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Shh, we gotta meditate...

                              yoga ahha

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’d be well aware that Yoga and meditation is a very “in thing” in society today, especially among the youth. All you’d have to do is turn to instagram and facebook and you’d see a plethora of pictures of girls (and guys) doing different yoga poses all around the world, from the comforts of their own homes, to public spaces like national monuments and the like. I don’t really blame you if you want to jump on the yoga bandwagon because it has A TON of benefits and makes you feel super healthy after, but maybe let’s all learn some information about yoga and meditation so we can look extra cool by being smart eh?

 

The earliest accounts of yoga appear in the Rig Veda, which began to be codified between 1200 and 1500 BC. The word “yoga” is generally translated to mean union with the Divine, by integration of the mind, body and spirit. Yoga and meditation come hand in hand and are usually practiced together. The purpose of yoga and meditation (also known as Dhyana) is to become consciously aware of one’s one own mind and body and to know oneself. It is focused thinking, in which the mind and body has to be brought together to function as one harmonious whole.

Yoga and meditation have a multitude of benefits which still hold true till today and is reason as to why it is practiced in all over the world. With the help of meditation we can overcome our mental blocks, negative thinking, debilitating fears, stress and anxiety by knowing their cause and dealing with them. It is also seen as a way to de-stress and relax from the hustle and bustle city life  that the 21st century has become. It is a way for people to retreat to their inner selves and get to know themselves better, as they are always distracted by something or another.

 

There are many types of yoga and meditation techniques that exist today and here are some of them :

Mantra Meditation: The mantra meditation technique involves the conscious repetition of a certain sound so as to appeal to the mind in order to achieve a state of rumination. Mantra figuratively speaking means ‘revealed sound’ or an amalgamation of sounds that develops spontaneously. It is imperative not to confuse a mantra with religious chants. A mantra might be given by a guru or may be a personal selected sound or word, however the main thing is, it must be pleasing to the mind, followed by our soul (spiritually). Vipassana Meditation: The word Vipassana means ‘insight’. This is an ancient meditation technique which refers to the aptitude of seeing things as they truly are, attainable through a course of self-observation. This means identifying one’s own individual nature, recognizing the bad elements and wilfully eliminating them from the system. Vipassana is a meditation technique free from rites and will assist the development of wisdom allowing an individual to study the various sensations in the body for example, cold, pain, itching, etc.
Taoist meditation: This is another ancient meditation technique having many points in common with Hindu and Buddhist systems. However the taoist method is much less abstract and far more practical than the contemplative traditions that evolved in India. The principal characteristic of the taoist meditation technique is the generation, transformation, and circulation of internal energy. Once this flow of energy is achieved known as “deh-chee”, this may then be applied to the promotion of improved health and longevity or whatever the meditator chooses. “Jing”, meaning ‘quiet, stillness, calm’ and “Ding”, meaning ‘concentration and focus’ are the two principal guidelines in this meditation technique. Trataka Meditation: This ancient meditation technique is one that has been followed by numerous religious sectors, including Sufism and Christianity. This technique is practised by focusing a steady gaze on any one particular object. Trataka is a recognized yoga cleansing technique and dedicated practice of the same takes it to the highest level of meditation. Chakra Meditation: Chakras signify a superior level of energy manifestation and self development. The word ‘Chakra’ means a wheel. This meditation technique teaches that every chakra represents the main nerve centres that stem from the spinal cord, serving the major organs of the body. There are seven chakras in total. The primary aim of this meditation technique is to assist individuals to discover and explore their chakras, thus awakening them on a conscious level in a balanced and integrated way. How is this wheel (Chakra) similar to the wheel in Buddhism, the Dharmachakra, and inner well-being? (:Raja Yoga meditation: This is a technique with the intention of taking the yogi (person practicing meditation) through to an advanced level of oneness and a greatly ennobling experience. It fills the yogi with super-sensuous joyfulness or happiness elevating the psyche away from pleasures of the flesh and reforms unwanted habits. A Raja Yogi establishes a bond with god, furthermore giving up all worldly pleasures and devoting all energies to the spiritual awakening of fellow beings. (Does this sentence remind you of St. Francis from Medieval Europe, who is all about compassion and empathy?) The above meditation techniques are merely a brief insight into each one of them. In order to fully understand and attain their benefits, one must learn the techniques under the guidance of a guru and some very thorough research and contemplation.

Can you see how useful and beneficial Meditation is to all of us? Peace. Serenity. Harmony. Clarity. Pleasure. Awareness. Wisdom.  Meditation could be a fashion “therapy” to our body which will never be out-dated. All-hail, Meditation! To beautiful women out there (or men as well), here’s a link to a 30 day yoga programme you can follow on youtube, which you can easily do at home! shjdkajsdhkas

It's a wrap!

...Egypt’s land for one was, dry and absent of humidity (or arid, one may say), making it easy for a body to be well preserved if it were particularly buried in a sandy spot. Long ago, it was of the norm for Egyptians to merely bury the deceased directly into the ground. But as time went by, people of the rich and of royalty desired for something more….

