Archive for April, 2011

Historic Roman Military Losses- The Teutoburg Forest

By: The Scribe on April, 2011

One thing that the Roman army was known for was its’ power. Many people thought that the Roman army with its’ strict organization, structure and equipment was virtually unstoppable. There were times that the Roman soldiers were defeated by the enemies that they faced. One battle that goes down as a spectacular failure on the part of the Romans was the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.

An image showing the terrain in the Teutoburg ForestThe Teutoburg Forest is located in what is now known as Germany. The terrain is made up of low mountains and the area is divided into two different portions by a valley. In 9 CE, the terrain was ruled by Germanic tribes that had formed an alliance against the Romans. The Germanic forces were led by Arminius. He was chieftain of the Cherusci and lived from 18 BCE to 21 CE. Arminius was actually able to achieve Roman citizenship during his lifetime but he chose to return to Germania and worked to drive the Romans out of the area. He became a symbol of the Germanic fight against Rome.

The Romans were led by Publius Quinctilius Varus who lived from, 46 BCE to 9 CE. Varus had a political career that saw him holding positions such as consul junior as well as governor of Africa and Syria. In Syria, he led four legions and was known for being a harsh ruler. He occupied Jerusalem and crucified approximately 2,000 Jewish rebels. He may have been one of the reasons for the strong anti-Roman sentiment that was common in the Judea.

In 9 CE, Varus was stationed near a river in Germania known as the Weser River. He had three legions of troops with him as well as a number of auxiliary troops as well. They were ambushed by Arminius, whom Varus trusted due to Arminius’ Roman citizenship. The terrain in the area was not suited to the fighting style of the Roman legionaries. It was swampy and heavily forested. After three days of fighting, the Romans were overwhelmed by the Germanic troops in an area known as Kalkriese Hill.

The legions were totally defeated. Even soldiers who fled the area were tracked down andA modern monument to Arminius and his victory over Rome killed. Some were killed in battle while others were burned alive after being placed in cages made of wicker. Others were turned into slaves or were ransomed off. Varus, commander of the Roman forces, committed suicide after it became obvious that the Roman troops were being completely destroyed.

When the dust settled, the Roman troops were shamed by their defeat. They were never able to rule the north or the east of Germany although they did retaliate against the Germanic tribes using eight legions to massacre the people of Germania and to capture the wife and son of Arminius. Arminius escaped capture and ultimately had to deal with inter-tribal conflicts and internal strife. In the end, Arminius was murdered by members of his own tribe.

To this day, the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest is still remembered as one of the worst Roman military defeats in the history of the empire.

The Plague of Athens- The Illness that helped end the Peloponnesian War

By: The Scribe on April, 2011

There have been many plagues that have rocked the world throughout the past. Some plagues, like the Black Death that killed as much as half of Europe, are widely known. Other plagues, like the Plague of Athens are known more by historians despite the fact that they caused massive amounts of death and suffering in their own right.

Map showing the course of the Peloponnesian WarThe year was 430 BCE. The Peloponnesian War was in full swing. It had started a year earlier. Athens and the other members of the Delian League were fighting against Sparta and the rest of the Peloponnesian League. The war was terrible. There were many atrocities committed by the forces on both sides. The city states abandoned the formalized combat that had been so common during Greece’s Golden Age and went at each other without mercy. They destroyed the countryside and destroyed cities in their hunger to win.

The war seemed like it was going well for Athens. The forces were fairly evenly matched in some ways. Sparta’s forces were devastating on land while Athens dominated the seas. While Sparta was launching attacks by land, Athens was busy sneaking in by sea and attacking cities along the coast. Then, in the second year of the war, disaster struck Athens. It was 430 BCE and the Athenians were holed up behind Athens’ city walls.

People from the surrounding area began to move into the city of Athens itself. Suddenly, the crowded conditions became a great place for illness to multiply. The illness was very contagious and people began to die at an alarming rate. As people became ill, law and order in the city began to break down. People suddenly began to ignore the laws or go on wild spending sprees.

The plague caused the eyes to become red and inflamed. The breath became fetid as Athens and Allied City-Statesindividuals bled from the throat and tongue. They started to sneeze and became hoarse. Victims felt that they were burning from within although they were not hot to the touch. The skin became red and developed pustules and ulcers. They often took seven to eight days to die. If they did not die, they often recovered but lost fingers, toes or eyes.

People who tended the ill were at great risk of getting sick themselves. Because of this, it was not uncommon to find that people were left alone once they became sick. They were often left to die in buildings or in the street. Some were dumped into mass graves or burned on communal pyres. In fact, the flames from the pyres were so large that they caused the Spartans to back away from the city in an attempt to avoid catching the plague.

It returned several times during the Peloponnesian War. At the end, Athens was crushed and reduced to a shadow of its former glory. While they did try to rally and mount a final attack in 415 BCE, they were never able to defeat the Spartans.

It is still not known what the Plague of Athens actually was. Scientists are fairly certain that it was not caused by the bubonic plague as was thought in the past. Scientists are now thinking it may have been a mutant form of some other illness that has not been seen since it last appeared in 427/6 BCE.

