Thursday, November 30, 2017

Damn, Girl-Aliquippa

Queen Aliquippa was an Iroquois¹ leader, and staunch British Loyalist during the French and Indian War. Not a lot about her personal life, or her life in general, is known, but what is known paints the picture of a pretty baddass lady who made French and British leaders pay her homage, and demanded respect from the man who would become America's most venerated leader.

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Washington visits Queen Aliquippa
Aliquippa was most likely born in the late 17th century, as she is known to have met William Penn, the 'founder' of Pennsylvania. She married a Seneca man, and had at least one child with him. After her husband died, Aliquippa became the leader of a band of Seneca, and established a settlement of four Seneca families.

It wasn't, and still isn't too unusual to see female leaders of Native American tribes. Women like Lozen and Wilma Mankiller are respected and revered by their individual nations. At the time, female leaders among the Iroquois were particularly common, because the male leaders kept dying in combat.

Now, a settlement of four families isn't necessarily that big, and it doesn't sound that important, but location is everything. Aliquippa settled her people near the convergences of three rivers--the Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela, an area that would later become the city of Pittsburgh. This area was particularly strategic for trading and warmongering, and was a way station for many bands of Iroquois people.

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Wax figure of Aliquippa at the Heinz
History Center in Pittsburgh
Over time, Aliquippa's settlement grew until she had a sizable number of warriors living under her authority. Aliquippa was, essentially, a sovereign, and she knew it. She expected to receive tribute from white leaders, and she did. In 1748 Conrad Weiser, the Pennsylvanian ambassador to the Native American tribes was passing through the area, and failed to stop in and say hello. Incensed, Aliquippa pointedly reminded him that he needed to come pay tribute to her and her people. Weiser wisely did so, and was generously received.

Unlike many Native American leaders at the time, Aliquippa was a staunch British royalist. Not only did she refuse to receive French envoys, but she also advised British forces in how to better man the frontier. Not that they listened to her. Aliquippa repeatedly told British leaders to build a fort around the Allegheny river, and promised that if they did so she and her people would go live there to help defend it. The British blew her off, and in 1754 the area was attacked and taken by French soldiers.

The most famous account of Aliquippa is of her meeting with a young Colonial nobody who would go on to become the first president of the United States. In 1752, on the orders of the Virginian governor, George Washington forayed down into the Ohio valley to politely tell the French soldiers to get the hell off the English Empire's lawn. He was on his way to Fort LaBouef when a messenger informed him that Queen Aliquippa was quite concerned that he hadn't visited her. Because he was a smart man, George turned his horse around, and went right back to Aliquippa's settlement.

This was a good choice on George's part. Not only did he get some excellent advice about a fort (which he then ignored), but he also received the support of Aliquippa's warriors, which would later come in handy when fighting the French.

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Iroquois Confederation Flag
Though relatively unknown, Aliquippa was a major influence on American history. It was her help that paved the way for the French and Indian War, which would be the making of the man who would lead the American Revolution. However, in addition to facilitating several wars, Aliquippa also helped her own people stay safe in a world that was rapidly changing for the Native Americans. Given the attitudes of white settlers towards Native Americans of the day, the respect most men had for Aliquippa gives the impression that she was a remarkable leader.



¹The canny will have realized and laughingly scoffed that the Iroquois are not a nation of Native Americans, but rather a confederacy of six nations--the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga, and Tuscarora. I say Iroquois because Aliquippa's exact tribe is hotly debated. Most sources claim that she is Seneca, but a persuasive and loud minority claim her as Mohawk. Since her exact nationality is unknown, but her position in Iroquois leadership is known, I will refer to her as Iroquois in this article. If you want to read a nearly incomprehensible argument for all sides, go here.

Sources
Queen Aliquippa
Queen Aliquippa: Fact...or Myth? (Spoiler alert: she's not a myth)
Women's History Month: Political Leaders
Fort Necessity: Story of Queen Aliquippa
Between Two Worlds

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Football War

Sporting events can be intense, especially when rivals meet. Large groups of highly emotional people can sometimes result in riots, but in 1969 a football match¹ ignited an all out war between neighboring Central American countries--Honduras and El Salvador.

