Archive for April, 2011
One ancient custom that is still celebrated in the Middle East is Thursday of the Dead. It is an Arabic celebration that is observed by both Muslims and Arabic Christians. The holiday is normally celebrated on the Thursday before the Easter weekend. In other countries, the same day is known as Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday.
Although the two celebrations fall on the same day, they are quite different. Thursday of the Dead is traditionally a day when the souls of the dead are honored. This is accomplished by visiting local cemeteries. They reach the cemeteries before dawn and pray there. After, they distribute dried fruit and special bread cakes or rolls to children, their relatives and the poor in the area.
There are different traditions depending on which Middle Eastern countries you happen to be in. In Jerusalem, the women carry dyed eggs with them and visit cemeteries in the afternoon instead of before dawn. In Syria, women living in Homs, a city, tend to purchase sweets and hand these out to the poor and to children as well. There, the celebration is known as “Thursday of Sweetness” instead of by its traditional name.
It is believed that the celebration may have dated back to the Middle East during the twelfth century although it may be older than that. Tradition states that it may have been started when Saladin, a Muslim leader who lived from 1138 CE to 1193 CE, began trying to foster understanding and tolerance between the Muslims and non-Muslims who were living in the region.
In contrast to the Thursday of the Dead, which is celebrated in the morning or early in the day, Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday usually is celebrated in the evening. This is because this celebration commemorates the Last Supper shared between Jesus Christ and his Apostles. It is celebrated both by Orthodox Christians and other Christians as well.
The events that are traditionally held on this day usually include the Washing of the Feet, an ancient rite of hospitality and humility. It was mentioned in the Bible and has been practiced by many other ancient cultures as well. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of the twelve apostles before they all dined together. There are also special masses said in church and often communion is also taken on this day as well.
In England, it became a custom for the monarchs to hand out money on Maundy Thursday. In earlier times, one penny per year of the Sovereign’s age was handed out but now Maundy money is used in the place of other coins. The monarchs were also known to wash the feet of commoners as well. In Malta, the tradition is to visit a series of seven churches. In other countries, candy and easter eggs are handed out or colored and individuals prepare for the upcoming holiday.
While both Thursday of the Dead and Maundy Thursday are still being celebrated, the celebrations have changed somewhat since their earliest days.
While Easter is an important time due to its’ religious associations, many of the secular symbols that are used to represent the holiday have ancient meanings that predate the religious observances that take place during this time.
The name Easter comes from the goddess Eostre, whose name was used to mark a month in the Anglo-Saxon calendar that was roughly equivalent to April. The name was used to identify this time of the year well before 899 CE and was mentioned by Bede, an English monk who lived from 672 CE to 735 CE. Eostre was a fertility goddess who was believed to be connected to fertility and growth.
One common event that many people take part in during Easter is an Easter egg hunt. The Easter egg is actually a pagan symbol that is used to represent the Earth being reborn in the spring. Some of the most well-known decorated eggs are pysanky which come from the Ukraine. This traditional method of decorating eggs involves covering a raw egg in wax to create patterns and then dipping the egg in a series of dye baths. After each dye bath, the egg is once again coated in wax in order to preserve different colors and build further layers into the pattern. In the Ukrainian tradition, the yolk of the egg represents the sun and many of the symbols that are used relate to the worship of the sun god Dazhboh. It is believed by some Ukrainians that the world will end if people stop decorating pysanky.
In Medieval Europe, one was not allowed to consume eggs during Lent which was a time for sacrifice, prayer and self-denial. Because eggs were still being produced by chickens during this time, it was necessary to preserve them so that they would not go to waste. Because of this, eggs were often boiled in order to keep them from going bad. They were then served as part of Easter dinner and were given as gifts as well. Eggs are included in many different religious ceremonies as well.
The Easter Bunny is one of the most widely recognized secular symbols and is the one that most children look forward to the most. Now, he is known as someone who leaves behind baskets of candy, chocolate and gifts for children to enjoy. In some countries, the Easter Bunny is known as the Easter Hare or the Spring Bunny. The tradition of the Easter Bunny was brought to the United States by German settlers in the 18th century. Historically, rabbits and hares have been symbols of fertility for much longer than that. This is due to the large litters that both animals give birth to.
In many cases, religious legends and ancient traditions have been combined. The Easter egg is one example of this. According to some legends, Mary approached the soldiers who were at the cross when Jesus was crucified. She gave them eggs and wept as she begged them to be less cruel. When her tears struck the eggs, they became decorated with spots of color.
When you mention the Second Punic War, there is a good chance that few people will know what you are talking about. Mention Hannibal and his elephants, and you start getting many more people who have any idea what you are referring to. However, Hannibal taking his elephants over the Alps is only part of what was known as the Second Punic War, which lasted from 218 BCE to 202 BCE. A first Punic War had taken place from 264 BCE to 241 BCE.
Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal’s father, was a military commander who led Carthaginian troops during a portion of the First Punic War. He also led Carthaginian troops successfully during several other battles and ultimately ended up dying in battle in 228 BCE. His hatred of Rome and his desire to defeat them in battle is believed to be one of the things which shaped Hannibal’s mentality and caused him to head from Carthage to Italy with his elephants in tow.
After crossing into Italy, Hannibal had managed to defeat the Roman military in several battles: the Battle of the Trebia and the Battle of Lake Trasimene. The Romans were not used to being defeated in battle and were not overly pleased that Hannibal had managed to win two battles. Because of this, they decided to appoint Fabius Maximus, a Roman politician, to the position of Dictator in order to handle the problem. This meant that he was able to take measures beyond those normally allowed a military commander in order to deal with threats to the Empire.
Fabius decided he wasn’t going to take Hannibal on directly. After all, doing so had simply led to Roman defeat and Maximus was not interested in having that happen while he was in charge. He ended up cutting off supply lines and avoiding any pitched battles against the Carthaginians. As a result of these tactics, Hannibal was able to regroup and prepare for a fight. Hannibal was able to hang around in Italy, enjoying the terrain and preparing for battle against the Romans. After all, if they wanted to go home, they would have to go back over the Alps and no one was really interested in making that trek again.
Finally, the Romans decided to put an end to Hannibal’s Italian tour. They gathered eight legions together along with allied troops and members of the cavalry. Approximately 90,000 Roman troops took the field against Hannibal’s total of 45,000 troops. The battle was to take place in 216 BCE at a town known as Cannae.
The battle was brutal. According to some historical accounts, the Romans outnumbered the Carthaginian troops and were armed with typical Roman arms and armor. The Carthaginians were armed with a variety of different weapons and protected by a variety of different types of armor. Hannibal was able to encircle the Roman forces and catch them in a pincer movement. They trapped the Romans and were able to slaughter them. It was reported that only 14,000 Roman troops were able to escape the battle.
Cannae remains perhaps the most massive and terrible of all Roman military losses and ended up causing Rome to completely rearrange and rethink its military structure.
One thing that the Romans never seemed to learn was the principle of choosing your friends carefully. Throughout Roman history, there were a number of cases of former allies rising up and fighting against both the Republic and the Empire. One of the most notable was the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, in which a collection of Germanic tribes fought back against Roman soldiers and managed to slaughter several legions’ worth of troops. What made this battle worse was the fact that Arminius, leader of the Germanic forces, had actually been made a Roman soldier and a minor noble. You would think that Rome would have learned from this mistake but alas, it apparently did not.
The year was 378 CE. Two years prior, in 376 CE, the Roman Emperor Valens had thought he would do a good thing by allowing Goth tribesmen to settle in Roman territory. Oh sure, the Goths had fought against the Romans in the past, but surely by giving them land, they would earn the appreciation of these tribes and be safe from any further attack, right? Wrong. Ultimately, the Goths would overrun Rome and lead to the downfall of the entire Roman Empire.
One could argue that the Romans brought it on themselves. Things may have turned out very different for both Rome and the Goths if the provincial commanders hadn’t shown themselves to be completely dishonest. The Goths found life in their new territories to be incredibly harsh and finally they had enough. They revolted and fought against the Romans in the running battles that tribesmen tend to be good at and Roman legionaries tend to have problems with.
The Goths again asked for land. This time the Goths were denied which set things in motion and which would ultimately lead to the Battle of Adrianople. It is not totally certain how many troops were fighting on behalf of Rome but it is estimated that Roman troops and allies totaled a maximum of about 45,000 soldiers. They were veterans but when faced with 50,000 Gothic cavalry and between 12,000-and 15,000 other troops as well. These were not good odds for the Romans.
On August 9th, 378 CE, the Romans and the Goths squared off. The Goths had been camped on top of a hill near Adrianople. The Romans had to march for seven hours in order to reach the field of battle and the terrain was incredibly difficult to move through. Because the Gothic cavalry wasn’t there at the beginning, the Romans were overeager and attacked before they were ordered to. Suddenly, the Gothic cavalry returned, surrounded the Roman troops and massacred them.
In the end, Valens was abandoned by the troops who were supposed to guard him. It is believed that he was killed on the field of battle although it is not certain that this is what happened. In the end, many experienced officers and troops were killed in the battle and this may have led to the eventual downfall of the Roman Empire as a whole. Suddenly the Goths went from being thought of as disorganized rabble to a dangerous adversary that could destroy Rome totally.
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