Lesson #426: The Double-Headed Eagle

If you’ve been reading for a while, it shouldn’t be a surprise how we got here and why this is of particular interest to me.*

The World Cup is on. I love the World Cup. It’s my favourite sporting event. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of them is that the popularity of football offers billions more eyes than usual to put politics on a global stage.**

My experience with Albania is limited. I’ve set very tired feet on the ground in Albania, but barely — it was very early in the morning, I had been dozing (at best) on a very uncomfortable overnight bus from Dubrovnik to Skopje (never again), and I literally didn’t know what country I was in until I saw a sign on the side of the road in a language I couldn’t read. But I know about Kosovo, if only because it’s related to the dissolution of Yugoslavia.***

The Shakiri and Xhaka double-headed eagle gestures were a big thing yesterday (and discussions of match bans were on order today), but the politics of that are a separate post. Today, we’re touching on the history of the double-headed eagle.

I had assumed that the double-headed eagle was a Roman thing, but the Romans never used it. Sort of. There’s a fluidity in the Eastern Roman Empire that makes its use sort of Roman, but not really. Anyway, the origins go back to the Hittites, who occupied modern-day Turkey from roughly the 20th to the 7th centuries BCE. Scholars are in agreement that the double-headed eagle took on a later meaning of orthodoxy (in the Orthodox Christian faiths) and dominance (in the Byzantine Empire), but its original meaning has been lost — in part because there’s a two millenia gap in its use after the decline of the Hittites before the Byzantines started using it as a part of their heraldry. The double-headed eagle as heraldry spread into the Arab world and large swaths of Europe — particularly in Southeastern Europe — in the late medieval period (11th and 12th centuries), as a result of the Crusades.

In modern times, Russia’s association with the double-headed eagle is arguably the most recognizable — it’s even in their football crest.**** However, it also shows up on Albania’s flag (thus the ethnic Albanians playing for the Swiss team using it), along with Serbia and Montenegro‘s flags, and if you look at the not-so-distant past, in addition to the Russians, it was used by the Serbian kings, which remains on the Serbian flag; the Habsburg dynasty of Austria-Hungary; the Austrian Empire; the Montenegrin royals;  the German Confederation; and Yugoslavia, generally, up until they exiled their last king after the Second World War.

Fun fact: in this World Cup, five other countries have an (single-headed) eagle in their crests: holders Germany, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, and Tunisia.

For more on the history of the double-headed eagle, see here and here.

*If you haven’t been, the short version is: the sociopolitics of the Balkans as they’re reflected in football hooliganism. And also history.

**In this regard, it’s a shame the US are not participating.

***Serbia basically spent the 90s being a controlling ex until the rest of the world stepped in and were like, “guy…sit down” — and even then, they didn’t do a great job. I have many feelings on the Dayton Accords and not many of them are good.

****If they’re smart, Xhaka and Shakiri will say, “we were paying tribute to our host country!” Which no one will believe, but at least it’s a feasible explanation.

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Lesson #425: Cherry Bounce

I have a college friend who does reenactments in and around New Jersey. This weekend is the celebration of the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth,* so I drove up to see her do her thing. In part because I hadn’t seen her since we graduated — much longer ago than seems believeable — and in part because I’d never been to a reenactment. This was pretty much the perfect excuse.

It was super fun!

After the park had closed and I’d gone and gotten dinner with another college friend who drove in from New York, I went back to spend a bit of time with my friend’s regiment, drinking some beer around a campfire. Because I *love* drinking beer around a campfire.** So picked up some local beer and headed back, where the regiment — all still dressed appropriately — promptly tried to drown me — wearing shorts and a Michael Ballack Germany kit — in Cherry Bounce. Of which I took two sips and politely declined to finish. Because it’s delicious! And it also tastes like something that will kill me later, by which I mean it’s smooth and doesn’t taste very alcoholic, but you can tell it’s 100 proof by the smell.

Cherry Bounce is actually a fairly simple drink. It’s basically just brandy, vodka, or rum that’s had cherries and sugar added to it. And then left alone for a bit. It’s also said to be one of George Washington’s favourite drinks, and the recipe for it was found among Martha Washington’s papers. The regiment told me that Washington carried it in his canteen during the Revolutionary War, though I can find zero evidence for this. And since I don’t even trust the word of armchair historians who do this on a regular basis, I won’t go so far as to say that. But I will admit that potable water is a giant question mark throughout history, and Roman soldiers were known to carry wine, so it’s not beyond the scope of belief — or history — for soldiers to carry alcohol in their canteens.