Oh hai!~ 

Dear reader, may you have guessed that the “something more” that the royal and wealthy Egyptians desired for refers to the practice of mummification!!! Yes, mummification will be this post’s main topic. Hmm.. you may ask like, how did mummification come about? What is mummification? What were mummies buried with? Information corresponding to these questions will be stated in this post. If you’d like to find out more, then do read on. ٩꒰๑ ´∇`๑꒱۶

What is mummification? Mummification is a process whereby the skin and flesh of a corpse of either a human or an animal is preserved. There are two types of mummification:

  1. Natural mummification
  2. Intentional mummification

The latter is what that was most commonly found done in ancient Egypt.

Fun fact: There were over a million cat mummies found in in Egypt. *mew!* 

How did mummification come about? The practice of mummification only kick-started in ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom (2750 – 2250 B.C.). The Egyptians with the desire for this “something more” and who were wealthy enough, built these bench-lookalike tombs called “Mastabas”.

But these Mastabas weren’t all that great of an idea to be used to store the deceased… As the deceased’s bodies were merely placed in these mastabas and had no sand to help in preserving the bodies like before, they started to rot away within the moist and relatively cool interiors of these mastabas. Family members only discover this upon returning to the mastabas to pay respects to their ancestors. With huge & strong desires to preserve the bodies of their ancestors, the Egyptians developed a procedure called mummification to stop any means of decomposition.

Why did Egyptians have huge desires to preserve the dead? Well, Egyptians believed that one’s body is the "house" for their soul, and believed that the spirit could live on, only if a body was preserved forever.

Egyptians too, believed that a person’s soul comprises of three parts:

  1. Ka: the vital essence/source that distinguishes a person.
  2. Ba: the soul or personality of a person.
  3. Akh: the part that travels to the underworld to receive judgement & to gain entry into the afterlife.

After judgement, the Ka & Ba would return to the body only if one succeeded. All in all, Egyptians made great efforts to make sure that their deceased family members would have a good afterlife because the living believed that they were given the responsibility to help the dead journey well into the afterlife. (・□・;)

What was done in order to give the dead a good afterlife? For one, Egyptians would bury items with the mummified bodies.. such as:

  • Everyday items: dishes, makeup, jewellery and furniture. Egyptians believed that the afterlife was similar to life on Earth. Hence, they felt that burying them with their everyday/daily necessities was crucial.
  • Jewellery: These were placed in the tombs and on the mommies’ bodies. Egyptians believed that putting beads around the mummies’ necks would restore their breath in the afterlife. From 1550 - 1070 BC, majority of the mummified in the New Kingdom were buried with at least one heart scarab amulet. This amulet represented rebirth and that it had a spell on the underside of it believing to help the decease be judged favourably by the Gods to enter the afterlife.   
  • Pets & Servants: The deceased's pets were often mummified and buried with them (at times in the same coffin.) Pets who outlive their owners were buried in the courtyards of their owner’s tombs. This was done as one's pets were thought to serve as the one’s good luck charm and companion in the afterlife. At times, servants would also be sacrificed and buried with kings to continue serving them in the afterlife.
  • Food: Yes, food. Tonssss of alcohol & food!!! For example, the meat of goats, cows and ducks were mainly placed on offering trays and serving dishes.  This was done so that the deceased could continue to feast well in the afterlife. All food were flavoured, dried and mummified to be preserved. And well... This could possibly explain all of the mummified food on the game site Neopets LUUULZ.

IMG_5108

Another thing that was done to ensure the dead a good afterlife would be mummifying the bodies of course. Mummifying during the times of ancient Egypt was a very competitive field. Egyptians pitted against one another to get the best of prices, to maintaining organs and ensuring that the body of the deceased looked at its best! 

P.s. The process of mummifying a body takes about 70 days to complete. Yeah... 70 days is quite a heck of a long period of time but, well….

If you'd like to read up a description of the mummification process + the burial ritual. Click here: Mummification 101. Claire did a good job at summing it up! :)

Could anybody mummify their deceased family members? Technically, yes - anybody could do so. But mummification was something very limited, for it was very costly to carry out. Only the Pharaohs, people of the royal blood-line and the wealthy were able to afford mummification rituals. But as about 2000 years passed, the process of mummifying a body became less expensive. More and more people were able to afford the procedure and the luxury of mummifying their deceased family members. Hand-in-hand with this, mummification became more of the norm for Egyptians to do.

 We shall leave this as it is, but with a question for you dear reader. If you were someone left on the face of this Earth without any family, or anyone to help ensure a good afterlife for you - to be mummified and preserved, and you just end up disintegrating.. Would your soul just simply, vanish? Would you just, cease to exist?

Leave us a comment, perhaps?

It's a wrap!  (for this is our very last post haha and yes, pun intended.) Thank you so much for reading. We hope that you've been at least a lil' more enlightened! x

By: Caitlin Loo Elizabeth Gan Lauren Chong

Mongols military tactics

The Mongols as we all know we once a military powerhouse, considered far more superior than other country. Just the mere mention of the Mongols would instill fear among soldiers and kingdoms alike. There were so feared that they were given the name “Tatars”, which meant people from Tatarus, the Roman’s mythical variation of hell. In short, they were known as people from hell. There were many factors which contributed to the success of the Mongolian army, to which I attribute to three big components: speed, mobility, and tactic superiority.  

