Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

Painting Through Time

I’ve always been fascinated by paintings. Sometimes it feels like a portal into another world or time period. From an academic stand point, it makes sense, especially if they are paintings from a time when there were no photographs. It’s important to remember, however, that these paintings are what these people want us to see.

Can you imagine someone 100 years from now, judging our society from the memes we leave behind on the internet? Perish the thought!

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Go support the artist on Tumblr here

That being said, paintings can be an amazing source of knowledge about a time period. It gives us a visual reference of how they want to be portrayed. Here, I will list some of my favourite paintings and the historical importance behind it.

Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula, 1641, by Claude 

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Seaport with Embarkation of Saint Ursula, 1641 by Claude. Downloaded from the National Gallery website for non-commercial purposes. 

As someone who has studied the conversion of the Roman Empire from Paganism to Christianity, I love the retelling of Saintly stories. Religion is a very common theme in paintings, especially Christian stories in a Western world that relied on it for many of its values and morality.

The story of Saint Ursula is interesting because there is no confirmation of her even having lived. Unlike many male saints, there isn’t a collection of written work that we can point to as proof that she existed. The legend is based on an inscription at the Church of Saint Ursula in Cologne. What is even more interesting is that her martyrdom was taken out of the General Roman Calendar after it was revised in 1969. Maybe because it couldn’t be verified?

The story goes that the British Princess Ursula left to join her future husband, a pagan governor in Gaul (now modern-day France). She came across the channel with 11,000 virginal handmaidens, but before she married she decided to conduct a pilgrimage to Rome by traveling across Europe. According to legend, she met her untimely death in Cologne where the Huns, who were not known for the Christian charity, beheaded her along with all her handmaidens. The Church of Saint Ursula is supposedly located where some of these beheadings happened.

The painting fascinates me because, Claude, the artist, would have painting this over a thousand years later. It shows that not only the legend was thought valid, but it must have been part of the stories of martyrdom told in Church at the time. The painting itself is laced for foreboding since anyone familiar with the story will know that Ursula and her handmaidens would meet an unfavourable end.

Picture Gallery with View of Ancient Rome, 1757, by Giovanni Paolo Panini

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This painting was commissioned by Count Étienne François de Choiseul, the Ambassador of the French King Louis XV to Rome.  It is one of four paintings, meant to show the glory and beauty of Rome. The other paintings show St Pete’s Basilica as well as views of “Modern Rome” (well, modern for the 1750s).

I like this one because it shows the value that people put on the ancient monuments, even then. It makes me wonder if the history of Rome would have been harder to uncover if it hadn’t been for society’s obsession with the Ancients. The painting also shows how little these ancient monuments have changed since this was painting. A testament to historical preservation and priorities.

It’s also a testament to the artist who not only had to paint an art gallery, but had to create many smaller pieces of artwork in great detail. The longer you stare at it, the more is revealed.

A Regatta on the Grand Canal, about 1740, by Canaletto

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Canaletto was famous for his paintings of Venice, mostly sweeping tableaus of life in the city. One of the great events of Venetian life was (and still is!) the Carnival, but did you know that there is also a regatta that starts the festivities? This painting shows us just that.

It’s part of a series of twelve paintings about the Grand Canal, the Carnival being a very popular subject for painters. This painting showcases a race with colourful banners demonstrating people’s support for a particular team – not much different than how we show support for sports teams today. It also gives us a glimpse of what Carnival might have been like all those years ago. The Carnival regatta has been an institution since 1315. I wonder what it was like the first time they raced?

I particularly love this painting because it brings the Grand Canal to life, showing a colourful and joyous moment in Venice. It makes you want to jump right through the frame and join the celebration. On a personal note, one of my life goals is to be in Venice for Carnival and this certainly gives me the itch to travel.


Bonus Painting 

After looking at these paintings, I can’t help but think how strange it must have been to live in a different country and only know the world through paintings. What happened when they heard about a big international event? Maybe they said something like this….

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I Saw the Assassin’s Creed Movie and Survived…

To say I was disappointed by this movie would be an understatement – not that I had high hopes anyway.

I have been a fan of the video games since I first played it on my housemate’s game console. As a history nerd, being able to run around Renaissance Rome or Crusade era Jerusalem was really appealing. That’s why is seems counter-intuitive to spend the majority of the movie outside of the historical setting. 

As any player of the game knows, no-one wants to leave the Animus. 