If you’re interested in making your own, the recipe can be found here. It really is good. But I was smart enough to only have two sips and give it over to someone who wasn’t driving 150 miles home later, so I can’t speak to how quickly it’ll get a person drunk or what the hangover is like.***

Even when they’re camping out, the reenactors are still true to their history. The regiment had absurd amounts of alcohol, all of it home brewed. On top of the Cherry Bounce, there was: beer, mead, rum, and grog. I thought this was really cool. They called themselves “a drinking club with a history problem” — which spoke to me as someone who would probably describe my supporters club as a drinking club with a football problem — but they’re very inventive in how and what they drink. And what they drink out of. My sips of Cherry Bounce came out of a salad bowl.

*Until yesterday, everything I knew about Monmouth, I learned from Hamilton. Which is not exactly the most historically accurate of stories. To the point that early last year, I saw a picture of Aaron Burr and was somehow surprised to see the face of a white man. It’s not like I don’t know he was a white man, but my future best friend, Lin-Manuel Miranda, did such a great job of cross-racial casting that when I think of Aaron Burr now, I imagine him as black. Good work, Lin!****

**It’s second on my list after drinking in/on/next to water.

**Even though my tolerance has decreased significantly over the last few years, I actually don’t think I could drink enough of this to be drunk. It’s very sweet.

****The complete lack of people of colour yesterday was glaring to someone who lives in a city that is predominantly black and sees a lot more faces of colour on a day-to-day basis than people who look like me. My friends and I discussed it briefly, but it seems to be a case of while they’re not unwelcome to participate in reenactments, there’s not much of a place for them, historically speaking, which sort of makes them unwelcome by proxy. That said, the only civil war/WWII reenactors I know are black. So there *is* a place for people of colour in the reenactment world, but Revolutionary War history isn’t particularly inclusive of them, so neither are the reenactments.

Lesson #419: The Oldest Palimpsest

I was reading an article this week about the only known palimpsest that effaced the Bible to create a copy of the Koran. Which got me wondering about the oldest known palimpsest.

A quick note for those of you who don’t read a lot about religious history: a palimpsest is any document in which the original text has been scraped off and replaced with a later text and in which the original text may be read — in the days before technology, this often had to be done by eye, but now technology allows for the original text to be read more easily and without damaging the current text. Palimpsests are often religious in nature — the largest collection (around 130 texts) is at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt — particularly on the surface text, but don’t necessarily have to be. Palimpsests are usually written on parchment, though some have appeared on paper or papyrus. The reason parchment is the most frequent source of palimpsests is a combination of both its durability and its cost. Because parchments were expensive and in short supply and because they were durable, the original writing could be stripped from the medium (using oat bran and milk) and a new document could be written over top.

As for the oldest known palimpsest, this is a bit tricky. Of the known palimpsests, many — including the Archimedes Palimpsest — originated in the 4th – 6th and 9th and 10th centuries BCE. From what I can find, the oldest is a second century BCE Greek grammar text produced for the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, which is housed in Vienna.

You can read more here, here, and here.

Lesson #416: The Ethiopian Regiment

I’ve read roughly four and a half chapters of the book I’m currently reading. It’s ostensibly about a particular subject, but thusfar that subject has not been discussed even peripherally. But…what I have learned is that the British were shady AF in their dealings with black loyalists after the Revolutionary War.* Also, there was a Loyalist regiment known as the Ethiopian Regiment.

The Ethiopian Regiment had exactly nothing to do with Ethiopia or Ethiopians. At all. The Ethiopian Regiment was a regiment made up of escaped slaves who fought for the British side during the Revolutionary War. But it was called the Ethiopian Regiment for (probably totally racist) reasons.

The regiment was formed by Lord Dunmore, the last royal Governor of Virginia, in November of 1775. The Earl of Dunmore made a declaration that any slave who joined the regiment would be freed. Of course, volunteers first had to survive a war. And also smallpox, which had all but wiped out the regiment by June of 1776. There’s not a lot of information about troop movement, but the Ethiopian Regiment participated in battles in and around Virginia, including a victory at Kemp’s Landing and a humiliating defeat at Great Bridge.

In a fun little bit of dissidence, the Ethiopian Regiment’s uniforms were embroidered with the slogan “Liberty to Slaves”.

