Thursday, May 31, 2018

Damn, Girl-Nur Jahan, a Woman Worthy to be Queen

Either the twelfth or the twentieth wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, Nur Jahan was thrust into a life of fear and uncertainty. She was born while her parents were fleeing Persia, and was left on the road. Luckily, she was returned to her family, and was regarded as a lucky symbol from then after. Indeed, Nur Jahan was lucky for her family, because she would later become the Emperor Jahangir's favorite wife, and would, essentially, rule India in his stead, raising her family to the higher echelons of power with her.

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Contemporary portrait of Nur Jahan
Born Mehrunnisa, Nur Jahan was the child of Mirza Ghiyas Beg and Asmat Begum, both high ranking members of the Persian court. Although it is unknown precisely why Mirza and Asmat had to flee Persia, it is known that they were fleeing to the court of Emperor Akbar (Jahangir's father) in search of a better life. Asmat was heavily pregnant, and gave birth along the road. Shortly after Nur Jahan was born, their caravan was attacked by robbers, leaving the family with little goods or money to start over in their new life. Fearing that they would be unable to provide for their daughter, her parents abandoned Mehrunnisa on the road.

According to legend, Mehrunnisa's mother was so distraught at having left her daughter behind, Mirza agreed to go back for the infant. When Mirza found Mehrunnisa underneath the tree they'd left her, a large cobra was looming over her, ready to swallow her whole. Mirza rushed at the snake, shouting, and the snake slunk off to do it's snakely business elsewhere. Mirza took his daughter back to his wife, and after telling the tale of his daughter's miraculous escape, their fellow travelers gave them the money to continue with their journey.

Other accounts say that Nur Jahan was left on the road, but was returned to her parents by other members of their caravan. Either way, shortly after the return of their daughter Mirza and Asmat arrived at Akbar's court, and settled into life as a mid-level bureaucrat.

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Prince Selim, later the Emperor Jahangir
-World Grabber
Mehrunnisa, who's name means 'The Sun of Women', grew up to become a beauty with an excellent education. She was an accomplished musician, poet, dancer, and artist, and she was also known for being witty and charming. She was also a fashionista, cook, and landscape artist. It is unsurprising that around 1594 she enchanted Prince Selim (later Jahangir) to the point that "he could hardly be restrained, by the rules of decency, to his place."

Prince Selim, heir to the throne, was so besotted with Mehrunnisa that he sought her hand in marriage. However, Mehrunnisa was already betrothed, and Emperor Akbar refused to break the engagement in favor of his son. So, at the age of 17, Mehrunnisa was married to Sher Afghan, a Persian courtier and adventurer. Her first marriage, while not a love match (or particularly propitious), gave Mehrunnisa Ladili Begum, Mehrunnisa's only child.

Sher Afghan wasn't destined to live to a ripe old age. He died in 1607, after 13 years of marriage. There are many rumors saying that Selim, angered by Sher Afghan's refusal to break his betrothal, and lust for Mehrunnisa, had Sher Afghan killed. The History of Hindostan, a somewhat sketchy contemporary source, gives an account of Selim's many failed attempts to have Sher Afghan killed, culminating in Selim ordering a small army to attack Sher Afghan. While if Selim actually arranged Sher Afghan's death is in doubt, it's proven fact that in 1607 Mehrunnisa was widowed at age 30.

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Ladili Begum
Shortly after her husband's death, Mehrunnisa was summoned to Delhi to act as a lady-in-waiting to Prince Selim, now Emperor Jahangir's stepmother. In 1611 Mehrunnisa was married again, this time to the Emperor, becoming his 12th (or 20th, sources disagree) wife.

Emperor Akbar, Jahangir's father, had been a brilliant Emperor. Starting with only a small part of what is today Pakistan, Akbar managed to conquer all of north India, swallowing modern Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and parts of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China. He'd been a strict Sunni Muslim, but had encouraged religious discourse between Muslims, Hindus, Parsis, and Christians. He'd managed to woo local leaders of all religious persuasions to his side, yet retained his own religious supremacy (while building up a cult around himself).

Jahangir was a pale imitation of the brilliance of his father. Jahangir tried, undoubtedly; he extended his empire further down the Indian subcontinent, and managed to keep the empire more or less together. However, where Akbar had been focused on reform and expansion, Jahangir was focused on art and culture. Where Akbar had strictly followed the tenants of Islam (which forbid drugs and alcohol), Jahangir saw them more as guidelines, and at the time of his marriage to Mehrunnisa, was well on his way to becoming a non-functioning addict.