Jellyfish- Stinging Swimmers for 505 Million Years

By: The Scribe on April, 2011

When looking at a jellyfish swimming in the water, it is not hard to imagine that they are the leftovers from some strange, prehistoric creature. It may not surprise you to learn that the oldest jellyfish date back to approximately 505 million years ago. What may surprise you is that these early specimens were found in Utah. While the area is now known for its dry, desert-like climate, it was a different story in prehistoric times.

A modern jellyfishJellyfish fossils are incredibly rare. The creatures are mainly composed of soft parts and lack the bones that are more commonly preserved in the form of fossils. However, the fine sediment that was present in prehistoric Utah created an environment where the soft shape of the creature was preserved. There were many details present in the fossil. Archaeologists were able to see the bell, the tentacles and the muscle scars that made up the creature. The fossils were discovered by Richard D. Jarrard and Susan Halgedahl, both from the University of Utah

What is amazing is how highly evolved (for a jellyfish) the fossil appears to be. There were many similarities between the 500 million year old specimen and the creatures that are currently alive and stinging swimmers in modern waters. While scientists believed that jellyfish evolved slowly over millions of years, the fossils found in Utah present several alternate possibilities.

The first is that jellyfish evolved very quickly. This may have been because of the presence of warm, shallow seas. It was believed that these conditions, present during the Cambrian period, actually led to the evolution of many different aquatic life forms. Another theory is that the jellyfish did evolve slowly over an extended period of time but that these unique creatures are actually much, much older than scientists originally thought they were. The Cambrian period lasted from 542 million years ago to 488 million years ago (approximately).

The jellyfish discovered in Utah were tiny and measured less than half an inch in size. The Comparing ancient and modern jellyfishlocation of the fossils also suggests that they lived in fairly deep water. The similarity to modern species suggests that they lived in much the same way: swimming around hunting for food.

Modern jellyfish are among some of the most durable and enduring creatures. Some travel from one body of water to another by traveling in the bilge areas of ships. Massive specimens have been found in Arctic waters. All around the world, run-ins with these creatures have resulted in pain and (in some cases) death when swimmers or divers had encounters while swimming.

Since humans have only existed for about half as long as jellyfish it is reasonable to believe that we have likely been dealing with these creatures all along. A jellyfish sting can cause massive pain, nausea and vomiting. Some will cause muscle spasms or numbness and, in severe cases, can also cause breathing problems. Some individuals will even slip into a coma and die.

We now know that it is possible to treat a jellyfish sting with vinegar or, in a pinch, urine. You have to wonder what prehistoric humans would do in order to treat the stings and minimize the pain and swelling. Hopefully they had some vinegar on hand.

The Silk Road: Trade and the Black Death in Europe

By: The Scribe on April, 2011

In the 1300’s, Asia and Europe were in the grip of one of the most terrifying illnesses ever: the Black Death. The Black Death (or the bubonic plague as it is often known today) swept through towns and villages and killed millions of people in a relatively short period of time. It started in Asia and China in about 1346 CE but had spread to Europe less than one year later. Sicily was the first city in Europe to report infection. The first reported cases were reported in October of 1347 CE.

Buboses, a clear symptom of the bubonic plagueFor someone infected with the plague, the suffering was horrible. It usually began with a headache. The infected person was usually exhausted and unable to move around much. Often, their back would hurt and they vomited. Their arms and legs would ache. Then, they would develop red spots and swellings on their body. The swellings, called buboses, would turn black and split open and the victim would begin to experience internal bleeding. The plague was easy to spread and entire families would become infected in a very short period of time.

Other forms of the plague accompanied the bubonic plague. Some people suffered from the pneumonic plague which was spread via coughing or sneezing. They had different symptoms but the outcome was the same: almost inevitable death.

By today’s standards, a disease (especially an incredibly contagious one like the plague) can spread internationally in only a few hours. Now, one infected person can simply hop on a plane and hop from country to country bringing illness and even death with them in a relatively short time. This was simply not the case back in the 1300’s. That being said, although it was incredibly easy to contract the plague, the speed at which it spread was terrifying. After all, in the 1300’s, travel took an exceedingly long time.

In the 1300s, trade was conducted between Asia and Europe along what is known as the Silk Road. This was a combination of roads and sea routes that made it easy to transport goods such as silk and spices from producers in Asia to the eager markets in Europe. Accompanying the goods along their journey were rats. Rats have fleas and it was these fleas that helped spread the plague from victim to victim.

In 1347, the siege of Caffa took place. This was a trading post manned by Genoese merchants by Turkish soldiers. The Turks were suffering from the plague and took advantage of a unique and devastating weapon. Using siege machines, they flung bodies of individuals who had succumbed to the plague over the walls. This broke the siege. The Genoese fled, but took the plague with them back to Europe.An illustration showing plague victims

There, the effect was devastating. People were falling ill and dying at an alarming rate. Their bodies and the bodies of those who were not yet dead were flung into open pits instead of being buried properly. Houses were boarded up and burned with individuals still inside. Everywhere, people prayed to God to save them. Slowly, Europe and Asia recover even though it claimed a third to a half of Europe’s population before it was through.

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