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Newspaper announcing the start of the conflict.
Translation: Futbol War
El Salvador and Honduras looking for qualification
It is important to note that 'The Football War', or the '100 Hours War' was not entirely over football. Tensions between Honduras and El Salvador had been running high for months before they met for the pre-qualifying games for the 1970 World Cup. Football was just the straw that broke the camel's back.

In 1960s Central America, El Salvador was not doing so great. The country was overcrowded, and most of the land belonged to coffee exporters. Most citizens lived in extreme poverty, and unemployment was common. However, just over the border in Honduras, things were looking pretty swell. Large swathes of the country were uninhabited, and the banana plantations were always looking to hire. As might be expected, thousands of El Salvadorans started illegally migrating to Honduras, often settling in the uninhabited lands by the borders.

This wasn't really an issue with the Hondurans until times started to get a little less good. In 1966 the Honduran government passed a land reform bill that heavily favored the fruit corporations, and disenfranchised the smaller land owners. This lead to an economic drop, unemployment, and rapidly rising land prices. Needless to say, the Hondurans weren't too keen on this, and blamed El Salvadoran immigrants for depressing the wage rate and contributing to job scarcity.² Native Hondurans started harassing El Salvadoran immigrants, ransacking their businesses, repossessing their land, and assaulting their families. The El Salvadoran government politely asked the Honduran government to knock it off, but Honduras refused.

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Map of Central America
Cut to June 6. It's one of the first qualifying matches for the World Cup, and Honduras is hosting El Salvador in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Emotions were running high, especially when Honduras beat El Salvador 1-0 in overtime.

A few weeks later El Salvador and Honduras met again, this time in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Things between the two countries were incredibly tense; Honduran supporters were harassed by El Salvadorans, and crowds of El Salvador supporters surrounded the hotel that the Honduran team was staying in, and spent the night shouting and banging pans together so the Honduran team couldn't get any sleep. Their tactics worked, because on June 15, El Salvador beat Honduras 3-0.

Riots happened after and during both games, but hell didn't really break loose until after El Salvador won the qualifying game in Mexico City on June 27. Shortly after the game, El Salvador announced that it would be severing all diplomatic ties with Honduras, and the borders were locked down.

After the borders closed both Honduran and El Salvadorans started making incursions into each other's countries. Both countries tried to buy arms from the United States, but the US wasn't having that, so they had to turn to European governments and collectors of WWII arms for weapons.

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Protesters in Tegucigalpa
Things really came to head on July 14. The El Salvadoran air force attacked Honduran airports, as well as the towns of El Poy, Amapala, Choluteca, and Santa Rosa de Cop├ín. The El Salvadoran armed forces also made incursions into East Honduras on the ground. They drove armored jeeps into the country, but only made it about 30 kilometers in before running out of gas.

The Hondurans retaliated, destroying much of the El Salvadoran air force as well as the majority of El Salvadoran oil reserves. However, El Salvador had also entered Honduras on foot from the north, and they were doing very well. They had captured the main roads, several major towns, and they were within striking distance of Tegucigalpa. However, without oil the El Salvadorans were having trouble moving forward.

On July 15th the Organization of American States (OAS) got involved. They demanded that El Salvador cease fire, and return to their country. The El Salvadoran government refused unless the Honduran government made repartitions to the El Salvadoran citizens who had been displaced within Honduras. The Honduran government, predictably, refused. It wasn't until the OAS threatened El Salvador with trade sanctions that the El Salvador troops withdrew from Honduras on August 2nd.

Though the ceasefire was signed in 1969, the peace treaty wasn't ratified until 1980. Though the Honduran government passed laws protecting El Salvadoran immigrants, El Salvadorans in Honduras were still harassed and attacked by Hondurans, and things between the two countries have been extremely tense. However, in recent years, the tensions have cooled, and the two countries are making efforts to repair their damaged relationship.



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Honduras Flag

¹This is the compulsory reminder to all my American readers that football=soccer.
²Sound familiar? It should. The same thing has happened between Americans and Latinx immigrants (legal or not) in recent years.



