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History Corner!

posted by seher on - last edited - Viewed by 472 users

Hey kids,

As promised, I made this thread for those of us that like to get our history nerd on at times. From time to time I'll drop some knowledge nuggets from the random things I have and like to study, summarized thusly from the last thread I jacked:

@seher said: My areas of focus were ancient to medieval Asia and medieval Europe, largely military but also some religious persecution/heretical sects.

I have decided, however, in the interests of keeping things civil on my employer's forums, that I won't touch on things in the realm of politics and/or religion that have a bad tendency on the internets to cause heated arguments, even when begun with the purest of intentions.

I'm going to start off answering Lena's question about books on early Renaissance mercenaries, with a little background for those of you that don't know a lot on the subject. The background will, by necessity, be brief and very simplified; just ask if there's something you'd like me to elaborate on. To keep it Telltale, this is going to move into a discussion about Machiavelli and how, in actuality, he's a little like Harry Moleman.

So, to start, mercenaries. As most people know, Italy was where the Renaissance started and that put them in a strong position of leadership in darn near everything that we associate with the period. Most importantly for this topic, a lot of city-states, most notably Florence, Milan and Genoa, became incredibly wealthy. This great wealth gave the people the ability to hire people to fight their wars so they didn't have to, time fighting would be time that they weren't making money of course. So, for a period of approximately 150 years, Italian warfare was dominated by the condottieri (from condotta, or, contract).

There are some books on the subject, of varying degrees of scholarship. The two best are:

MERCENARIES AND THEIR MASTERS: Warfare in Renaissance Italy
Michael Mallett

Mercenary Companies and the Decline of Siena
William Caferro

Both authors are excellent scholars and pretty good reads as well.

There was and is a lot of debate about whether the condottieri system was a good or a bad thing. Machiavelli absolutely hated the system and wrote a lot about his feelings.
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75 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • I don't know, I think that's a pretty good moral. When faced with violence, don't use violence to stop it, but trickery and beer. I mean non-violence. I'm going to cheat as to a favorite historical story and just cut and paste it from wikipedia:

    Caesar Rodney served in the Continental Congress along with Thomas McKean and George Read from 1774 through 1776 as representatives from Delaware. Rodney was in Dover attending to Loyalist activity in Sussex County when he received word from Thomas McKean that he and George Read were deadlocked on the vote for independence. To break that deadlock, Rodney rode eighty miles through a thunderstorm on the night of July 1, 1776, dramatically arriving in Philadelphia "in his boots and spurs" on July 2, just as the voting was beginning. At least part of Rodney's famous ride was probably made in a carriage. He voted with McKean and thereby allowed Delaware to join eleven other states in voting in favor of the resolution of independence.

    I'd like to point out that he was also a sufferer of asthma and had cancer of the skin on his face at this time as well, and died 8 years later at the age of 56. That's the kind of person I think you can admire even if you don't agree with them :)

  • I have that story is pretty much like, lol: There's our dear friend Pedro Portales, who, without been an actual president of Chile, pretty much shaped the first part of our history after independency, by been minister in diferent goverments. He ended here one day when he was parting and, while drunk, started to complain about the current goverment and how he probably will do it better. Next day, he was actually called by the current president and offered a minister work just to see if he can do the job. And, luckily, he did.

  • I'm going to digress for a minute to share some awesome links I saw last night/this morning:

    The oldest temple in human history, predating Stonehenge by 7000 years, found in Turkey.

    Photos of pre-WWI Russia, in color. SO awesome.

    I probably should have put a warning at the start that this thread is going to end up a lot like an actual conversation with me: starting out on and interesting point then going off on so many tangents we'll all forget the original point...but it'll be fun so it won't matter.
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  • I'm having serious trouble with that temple. It just doesn't feel right to me that tribes of nomadic people who had never settled anywhere suddenly got together to move multi-ton stones into giant Ts.

    It feels like either the dating is wrong, or we've just missed the associated village sites.

    As far as the pictures of Russia, those are amazing. I've heard of the glass plate filter method before, but never seen it used even remotely that effectively before. I'm sure a lot of it is due to our ability to retouch images now to clean them up and color balance the image, but still, it's pretty remarkable.

  • I like this thread mainly because Reading it helps me feel smarter.

  • Great stories, keep em coming! I've got a little reading to do now that I'm on lunch so I'll share one or two of mine soon.

    And Will, I'd agree that is is a shaky hypothesis. Granted, it is really old and they wouldn't have gone so public if there wasn't a good amount of evidence but I don't know that I'd agree with his line of reasoning. Religion/respect for forces beyond our control is pretty ingrained in humanity but to suppose that it, rather than survival motivations are what spurred the growth of agriculture is a huge leap to take. I suppose for early cultures the two were intertwined (hope that appeasing the gods/spirits would make sure nobody would starve and all) and I could see individual groups doing smaller scale things but the level of organization the temple structure implies really makes me question.

    What's most awesome about the story will be the epic scholarly debates that'll go on for decades.

    And I love those photos, saw the link the other day but most of my friends don't appreciate just how awesome they are. Very happy I can share with people that do.
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  • These pictures are absolutely amazing. It looks like it takes a lot of work to turn them back in colour...
    It's so great to think someone had already invented a way to take colour pictures, so that we can see the colours things were. It's too bad it only works for pictures taken with that camera :P

  • As someone who comes from a nomadic culture, I have to say I don't think it's that surprising that a nomadic people would have a rich spiritual life. I'm not saying I agree out of hand with all of Mr. Schmidt's conclusions, which I suspect he is exaggerating a tad himself to garner more discussion and interest in his project, but too often people seem to see nomads as mindlessly wandering around vast areas, which is not true. Like animals they have their own territories that they keep to, and they often become very aware of the land they traverse. Natural features are far more important to a nomad or pastoralist than a farmer, precisely because they are traveling. They are your guides, to keep you from wandering too far from water or too far into an enemy territory; they help to guard you and keep you alive. It's easy to imagine that certain places could become "sacred spots", and then to imagine that they would build temples in those places is a natural extension of that idea. Especially for nomadic peoples, to have specific spaces to meet together in, it's very important. A place of unity, where disputes could be settled, marriages between different families or tribes arranged; the idea that a nomadic people would deify that sort of place seems very logical to me.

  • I didn't say that I didn't think they'd have a rich spiritual life, I definitely know that's not the case (remember, I also studied traditional Mongolian religion). Where I doubted was that an early people would put so much effort into a large scale temple like that before being more secure in basic survival needs, like food. Smaller scale places of worship make perfect sense but for lots of groups to come together when, pre-agriculture, there was so much contention over food sources, is just hard for me to accept.

    Of course, that difficulty comes out of study of other cultures, where, as we saw most notably in antiquity with the Greeks, higher spiritual practice didn't take hold until the societies were better established. In psychology, that would be covered in a more simplified manner by Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

    Of course, given my own educational background, it is entirely possible I'm too conditioned to the old consensus that it's hard to accept these new findings...which is of course, why I think it's so awesome. I'm very open-minded, old-school archaeologists must be having giant fits.
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  • My concerns have nothing to do with the spirituality aspect either. What bothers me is that a group of people who they claim has never settled down or built permanent dwellings somehow figure out how to build intricate interlocking monoliths? Seems... a little unlikely.

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