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Mughal Empire
As far as marriages went, Jahangir and Mehrunnisa, renamed Nur Jahan (meaning 'Light of the World), were pretty happy. Jahangir was smitten with Nur Jahan, and she seemed to have returned his affection. While the couple never had children, Nur Jahan became Jahangir's Empress, and she was, by all accounts, a loving step mother. Jahangir and Nur Jahan had a great deal in common--they both loved the arts, and were passionate about hunting. Most importantly, Nur Jahan was more than willing to take over running the country, leaving Jahangir to lose himself in opium and mindless pleasure to his heart's content.

As the de facto ruler of India, Nur Jahan put herself in the forefront of government work. She signed her name to royal decrees, along with her husband's, essentially giving herself the power to issue decrees, as well as promote and dismiss officials within the empire. She struck coinage in her own name, something that had never happened in Mughal history. She presided at Court, hearing cases about disputes between nobles, and passing judgement. She conducted international relations with other powerful women in foreign countries, and cemented trade deals. She was a shrewd businesswoman, and under her guidance India enjoyed an era of peace and prosperity.

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Nur Jahan
Nur Jahan was also a philanthropist. She was particularly concerned with the women of her empire. Concerned that poor women would be unable to marry, she personally provided a dowry for over 500 women. She was the patroness of dozens of female poets and artists, many of whom's works survive today.

Despite her peaceful reputation, Nur Jahan had no scruples about warfare. She was an excellent sharpshooter herself, known as 'Tiger Slayer' for her remarkable feat of killing four tigers with six bullets. (keep in mind, these are 17th century bullets.) She planned and led several expansionist campaigns herself. When her husband was captured, she rescued him with a contingent of soldiers, riding in on an elephant, and successfully winning the battle despite the fact that both her and her elephant were injured.

Though the empire was prospering, Nur Jahan reigning after the death of her husband was out of the question. It was widely assumed that Khurram (later Shah Jahan), Jahangir's third son, or Shahryar, Jahangir's youngest son. Nur Jahan initially supported Khurram, even marrying her niece Mumtaz Mahal to him. However, Khurram's hunger for power as he grew older led to Nur Jahan throwing her support behind Shahryar (who was married to her daughter Ladili).

When Khurram, now Shah Jahan, took power in 1628 he had Nur Jahan sent into exile in Lahore along with Ladili Begum, who was widowed after the death of Shahryar. Nur Jahan lived for another 18 years. Though she had backed his rival, Shah Jahan, kept her in comfort, and Nur Jahan was allowed to continue her building and artistic projects. She was kept from the political workings of the empire, but put her efforts into charity work instead, building mosques and assisting the poor. She died quietly in 1645.

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Silver rupees with Nur Jahan's name on them
After her death, Shah Jahan did his best to erase Nur Jahan from history, having the coins with her name rescinded, and erasing her from official records. However, Shah Jahan was not at all successful--a testament to Nur Jahan's incredible influence. The hundreds of mosques and gardens she had constructed, as well as the waystation system for travelers she had established could not be demolished. Her artistic influence continues to influence India to this day. She invented several dishes which are now a staple of Indian cuisine, and the flowering patterned muslin she favored is a favorite in Indian fashion. Her style of stitched clothing and structured saris is still the norm for Indian dress. A wealth of poetry written by her still survives, as do many of her buildings and gardens.

Nur Jahan was an extraordinary woman for any era, but especially for the era into which she was born. She ran an empire so skillfully that even her staunchest enemies grudgingly admitted that she was, what would later become her most famous epithet, 'A Woman Worthy to Be Queen'.


Sources
A History of Hindostan: Translated from the Persian: to Which are Prefixed Two Dissertations, the First Concerning the Hindoos, and the Second on the Nature of Despotism in Indian. Volume III by Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah Astarabadi Firishtah
Indian-Jahangir
Nur Jahan
Nur Jahan: Mughal Empress
Empress of Mughal Indian: Nur Jahan
World Changing Women: Nur Jahan



Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Varna Gold

At the height of communism, proof of a pre-historic class stratified society was found behind the Iron Curtain. An ancient cemetery was found in the Bulgarian city of Varna when digging trenches for the electrical foundation of a new cannery. Much like the discovery of Kennewick Man in 1996, the discovery of what would come to be known as the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis would completely reshape our understanding of prehistoric society. Unlike the discovery of Kennewick Man, archaeologists found something shinier, more telling, and worth far more money than bones--gold. 138 pounds (63 kg) of gold to be exact.