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El Salvador Flag
Sources
Latin America: The Football War
The Real Football War! When El Salvador Invaded Honduras Over a Soccer Game
The 1969 'Soccer War' Between Honduras and El Salvador
The Soccer War

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Holy Harlots, Hammurabi!

One of my giant pet peeves as a thinking person is when people try to claim that people past upheld strict codes of moral virtue, and that today's world of casual sex and prominent sexuality would have shocked the ancients. This is, of course, complete nonsense. Sexuality has been a favorite topic of humankind since the world began, no matter how much governments try to suppress it.¹ One of the biggest examples of this is the Mesopotamian practice of sacred harlotry.
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Figurine of the goddess
Ishtar, who later became the
goddess Inanna

There were two major sacred prostitution practices in ancient Mesopotamia²--The Great Marriage, an annual fertility right, and Sacred Prostitution, an act carried out by women to show their devotion to the love and fertility goddess Inanna.

The Great Marriage was an important part of Mesopotamian religion where the reigning king or high priest of a city would engage in ritual intercourse with the high priestess of Inanna. This was done as part of an acting out of the myth of the marriage of Inanna with Dumuzi--an agriculture god. Echoing the tale of Persephone and Hades, Inanna marries the god Dumuzi, and for a while they are happy. While they are happy, crops grow and the land is fertile. However, after a few months Dumuzi dies (in some myth versions Inanna kills him), and he descends to the underworld. During this time nothing grows, and the people are in danger of starvation. At the end of the myth, Inanna descends to the underworld to retrieve her husband, and they are remarried--beginning the cycle again.

This ceremony makes sense when put into the context of the volatile fertile crescent. Though a lush and plentiful land, Mesopotamian civilizations relied on the unpredictable and often violent floods of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Appeasing their large pantheon of uncaring gods was important to survival, and honoring Inanna and Dumuzi was a great way to do some appeasing.

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Ruins of a Mesopotamian temple or Ziggurat 
What makes slightly less sense is the story of the 'Temple Harlots'. Herodotus claims, as well as some fragments from The Epic of Gilgamesh, that women, young and old, would at least once in their lives go to the temple of Inanna, and offer up their body to any passing man who felt inclined. The silver that the man gave the woman after sex would then be donated to the temple. By doing this, the women were inviting the goddess to be a part of their lives, and this practice was considered necessary to appease Inanna.

Now, it must be said that there is a lot of dispute among scholars about if women actually offered themselves as prostitutes for Ishtar/Inanna/Astarte. The main sources in favor of it--Herodotus and James George Frazer-- aren't considered to be the most credible, and several modern scholars have written extensively against the idea that Mesopotamian women engaged in ritual prostitution. Despite this, the idea of sacred prostitution in Mesopotamia is taught in many schools³, and is still held as a belief among many historians.


¹Victorian England and modern countries under Sharia law, I'm looking at you.
²Evidence points to these practices being carried out in Sumer, Assyria, and Babylon, so all three civilizations will be referred to by their umbrella term--Mesopotamia.
³This was taught to me and my classmates in a much more kid-friendly way when I was 12. We were taught that Mesopotamian women had to wait at the temple for a man to come around, and drop a silver coin in her lap. This indicated that he would marry her, and that she could leave the temple. This myth was forcefully dispelled by my college history professors. 

Sources

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Damn, Girl--Catherine the Great

Czarina Catherine II was enlightened, and she was a despot, but she was not an enlightened despot, no matter what the stories say. Though she embraced the ideals of the enlightenment, her laws and reforms kept  Russia under her autocratic thumb. She strengthened the institution of serfdom, and conquered most of the Crimea region. That aside, she was one boss lady.

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Young Catherine
Born Prinzessin Sophie Friederike Auguste, Catherine was the daughter of a minor Prussian prince. Living in the principality of Anhalt-Zebst, Catherine was mainly ignored by her parents until she grew to a marriageable age. When Catherine was old enough to marry, her mother took her around Europe shopping for a suitable husband. In 1744 Catherine and her mother went to Russia, then ruled by the Empress Elizabeth. Elizabeth had a young heir and nephew, Peter, to dispose of, and she decided that Catherine would be an ideal bride.