If I’m being honest though, if I had managed to get Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, AND Marion Cotillard to join the movie, I would have given them as much screen time as possible too. So I can’t really fault the creatives behind it.

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What bothered me the most, however, was that they turned an epic adventure with an immersive story into a Sci-Fi thriller with no context. Thus leaving most viewers, who are not familiar with the games, confused.

(And those of us who are familiar even more confused…)   

There was a wealth of material available within the AC universe that they could have chosen from. Why the Spanish Inquisition? And why the weird Kanye West music?! They could have chosen a similar time period without necessarily using the original main characters. It would have been a nice way to give a nod to the games without making it a straight copy.

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Personally I would have loved to see it set in Renaissance Rome, but that is just my personal preference… 

We must all face the reality though that this movie would never have pleased everybody. So all I can say is that I survived seeing it and I think I’ll just stick to the games.

Bonus video 

History repeats itself

I know what you are thinking, what a generic title for a blog post on a history blog. However I believe it is important to take a look at this concept since the outcome of the U.S. election.

So many people were shocked by the win of President Elect Trump, but why is that?

The idea of history repeating itself has been around for thousands of years and yet some people do not believe in its existence.

Therefore I will take you on a journey of how ideas of historic recurrence developed:

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The Ancients 

In the Ancient world several philosophers and thinkers (such as Poseidonius, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Zosimus)  foresaw the demise of the Roman Empire due to the fate of their predecessors – Assyrians, Persians, and even the Macedonians.

What these philosophers saw was that all of previous great Empires went through a cycle of immense power, disunity, and then fall. I challenge you to find an Empire that did not do the same.

The fall of the Macedonian Empire is particularly interesting due to their most famous leader – Alexander the Great!

The Renaissance

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Niccolo Machiavelli,  an early writer and thinker on politics, saw the repeating nature of Florentine politics. He believed in a fluctuation of vice and virtue within society. Virtue creates peace, which leads to idleness and vice. A cycle that keep repeating itself.

This theory is, obviously, very indicative of its time. An Italy divided into city states, constantly at war with each other and against encroaching Empires. There was an emphasis on the role of political virtue in society. Not unlike today when we hold politicians accountable for their actions.

For reference, watch the TV show The Borgias. Although its historical validity can be questioned, it gives a good idea of the fighting between city states.

Modern Interpretation

Karl Marx even brought his thoughts to the table in 1852, agreeing with Hegel that all great moments in world history are repeated twice. Marx added, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” What is most interesting about was that he wrote this in the context of the recent coups d’etat of Napoleon’s nephew, Napoleon III in 1851.

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This case alone shows the repetition of actions within a short time frame. Which brings to mind the  famous quote from George Santayana that is often misattributed:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

If these repetitions happen within living memory, are we doomed either way?

With the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election, it seems that we are doomed to repeat it. As a historian, the striking similarities between the rise of President-Elect Trump and Adolf Hitler are hard to ignore – something that I will not go into detail here because there are many accounts of this. All we can hope is that he will not continue that legacy.

The purpose of this blog post was to inform people about how the notion of history repeating itself has been around for thousands of years and that it is our job to be prepared for the next cycle in the best ways we can.

To end on a high note here is a little video treat about seeing into the future:

An Ode to Social Media and Museums

As a lover of history and culture, I have never understood those who are completely bored with museums. For the past year, I have been in this educational bubble with like-minded people who are interested in the same things as me. Now that my Masters degree is over, I am faced with the reality that not everyone I meet may be interested in the state of the illicit antiquities trade or the cultural appropriation of a particular genre of shadow puppetry.

Thus I am faced, once again, with the question of why so many people are not interested in Museums? Am I no longer hip?!

The key is to make people excited about going to museums. Social media may be the answer! As we are getting more and more permanently attached to our devices, social media has not only been a vehicle for museums to use, but also a way for the visitor to drive their own visitor experience.

This blog post will illustrate two different ways that, I personally think, are successful uses of social media by museums and individuals:

The Art of the Selfie

The selfie is now a part of our every day vernacular, but would you ever expect to see it used in the signage of a major museum?

No, you wouldn’t.

This is why I was genuinely surprised on a visit to the Grand Palais in Paris, back in 2014, where they encouraged visitors to take selfies with the ancient statues in an exhibit on the Emperor Augustus and Ancient Rome.

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My attempt at joining in on the hashtag “moiempereur.”

This sort of social media encouragement was their valiant effort to make a “boring” topic more engaging. In fact, as you see above, I was so encouraged that I made my own addition to the flurry of Instagram pictures from the exhibit (note the bunny ear shadow).