The Mongols were known for their mobility and were able to cover huge distances in a single day, during the invasion of Hungary they were able to travel 160km per day, which was nothing short of impossible in those days.  It was said that each Mongols soldier had 3 to 4 horses, and was able to switch horses whenever one was worn out, thus allowing soldiers to cover a great distance. Mobility was important to the Mongols as much of their battle plan depends on mobility and speed. Mobility allows them to move across terrain at a faster pace, gather intelligence, scout the enemy position, and allows shock attack on the enemy army.

 

One of the battle tactics frequent by the Mongols was to feign a panic retreat. This tactic was used to entice the enemy into chasing the Mongols.  This tactic was useful as it separated the weak soldiers from the strong ones. When the enemy is drawn out of formation, the Mongols would turn around and start attacking them again. This creates panic and fear among the enemy, and as the weak soldiers start running the Mongols would allow them to run and turn their attention the strong soldiers, killing them all before using their horseback archers to pick of the stragglers. As this tactic starts becoming well known to their enemies the Mongols would start feigning retreat for a longer period of time, only to charge back to attack once the enemy grows weary, or when their guard is down.

 

Another tactic which showcase all the three big components of the Mongol army was encirclement. It was used to flank either side with more soldiers in a move to cut off retreat and to overwhelm the enemy. Soldiers used their mobility and speed to overwhelm either flanks and take control of that flank, which allows the other soldiers to cut off escape routes and separate the soldiers from their main column. These commands are usually done according to what the group leaders sees fit, so long as it completes the objective of routing the enemy and gaining the objectives that were set up. The Mongols were also innovative and readily accepted technology and battle strategies of other armies that would help their cause. Borrowing tactics and technology from the Arabs, the Mongols sieged cities using siege weapons such as catapult, and were also one of the few to first use gun powder.

 

Thus, these were some of the few tactics used by the Mongols to expand their land.

 

References:

http://www.yvonnewang.org/mongol-military-tactics.html

http://factsanddetails.com/asian/cat65/sub423/item2696.html

http://www.ehow.com/list_6800593_list-mongolian-martial-arts.html

http://www.viahistoria.com/SilverHorde/research/tactics.html

 

Who run the world? G I R L S!

Many of you might remember The Mongols for being a group of fierce and notorious warriors (thanks to the promotion of them by John Green in his crash course videos). Remember this scene?

However, what do you know about the women behind these men?

Women in the ancient Mongolian society

Mongolian women are generally in charge of household chores since the men are all out for battles most of the time. Polygamy is being practiced in Mongolia, where it is common for men to take more than one wife. In fact, the number of wives a man have is directly proportional to how affluent and powerful he is as wives are usually bought over. Among all the wives that a Mongolia man has taken, there will be a chief wife. She will have the greatest power in the family (after her husband) as her sons would be the one to take over their father's power and inherit a greater portion of his inheritance as compared to children of other wives. However, as much as Mongolian men are glorified for their achievements from war victories, Mongolian women are less known for their contributions towards the society, in which some are rather untypical.

#TheBuilders

Being pastoral nomads, Mongolia women were expected to be the ones pitching their tents (or gers as the Mongols call it) once they have settled down into their new camp site. This was pretty surprising to us as it is unusual for ancient women to be the one in charge of building homes as they are often made out to be weak. Well, clearly not so for Mongolian women #girlpower. The gers will be pitched such that there will be "a space of one stone's throw” between them so that every wife of the Mongolian men will have their own homes pitched.

#TheChauffeurs

Mongolian women were also known to take on the role of moving their house around. They were tasked to load up their dismantled gers and all of their furnitures onto their horse/camel wagons. After each wife is done loading up their stuffs, the wagons would then be connected to each other and each wife would sit on their wagon before everyone travels together as a group.

Fun Fact: According to "William of Ruburch, the cleric who traveled among the Mongols between 1253 and 1255, claimed that one woman would drive as many as 30 connected wagons."

#TheInfluencers

Lastly, Mongolian women were actually capable of influencing men back then! One example is Sorghaghtani Beki.

Sorghaghtani was originally from the Kereit tribe before marrying Genghis Khan’s youngest son, Tolui. In her lifetime, she bore Tolui four sons who would later inherit the legacy left by their grandfather, Genghis Khan. Her second son in particular, Khublai Khan ended up becoming the first emperor of the Yuan dynasty in 1271 CE.

She is considered to be one of the most remarkable women from the Mongol Empire not just because of her status as Genghis Khan’s daughter-in-law, but also due to her influence on her 4 sons.

While she was a Christian herself, she chose to keep herself open to other religions and even contributed significantly in the form of monetary and tangible support to Buddhism, Taoism and Islam practitioners on her land. This was because she believed that the patronage of different religions would help to facilitate the governance of people living in the Mongol Empire. As a result, she made sure that this belief was instilled into her sons while she raised them up.

Sorghaghtani also saw literacy as a crucial skill that would aid her sons in administering rule over the Mongol Empire. Hence, she employed teachers to teach them how to read and write, and exposed them to the languages of the territories under the Mongol Empire. Moreover, she sought the help of Chinese advisers to educate her sons regarding Chinese culture, so that they could relate  to the Chinese people and gain their support.