Catherine had to give up a lot to be considered a suitable future czarina. She was required to convert from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy, and learned Russian in order to fit in with her people better. She was successful, and in 1745 she and Peter were married.

Peter and Catherine were not a good match. Catherine was intelligent, vivacious, and ambitious, while Peter was immature, antisocial, and dim. Peter felt threatened by his wife, and was often cruel to her in private and public. It wasn't long after their marriage that Peter began to take lovers. Hurt, Catherine spent a lot of time reading, and took lovers of her own. During their entire marriage Peter and Catherine had two children--a son Paul and a daughter Anna. It is highly unlikely that either of them were Peter's child.

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The Malachite Room of the majestic Winter Palace--a residence
that Catherine had a large hand in building
In 1761 Empress Elizabeth died, leaving Peter in charge. Crowned Czar Peter III, Peter was a terrible leader. He pulled out of a war against Prussia, decided to invade Denmark, and made friends with Russia's long-time nemesis--Frederick the Great. He was widely unpopular among the nobility and the clergy, and it wasn't long before there were many groups plotting to overthrow him.

Fortunately for Catherine, she had an in with the Russian Guards. She and her lover, Grigory Orlov, had Peter quietly arrested, and Catherine proclaimed Empress. Catherine had planned to have Peter live out his life in imprisonment, but eight days after his arrest he was quietly strangled.

Unlike many other royal women who's husbands died before their heirs had reached majority, Catherine didn't even pretend to be a regent, she outright had herself proclaimed Empress, and only had her son Paul declared as her heir as an afterthought. She didn't much care for her son, and she didn't much care for a man to tell her what to do. Catherine had some very definite ideas about how she was going to run Russia, and she wasn't going to be stopped.

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An older Catherine the Great
Catherine was very fond of Enlightenment principles. She had read extensively, and was determined to be the model of an enlightened monarch. She believed that by applying the principles of the enlightenment to her rule in Russia she could make a nation where life would be fair and just for everyone. Catherine had a lot of ideas, and in 1767 she convened a commission of people to frame a constitution for Russia. The commission was comprised of people of all social ranks (except serfs), and representatives from all major and minor ethnic groups. Catherine had very firm instructions on how the commission was to proceed, and detailed them in a letter that was, reportedly, so scandalously liberal it was banned in France.

Despite all of her ideals, Catherine knew she couldn't do without the support of the nobility. The commission failed to produce a working constitution, and in 1785 Catherine released her 'Charter of the Nobility', which granted the nobility more powers than ever before, and essentially made all peasants into serfs. This act was especially damning, because Catherine had spoken out privately and publicly about the evils of serfdom.

When she wasn't reforming the laws of the land, Catherine was trying to get more land. Thanks to Peter the Great, Russia had a port on the Black Sea, but Catherine wanted to solidify her position there. Through three partionings, she gradually ate away at Poland, and took the entirety of the Crimea from the Ottoman Empire.

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Gregory Potemkin, Catherine's lover and
advisor
What Catherine is most known for is for her love affairs. As with almost all women of power, rumors of her intense sexual appetites have been grossly exaggerated, though in Catherine's case the rumors aren't entirely unfounded. While Catherine the Great didn't engage in bestiality, she did have some 12 lovers throughout her life, many of whom were quite a bit younger than her.

Catherine's memoirs reveal a woman who was lonely and desperate for love. However, in order to maintain her position Catherine couldn't remarry, and even if she could have it seems unlike that she would have. Catherine wrote in a letter to Gregory Potemkin, one of her most loved and longest lasting lovers, that her passions cooled quickly, and that as soon as a man was out of her site she forgot about him.

Though very popular, Catherine did inspire one of the largest uprisings in Russian history. In 1773 Yemelyan Pugachov, a former Cossack officer, started traipsing around claiming to be Peter III. According to Pugachov, Peter had not died, but had instead been in hiding, and he was ready to lead the serfs and peasantry to a better life, and to throw off Catherine's tyranny. He gained some 200,000 supporters, and marched down along the Volga river, slaughtering nobles along the way. He was within attacking distance of Moscow before he was finally captured, and his force dispersed in 1774.