The great thing about this method is that it can appeal to everyone, including the surly teenagers dragged to the museum by their parents. It made me wonder why there were not more museums trying to do this. It seems like the perfect blend of advertisement and engagement.

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On the other end of the spectrum, this is the Louvre Museum’s attempt to stop flash photos.

Snapchating at the Museum 

The lack of organization use may be because social media is not seen as a useful tool for direct engagement since many museums have their own apps available to download. Museum social media is often carefully regulated and does not include the spontaneity that normally accompanies its use.

The normalisation of social media has therefore lead to the rise of the Art History Snapchat, a great activity for any museum goer where you take a photo of an art work and write a observational caption that is completely out of context. See below for examples.

Next time you are in a museum, try it! It is actually very fun and a creative outlet. It also has the bonus effect of advertising the museum in question. It may even encourage individuals to go seek out these artworks. Nothing can be more thrilling than finding a popular meme in a museum.

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This guy is actually in the Louvre Museum – happy hunting! 

For this reason, it may be useful for museums to incorporate this sort of interaction into their digital portfolio. Organisations like Museum Hack are a prime example of how it could work. The success of Pokemon Go also proves that using an app does not necessarily mean becoming a shut in. In fact, the Canal River Trust in London has been promoting the use of Pokemon Go by encouraging people to share their Poke Trail while they are walking along Regent’s Canal.

It all brings into question where we need to draw the line between something that is innovative and when it becomes a hindrance. The ban of the selfie stick from most museums for safety reasons is but one example of this issue. Although it does not stop celebrities, such as Beyonce, for making museum selfies look cool.

So what do you think? Are you a fan of social media in museums? Can Beyonce change your mind?

Bonus Image 

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Beyonce taking a Selfie in the Louvre Museum

Adventures in Florence

After a rather long hiatus from writing on this blog, I became inspired by a recent trip to Florence for a conference. The conference centred around the management of archaeological sites, which is incredibly appropriate for a city like Florence because the whole historic centre is actually listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Not only was the city incredibly beautiful with the Christmas lights, but there was a certain atmosphere about the place. I think my picture of the Ponte Vecchio can attest to that.

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Ponte Vecchio on our first day

I’m not sure what draws me to historical places. The idea that you are walking on the same well trodden ground as people hundreds of years ago is fascinating. As part of the conference, we were able to get free access to the famous museums. That was amazing, especially since we were all travelling on a student budget.

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First sighting of the David

Seeing Michelangelo’s David was definitely a highlight. Did you know it was made from one solid block of marble? Pretty awesome! It was particularly impressive to see it in the flesh again after a solid year of talking about it on social media for a previous employer. Time Traveler Tours & Tales successfully completed a kickstarter campaign in June to fund an app that will bring the story of Michelangelo’s David to life through an interactive tour of the city of Florence. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

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Uffizi Gallery

No trip to Florence is really complete,  however,  without a visit to the Uffizi, the famous art gallery that houses some of the world’s most famous Renaissance and Medieval artwork. Although you might not recognize the names, you will definitely recognize the paintings. What struck me the most about the visit was actually the concerted effort to provide alternative interpretation of the artwork for blind patrons.  Accessibility is so important, especially in the art world. This made me incredibly hopeful for the arts of the future, which is why I find technology and museums so fascinating.

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Botticelli’s Venus and the blind friendly equivalent

It also made me realize that Italy is really a country of the senses. You are meant to experience it by taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound. It can be seen in the way it is often portrayed in popular media, emphasizing the way the food tastes, the breathtaking sights, and the sounds of the streets. I love that about the country, but for those who do not have use of all five senses, it may seem like they are missing out on something.

On a brighter note, we were able to spend our last evening taking in the sunset from the Piazzale Michelangelo, an amazing vantage point where you can see the entire city from above. Two of us even drank a little bottle of wine to truly celebrate the occasion (only 4 euros!).

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View from the Piazzale Michelangelo

It was a truly great 5 days for the networking opportunities, but also for discovering the city in the winter. It makes me want to go to previously visited cities and see them in all seasons. Every country does Christmas differently, for example. See below for a particularly festive shop window in Florence.

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This trip has reignited my wanderlust! Send help (and money)! It also has reinforced my love for heritage and the yearning to preserve it. I hope for a new year full of great experiences and exploring the world.

Happy New Year!