Those who survived the war were granted freedom in Nova Scotia, which is how I got here. There’s a very interesting history of blacks in Nova Scotia that reads exactly how you’d expect. Former members of the regiment were given significantly less land than they were promised, white Loyalists (and Nova Scotians who didn’t care one way or the other about who won the war, I guess) were not super thrilled with black people living nearby, and the white people solution to having to see black people was literally to be like, “oh, you don’t love it here? It’s cold? And we gave you the shittiest land we could? You could always go back to Africa. Here! We bought you passage on a ship to Sierra Leone! Go! Be among your people (who may or may not actually be your people, but where we don’t have to see you)!”

For more, see here, here, and here.

*That’s an enormous subject to unpack, and I am not the person to do it.

Lesson #415: The Conch Republic

I’ve lived (nearly) 36 of my (nearly) 38 years under the impression that Key West has always been part of Florida and, consequently, the United States. I have been wrong.

In 1982, members of the Key West government were in a snit and seceded from the US. This is amazing!

The short version of the story is that in an effort to curb the tide of illegal Cuban immigrants and refugees and the influx of drugs (cocaine) from South America, Border Patrol (now CPD) up a checkpoint on the only road off the island and subjected vehicles to searches and their occupants to ID checks. Displeased by this, the mayor of Key West, Dennis Wardlow, called around and got no answers, so reached out to Border Patrol, who were like “none of your business”. This was not the answer Wardlow wanted to hear, and after a Miami judge refused to issue an injunction, Key West seceded on 23 April.

Now, their secession was rather cheeky. Government officials were assigned new job titles (Minister of Underwater Affairs is my favourite), but they were also serious. The Federal government sent monitors in to make sure things didn’t escalate, the US flag was swapped out for that of the Conch Republic, and (now-) Prime Minister Wardlow declared war on the US by breaking stale Cuban bread over the head of a man in a Naval uniform? Because I guess that makes as much sense as anything else in a declaration of war. One minute later, Wardlow surrendered to a US Navy officer and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid, as well as restitution from the US government.

The money was never paid out, but the publicity the stunt attracted effectively forced the government to remove the checkpoint out of Key West.

On the heels of this, Key West began to capitalize on the notoriety. The town has always been reliant on tourism, but after secession, it began issuing passports — including diplomatic passports — and other kitschy things to commemorate their independence, and the town still celebrates independence day every year.

In 1995, there was an “invasion” by a US Army battalion on maneuvers — which was somehow received both with a tongue firmly planted in cheek, but also with some seriousness that prevented the Army from reaching their training ground until they apologized. The Conch Republic’s website lists refers to this episode as “The Great Invasion of ’95”.**

I think the most mind-blowing part of this whole story is the fact that some people somehow used their Conch Republic passports to travel internationally as if they were legitimate documents. But I’m old enough and made frequent enough border crossings to remember how lax pre-9/11 travel was. I could get into and out of Canada with just my green card or my driver’s licence for identification. I could get on an international flight with just my ID. And I remember when that changed in because I was told by the border agent in Texas that after the new year (2006), I’d need to travel with my passport. These days, I often travel with both.*

More here, here, and on the Republic’s own website, here.

*Depending on where I’m going, it’s often easier — though coming back into the US as a citizen with stamps in a non-US passport made my return from Bosnia more snarky than it should have been when I had an American customs officer at the airport in Toronto who took umbrage with the fact that I had an American passport at all if I was going to travel on my Canadian one. He felt I didn’t deserve an American passport and expressed that. In those words. What I wanted to respond was, “well, no one asked you”. But because I wasn’t looking to spend a night at the Toronto airport — though I wouldn’t have…I’d have called my people for a spare bed or couch — what I said was, “well, sir, with all due respect, the Federal government disagrees.”

**All I can think of when I read this is the time the Swiss Army accidentally invaded Liechtenstein after they got lost in bad weather on night maneuvers in 2007, which remains, a decade later, one of my favourite news stories.

Lesson #414: Medieval Testicle Removal

A coworker brought me to this lesson when she told me that people in medieval times believed that the left testicle was responsible for female children and, consequently, had a gonadectomy of the left testicle to help ensure a male child.

I know what you’re thinking. That is patently absurd! Sources or GTFO!

Sources for this are…awful. At best, this is a gobbet passed around the interwebs with some uncited small basis in historical fact. More likely, this is the same complete bullshit as the idea floating about the internet that the boiling point of saliva is three times that of regular water.

The best information I can find on this is a single sentence reference to it in a larger response on a page of The Tech Museum of Innovation’s site. But if we look at this logically, it doesn’t make any sense. Even if a bunch of men in medieval Europe — this is an assumption based on the fact that the medieval period in the Eastern world is far more advanced than Europe is — had their left testicles removed, statistically speaking, they still stood a 50% chance of coming out with a female child at the end of gestation. Surely people with some brains would have gotten together and said, “so…that didn’t work” and stopped with the lopping off of testes.

