Hellenistic Tesserakonteres: Largest Human-Powered Vessels In History

Hellenistic Tesserakonteres: Largest Human-Powered Vessels In History

During the Hellenistic era, heavy polyremes warships such as hexaremes, septiremes, etc, became fairly common and were definitely used in battle, although the pentere remained the main line-of-battle galley.

“Appearing at the end of the fourth century BC in the fleet of Demetrios Poliorketes, these super-galleys expanded quickly to reach the level of twenty and thirty rows of oars and culminate, towards the end of the third century BC, with the forty of Ptolemy IV Philopator powered by 4000 rowers.”

~Patrice Pomey.

During the war between Ptolemaios Keraunos and Antigonos Gonatas, the Heraklean fleet (which fought on Keraunos’ side) was made up of “hexaremes, penteres and an octere”. The latter, probably the flagship, had 1600 oarsmen and 1200 soldiers and mariners on the decks, and two helmsmen. Memnon states that this giant ship was actually effective during the battle.

“These warships resembled to floating fortresses, very similar in size to the modern battleships and aircraft carriers. The tessarakonteres had a crew of 6.000 men (officers, oarsmen, sailors, marines and others), as many as a modern aircraft carrier.”

~Periklis Deligiannis.

Stats of the tesserakonteres: Length: 130 m. Beam: 17 m per catamaran hull. Longest rowing oars: 17 m. Oarsmen: 4,000, officers, ratings, deckhands: 400, Marines: 2,850.

Source & Illustration: Paweł Moszczyński for Mówią Wieki Magazine, Feb. 2010.

Medieval Vampire Defense

If your local villagers neglected to unearth and stake a suspected vampire and he or she has returned from the grave, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. The exact method varies around the world, but in some traditions the best way to stop a vampire is to carry a small bag of salt with you. If you are being chased, you need only to spill the salt on the ground behind you, at which point the vampire is obligated to stop and count each and every grain before continuing the pursuit. If you don’t have salt handy, some say that any small granules will do, including birdseed or sand. Salt was often placed above and around doorways for the same reason. 

Some traditions hold that vampires cannot enter a home unless formally invited in. This may have been an early form of the modern “stranger danger” warnings to children, a scary reminder against inviting unknown people into the house.

Medieval Ways To Identify A Potential Vampire

Interest and belief in revenants (one that returns after death or a long absence) surged in the Middle Ages in Europe. Though in most modern stories the classic way to become a vampire is to be bitten by one, that is a relatively new twist. In his book “Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality” (Yale, 2008), folklorist Paul Barber noted that centuries ago, “Often potential revenants can be identified at birth, usually by some abnormality, some defect, as when a child is born with teeth. Similarly suspicious are children born with an extra nipple (in Romania, for example); with a lack of cartilage in the nose, or a split lower lip (in Russia) … When a child is born with a red caul, or amniotic membrane, covering its head, this was regarded throughout much of Europe as presumptive evidence that it is destined to return from the dead.” Such minor deformities were looked upon as evil omens at the time.

Roman Baths

Roman baths, used for both socializing and cleaning, were a marvel of engineering. The water was heated by the fire lit under the pool and the hot air was circulated between the walls of the bath; so that both the water temperature and the temperature of the building would remain constant. The water used in the Roman baths was generally carried from the water source to the bath with the help of aqueducts.

The dirty water coming out of the baths had a function. These dirty waters were drained from the canal and used to clean the dirty canals of the latrinas (Public Toilet) next to the baths.

For the Romans, these baths were an important part of daily life. They would go every day and stay for a few hours. The wealthy Romans used to come with their slaves. The slaves brought in usually took on the task of carrying towels and drinks. Before bathing in Roman baths, sports exercises were done. Running, weight lifting and wrestling are examples of these. After the exercises, the servants would smear their masters with oil and then scrape off the oil with the help of a board or bone. In this way, great dirt would be removed.

In the Roman bath, body cleaning was done with an apparatus called strigilis. With this apparatus, sweat, sand and dust sticking to the body were removed, and then the body was lubricated in the area called aleipterion.

Roman baths were also present inside various palaces or castles. The Romans used the same name (Thermae) for them as well. The design of the baths is mentioned a lot on Vitruvius’ De architectura.

Since the limits of socialization were exceeded in some baths and there were incidents such as prostitution, it was decided that women would enter the bath from morning to noon and men would enter the bath in the afternoon. So they were prevented from entering to baths together.

For example, Emperor Trajan forbade men and women to bathe together in the Ephesus Bath in 98 AD.