Ancient History Can Be A Killer

My guilty pleasure has always been historical fiction, but I also really like a good mystery/crime drama. So I was super excited when I first discovered historical mysteries!

Yes, you’ve read that right. Two of the very best of the entertainment genres mashed together. I’ll set the scene of the discovery for you. I was on holiday with my family, on a beach in the south of France. I am not a big fan of the beach since I am very pale with blonde hair and blue eyes. I would often bring reading material and hide under a huge umbrella. My dad, a huge history nerd like me, noticed my great love of the ancient roman world so he let me borrow his book – “Last Seen in Massilia” by Steven Saylor. For those of you who don’t know, Massilia was the Ancient Roman name of the town of Marseille in the south of France.

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Thus an obsession was born! From the age of 16, I devoured any historical mysteries I could find set in the world of the Roman Empire and Republic. It was so much more engaging than your standard history book because it looked at the fabric of everyday life in the ancient world. You could feel the streets of the cities come to life and the characters of the books seemed real.

What was most surprising was that I was actually learning from these books. When I got to University and took my first survey course on the ancient world, I knew a lot more than my peers did. I had a head start because I loved these historical mysteries.

So I thought I would share with the world some of my favorite historical mystery series set in the world of ancient rome

Roma Sub Rosa Series by Steven Saylor 

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This series follows the life of Gordianus. He is a finder, which is essentially a private detective for hire. The story spans from his beginnings as a young detective to his elderly years with his children (and grandchildren!). As with most historical fiction, he meets famous people like Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. And he curries favor by solving mysteries along the way. Definitely not PG though – kiddies beware!

Marcus Didius Falco and Flavia Albia Mysteries by Lindsey Davis 

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The original series follows Marcus Didius Falco, an informer. He is an independent detective, but he is often asked to investigate things by the Emperor (and you can’t really say no to the Emperor). It is set during the reign of the Flavian dynasty, which means Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. What is so compelling about this series is that he is often sent to other parts of the Empire to solve mysteries. So you get to see the everyday life of romans in the provinces, which is not always common in this historical mystery genre. He is also a very sassy character and the writing has a lot of quick wit.

Lindsey Davis then recently started a new series, following the life of Falco’s adopted daughter Flavia Albia. An orphan, found in a brothel in Londinium, she follows in the footsteps of her adopted dad and becomes an informer in Rome. There are only a couple books out in this series, but I look forward to the rest!

Plinius Secundus Series by Bruce Macbain

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This series follows Pliny the Younger, a lawyer, solving mysteries and bringing murderers to justice! Since the main character is an actual person who lived during that time, you’ll find that this series is more tame than the other two in terms of its artistic liberties. The story is fake though, so don’t be fooled by the real people!

SPQR Mysteries by John Maddox Roberts 

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Unlike many of the series I have mentioned before, this series is narrated by a Senator – Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger, to be specific. It is written as a flashback and it gives us an “in” with the lives of the rich in Rome as an equal. So it shows you a different perspective of Roman life.

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I think you should have enough reading material now to last you awhile. For those of you who are more interested in Ancient Egypt or Ancient Greece, I apologize. I know this is very one sided, but Ancient Rome was my first love.

Please feel free to add historical mysteries in other time periods that you think I should check out or add your own favorites!

Let’s share the love guys.

Is Historical Accuracy Worth The Price?

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What would you pay for a historically accurate movie or TV Show? This is a question constantly asked by people involved in the production of historical entertainment for the big and little screen. It often costs quite a lot of money to make sure that everything is period perfect and this may be why a lot of productions cut corners in this department. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the need to adapt a story for entertainment purposes and in some cases it does make the historical figures more interesting. Maybe it’ll even inspire people to look up the real historical facts.

But what if putting a little extra work actually makes a difference?

Case study 1 – HBO’s Rome

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A cult favorite, this TV show is often cited as a reasonably good representation of what Ancient Rome would have been like. Even one of my professors at university recommended it to us. Not for the plot though, but for the attention to detail in the show. You must, of course, keep your skeptical goggles on, but the sets and props are pretty spectacular.

Unfortunately, it had a very short life span, with only two seasons under its belt. A shame for those who love ancient rome and quality entertainment. The main reason for the shut down seemed to be cost, which seems not to be a problem now for HBO with shows such as Game of Thrones. Rumors have spread that if Rome had been as popular then more “attention” would have been given to the show. However, this becomes a chicken vs egg debate that has been run into the ground for years.