At age 67, Catherine had a stroke and died in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Though controversial, she is often regarded as one of Russia's greatest rulers, and as one of the greatest female rulers of all times. Catherine had lofty ideals and unbounded ambition. While she didn't manage to live up to her ideals, she brought Russia into an era of political stability and expansion that led to Russian prosperity in the 1800s.

Sources
Catherine II
Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia
When Catherine the Great Invaded the Crimea, and Put the Rest of the World on Edge
Catherine the Great: Biography, Accomplishments, and Death
Catherine the Great


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Erik the Red and His Green Land

Erik the Red was a larger than life dude who knew how to leave a mark. He got kicked out of Iceland, and settled a previously uninhabited¹ island. In the world's first documented PR stunt, he named the icy wasteland 'Greenland' to entice people to move there, then proceeded to name every geographical feature he came across after himself. Erik was one hell of a dude.
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Erik the Red. What a handsome dude. Look at that
mustache. Hipsters kill for mustaches that
glorious.

Erik was born in Norway, but moved to Iceland after his father, Thorvald, was exiled for 'manslaughter' (read as 'probably murder'). He was called 'The Red' because of his fiery hair, beard, and temper. Also red was the color of the blood on his hands after he continued the family tradition of murder.

While living in the north of Iceland, Erik's thralls inadvertently created a landslide which destroyed the neighboring house. Erik's neighbor was, understandably, irritated. Less understandably, said neighbor decided to kill Erik's thralls. This aggravated Erik, who murdered his neighbor in return. Because of this, in 980 Erik and his family were banished.

Next, Erik moved to the island of Oxney, and picked up the pieces. He restarted his homestead, and all was going well, until he had more troubles with his neighbors. In about 982 Erik lent his setstokkr to his neighbor. Setstokkr were large, rune inscribed beams that held particular religious significance. It was pretty cool of Erik to loan them to his neighbor, but unfortunately his neighbor was rather uncool, and didn't give them back. In retaliation, Erik killed him², and was once again banished. This time he was banished from the entirety of Iceland for three years. Erik was left with two choices. He could sail back to Norway, or he could go somewhere else. Erik chose the latter.

Now, Erik wasn't totally sailing blind. Other vikings had been around the coasts of Greenland before, though none had ever gone ashore. Erik knew that Greenland was out there, so he packed his family in his longship and went. He spent several months navigating around the southern tip of Greenland. He went ashore at Tunulliarfik, and spent the two years after that exploring the country, and naming everything in sight after himself.

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Tunulliarfik fjord, where Erik came ashore
In 985 Erik's exile was up, and he was firmly of the opinion that his new home would be a pretty dope place to start a colony. He named the place 'Greenland' to attract settlers, and sailed back to Iceland. Erik was fairly successful, and managed to convince some 400 people to make the move. 25 ships set out from Iceland in 985, and within a few months, 14 had arrived on Greenland's shores (the rest having wrecked or turned back to Iceland.) They settled in two groups--the Eastern Settlement and the Western Settlement, with Erik elected leader of the Eastern Settlement. Erik died about 15 years later after a fall from his horse.



¹By Europeans
²Quite frankly, after the number of pens, pencils, bowls, and spoons I've lost to a neighbor, I do not consider this an overreaction on Erik's part.

Sources
Erik the Red-Biography
Erik the Red-Britannica
Erik the Red-Maritime Museum

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Damn, Girl--Queen Seondeok of Silla

Seondeok was the first of three queen regnants of the medieval kingdom of Silla. She was a skilled diplomatist, devout Buddhist, and prolific builder. During her reign, Seondeok managed to get Tang Dynasty China on her side, promote Buddhism as the national religion, and lead Silla into a golden age of art, science, and literature. She was a smart, strong woman, and is still celebrated in Korea today.

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Queen Seondeok. Probably. I've had trouble
finding pictures of her that aren't from the popular
K-Drama named after her.
Silla was located at the bottom of the Korean peninsula, in modern day South Korea. It was a very internally stable kingdom, ruled by one of the longest continuous royal houses in the world. Silla would later conquer the kingdoms of Baekje and Goguryeo to unite the peoples in the Korean peninsula. However, at Seondeok's time Silla was still viciously warring with their neighbors.