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Gold animal ornament found at Varna. This would most
likely be sewn onto clothing.
In October of 1972 Raycho Marinov found a dirty bracelet in the bucket of his excavator. He was digging in West Varna, where it wasn't too uncommon to find historical artifacts. Farmers frequently dug up copper coins in their fields, so Raycho didn't think too much of it. He gathered up the bracelet, as well as a few other pieces of jewelry he found lying in the area, and put them in a shoebox with his boots. He forgot about the box for a couple of weeks before giving the gold to his old teacher, and curator of the local history museum, Dimitar Zlatarski. Zlatarski, recognizing the value of the pieces, called in experts from the Varna Archaeological Museum.

Upon examination, it turned out that what Marinov had found was far more valuable than the copper coins found in nearby fields. The jewelry dated back to the Copper Age, and Marinov's find was the biggest find of Copper Age artifacts at the time.

A full fledged excavation began almost immediately. Though it had been months since Marinov found the original pieces of jewelry, the dig site remained mostly intact. Archaeologists descended on the site in droves, and a near constant dig was in progress from 1972 to 1991.

This clay head, adorned with gold, was found in one
of the 'ceremonial graves'. These clay figurines were
most likely buried for religious purposes.
What archaeologists found in Varna was a vast graveyard belonging to the long vanished Varna Culture, a Copper Age society living in Eastern Europe long before the invasion of Indo-Europeans. Hundreds of graves littered the landscape, buried under years of debris.

Much like many other societies, the people of the Varna Culture buried their dead with funerey goods--presumably to help the deceased in the afterlife. These grave goods gave insight into the dress and customs of the Varna Culture. The quality of (or lack thereof) of the goods proved that the Varna Culture had a system of social classes, making them one of the first cultures in the world to do so.

The evidence of some sort of class structure became evident when archaeologists opened what is now called Grave 43. It contained the bones of a man positively dripping in gold. The man wore bracelets, necklaces, rings, and carried a scepter. Gold disks, presumably once sewn to his long disintegrated clothing, surrounded him, as well as a gold sheathe for his penis. Though the archaeologists had found that some graves were nicer than others, they hadn't found a grave with such riches.

The fact that the skeleton was a male was particularly interesting to the archaeologists, because it challenged the contemporary theory that prehistoric Europe was a matriarchal society, and didn't become a patriarchal society until the invasion of the Indo-Europeans. Grave 43 was the first instance of a man who had been buried with a large amount of precious grave goods. Though some archaeologists suggest that this man could have lived during a period of transition, Grave 43 still leaves more questions than it answers.
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The contents of Grave 43

Actual humans weren't the only ones to be buried with tons of gold. Several graves full of gold and clay heads were also excavated. It is speculated that these are 'ceremonial graves', and that the gold jewelry is an offering for the deities represented by the clay heads.

Unfortunately, about 30% of the dig site remains unexplored. Excavation stopped in 1991 due to a lack of funds, and archaeologists have been unable to raise the money to begin again. Much of the discovered gold resides at the Varna Archaeology Museum, and the gold frequently tours museums across Europe.

The find at Varna represents a major piece of the puzzle that is pre-historic European society. Though these discoveries raise many more questions than they answer, the provide valuable insight into the wealth of the society, the size of the Varna Culture, and into their religious beliefs and practices.

Sources
Varna Man and the Wealthiest Grave of the 5th Millennium BC
The Oldest Gold Treasure in the World
Mystery of the Varna Gold

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Damn, Girl-Ella Baker-The Woman Behind the Civil Rights Movement

Activist Ella Josephine Baker was born on December 13, 1903. Dying exactly 83 years later, Ella would live through both world wars, the great depression,and the civil rights movement. She is best known for her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. While she isn't as well known as visible leaders like Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker was one of the major driving forces behind the movement. While everyone else gave speeches, Ella traveled around the country, registering voters and organizing protests.

