Surprising Facts About the Byzantine EmpireJanuary 04, 2023
The Byzantine Empire, located in modern-day Turkey, was quite an interesting civilization with a unique culture—they called themselves Romans but spoke Greek. And thanks to all their surviving artwork, literature and architecture, we have a pretty clear picture of what life back then must have been like back then. There’s so much to cover but for now, here are five surprising facts about the Byzantine Empire that will blow your mind.
1. They Created Greek Fire
Greek fire sounds like something straight out of Game of Thrones, but it couldn’t have been more real. What made this fire so uniquely dangerous was the fact that it burned over water, making it even more difficult to put out. The birthplace of Greek fire where it played a huge role in battles up until the 15th century when it strangely disappeared from history. It was described as a sticky and mysterious and alchemical kind of napalm that was most likely made with petroleum, sulfur, quicklime and naphtha.
2. Chariot Racing Was Huge
Americans love their football but perhaps not as much as the Byzantine loved chariot racing. It was sort of like the ancient version of NASCAR racing, but powered by horses instead of engines. Fans and competitors alike were drawn to the ring in large numbers but for different reasons—the latter often did it to earn their freedom and for the prize money of up to 15 bags of gold. And like any sport, overly passionate fans often broke into fights, like that one 3,000 fans were wiped out by overzealous enthusiasts of an opposing team.
3. They Created Their Own Silk Industry
Up until the 6th century, anyone in search of silk would have to travel through Persia to China to get some. But the silk industry had its difficulties that often arose when Persia “The Silk Road” during war. Many buyers found this inconsistency to be frustrating, especially Emperor Justinian who resolved to fix this issue once and for all. Under his command, he sent two monks to China to snatch some silkworms, then smuggled them back to the capital in their canes. It may have taken them two long years but that didn’t matter, as the Byzantine silk industry immediately took off, putting a huge dent in China and Persia’s stronghold on the silk industry.
4. Constantinople Fell to a Massive Canno
At the heart of the Byzantine Empire stood its capital, Constantinople, which was surrounded by walls that stood strong for approximately 1,100 years. During that time they were attacked a total of 23 times, but no one managed to break through their defenses. That is until the Ottoman Empire commissioned a 27-foot-long cannon which had to be dragged by 200 men and 60 oxen some 140 miles to Constantinople. The long and tedious journey was well worth it as the ginormous cannon managed to do what no one else did—blast through the previously unconquerable city.
5. The First New England Was There
Nowadays, when someone mentions New England, they’re often referring to the northeastern region in the United States, such as Massachusetts. But it should be mentioned that the first New England came way before the one we’re familiar with, specifically in the year 1075 when a group of English immigrants settled in the Byzantine Empire. Their numbers totalled around 4,000 and they called their new home “Nova Anglia” meaning “New England.” These people moved there shortly after the Norman conquest of 1066, so they were most likely refugees of war.
The Most Amazing Double Agents in HistoryJanuary 03, 2023
In a world that is fueled by success, competition and the idea of survival of the fittest, the role of double agents is never redundant. Double agents are known for bringing to the table their skills as intelligence operative; spies who pose as working for another agency while actually serving the organization they claim to be spying on. Clever strategy, huh? Hero and traitor all in the same sentence. Though this job is dangerous, double agents have been in existence for centuries. Here are some double agents of the past who definitely stand out.
1. Kim Philby
Kim Philby served as a British intelligence officer and a double agent for the Soviet Union. In 1934, he was recruited by Soviet intelligence. He worked for the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service, was the first secretary to the British Embassy in Washington and a chief British liaison with American Intelligence agencies. Philby was identified in 1963 as a member of the Cambridge Five, the group of spies who leaked British secrets to the Soviet Union during World War II in the early Cold War. Of the five, Philly is said to have had the greatest success to give the Soviets access to top-secret information.
2. Aldrich Ames
Aldrich Hazen Ames is a former CIA officer who became a KGB double agent. On February 21, 1994, Ames was arrested by the FBI on espionage charges. Ames was a thirty-one-year CIA veteran who had been spying for the Russians from 1985. He was suspected of compromising many CIA assets. He gave the Russians access to sensitive information regarding CIA and FBI human sources and technological operations aimed at the Soviet Union, through which he made millions. Ames is currently serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
3. Oleg Penkovsky
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Oleg Penkovsky served as a colonel in the Soviet military intelligence (GRU). His actions significantly changed the course of history. Penkovsky revealed Soviet military secrets to the United States in the United Kingdom. Before and during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, the United States found great value in the information Penkovsky gave regarding the Soviet Union’s very limited capability in long-range missiles. On October 22, 1962, Penkovsky was arrested by the Soviets and was tried for treason.
4. James Rivington
James Rivington was an American journalist and the publisher of a “loyalist” newspaper known as Rivington’s Gazette. Later, he was the King’s Printer for New York. Rivington became a member of Culpher’s Spy Ring and worked closely with Robert Townsend a.k.a. Samuel Culpher Jr. He provided key information to General George Washington. However, after New York was evacuated and Rivington remained, he was no longer trusted by New Yorkers. By then people stopped supporting his business and it failed.
5. Robert Hansen
Robert Philip Hansen is a former FBI double agent from the United States. He worked against the United States from 1979 to 2001 as a spy for Soviet and Russian intelligence services. After joining the FBI, Hansen offered his services to the Soviet Main Intelligence Directorate and subsequently began his work as a spy. He remained anonymous to the Russians. Numerous classified documents detailing American nuclear war plans, advancements in military weaponry and facets of the country’s counter intelligence program were sold by Hansen to the KGB. The identities of the KGB spies working for the U.S were compromised. The Department of Justice referred to his spying as perhaps the worst intelligence disaster in U.S history.
