Archive for September, 2007

A French Pirate of the Caribbean – Part 1/2 (ca. 1635 – 1668 AD)

By: The Scribe on September, 2007

An artist’s depiction of Francois L’Ollonais from a copy of The History of the Bucaniers in America, published 1684.

Jean-David Nau was born sometime around 1635, to a French family presumably of lesser means. He became an indentured servant in Martinique until the early 1650s, and upon the end of his service, he decided to pursue a career that was decidedly more profitable than working for someone else. He wandered around the Caribbean islands for a while, before eventually arriving in St. Domingue and joining in with the area’s Buccaneers.

As much as he enjoyed robbing Spanish ships and killing those aboard, Jean-David showed great proficiency for piracy and it appeared that his talents were being wasted – and so, the buccaneer governor of Tortuga gave Jean-David his own ship to command, which he eagerly accepted. It didn’t take long before he had plundered plenty of ships on his own, slaughtering everyone aboard and becoming one of the first Caribbean pirates to carry out organized land attacks!

Due to his extreme cruelty and merciless treatment of the people on the ships he plundered, Jean-David soon earned the nickname “Francois L’Ollonais”, which literally meant “The Flail of the Spaniards” – however, this reputation also meant that others in the area were able to prepare themselves for his potential attacks. About a year into his career as a pirate, L’Ollonais and his crew were shipwrecked during a bad storm off the Yucatan peninsula, where a group of Spanish soldiers were conveniently waiting to kill anyone who made it to shore.

Although his entire crew was killed the moment any one of them made it to land, L’Ollonais was able to survive by smearing himself with the blood of his dead crewmen, covering himself with their bodies, and pretending to be dead as well. When the soldiers were thoroughly satisfied that all the members of the ship had either drowned or been killed, they left – whereupon L’Ollonais dressed himself in the clothes of a dead Spanish soldier, released some of the Spanish crew’s slaves, and made his way back to Tortuga under the cover of darkness.

Thoroughly enraged against all Spaniards, L’Ollonais and his new crew entered a town, holding all of its members hostage for a ransom that was payable by the town’s Spanish rulers. Understandably upset, the governor of Havana sent a ship to the town to take care of L’Ollonais – however, L’Ollonais was able to strike first, capturing and beheading the entire crew… except for one man. This one man was spared so that he could take a simple message back to Havana from L’Ollonais: “I shall never henceforth give quarter to any Spaniard whatsoever.”

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: Part two!

Writing Shorthand in Ancient Egypt (ca. 3200 BC – 200 AD)

By: The Scribe on September, 2007

Hieratic script on a slab of limestone. This is actually a schoolboy’s practice tablet!

For anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Egyptian hieroglyphs, it’s fairly clear to see that the writing process in ancient Egypt was a little more laborious and involved than the effort it takes to write down words today using the Latin alphabet. In fact, writing with hieroglyphs was such a time-consuming process that even the ancient Egyptians got tired of how long it took to get a short note down… and much in the same way that a person today might take notes using standard shorthand notation, ancient Egypt had its own “short-hand” form of hieroglyphs! This was known as the hieratic script.

The hieratic writing system was developed alongside the hieroglyphic system, essentially for the purpose of allowing scribes to write information down quickly, without resorting to the laborious process of writing and drawing hieroglyphs. It is important to note, however, that hieratic is not a derivative of hieroglyphic writing – they were simply scripts developed in parallel, each for their own specific purpose.

The earliest appearance of hieratic came around 3200 BC, and was used for a variety of purposes: legal texts, personal letters, administrative documents, historical accounts, literary writings, medical texts, mathematical theorem, and also religious documents. In fact, when the usage of the more popularly known hieroglyphs and the lesser known hieratic scripts are compared – it isn’t hard to see that hieratic was actually a far more important type of writing than hieroglyphs, since hieratic was used on a daily basis for everyday living.

This hieratic text is a scribe’s wooden exercise tablet! It’s from around 1514 BC, and is a section from The Instructions of Amenemhat, and it says: “Be on your guard against all those who are subordinate to you… trust no brother, know no friend, make no intimates.”

Hieratic was also the first writing system that students would learn when they entered into an educational program in ancient Egypt, and there are plenty of surviving examples of students’ practice texts from thousands of years ago. It was typically written with ink and a reed brush onto papyrus, stone, wood, or shards of ostraca. On occasion, hieratic would be used to write a religious text onto the linens of someone being mummified.