To her, it was vital that her children (and also the rest of the community such as the wives and leftover troops) understood the importance of good manners and avoidance of conflict. As a result, this became a quality the community practised and they all developed great respect towards Sorghaghtani and pledged loyalty towards her.

In conclusion, we think that without the influence of Sorghaghtani on her sons, they would not all become khans eventually. Being religious tolerant is especially essential as commoners  can easily use this as a reason to defy their rulers and cause internal conflicts to occur. By providing her sons with education and good manners, Sorghaghtani was able to lay the foundations that are essential for her sons to become rulers of the Mongol Empire left behind by their grandfather, Genghis Khan.

Clovis I: Frank(ly) a Barbarian?

The Germanic tribes were hardly understood by the Romans; related as border guards of the empire at best or as Barbarians that threatened the Roman empire's stability. In Tacitus's Germania (98CE), the Germanic tribes were described as brutal aggressors who were constantly at war (if not, in sloth and gluttony). This is hardly a flattering description, and a sweeping generalisation of all the Germanic tribes although Tacitus acknowledged some form of social structure & rules existed among Germanic tribes; such as the common social structure of Comitatus comprising the chief who acted as the military leader, and warriors who served as advisors and supporters (as discussed in class). Also, important to note, the Germanic tribes were largely Arian Christian (if not, pagans), in contrast to the Romans who were largely Catholics at the time. However, contrary to the biased account of Tacitus, Clovis I (466-511CE) would refute the stereotypical perception of the all war-mongering, less civilized Germanic tribes by placing his mark as an astute conquerer and politician of his time, the King of the Franks.

Clovis I was the heir to the Merovingian Dynasty (named after Clovis I's grandfather Merovech, leader of the Salian franks) that was founded by Childeric I (Clovis I's father), and solidified rule under his leadership. Although Clovis I ascended to the throne at the young age of 15, he had great ambition to unite the Gaul region and made his first military venture at Soissons (486CE) just 5 years later. Clovis I, with his men emerged victorious (look below).

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnbTPaVs8F0[/embed]

After his victory at Soissons, Clovis I continued his territorial expansion against nearby Germanic tribes such as the Burgundians, the Alemanni and the Visigoths. This is evidenced in Gregory of Tours' work, History of the Franks where Clovis I used a variety of means to achieve his expansion such as by obtaining consistent tribute; even his wife Clotilda, from the Burgundians (B2.V28.), conducting military conquest against the Alemanni in 496CE (B2.V30.) & the Visigoths in 507CE (B2.V37.).

"Jesus Christ, whom Clotilda asserts to be the son of the living God, who art said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies, and I shall know that power which she says that people dedicated in thy name have had from thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon thee, I desire to believe thee only let me be rescued from my adversaries."

- From Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks

However, in the process of his territorial expansion, Clovis I made a landmark decision of converting to Catholicism shortly after his victory over the Alemanni (496CE). According to Gregory of Tours, Clovis was on the verge of losing against the Alemanni when he made a desperate plea by calling on Jesus Christ, in the hopes of reviving and winning the battle (B2.V30.). In a turn of events, after his call on Christ, Clovis I won the battle(B2.V30.). Subsequently, Clotilda was successful in convincing Clovis I to convert to Catholicism, mainly due to the favour Clovis I was showed in battle (B2.V31.). Although the Merovingian Dynasty at the time still largely consisted Arian Christian or pagan worshippers, word relating the experience Clovis had during the battle with the Alemanni spread, leading to the conversion of not just Clovis I himself, but a sizeable number of his people as well (B2.V30-31.).

Despite the provision of narratives that related Clovis's conversion to the favour shown by Christ to him in the battle against the Alemanni, it can be argued that there was possibly a political symbolism attached to Clovis's conversion. There are grounds for this suggestion as Clovis's novel choice made him the first ruler of a Barbarian kingdom to align with the Catholic faith that was held by the Romans, unlike the rest of the Germanic tribes who were still either Arian Christians or Pagan worshippers. Moreover, Clovis's conversion meant that both his kingdom and himself held the same high God as the Romans; resulting in greater reluctance among the Romans to resist Clovis's Kingdom. For example, when Clovis I invaded Visigoth territory, he met little resistance from the Romans as the Franks were possibly perceived to be on the same side as they shared the same religion, in opposition to the Visigoths who were Arian Christians keen on spreading their faith throughout the Gaul region. Clovis's conversion ensured that his dynasty enjoyed a stable relationship with the Romans.

In support of Clovis's use of Catholicism as another tool for his expansion plans, Gregory of Tours notes that prior to the invasion of Visigoth territory, Clovis mentions to his people that "I take it very hard that these Arians hold part of the Gauls. Let us go with God's help and conquer them and bring the land under our control." (B2.V37.). Thus we can observe that Clovis used Christ's name to garner support and give good divine reason to engage in his expansion plans and to go at war with neighbouring Germanic tribes. Also, Clovis's conversion meant that it was easier for him to obtain support from the people of his new territories (closer to Rome) as he shared a common religion with them.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFAb3Prq7Cw[/embed]

After the defeat of the major Germanic tribes that posed a threat or stood in the way of his conquest to unite the Gaul region under his dynasty, alas Clovis I plotted against his closest allies to consolidate power as the undisputed King of the Franks. For instance, he tricked the son of Sigibert (his closest ally), Cloderic into assassinating his own father, then hired assassins to kill Cloderic on his behalf, before finally seizing power over Sigibert's territory within the Kingdom (B2.V40.). The ruthless betrayal of his rivals suggests the hard-handed approach to power that Clovis I demonstrated during his life, that he would not hesitate to dispose of anyone perceived as a threat to his authority. In a practical sense, Clovis I wanted to be sure that he would not be internally challenged or doubted as the absolute King of the Franks in his dynasty.