Forgotten Accomplishments of President LincolnJanuary 02, 2023
Without a doubt, Abraham Lincoln is one of America’s most cherished presidents whose achievements marked some of the greatest turning points in the nation’s history. Everyone knows of his role in the Civil War which led to the signing of the 13th Amendment. But did you know that he was the first to make Thanksgiving a national holiday? Or that he approved of the shift from gold to printed money? Well, all this and more is true, as you’ll find out in this list below.
1. The Yosemite Grant Led to the Creation of National Parks in the United States
On June 30, 1864, President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, originally called the Senate Bill 203, which granted federal lands over to California including the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Tree Gove. As stated in the act, these lands were to be held for public use, resort, recreation and leasing to other entities, to name a few. It also paved the way for President Ulysses S. Grant’s signed legislation which made Yellowstone as the first National Park, and the subsequent state and national parks that came after.
2. Thanksgiving as a Federal Holiday
Most people associate Thanksgiving with Black Friday sales, football games and hearty meals, not “Honest Abe.” But they should, as he was the one who made it a federal holiday in the first place. In October 1863, Lincoln made a proclamation which declared that the last Thursday in November to be a national holiday, as “a day of thanksgiving and praise.” The idea quickly took hold, and by the 1930s, Thanksgiving was already associated with the beginning of the holiday season and shopping sprees.
3. The Legal Tender Act of 1862
It was Abraham Lincoln who helped the American government transition from gold and silver reserves to printed paper money. Initially called “greenbacks” due to the color of ink on the reverse side of the notes, they were deemed as “legal tender in payment of all debts, public and private.” Naturally, many people were wary of this shift, especially so-called financial experts and bankers who expected it to fail furiously. But they were all proven wrong as federal bank notes quickly became the standard currency in America, with $500 million greenbacks being printed during Lincoln’s presidency.
4. The Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862
Abraham Lincoln was not the first to pass the Morrill Land-Grant Act. It was first legislated in Congress in 1859, though President James Buchanan completely rejected the idea. But three years later, Lincoln breathed new life into the act by signing it into law on July 2, 1862. With this, 30,000 acres of federal territory was assigned to a state for every representative that state had in Congress, as well as its two Senators. Many states took advantage of this act, and used the lands to build educational institutions, such as the Iowa State University and Cornell University.
5. The Revenue Act of 1862
The Revenue Act of 1862 was preceded by the failed attempt just one year prior. This act was meant to be a source of revenue for the federal government, but poor planning and coordination prevented it from taking off smoothly. The revised act tackled the issues associated with the first one, including replacing the previous 3% tax on incomes over $800, with a more progressive tax system and a lowered threshold of $600. They also hired three detectives who pursued tax evaders. And this was pretty much the beginning of the much loved branch of the federal government, the Internal Revenue Service.
Gifts Given Between CountriesJanuary 01, 2023
Be it due to friendship, gratitude or celebration, the exchanging of gifts is a really old tradition that has been around for thousands of years. Many times, a country will often go to great lengths to strengthen their ties with another, usually for diplomatic reasons. And in this article, we’ve selected five remarkable items that nations have given away as a gift.
1. France Gave the United States the Statue of Liberty
Despite being a symbol of the United States, Lady Liberty is actually French, given the fact that she was constructed in Paris. So how did she make her way to America? It all began in 1865, when Edouard Rene de Laboulaye, a French law professor and politician, suggested that the statue be given to the United States as a gift. The statue was built in France then shipped in over 300 crates aboard the frigate Isère, just in time for the 1876 Centennial Exposition, a celebration of the Declaration of Independence’s 100th anniversary.
2. Since World War II Ended, the People of Netherlands Have Given Canada 20,000 Tulip Bulbs Every Year
Every year, since 1945, the Dutch royal family and its citizens have sent an estimated over 20,000 tulip bulbs to Canada as a sign of gratitude and friendship. The Canadians in turn graciously accept the gesture, and plant the flowers in beds all over Ottawa. This is because the Dutch were deeply grateful for the warmth and generosity that the Canadians showed them when they fled their home country following the German invasion during WWII. Their Princess Juliana temporarily made Canada her home too, and even had her third child there.
3. China Paid for and Built Costa Rica’s Estadio Nacional, a Soccer and Multi-use Stadium
Although Costa Rica’s Estado Nacional is considered as a gift from the Chinese, many view it as nothing more than a pricey business deal. Sure, China paid $100 million for the state of the art football facility and had their workers build it too, but that was because of the many things they got in exchange including Costa Rica severing their diplomatic ties with Taiwan, Chinese workers being exempted from all Costa Rican labor laws, and a free trade agreement.
4. President Nixon Presented the Soviet Union with a Custom-Made Porcelain Chess Set
So it turns out that the Soviet Union and its now independent republic are huge fans of chess. That’s what inspired Richard Nixon to commission a custom chess set as a gift from the people of the United States, and present it to Soviet Premier Brezhnev. It was truly one of a kind, with a measured height of 7 inches and a width of three feet by three feet. Also, what made it unique was the fact that it was based on 14th century tapestries “The Nine Heroes” and characters from Arthurian legends.
5. Great Britain Gave the Soviet Union the Sword of Stalingrad, Inscribed by King George VI
To commemorate their victory over the Germans in the Battle of Stalingrad, Prime Minister Winston Churchill suggested that the British prepare a gift for the Soviet Union. They settled on what was dubbed the “Sword of Stalingrad,” made from the finest Sheffield steel with the words “To the steel-hearted citizen of Stalingrad – the Gift of King George VI – in token of homage of the British people,” inscribed on each side. Churchill personally delivered the gift himself to Soviet Premier Stalin at the 1943 Tehran Conference.