Obviously, I don’t have access to any primary source materials. But lots of places with lots of scholars do. And if there were primary source materials that said, “for a while there, we thought we’d get all boys if we castrated ourselves”, that information would be all over the place. Because the west loves to talk about balls. So let’s just go ahead and take this for what it is — a story that seems good for a light chuckle on the surface while it simultaneously disparages medieval culture for being seemingly lacking in common sense and enforces the patriarchal and historical notion that female children are worth less than male children.

So we’re in agreement then? We’re going to settle on the fact that men in medieval Europe didn’t go about removing a testicle so they could have male children. Cool? Cool.

Lesson #412: The Shortest War in History

Generally speaking, we’re a fan of conflict around these parts. I guess fan isn’t the right word, exactly, but it makes up literally all of my graduate schooling over three different degree programs. But for all the destruction and resulting problems wars bring with them, they are not always the protracted affairs the likes of say, The Three Hundred and Thirty-Five Years’ War between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly, which accidentally lasted 335 years because everyone forgot they were at war. Case in point, the Anglo-Zanzibar War lasted a total of 38 minutes.

The story is a bit like every story you’ve probably heard about colonial powers attempting to control local rulers in Africa and install men sympathetic to colonial interests. In 1893, with newfound control over Zanzibar* after the signing of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, Britain declared Hamad bin Thuwaini Sultan of Zanzibar. Because our man Hamad was pro-British. In 1896, bin Thuwaini died suddenly — most likely because his cousin and successor Khalid bin Barghash poisoned him in order to claim the throne.**

Anyway, after installing himself as his cousin’s successor, bin Barghash went about it like he owned the place, and the British government were a bit, “hang on a moment”. Bin Barhash, undaunted, started amassing his army. By all accounts, the Zanzibaris were surprisingly well armed, though I can find no explanation for how or why this was the case. Meanwhile, Britain were bringing in five warships, mostly as a show of strength, thinking bin Barghash would look at the harbour and think, “this is a spectacularly terrible idea”. Except bin Barghash was fully invested in being the Sultan and instead went, “you’re not actually going to shoot us”, and Britain replied, “well, we don’t want to, but we will“.

When bin Barghash refused to abdicate by 9am on 27 August, 1896, British Men of War positioned in the harbour fired on the palace. By the time the shelling ended 38 minutes later, bin Barghash had escaped out the back door and the 3000 remaining members of his armed forces and civilians yanked down the Sultan’s flag, ending the Anglo-Zanzibar war.

In addition to being the shortest war, it might be the war with the highest death rate per capita. In the course of 38 minutes, 500 Zanzibaris were killed. To give you some perspective, before the civil war began in 2011, the population of Syria was 23 million. At the rate of 500 casualties per 38 minutes, the entire population of Syria would have been wiped out in 1214 days (or a little over three years and four months).

Our friend Khalid bin Barghash got himself to the German consulate — at the time, Germany controlled Tanzania — which secreted him off to Tanzania and refused to extradite him back to Zanzibar. He was eventually captured in 1916 when British Forces went schlepping through East Africa during the First World War. He was exiled on Saint Helena for a while, but died in Zanzibar in 1927, so it’s unclear how much time he was exiled.

I think the most interesting tidbit in this entire thing is that the Zanzibari navy consisted of a single vessel: an armed yacht gifted by Queen Victoria to Hamad bin Thuwaini. Armed. Yacht! Is this a thing? As someone who doesn’t make anything close to yacht money and isn’t pretty or powerful enough to weasel her way in to yacht money circles, my experience with yachts is nil. But it turns out there is a pretty fascinating history of armed yachts, you guys! Join me next week for a look into Commonwealth types arming their yachts.

Back to the topic at hand, there isn’t a lot of solid academic information on the Anglo-Zanzibar War online, but the Wiki page is well-sourced if you’re looking for references. More here and here.

*I’m going to assume that everyone’s knowledge of Zanzibar can be summed up thusly: it’s an island, Freddie Mercury was from there, and there’s a reference to it in a Tenacious D song.

**Lesson 412b: there is no express word for the murder of one’s cousin, despite the fact that there are words for the murder of pretty much everyone else in one’s family. Parricide, which refers to the murder of one’s parents can also apply to other close family members, though I think it rarely does.