VIDEO: Clovis finally unites Gaul

In essence, Clovis I was a savvy politician and conquerer who adopted many strategies; trickery, military conquest, forcing tributes, even converting to Catholicism to unite his dynasty over the Gaul region, although he maintained his barbaric roots throughout his rule. Clovis's divine experience during his battle against the Alemanni could very well have impacted him to a great extent on a personal level, but the implications of his conversion to Catholicism suggest that Clovis I could have done it for practical reasons as well. Also, Clovis's use of many different strategies to expand his territory suggests that contrary to Tacitus's description of the Germanic tribes, not all of them were solely brutal aggressors who were constantly at war, sloth or gluttony. Clovis I proved that the Franks (as one of the Germanic tribes) were every bit worthy opponents and not merely the brutes in Tacitus's Germania. What do you think?

White and Red: The Mongol Diet

In our class a week from now we will be covering the Mongol Empire, and I am definitely looking forward to it.  A certain name will likely come to mind with the mention of the Mongols; and that name is Genghis Khan - the man that founded the largest empire to date. The Mongols are known far and wide for their military conquests, but what fueled these individuals?  What did they ingest on a daily basis to give them their boundless energy?

The cuisine of the Mongol Empire can be divided into two main groups: White foods and Red foods.  And while they were separated into two categories, everything the Mongols consumed predominantly came from their herds of livestock; these animals traveled with them as they moved from place to place (as they were a nomadic group of peoples after all).  Now, returning to what the two categories encompassed; the White foods were all dairy in nature, and included products such as cheese, yogurt, and a favorite of theirs, airag, "or fermented mare's milk which is [still] widely drunk today". I tried some of this airag myself, while on a school excursion to Mongolia several years back; however, I found it a tinge too pungent, but I guess it is an acquired taste.  It should be noted that these White foods were largely consumed during the summer.

Red foods, on the other hand, were consumed during the winter and consisted of meat from "five types of animals": sheep, goats, cattle (mainly yak), horses, and camels.  The protein and fat from all this meat provided the Mongols with a great source of energy and warmth.  However, as the Mongol nomads did not plant crops or possess an abundance of spices, their meaty meals were rather bland.  The only non-animal products they used were the occasional wild onion or garlic.  Mongol warriors who were constantly on the move were known to sometimes "knick a vein in their pony’s neck and drink a few gulps of the horse’s blood".

As can be seen by the types of food the Mongols consumed, they did not have the most balanced or exciting diet.  If I had to eat solely meat and milk products every single day I would definitely find myself getting bored of the food before long.  A diet such as this, lacking in vegetables and fruit, would be detrimental to the human body. The Mongols were also known be lovers of alcoholic drink, which was not very beneficial to their health as well.  Although their diet provided them with abundant energy, the excessive consumption of meat led to certain side effects; ailments such as gout were prevalent among those of the Mongol empire. Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, suffered from gout, and he was known for being "grotesquely fat" during the later stages of his life. And he was not the only one.  Mainly during the period when the Mongol Empire was at its peak, obesity was a common problem; as a result, cardio-vascular issues were also suspected to be fairly widespread.

The benefits of the Mongol diet, though aiding in their mobility and giving their warriors inexhaustible energy, turned out to be rather short-lived.

Shades Of Trade: The Black Plague

Everyone would have thought that the world population had always been on increasing trend. True enough, the general trend was as such. However, look at the following graph.

Global Population Trend
Global Population Trend

The general trend is obviously an increasing trend – but do you see a sharp plummet in 1400s CE?

Yes, the world population dropped by around 20% - from 450 million to around 350 million. In fact the population in Europe continent decreased by nearly 60%.

Wow, such a huge ‘wipe-out’. What happened?

It wasLa mortalega grande – “the great mortality” as the Italians called it, or more familiarly, “The Black Death”.

As learnt not too long ago, The Silk Road has enabled the spread of goods, ideas, culture and intellect in the ancient world. It has, one way or another, improved the lives of many. Yet, it also had ruined and took away countless lives as well. This is because the Silk Road had the capability of spreading almost anything, including diseases. One disease that the Silk Road played a key role in was the Black Death. Let’s unravel this topic, which would be interesting and relevant to our recent themes – Silk Road (trades) and European civilizations.

WHAT WAS IT?