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Ella Baker
Growing up in Norfolk Virginia, Ella was heavily influenced by her grandmother, a former slave. Her grandmother would tell Ella stories about the injustices of slavery, the most famous being the time she was severely whipped for refusing to marry a man her master had picked out for her. In her early years Ella developed both a strong sense of self, as well as an outrage about the discrimination she and other African Americans faced.

In 1930, Ella started off her career in activism by joining the Young Negros¹ Cooperative League (YNCL). The purpose of YNCL was the provide shared resources for young African Americans. The organization had a strong emphasis on gender equality, as well as anti-capitalism. She soon became national director of the organization.

Around 1940 Ella began a leadership career with the NAACP. She began as a field secretary, and later served as a Director of Branches from 1943-1946. In this role, Ella worked heavily on voter registration in African American communities. She traveled across the country registering voters, and coordinating directly with local chapters. She trained activists (including Rosa Parks), and recruited members. She is widely acknowledged to have done a great deal of the hard, nitty-gritty work for the NAACP.

Ella had to step down from her leadership role in 1946 in order to move to New York and raise her orphaned niece. She joined the NAACP chapter in New York, and remained heavily involved with working to end social injustices. In 1952 she was elected president of her chapter, the first woman to ever be elected president of an NAACP chapter. As president, she worked to end school segregation, and build unity between chapters of the NAACP.

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Ella speaking at a protest
With the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1958, Ella moved to Atlanta to serve as it's director. The SCLC is heavily associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, who served as the public face of the organization. Behind the scenes, Ella was calling the shots. She chose the issues the SCLC would focus on, planned protests, and trained other activists.

Unfortunately, within the SCLC Ella encountered a great deal of misogyny. Relations between her and Dr. King were tense, as he, along with the other male members of SCLC, weren't too keen on taking direction from a woman. Ella resigned in 1960 to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. (SNCC)
SNCC was inspired by the sit-ins at the Greensboro Lunch Counters, and focused on organizing passive resistance protests. She also lead drives to register voters, and helped form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party--an alternative to the Democrat Party--which supported civil rights for African Americans.

Ella continued her work until her death in 1986. Though she is not well known today, her influence lives on. She played a major part in enfranchising African American voters, and planning the protests that helped end the Jim Crow Laws. Today the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights  carries on her work of ensuring equal rights for people of all races.



¹This word, while not acceptable in a modern context, was more or less acceptable in Ella's time period.

Sources
Who Was Ella Baker
Ella Baker--Civil Rights Activist
Ella Baker--American Activist
Meet Ella Baker

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Columbus Who? Let's Discuss Leif Erikson

It's a commonly held belief that Christopher Columbus 'discovered' America. This is wrong on so, so many levels. Firstly, the Americas were 'discovered' by the ancestors of modern Native Americans and First Nation peoples thousands of years before Columbus. Secondly, Christopher Columbus wasn't even the first white man to 'discover' America, because in the early 1000 CEs Viking explorer and Christian missionary Leif Erikson stepped foot on what is now Newfoundland, Canada.

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Leif Erikson
Leif Erikson, also known as 'Leif the Lucky' was the second son of the notorious King of Greenland, Erik the Red. It is unsure when exactly he was born, but, being the son of Erik the Red, it is most likely that he was born and raised in Greenland. Very little is known about Leif's childhood, but at the time of his majority he was described in the Greenland Saga as being:
"...tall and strong and very impressive in appearance. He was a shrewd man and always moderate in his behavior."
 What is certain is that in 1000 CE Leif set sail for Norway. He was blown off course somewhere in the Hebrides, and had a son with Thorgunna, the daughter of a local chieftain. When it came time for Leif to set sail again, Thorgunna asked to accompany him, but Leif refused. When Thorgunna told him that she was expecting a child, Leif refused to take responsibility for the child. Thorgunna, however, swore that she would send the child to Leif in Greenland as soon as she was old enough, and she followed through on that promise.

In Norway, Leif met with King Olaf Tryggvason, who had been converted to Catholicism. Olaf soon converted Leif as well, and tasked him with spreading Christianity back in Greenland. With this charge, Leif went sailing back to Greenland.

Here is where accounts diverge. The Saga of Erik the Red claims that on his way back from Norway Leif was blown off course yet again, and saw the shores of North America. According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Leif never actually set foot on North America, but left it to his younger brother, Thorvald. However, the much more reliable Greenland Saga says that Leif was back in Greenland when he heard tale of a new land in the west from Bjarni Herjolfsson.