Seondeok was born somewhere in the 580 CEs. Her father, Chinpyong was a reasonable ruler, but couldn't seem to have a son. Like all men of the era, he blamed his wife, Ma-ya, and sent her away to a Buddhist nunnery. Though he remarried, he was unable to have another child, leaving him with the three daughters he had with Ma-ya.

Seondeok was probably the eldest daughter, but even if she wasn't she was hand picked by her father to succeed him. From an early age Seondeok showed great wisdom, and her father believed her the most fit of his children to rule. A traditional story says that when the Chinese emperor sent Chinpyong some peony seeds, along with a picture depicting them, the young Seondeok remarked that the flowers were pretty, but it was a shame they didn't smell¹. When asked what she meant, she told her father that if the flowers had a good scent, surely they would be surrounded by bees and butterflies. When the flowers were revealed to have no scent, her father declared that she was wise beyond her years, and that she would succeed him.

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Map of Silla during the 400s. By Seondeok's
time, Silla had swallowed Gaya.
Now, you may be wondering why Seondeok was able to succeed Chinpyong at all. In most Western societies had Chinpyong died without male issue the throne would have passed to his brother or nephew. This was the prevailing pattern in Europe, as well as in neighboring China. Silla, however, had different requirements for a ruler. To rule Silla, you had to come from the 'Sacred Bone' class--the class that encompassed the ruling family, and those who married the ruler. Seondeok and some of her (female) cousins fit into this class, but there were no males in the Sacred Bone class other than Seondeok's father.
In 632, Seondeok ascended to the throne. Though there were some members of the True Bone Class (the class right below Sacred Bone) who protested, many of the people of Silla were more than happy with Seondeok being in charge. Having a woman in charge of medieval Korea isn't as revolutionary as you might think. Though the people of Silla still operated inside of the traditional gender roles, women were respected and placed in positions of power. There had been Queen Regents before, and women were usually in charge of the family. Though these attitudes changed later when Confucianism seeped into the country, a female ruler wasn't too objectionable at Seondeok's time.

Like many rulers, Seondeok had a craze for building. She was famous for building Buddhist temples, including a nine level pagoda. Her temples are directly credited for making Buddhism so popular in Silla. Seondeok's most famous building, however, is the observatory. The Tower of Moons and Stars or Cheomseongdae is the oldest observatory in eastern Asia. The observatory is a little taller than 9 meters, and has 27 layers of brick to recognize Seondeok as the 27th ruler of Silla. It is the only remaining structure definitely built by her (the rest were made of wood, and have since vanished), and is a national Korean symbol.

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Cheomseongdae
Though Silla was very peaceful internally, they were almost constantly at war with their neighbors--Baekje and Goguryeo. Goguryeo was the real problem. They were a large country, and they were just as determined as Silla to conquer the whole peninsula. Baekje, though smaller, was just as hostile. However, on the other side of Goguryeo was Tang China, and since Tang China was Goguryeo's enemy, they were one of Seondeok's best friends--diplomatically speaking.

Seondeok had to walk a fine line with Tang China. She needed their help, but they were a strictly Confucian nation, and Confucianism just wasn't down with a female ruler. The Chinese Emperor offered Seondeok generous aid, but it was  on the condition that Seondeok would step aside, and let a Chinese prince rule in her stead. Seondeok, of course, refused, though still managed to win the Tang's support.

Seondeok died of illness around 647, leaving the throne to her cousin Jindeok. Jindeok was the last Silla ruler of the Sacred Bone class, and the throne passed to her nephew. Though Seondeok died more than a thousand years ago, she's still a pretty big deal. Her observatory has been designated a national wonder, and rites are still performed at her tomb every year.



¹Not all peonies have a scent. Many of the single and red varieties of peonies do not have a scent. While I haven't done extensive research into the history of Chinese peonies, it is reasonable to assume that one of those varieties was the one sent to Chinpyong. (source)

Sources
Sondok, Queen of Silla
Queen Seondeok
Queen Seondeok of Silla
Chemseongdae
Royal Tomb of Queen Seondeok