The Black Plague or The Black Death (or the bubonic plague as it is known today) plagued through towns and villages, taking millions of lives in a short period of time. Then, it was called ‘the Pestilence’ or ‘the Great Disease’. It killed 1.5 million people out of an estimated of 4 million people between 1348 CE-1350 CE in Medieval England. The Black Death started in China and Asia in about 1346 CE but had spread to Europe in less than a year later. Bubonic plague, the most common form, is associated with painful, swollen lymph nodes, called buboes. After an incubation period of two to six days, symptoms appear, including severe malaise, headache, shaking chills and fever. Plague can also infect the blood or lungs. The latter form, pneumonic plague, can be transmitted person to person. They had different symptoms but the outcome was the same: almost inevitable death. Not only that, it’s a very quick death. Someone who got infected could just die overnight.

HOW DID IT SPREAD?

  • The plague was caused by Y. pestis bacillus, spread via rats and fleas that travelled with the livestock, food and spices on the Silk Road from Asia to Europe.
  • First contact of Black Death in Europe was in October 1347, when 12 Genoese trading ships docked at Sicilian port of Messina after a long journey through the black sea.
  • Most sailors were found dead or were gravely ill. Strangely, they were all covered in mysterious black boils that oozed blood and pus, which gave rise to the name of the illness ‘Black Death’.

For interactive maps of the spread, click here.

Crowded cities with huge populations and terrible sanitation problems those days, as well as large human-to-human interaction (mainly due to trades) had caused the disease to be spread more rapidly.

WHAT THE PEOPLE THOUGHT WAS HAPPENING

(which made matters worse)

Sadly, due to lack of knowledge, the people then actually related the outbreak to witchcrafts, superstitions, religions and other strange things; instead of searching for scientific accounts (like how we would have done it today.)

  1. They thought it’s Jews’/Muslims’ fault. Christians started accusing the Jews (and also the Muslims) for spreading the plague. They alleged that the Jews wanted to eradicate Christianity. (Although in reality both Jews and Muslims were as badly affected by the plague, so why would they do that?)

As a result, many Jews were actually tortured. They eventually ‘admitted’ that they poisoned different water sources including wells to help spreading the plague. Thousands of Jews were either killed or expelled. Also, they were forced to convert to Christianity.

2. God’s wrath 

Because they did not understand the biology of the disease, many people believed that the Black Death was a kind of divine punishment–retribution for sins against God such as greed, blasphemy, heresy, fornication and worldliness. So to them, the way to overcome the plague was to seek God’s forgiveness. Some people believed that the way to do this was to get rid of heretics and other troublemakers (such as the Jews).

  1. They thought bad smell could drive the disease out. When the plague reached its peak, the ‘doctors’ suggested treatments using urine, dung and other weird stuff, which actually catalyzed spreading of the disease!

There were several other suggested practices during those days, which they believed pretty strongly would help cure and prevent the spreading of the plague, namely:

Eating and drinking in moderation.

Maintaining a household as per a person’s status.

Refraining oneself from abusing the poor people.

Avoiding lechery.

Adding aromatic herbs in beverages.

Not eating fruits.

Drinking good wine.

Avoiding bad thoughts.

Staying happy.

The list isn’t exhaustive.

Also, things couldn’t get any worse – bathing was actively discouraged during the plague. There were two reasons for this:

First, it was believed that bathing would open up pores which would in turn allow easy entry and exit of polluted air into and from the body, which would help the spreading of the disease.

Secondly, bathing (and hence changing clothes) was deemed as a disrespect to the gods, which had invited the wrath of the gods as a punishment and that the plague was one of the weapons used by God for punishing people for such vanity.

Are you not rolling your eyes now?

IMPACTS

Overall:

A very significant population decrease. 50 million people died in Europe within 3 - 4 years.  The population was reduced from some 80 million to 30 million. It killed at least 60 per cent of the population in rural and urban areas.

Economics:

The economy experienced high inflation, mainly because of shortages of manpower which led to rise in wages, and as it was so risky and hard to procure goods through trade and to produce them, the prices of both goods produced locally and those imported from afar hence hiked up drastically.

  • Animals were also affected by the Black Death. Chickens, pigs, goats, sheep and even cows. The number of sheep deaths was so high that it led to what's known as “European Wool Shortage”. 

Social:

People started losing their trust in the Church and their faith was somehow shaken, as they thought God could not help them to get out of the plague.

IS THERE ANYTHING GOOD ABOUT IT, THOUGH?

Medical historians today have established that there is somehow higher resistance to AIDS in populations whose ancestors were exposed to the Black Death.

So, in a way, the Black Death might help some communities fight AIDS.

- In attempt to fight the epidemic, the whole idea of quarantine came about! City of Ragusa (Italy) began the earliest ‘quarantine’ and increasingly developed measures to isolate the infected and control its borders during 14th and 15th centuries. Then, many Italian regions followed Ragusa’s lead, and after them, other regions of western and central Europe.

FOR “EVERYTHING HAPPENED FOR A REASON” – WHAT CAN WE LEARN?

The black plague has taught us (or should make us ponder on) a few things:

  1. We should not be too engrossed with progress that we forget what matters most; lives
  2. History apparently repeats itself. If the black plague has taught us anything at all, it will be that diseases will spread between nations if not contained. SARS, Ebola, Mers etc are clear examples
  3. Could it be that plague’s and diseases are Mother nature’s way of healing herself? In the sense that humans are overpopulating the earth, and killing her by depleting her resources etc..