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L'anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Viking settlement
in North America
Bjarni Herjolfsson had seen the coasts of what we now know as the east coast of Canada, but hadn't landed to explore. The people of Erik's court mocked of him for not having landed, and soon Leif was determined to do what Bjarni had not. Sometime in late summer or early fall, Leif set off for the lands to the west with a new ship and a crew of 35.

Leif had originally asked his father, Erik, to lead the expedition. Erik had demurred, saying that he was getting to be too old for that sort of nonsense, but Leif insisted. According to Leif, Erik had the most luck in the family, and luck was needed for this sort of expedition. Erik reluctantly agreed, but on the day that the voyage was to have left Erik was thrown from his horse, and broke his leg.This left Leif the leader of the expedition, and off they went.

Leif's crew first landed in what is most likely modern Labrador. Leif named it Helluland, and essentially called it a wasteland. He was unimpressed by it's glaciers and lack of plant life, and so set off again.

This next time they landed in a place they called Markland. It was a flat and wooded area, most likely in modern Nova Scotia. However, Leif wasn't ready to settle down, and he hurried his crew back to their ships.

They sailed north again, and docked on a large island. It was here that they decided to settle for the winter. The land was fertile and green, and when Leif sent out exploration parties one of them came back with a vine of grapes, leading Leif to name the place Vinland.

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Statue of Erikson in Chicago, USA
Leif and his crew stayed the winter, harvesting wood and grapes to take back with them. When spring came they sailed back towards Greenland, laden with cargo. On their way home Leif and his crew rescued a group of shipwrecked people on a reef. It was his discovery of these people that earned him the title 'the lucky'.

It is about here where the record of Leif Erikson ends. He is known to have died in 1025, and rumored to have succeeded his father Erik as chief after Erik's death, but the adventures of Leif Erikson seem to have ended after he came back from Vinland.

For many years Leif was forgotten about. His claims about having discovered a land were difficult to prove, and historians squabbled over where it could have been. However, in 1960 the remnants of a Viking settlement was found in L'anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, leading many to believe that Newfoundland is the country referred to as Vinland. Leif Erikson was later awarded his own holiday, and to this day Leif Erikson Day is celebrated (well, mostly ignored.) every October 9.

Sources
Greenlander's Saga
The Saga of Erik the Red
Leif Eriksson
Leif Erikson (11th Century)
Leif Eriksson Explorer
Leif Erikson the Lucky
L'anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
The Norse Discovery of America
Vinland Sagas

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Damn, Girl-Arsinoe II, Three Times a Queen

To start off, Arsinoe is pronounced ar-SIN-o-ay. The only reason I bring this up, is because I recently discovered that I've been pronouncing it wrong for years. What can I say? I read way too many books, and don't talk to nearly enough people.

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Bust of Arsinoe made in Alexandria.
Though she was often portrayed in
the Egyptian style, this sculture
has a distinctive Hellenic influence.
Born 316 BCE, Arsinoe, later known as Arsinoe Philadelphus, was wife to three kings. She has gone down in history as a schemer. She's been accused of vile crimes, such as propositioning her husband's son, ordering the banishment of her husband's other wives, and ordering the execution of men who threatened her son's places in the line of succession. The truth is much more tame, and reveals not a black-hearted schemer, but a talented and ambitious woman who wanted to see her sons on the throne of Egypt.

 Arsinoe was the daughter of Ptolemy I Soter and his second wife, Berenice I. Not much is known about her early life, as she doesn't make much of an appearance in historical record until 299-- the year of her marriage to the 60 year old Lysimachus, king of Thrace, Anatolia, and Macedonia.

Lysimachus, like Arsinoe's father Ptolemy, was one of the heirs to the vast empire of Alexander the Great. Unlike Ptolemy, Lysimachus was having a little trouble keeping his kingdom under control. It was hoped that his marriage to Arsinoe would not only establish good relations between the two kingdoms, but help bring stability to Lysimachus' lands.