Jewish Poland

The history of the Jews in Poland dates back over a millennium. For centuries, Poland was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the centre of Jewish culture thanks to a long period of statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy. This ended with the Partitions of Poland which began in 1772, in particular, with the discrimination and persecution of Jews in the Russian Empire. During World War II there was a nearly complete genocidal destruction of the Polish Jewish community by Nazi Germany, during the 1939–1945 German occupation of Poland and the ensuing Holocaust. Since the fall of Communism there has been a Jewish revival in Poland, characterized by the annual Jewish Culture Festival, new study programmes at Polish high schools and universities, the work of synagogues such as the Nozyk, and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

From the founding of the Kingdom of Poland in 1025 through to the early years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth created in 1569, Poland was the most tolerant country in Europe. Known as paradisus Iudaeorum (Latin for “Paradise for the Jews”), it became a shelter for persecuted and expelled European Jewish communities and the home to the world’s largest Jewish community of the time. According to some sources, about three-quarters of all Jews lived in Poland by the middle of the 16th century. With the weakening of the Commonwealth and growing religious strife (due to the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation), Poland’s traditional tolerance began to wane from the 17th century onward. After the partitions of Poland in 1795 and the destruction of Poland as a sovereign state, Polish Jews were subject to the laws of the partitioning powers, the increasingly antisemitic Russian Empire, as well as Austro-Hungary and Kingdom of Prussia (later a part of the German Empire). Still, as Poland regained independence in the aftermath of World War I, it was the center of the European Jewish world with one of world’s largest Jewish communities of over 3 million. Antisemitism, however, from both the political establishment and from the general population, common throughout Europe, was a growing problem.

At the start of World War II, Poland was partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The war resulted in the death of one-fifth of the Polish population, with 90% or about 3 million of Polish Jewry killed along with approximately 3 million Polish non-Jews. Examples of Polish gentile attitudes to German atrocities varied widely, from actively risking death in order to save Jewish lives, and passive refusal to inform on them; to indifference, blackmail, and in extreme cases, participation in pogroms such as the Jedwabne pogrom. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the largest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

In the postwar period, many of the approximately 200,000 Jewish survivors registered at Central Committee of Polish Jews or CKŻP (of whom 136,000 arrived from the Soviet Union) left the Communist People’s Republic of Poland for the nascent State of Israel and North or South America. Their departure was hastened by the destruction of Jewish institutions, post-war violence and the hostility of the Communist Party to both religion and private enterprise, but also because in 1946–1947 Poland was the only Eastern Bloc country to allow free Jewish aliyah to Israel without visas or exit permits. Britain demanded Poland to halt the exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful. Most of the remaining Jews left Poland in late 1968 as the result of the Soviet-sponsored “anti-Zionist” campaign. After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, the situation of Polish Jews became normalized and those who were Polish citizens before World War II were allowed to renew Polish citizenship. Religious institutions were revived, largely through the activities of Jewish foundations from the United States. The contemporary Polish Jewish community is estimated to have approximately 20,000 members, though the actual number of Jews, including those who are not actively connected to Judaism or Jewish culture, may be several times larger.

80th Anniversary of the Murder of the Jews at Babi Yar

Marking 80 years to the Murder of the Jews at Babi Yar:

On 29-30 September 1941, approximately 33,771 Jewish men, women and children from Kiev and the surrounding areas were murdered at Babi Yar by Einsatzgruppe soldiers (mobile killing units) with the assistance of local collaborators. Jews who managed to escape the massacre in September but were discovered in the ensuing months, were also brought to Babi Yar and murdered.

Yad Vashem (Israel Holocaust Museum & Memorial) has 80 photos and stories of the Jews murdered at Babi Yar and now an online special exhibit on their website.

The photos were submitted to Yad Vashem together with Pages of Testimony containing the names and brief biographical information of the victims. Each Page is a mute testament to the persecution of an entire Jewish community: Rabbis, teachers and pupils, traders and artisans, philosophers and scientists- and in many cases entire families.

In this moving exhibit we can see the faces and explore the stories of 80 of the Jewish men, women and children who were murdered 80 years ago at a ravine called Babi Yar.

Sources: Yad Vashem

Nazi “Death Valley” Prelude to the Holocaust

In the opening months of the Second World War, Nazi forces executed over 30-35,000 civilians in the Pomeranian region of Poland – the first large scale atrocity in the country. Despite efforts to hide these crimes, research is shedding light on these massacres over 80 years later.

Archaeologists working in ‘Death Valley,’ one of at least 400 locations these massacres took place, have uncovered a mass grave and hundreds of artifacts such as victims’ possessions.

Lead author Dr Dawid Kobiałka, from the Polish Academy of Sciences, and the other researchers also explored archival material worked with the local community to gain more insight into these events.

“As a kid living near Death Valley, I used to play with my friends there,” said Dr Kobiałka, “Three decades later, I discovered a mass grave of approximately 500 Poles there.”