Yeah, when we look back to history, we’ll laugh. We’ll laugh at the (now we realized) past stupidity – which we used to confidently call ‘truths’ (and this false confidence could result in unnecessary chaos or fights).

This thus got me wondering: in future, would we laugh at some of today’s famous phenomenons? Will our children and grandchildren laugh at this era we’re living in?

Well, we’d never know. Only one thing is certain: now we know things may not be the way they seem and there are just zillions of new possibilities and truths that have yet to unfold. That’s why keeping an open mind is crucial. Don’t be too surprised when current good things produce bad things or, conversely, current bad things give birth to goodness. What doesn’t kill you make you stronger – what makes you stronger could also kill you.

How shall we live? The answers would vary. But for sure, we shall live better than the past. After all, (other than to clear this module) isn’t that precisely the point of studying history?

[BONUS: FUN FACT]

Some say, The Black Death was where nursery rhyme ‘Ring Around A Rosy’ came about. Scholars said ‘Ring Around A Rosy’ was about the plague’s symptoms. You can watch it here:

https://youtu.be/UaspFUkcPjo

Cheers!

Zam Zam Water

If you're like me, and you enjoyed watching or reading Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then you know that one of the many ways to destroy the mythical vampire is a good bottle of holy water. In the religion of Islam, many believe that Zam Zam water is holy water. But there has been recent debate about the health hazard the Zam Zam water poses on its drinkers. Despite the rumours, many religious people decide to stick with their beliefs instead and risk the potential damage they could be doing to their body. Today, we explore the religious accounts of what makes Zam Zam water so symbolically special.

Located at the heart of a desert area in Mekkah, the Zam Zam spring is 35 metres deep and covered by a dome. One of its many miracles is that its water supply has never run dry since its creation, despite it supplying water to Muslims who perform Pilgrimage (Hajj) each year. To put it into proportion, about 2 million pilgrims attended Hajj just this year alone. So just how was this never ending supply of water created?

According to the Islamic beliefs, the story began with Prophet Ibrahim a.s. and his infertile wife Sarah. As the Prophet wished to father a child, Sarah offered him a female slave, Hajar, whom eventually mothered his child Ismail. One day, Prophet Ibrahim a.s. brought Hajar and Ismail from their home in Palestine to a desert in Mekkah, where the Prophet was instructed by Allah s.w.t. to leave them alone in the desert. Upon noticing that Ibrahim was about to return to Palestine alone, Hajar questioned the Prophet, who later revealed that it was the will of Allah s.w.t.. As such, Hajar had faith that she would be able to find her way.

She went on her merry way to search for the exit of the desert, breastfeeding Ismail and consuming the dates and water Ibrahim had left them, but soon, her water supply ran out. In an attempt to look for water, she hiked back and forth seven times between the mountains of As-safa and Al-Marwah, but to no avail. On her final arrival at Al-Marwah, she heard a voice that instructed her to call out "Help, if you can." No sooner had she called out, Angel Jibril, beat the ground with his wings and fresh water emerged. This was the spring of Zam Zam, which quenched not just Hajar's and her child's thirst, but countless others after hear passing as well.

This story is so symbolic that pilgrims are required to imitate her walk between the two mountains during their trip to the Ka'bah, which is the house of Allah s.w.t. Muslims are encouraged to empathize with the panicky plight of Hajar as they travel the same path she did many years ago. The miracle of Zam Zam water is entrenched in this ritual, which all Muslims are required to perform at least once in their life, unless dire circumstances prevent it.

Today's research on Zam Zam water shows that the Zam Zam water contains higher levels of Calcium and Magnesium than city water. These minerals are what reinvigorates weary Pilgrims. Aside from minerals, water also contains healthy levels of fluoride which prevents germicidal contamination. Furthermore, its purity has been maintained, as it has not been treated in any way. These health benefits, when compounded with its symbolic significance make Zam Zam water an essential part of Islamic culture that is here to stay.

Genghis Khan, The Military Genius

  Genghis_Khan

Figure 1: Genghis Khan

 

Genghis Khan was born as Temujin in 1162 in Mongolia and died in 1227. He was responsible for uniting the nomadic tribes of the Mongolian plateau, and later expanded his territory by conquering huge chunks of China (consisting of three separate states Xi Xia, Jin and Sung), Khwarizm (include parts of modern day Iran, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) and Russia. His descendants expanded the empire even further by venturing into Poland, Vietnam, Syria and Korea. In just 25 years, Genghis Khan and his army had conquered more land and people than the Romans did in their 400 years of ruling. How did Genghis Khan achieve such a great feat?

mongolmap1259

Figure 2: Mongol Empire's Territory before 1259 CE

 

Genghis Khan had a strategical and developed system of warfare, relying heavily on soldiers, skilled horsemen, battle tactics and weapons.

 

Recruitment and Training of Soldiers

War was a full-time job and people were either a soldier or somehow supported a soldier. Potential army recruits trained from young to ride, be rough, be mobile and be accustomed to killing. Leaders and ranks in army were selected through merit not by blood relation: due to his disobedience by ransacking villages, Toguchar (Genghis Khan’s son-in-law), was demoted to a normal soldier from a general position until his death.