Lysimachus must have liked the 17 year old Arsinoe, because they had three children in rapid succession, Ptolemy in 297, Lysimachus Jr.¹ in 294, and Philip in 293. He renamed the city of Ephesus  after her, and gave her at least three cities from around his empire. Though Lysimachus had other wives (polygamy was IN for Hellenic monarchs), Arsinoe was a clear favorite, especially after her full-brother (meaning same mother, same father. Keep this in mind, it'll be important later) Ptolemy II ascended the throne of Egypt.

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Lysimachus, Arsinoe's first
husband.
For 17 years Arsinoe had a relatively quiet life. She enjoyed her time as the second most prominent person at court (after her husband), built religious buildings, and took care of the cities under her command. Unfortunately, as the 280 BCE's came on, she began to clash with Agathocles, Lysimachus' eldest son and heir apparent.

Now, it is important to note that the idea of primogeniture, and the eldest son of the first wife inheriting the father's title and position hadn't come around yet. During this time, King's chose their heir based off ability to rule, and while Agathocles, being Lysimachus' only adult son, was most likely going to inherit the throne and kingdom, it wasn't a sure thing, especially since Arsinoe's sons were nearing majority.

Tradition has it that around 283 Arsinoe propositioned Agathocles, who was only a few years older than her. Agathocles turned her down, and, incensed, Arsinoe convinced Lysimachus to execute his eldest son. This is very likely untrue. Agathocles was a full grown man, and could have expected to share in the duties (and perks) of kingship, but Lysimachus was stubbornly clinging on to his throne. Discontented, Agathocles had begun to plot against his father, and Lysimachus ordered his son's execution.

Enter Lysandra, Arsinoe's half sister, Agathocles' widow, and political schemer out for revenge. She had fled to Babylon with her brother Ptolemy Ceraunus, and was pouring ideas into the ear of King Seleucus, one of Lysimachus' main rivals.

Seleucus was king of what is modern Syria and Iran, and he wanted into Anatolia. Lysandra and Ptolemy C. convinced him to invade in Agathocles' name, and claim the country for himself. Seleucus happily complied, and with Ptolemy C. in the lead, invaded Lysimachus' European holdings. Lysimachus died in the chaos, and Ptolemy C. personally assassinated Seleucus, taking Lysimachus' kingdom for himself.

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Ruins at the city of Ephesus. The city was renamed Arsinoea
by Lysimachus, but the name was changed back to Ephesus
after his death.
Arsinoe had fled with her sons to the city of Cassandrea. Located in modern Greece, the city had strong walls which Arsinoe kept manned by soldiers loyal to her. She was safely ensconced when Ptolemy C's emissaries came courting on his behalf.

Ptolemy Ceraunus was the son of Ptolemy I, and Arsinoe's half brother. He'd been passed over as king of Egypt in favor of his brother, and had fled abroad to make trouble. He'd been living in Lysimachus' court since 285, and recognized Arsinoe's political power. As the wife of the former king, she exerted significant pull with the government, and she was well loved by the common people for her piety. Throw in her Egyptian contacts, and Arsinoe was an ideal bride. Though they'd been mortal enemies weeks before, Ptolemy C. was ready to propose.

It is difficult to say what Arsinoe was thinking when she accepted his proposal. Ptolemy C. was well known for being someone who could not be trusted, and he'd contributed significantly to the death of Arsinoe's late husband. Arsinoe took every precaution--she insisted on a very public marriage ceremony, she made Ptolemy C. adopt her sons as his heirs--but the union still unsettled most people. Arsinoe's son Ptolemy was so against the union that he left before the wedding ceremony, a move which saved his life. Shortly after their marriage, Ptolemy C. had Arsinoe's younger sons killed, and Arsinoe fled to Egypt.

Ptolemy II, also known as Ptolemy Philadelphus (from here out, Ptolemy P.) was king of Egypt, and Arsinoe's full brother. He was already married (to a woman named Arsinoe, incidentally) with several sons when his sister returned to the land of her birth. Ptolemy P. welcomed his sister with welcome arms. She was well known for her political savvy, and she was ready to put that to work in Egypt. Unfortunately, this put Arsinoe II at odds with Arsinoe I. This eventually led to Ptolemy P. banishing his wife, and marrying his sister, making her co-pharaoh.

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Arsinoe II and Ptolemy P. on a coin.
A marriage between full siblings didn't sit super well with the ancient Greeks, though it didn't seem to bother the Egyptians too much. However, Ptolemy P. and Arsinoe quashed objections to their marriage by associating themselves with Zeus and Hera, Osiris and Isis, two other pairs of married siblings, and the monarchs of their respective spheres. This association with deity would lead to Arsinoe being worshiped as a goddess both during and after her life.