Case study 2 – Showtime’s The Borgias 

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The Borgias follows the “reign” of Rodrigo Borgia, a Spanish nobleman who rises through the ranks of the church to become Pope. We also see the lives of his children, estranged wife, and mistress in a decadent Renaissance Italy. Although nobody really knows what the Borgias were like, it does paint a pretty picture of the lives of Italy’s most notorious family. Let’s be honest here, it’s mostly costume and set porn, but it does reflect very much the time that we see in Boticelli paintings or the work of Nicolo Machiavelli (who was a big fan of Cesare Borgia, by the way). I can guarantee that they were able to do this with a substantial amount of investment. Is it historically accurate? Probably not, but at least it makes an effort to look like it. This is the same network that made The Tudors, after all.

The question is, would they have made such an investment if the story itself wasn’t so exciting.  The premise of the show is that the Borgias are “the original crime family.” This implies violence, sex, and intrigue. Would any network want to invest in an historical drama that didn’t have these things?

My point is that history can be exciting and it would be a shame if it got completely lost in the glitz of hollywood entertainment. If only all studios and networks invested a little more effort in historical accuracy then all of us would be happy.

Bonus – Historically Accurate Disney Princesses from Buzzfeed

Will History Stand The Test Of Time?

Sometimes when I’m bored I look through my old photos. It often results in me being embarrassed due to poor fashion choices and/or weird camera angles. It also brings back memories. I was particularly amused when I was looking at my photos from my trip to Egypt…..

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 …….And I found this gem! The most interesting part to me was that no one was telling her off. Don’t get me wrong I completely understand that if a baby needs changing it needs to be done, but it was fascinating to see how nonplussed everyone was about it. 

This made me think. How attached are we to the preservation of ruins? 

Therefore I decided that it was best to look at the different ways we are preserving our heritage. 

I know that personally, I would be severely disappointed if we let them rot, but on the other hand it would be fun to run and frolic through the ruins freely. I guess you can’t have it both ways! 

Case study 1 

That being said, preservation has also been used as an excuse for European countries to keep priceless artefacts from their country of origin – *cough* England *cough*

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about let me enlighten you….You may have heard of the Parthenon in Athens. One of the most recognizable ruins in the world. 

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Well, a British Lord, Thomas Bruce 7th Earl of Elgin to be exact, removed most of the marble sculptures from the Parthenon, taking it back to be housed at the British Museum. They are now affectionately called the “Elgin Marbles” 

Now, I’m a big fan of the British Museum – I almost lived there when I was a student, but this started a feud that has been going on since the early 1800s. It’s almost comical how every year the Greek government asks for them back and every year the British government says no. 

The best is that the latest excuse was that Athens had no way to properly preserve the marbles. So what did Athens do? They built an Acropolis museum of course! Still no luck in returning them though. 

Case study 2 

On the other end of the spectrum you’ve got Egypt, suffering at the moment from political and religious upheaval. They have more ruins than anybody knows what to do with and no one is going to see them. Although, unlike the Greeks they have their most prized relic – the treasures of Tutankahmun – firmly on their own soil, in Cairo. 

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When I was there I came across a man in the street who claimed to be a curator at the Egyptian Museum (he wasn’t) and have a PhD in Aromatherapy (he didn’t). So I listened skeptically as he ranted about the return of all the Egyptian artefacts, including the Obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. 

To which my mother replied: “What about the Obelisk in Paris?” 

His response was of outrage : “No! That was a gift.”

To each their own I guess!

Case study 3 (and last I promise)

The more observant of you may have noticed that I know a lot about Paris. This is because I live there!

One of the most interesting example of historical preservation here is the Arènes de Lutèce (Arena of Lutecia).

Lutecia was the Roman town that Paris now sits on. The current name comes from the Parisi tribe that lived in the area before the Romans stepped in. Due to a massive architectural revamp campaign in the 1860s by Baron Haussmann most of the Roman remains were either destroyed or buried very deep.

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The arena is one of the true examples of preservation, but also of recycling urban space. It was once an arena meant for lavish entertainment in the Roman era.  Now it’s a public park. Kids play pickup games of football and groups of elderly men play pétanque throughout the year. I’ve even seen a man there walking his cat on a leash! 

This is all to say that there is no right answer when it comes to preservation, but let’s hope that we have enough common sense as a society to realize how important it is to keep our history alive! 

Vive La Révolution!

Most people know about the bloody revolution that overthrew the monarchy in France, but not everyone knows the gory details. There is more than meets the eye to this legendary event in european history.