 

In addition, Genghis khan also recruited male nomads into the army from cities that he conquered, provided that they had surrendered earlier on. These nomads were particularly from Turks, Armenians, Georgians and others. Hence as the army attack further to more cities, their army expanded in numbers.1

mongol-7

Figure3:The Mongol Army as depicted in a 2007 movie, Mongols: The Rise of Genghis Khan

 

Discipline in army was enforced through merciless means: any man who abandoned the battlefield would be killed. The soldiers were vigorously trained and in order to sharpen fighting skills, gorugen, an annual great hunt was held. Thousands of horsemen would gather in a large area and closed in. Each man was allotted only one arrow; failure to kill an animal was met with ridicule.

 

Though ruthless, Genghis Khan treasured his soldiers dearly and was careful not to drive them to their limits of their endurance, as the human population was small. If a Mongol soldier was killed due to carelessness, his commander would be punished; if a wounded Mongol soldier was left on the battlefield, his troop leader would be executed on the spot. This concept of mutual loyalty allowed him to maintain constant number of troops under him.

 

Horses and Adaptation to Conquests Living

Mongol army were highly dependent on horses. They offered a fast mode of transportation, and provided a source of food as well. Due to great need for mobility, Mongolian soldiers would rest on the horses during travel and wars. Horses had incredible stamina, hence Mongols could spend days on a horseback while going as far as 145 km daily if need be. In addition, horses’ milk was made into fermented drinks, yoghurt, and cheese. Soldiers could also feed on their blood or meat when food supplies were short during travel.

 

Battle Tactics

Genghis adopted psychological warfare tactics towards his enemies. His objective was to instill fear in his enemies and offer an opportunity for them to surrender and pay tributes to the Mongols. This tactic was so famous that Historian Morris Rossabi said, "There's no question that there was a great deal of destruction. Not all the cities were butchered, but some became examples to sow terror in others. It was psychological warfare. Cities that offered resistance were often spared, escaping violence by offering tributes and letting Mongol soldiers loot unimpeded." When the Mongols captured Baghdad, the last caliph (a religious leader) and his sons were trampled to death.2 This is used as a tactic to demoralise enemies.

 

Unique withdrawal tactic (mangudai) was also deployed, whereby the army will retreat and then surprise their opponent by engaging a swift and full combat with usually greater number of soldiers on conquests. After this tactic became widespread among their opponents, the Mongols retreated longer. On the Battle of Kalka River, Mongol army retreated for 9 days before re-attacking the spread army of the Russians and killing many of them.

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Figure 4: Mongol Soldiers battling on his horse while attacking with the infamous short bow

 

Weapons

The Mongols were equipped with various weapons that caused nightmare to their enemies: flaming arrows, gunpowder projectiles, bronze cannons and short bows. Mongol army especially depressed the enemies by firing short bows with great accuracy from their moving horse and hitting an object 366 meters away. When attacking walled cities like Beijing and Aleppo, trebuchet, a type of siege machine, was used to hurl missiles over the walls. These granted the Mongolian army to be named as War Machine.

 

Genghis Khan’s descendants continued expanding the Mongol Empire until the Great Khanate fell into the hands of Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. Our world today is greatly influenced by the Mongol Empire, as they improved the world trade and exchange of ideas during their golden era. It is of no qualms that Genghis Khan have contributed to the great achievements of the Mongols, even though his methods may be harsh and cruel!

 

Reference:

1Lane, G. (2006). Propaganda. In Daily Life in the Mongol Empire. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.

2Fernandez-Armesto, F. (2010). The World: A History Volume 1.

Nuggets of Orthodox

Before its fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453CE, the Byzantine empire had many other nations vying for their wealthy homeland such as the Persians, and also the Muslims. For an empire who relied on the walls that they so strongly pride in around their precious capital, the wall not only protected the citizens and its riches, it also protected the culture of the Byzantine Empire. That culture being.. the Orthodox Christianity - the one divided from Western Rome.

The split occurred in 1054CE during The Great Schism when Western Rome made Charlemangne as Emperor in 800CE, where the Byzantine viewed it as a pledge to disloyalty and a show of redundancy to their own Emperor.

So why then do people have such a bad impression of the Orthodox church? I do have to admit the word Orthodox can be quite daunting, and seems to have a negative connotation behind it.. (at least to me). But anyways, between the Orthodox and Catholics, they do have their similarities.

The Orthodox church share the foundation of Christianity of which the Heresies is also based on; a monotheistic belief in the trinity.

Neither do both of them worship Mother Mary or the saints either; a common misconception but others.

However, despite this core belief that they share, the Orthodox and Catholic Christianity were further divided thanks to their geography:

They were also divided by language; where the Byzantines know little Latin and spoke mainly Greek. It wasn't easy to the Patriarchs of Constantinople to communicate with other patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem.

If you still don't get how two Christian faith could be divided yet still worshipping the same God, take the Islamic faith for example. They have the Sunis and Shia Muslims are divided even though they both worship Allah. It is because of their divided views on the Prophet Mohammad that out of the Islamic faith birthed two divisions. This goes the same for the Roman Christianity. But you know what, this video would probably do you some good.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxT4rozomNs[/embed]