Unlike hieroglyphs, hieratic was always written from right to left in horizontal lines, both so that the scribe’s hand would not smudge what he had just written, as well as to increase writing speed. However, even with the hieratic serving as a shorthand form of writing, there were two variations on the script – a relaxed, businesslike form that was used for administrative documents, and an uncial bookhand-form that was used for more important literary, religious, or scientific texts. Comparatively, it would be like English writers using cursive writing for important documents, and using printed letters for everything else.

In addition, personal letters had their own form of shorthand hieratic, using a highly cursive and stylized version of the script – in these texts, there are plenty of abbreviated words and phrases, which is not unusual to find in any modern language today! By 200 AD, hieratic had been demoted to use primarily for religious texts, with a new non-hieroglyphic form of writing called demotic taking its place.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: A (French) Pirate of the Caribbean

Roman Soldiers Got Cold Feet (ca. 100 BC – 200 AD)

By: The Scribe on September, 2007

Roman soldiers wore thick, woolly socks to protect their delicate footsies from the cold!It is no secret that the Roman Empire once controlled more territory than any other empire in history – and it now appears that perhaps the secret to Roman success has been revealed! No, it wasn’t impeccable strategy, courageous generals, or unparallel war tactics… instead, the success of the Roman armies hinged on one crucial element: they always had warm toes.

Indeed, if there is one thing that’s important when it comes to war, it’s the comfort of the soldiers – after all, if you’re freezing cold, how can you possibly swing your sword at full strength? So, it appears that the Roman armies who went northward to conquer England took all necessary precautions to ensure that they were properly equipped for battle – including bringing along some very heavy woolen socks.

This is now known because one of the artifacts found at an excavation in Durham, England, was a highly unusual Roman razor handle: it was 5 centimeters high, made of copper alloy, and was shaped like a human leg and foot. The very unusual part is that the foot is wearing a common soldier’s sandal – but it also has a thick, woolly sock on at the same time! Socks and sandals together in Roman times? Clearly, comfort came before fashion on the northern frontier.

However, whether it was fashionable among the ranks to wear socks and sandals or whether the soldiers were simply protecting themselves against the harsh cold of the British north, there is one piece of evidence from another archaeological site that suggests Roman soldiers took their foot care very seriously – a letter was once found at the Roman fort of Vindolanda near Hadrian’s wall, in which a soldier actually wrote home to ask for… more socks!

Turns out socks are a handy gift after all…

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: Egyptian hieratic script

Bigfoot’s Asian Ancestors (ca. 5,000,000 – 100,000 BC)

By: The Scribe on September, 2007

The giant ape called Gigantopithecus probably stood at least 10 feet tall… and maybe even co-existed with humans!

In the ancient wilderness of China, India and Vietnam, there once existed a very special monkey… actually, he wasn’t a monkey at all, but a giant, 10-foot-tall ape called Gigantopithecus. Coming in at 2 to 3 times bigger than any modern gorilla, the Gigantopithecus was the largest ape to ever have existed – and for some reason, it died out rather suddenly about 100,000 years ago.

As terrifying as it might have been to meet this giant primate on a stroll through the forest, early humans wouldn’t have needed to fear the ape for anything other than its size – all indications are that the Gigantopithecus species subsisted on mostly bamboo, with seasonal plants to supplement its diet! Researchers know this to be the case because, while fossil evidence for these enormous apes is scarce, plenty of huge molars have been found that are nearly one square inch in size.

In total, palaeoanthropologists have three mandibles, or jaw bones, of the giant apes, as well as hundreds of teeth. Based on its size, Gigantopithecus would have weighed at least half a ton – which seems to suggest that the extinction of the species must have come as a result of climate change, and not from being hunted by other animals. These primates were, quite simply, too big to fear threats from predators!

A Gigantopithecus jaw and molars compared to a human jaw and molars!

One theory is that Gigantopithecus was a victim of a bamboo crisis, since bamboo crops tend to go through cycles of growth – every twenty to sixty years, bamboo forests tend to experience a shift and die out before regaining crop strength. It is possible that competition with the area’s pandas and other bamboo-eating creatures may have simply caused the short straw to be drawn by these apes.

As one might expect, Cryptozoologists maintain that one Gigantopithecus species – there are three distinctly known species in total – did not die out, and instead managed to survive by adapting to its environment… and which is now known by the more popular names of ‘Bigfoot’ and ‘Yeti’!

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: More Ancient Standard

Previous page | Next page