Warning 

The subject matter I am going to discuss may upset people with weak stomaches and sensitive dispositions. You were warned!

Mme la Guillotine

The woman, the myth, the legend.

La Guillotine became the infamous torture device that would become the one player in the Revolution to outlive them all! 

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Originally created by a French surgeon and a German engineer, it was popularized during the French Revolution as an equalizer. Before the Revolution, the poorer you were, the more gruesome your execution was. When the monarchy was overthrown, the Guillotine became the “humane” way to execute everyone, making them all equal in death.

It may seem odd, but this was one of the justifications for the reign of terror, leading to the death of around 20,000 people. At least  3000 of those were executed in the heart of Paris on the Place de la Concorde. In fact, there were so many executions that they needed to constantly move the Guillotine to stop it from sinking into the soggy ground.

….you can imagine the rest.

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What makes this all so intriguing is that the French government still used the Guillotine as a public form of execution until 1939. The last private one was in 1977!

Public execution in 1896

Public execution in 1896

That is truly keeping their bloody past alive!

MTV Cribs, French Royalty edition  

Joking aside, French Royalty were in pretty big trouble by the time the Revolution came around.

Why?

Because they were spending more than they could afford and letting poor people starve to death.

This is a pretty simplistic way of looking at it, but here are 3 main reasons why the French had had enough :

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The French Royalty were spending more than they could afford! France was broke after being involved in two expensive wars – the 100 Years War and the American Revolution. Yet they were still building castles and having feasts. This was in contrast to the general populace who were starving!

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Natural disasters and bad weather lead to a really poor crop yield that year. This nearly tripled the price of every day bread, meaning that only the rich could afford to buy it.

This is why rumors had spread that the current queen, Marie Antoinette, had reacted to the news that the people were starving with “Let them eat cake.”

I am here to debunk that rumor. She never said that and there is no proof that she ever did. The quote comes from the Confessions by French writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau in which an anonymous noblewoman vents. The book was actually written in 1778 – a whole year before she supposedly said it.

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All were not equal. The lower classes were 98% of the population, but they had no power in comparison to the nobility and the clergy.

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These three factors created a ticking time bomb that only needed a little nudging for an explosion!

Back to the Future

If you’re ever in Paris and interested in seeing remains of the city from the French Revolution then I would definitely suggest wandering around the Latin Quarter. 

Why there?

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Well, Paris had a major revamping in the 1860s, making it the uniform like city that we know today. Before that, the city was still in the medieval state with narrow and winding streets. The problem with that layout was that it allowed the city to be very dirty, facilitating the spread of crime and disease.

During the French Revolution, these narrow streets also made it very easy to create a barricade.

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Thus the success of the Jacobins!

Bonus

For those of you who are actually interested in a brief break down of the French Revolution here is a good recap to put this post in context :

 

What have the Romans ever done for us?!

Some people may have noticed that the scientific/archaeological/historical community has gone a little crazy recently due to the discovery of a large amount of lead in the ground in an archaeological area of the city of Rome.

What does this mean?

Nothing at all. To be honest, this discovery only serves to confirm what we’ve known for a very long time. Life expectancy was very short in the time of the Roman Empire.

Much like the Second World War and asbestos, lead was used on everything during the time of the Ancient Romans. This was before science could have informed them of the unhealthy effects – like death. That’s why I am so unsurprised by the findings. Lead pipes were an essential building material back then, especially for aqueducts and their elaborate plumbing system.

It really reminds me of this :

The argument seems to be that this is a main reason for the fall of the Roman Empire. Although I’ve seen plenty of  counter arguments, emphasizing that there is no indication of deterioration of mental or physical health as a result of leaded water.

Inbreeding within the senatorial elite took care of that.

Caligula : The poster child against inbreeding

Caligula : The poster child against inbreeding

This topic was of double interest to me because I’m currently reading the book Pompeii by Robert Harris. It’s about a young Aquarius, the engineer in charge of an aqueduct, and his quest to repair an aqueduct, while racing against the clock before Vesuvius erupts. The interesting part is the detailed description of how the plumbing system works.

Now, I know the book is fictional, but the research seems reasonably solid. I was struck by how impressive these structures were, but also how fragile the system was. One breach along an aqueduct and the whole thing goes down with a bang.

Quite a gamble!

The point is that everything back then was dangerous and finding extra lead in the ground is the not the Rosetta Stone to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Bonus

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