth from trading. The different families were very competitive and much of the entertainment from Venetian history comes from all the intrigues, plots and assassinations the Venetians loved so much.
Eventually they threw off the Byzantines and became an economic super power. All cargo from the east came through Venice before it went to the rest of Europe. Venetian coins were the most accepted currency around the Mediterranean.
During this early time of Venice, they didn’t care about land acquisitions and just wanted to make money. Eventually, they did start gaining land but that comes later.

End of Part I

Adrionople: The Decline of Rome

The battle of Adrionople was a pivotal battle in the history of the Roman Empire. Not only did it mark the end of Romans being top dog, it also marked the beginning of a new era of warfare, an era that would last for another thousand years: the era of cavalry.
We all know and love the Roman legions. After all, they formed the basis of military tradition that we follow to this very day. An Army Ranger would find himself quite at home in a Roman Legion. Drill Sergeants, NCO’s, douche bag officers, motivational marches and really bad food. However, this battle was the start of Medieval warfare and also the Medieval society that slowly formed over the next two hundred years.

No longer are the Romans brave, arrogant and commanding. Now they are afraid, huddled to together for protection.

To say that the Battle of Adrionople was a disaster would be like saying “The Black Plague made you feel kind of under the weather.” The Empire was already in a decline at this point, but it wasn’t beyond saving by any means. Rome was still the main Super Power around and could still (with a bit of difficulty) amass large armies that could school anyone around. As stated in a previous post of mine where I described the three eras of the Roman Legions, we are now firmly in the Late Roman era. 378 AD to be precise. (I have a bad habit of forgetting to post dates.) Long gone is the awesome, mass produced plate armor called the “Lorica Segmentata.”

They went from this....

 

To this.

Though the military power of Rome had slipped, it was still the biggest boy on the block and still had the hotly forged tradition and training of their ancestors.
But there was one problem: barbarians. Germanic barbarians were moving in on Roman territory, not learning Latin, celebrating Cinco De Mayo and playing obnoxious Ranchero music. The Roman Emperor gave them amnesty and let them move in. However, the local governors were like any other politicians, greedy, cruel and corrupt. They swindled and treated poorly the barbarian guests and to no one’s surprise, the Barbarians rebelled and began looting and breaking store windows all over the Balkans. The Empire was divided into East and West and in theory acted as one Empire. Well, it looked good on paper but the two Empires were drifting apart. So, the Eastern emperor Valens asked Gratian, the Western Emperor to come and help out. Gratian had other things to do like wash his hair and take out the garbage but he eventually got his boys together and started marching east to help out the Eastern Empire.
Sounds like a good plan, right? Two massive armies ganging up on a pitiful barbarian tribe. Good plan, yup! Good plan.
But…..
Valens growing impatient and wanting the glory for himself, decided to go on without Gratian. His army of about 50,000 found the Goth’s encampment of about 60,000. (battles in Antiquity were on a MUCH larger scale than most Medieval battles which only had a few hundred to a few thousand combatants at most.) So, the two forces were more or less evenly matched. The Romans had armor, training and sound military strategy and the Goths had black trench coats, black hair, pale skin and listened to Death Metal.

A goth maiden at camp

The Goths made their camps with all their wagons in a great circle and made a kind of fort from where they’d charge out and attack their enemies. Also, their camp was on top of a hill and the Romans had just finished a hard march. If I was facing an equal force but they were encamped and had the high ground, I think I’d have second thoughts and maybe either try to lure them off the high ground or come back at a better time. Shame that they didn’t have Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The Chinese General would be rolling in his grave because Valens chose to attack. He didn’t see the Gothic cavalry so he thought he was safe. He hadn’t properly scouted the enemy out. Custer would make the same mistake 1200 years later.
The Romans charged up the hill and got promptly pushed back. It wasn’t really going well for the Romans but matters weren’t improved when the Gothic cavalry suddenly came back and attacked the Roman flanks. This pushed the Romans together in tighter formations. Then the Gothic infantry came out of their circled wagons and surrounded the entire Roman army. The Roman cavalry was too weak to fend off the Gothic cav, a mistake the Byzantines and Western Europe learned from. However, it didn’t save the Romans now and once they were completely surrounded (a feat that few armies have ever accomplished btw.) they were completely slaughtered and Valens was killed unceremoniously and no one really knows what happened to him. Aside from one incompetent politician, the Empire lost almost all of their veterans. This had unseen and very dire consequences for the Empire. Without the knowledge and experience of the veterans, the Romans had to rely on outdated and incomplete military manuals. They never fought the same and their training and doctrine never recovered. Also, the loss of manpower could not be replaced and this forced the Empire to recruit from the very people that were destroying the Empire from the outside and inside. The Empire never recovered. Rome was on the defensive for the remainder of its history.
With the rise of heavy cavalry, more land and money was required to train and equip each cavalry soldier so their status increased as did their pay. This led to a higher class of cavalry soldiers that would eventually become mounted knights and define the Middle Ages.

It is rumored in the ancient Chronicles that the Goths celebrated their victory by listening to “Cradle of Filth” and getting some wicked skull tattoos.