These war crimes, which gave Death Valley its name, were part of a coordinated campaign in which the Nazis executed 12,000 civilians in the area around the village of Piasńica from late 1939 to early 1940. Many historians consider this a prelude to the later Nazi genocides.

The Nazis returned to Death Valley, which is located near Chojnice, in 1945 to hide their crimes. Shortly after the war, the remains of 168 of the victims were uncovered at the site. However, it was commonly known that not all mass graves from 1939 were found and exhumed, and the grave of those killed in 1945 was not exhumed either.

Sources: Antiquity Journal

La Voisin

In a darkened room stands a 40-year-old woman named Catherine Monvoisin. Her figure is lit only by torches held by the faceless men standing in front of her, men who are sentencing her to death by fire. It is the 17th century, where such a death sentence is an unusual ending to someone’s life. But Catherine is an unusual woman.

Catherine was the wife of a silk merchant and jeweler and lived a life of comfort in Parisian Society. She was a philanthropist, entrepreneur, fortune teller, mother, and art lover. But she was also a professional poisoner, alleged provider of sorceries, and an alleged witch who plunged the French aristocracy into turmoil, and even tried to kill a king.

She was more famously known as “La Voisin” and was a central figure in “L’affaire des Poisons” or the “Affair of the Poisons”. Catherine controlled a wide network of fortune-tellers from her position in Paris society. She provided poison, abortion, aphrodisiacs, arranged black masses, and even claimed to offer magical services.

She was so famous that she even drew clients from the aristocracy, who could afford to pay her high prices which funded her lavish lifestyle. Her organization, in performing commissioned black magic and murder by poison, took thousands of lives.

The claimed alchemist Adam Lesage, one of the lovers of Catherine, told of her murdering her own husband, an accusation she denied. It is believed that throughout her life, she might have been responsible for the deaths of around 2,500 infants due to her poisoning. However, throughout this time she remained a high-profile socialite, and her sheer charm made no one suspect her.

Sources: Bipin Dimri

“Malleus Maleficarum” Published

Witch hysteria really took hold in Europe during the mid-1400s, when many accused witches confessed, often under torture, to a variety of wicked behaviors. Within a century, witch hunts were common and most of the accused were executed by burning at the stake or hanging. Single women, widows and other women on the margins of society were especially targeted.

Between the years 1500 and 1660, up to 80,000 suspected witches were put to death in Europe. Around 80 percent of them were women thought to be in cahoots with the Devil and filled with lust. Germany had the highest witchcraft execution rate, while Ireland had the lowest. 

The publication of “Malleus Maleficarum”—written by two well-respected German Dominicans in 1486—likely spurred witch mania to go viral. The book, usually translated as “The Hammer of Witches,” was essentially a guide on how to identify, hunt and interrogate witches. 

“Malleus Maleficarum” labeled witchcraft as heresy, and quickly became the authority for Protestants and Catholics trying to flush out witches living among them. For more than 100 years, the book sold more copies of any other book in Europe except the Bible.

Björketorp Runestone

Runes were the alphabetic system of the Vikings in the past. However, the Vikings didn’t commonly use runes for the communicative purpose between people and people. Rather, they used runes as a tool to communicate with their gods. One of the main sources that we have the information about runes is from the runestone. Thanks for the Vikings carving their runes onto materials like stone, we have something to look back at the age of the Vikings. One of the runestones surrounded by mysteries is the Björketorp Runestone.

The Björketorp Runestone currently rests in Blekinge, Sweden. It is a part of the grave field including some standing stones that form a circle.

It is among the tallest runestones in the world, measuring 4.2 meters (~13.7ft) in height. The Björketorp Runestone is the only stone that has rune inscription on it. 

The runes were carved in Proto Norse language around 6th or 7th century. This language might have been in use from the 2nd to 8th century. Also, it might have been the foundation for the Old Norse language. There are two sides with the rune inscriptions on this stone. One side consists of a shorter line reading “I predict perdition”.

The other side with inscription evokes many controversies though. The message from the other side of the runestone reads: 

Haidz runo runu, falh’k hedra ginnarunaz. Argiu hermalausz, … weladauþe, saz þat brytz. Uþarba spa.

This can be translated into: 

I, master of the runes conceal here runes of power. Incessantly (plagued by) maleficence, (doomed to) insidious death (is) he who breaks this (monument).
I prophesy the destruction/prophecy of destruction.

While some runestones contain the names of the tribe, the Björketorp Runestone lacks the name of the creators. The scholars have been in dispute about the purpose of the runestone. But the major theory is that the runestone is erected as a grave and a kind of curse is carved onto to protect it.

Sources: bavipower.com