Arsinoe adopted Ptolemy P.'s sons by Arsinoe I, putting an end to her dreams of her remaining son taking a throne. However, Arsinoe was just as much the pharaoh as Ptolemy P. She inspected troops, led the state cult, and appeared on the coinage, sometimes alone. She was widely venerated, especially in the countryside by the common people. Unfortunately, she died just five years after arriving in Egypt.

We remember Arsinoe today because of her masterful political maneuvering. She wasn't noted for her charitable works like similar schemers, but rather for her swift rises to power. She became the favorite wife of two men who already had wives, and prompted the banishment of her enemies. It is impossible to say if Arsinoe did all this maliciously, but it is certain that she must have had a forceful personality. Though she drew significant criticism after her death, both for the disappearances of her enemies and marrying her brothers (though it is important to note that no children came of the union of Arsinoe and Ptolemy P.) she was an important, and valued politician of her time.


¹Not his actual historical designation.

Sources
Arsinoe II Philadelphus
Arsinoe II, Queen of Thrace and Egypt
Arsinoe II
A Portrait of Arsinoe Philadelphos  by Dorothy Burr Thompson 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Armenian Genocide

What came to be called the Armenian Genocide was the product of rising Turkic Nationalism, the gradual decline of the Ottoman Empire, and the outbreak of WWI. In the eight years between 1915 and 1923 the Ottoman Empire wiped out 1.5 million Armenians, completely annihilating the Armenian population in Anatolia. The Ottomans seized traditional Armenian homelands, and pressed tens of thousands of women and children into slavery, forcibly converting them to Islam and making them assimilate. To this day the Armenian population in Anatolia, and Armenia itself, is woefully small, and there are more Armenians in diaspora than there are in their traditional homelands. These horrors remain completely unrecognized by the Turkish government.

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The Armenian populace in the Ottoman Empire. This is where
the Armenians were centralized at the time. Historic Armenia
Extend further into the neareast. Armenians at the time were
spread across the eastern part of the Empire, as well as the border
with Russia
We've talked about the Ottoman empire a few times before in the context of its remarkable Sultanas. However, life had gone significantly downhill after the Sultanate of Women, and around the turn of the century the Ottoman Empire was facing a significant financial crisis, as well as political disputes with Russia. The Sultan at the time, Sultan Abdul Hamid, was a despotic autocrat who had ill-fatedly aligned himself with Imperial Germany and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

In 1908 the Ottoman Empire was changed forever when a group called 'The Young Turks' forcibly took power from Sultan Abdul Hamid and placing him under arrest. From this group sprang the 'Committee for Union and Progress' (CUP). Almost immediately, CUP instituted a constitution, taking away the Sultan's absolute power.

At the beginning, the Armenian population had high hopes for the CUP administration. Under previous administrations Armenians had been second class citizens, due to the fact that they were Christian. They were not allowed to participate in government, and had to pay additional taxes. Additionally, the law did not provide them with protection or civil rights. In the late 1890s Armenians had begun agitating for basic civil rights, and Abdul had had a massive Pogrom carried out. The Armenians hoped for more rights under the CUP regime.

Unfortunately, CUP wasn't interested in asserting universal rights to all people groups, they were only interested in giving rights to the Turkic peoples of the Empire. They wanted to ethnically cleanse the nation to make a wholly Turkic state. When WWI erupted, they were given the perfect excuse. Not only did the Ottomans gleefully follow their allies, Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, into battle, they also declared holy war on all Christians (excepting their allies of course.).

One of the biggest problems for Armenians, as mentioned above, was that they were Christian, and did not subscribe to the state cult. This made the CUP suspicious, and they feared that the Armenians would side with Christian Russia, and take up arms against the Empire from within the Empire.

Given that the Armenian homeland straddled the border between the Ottoman and Russian Empires, the idea that the Armenians would side with their enemies wasn't completely crazy. Russian Armenians had significantly more rights than Ottoman Armenians, and should the Russians devour the Ottoman Empire, Armenians would be granted more civil rights and protections under the law. Though the Armenians in Russia had experienced oppression under Czar Alexander II and Czar Nicholas II, things were looking up for them. In 1905 a minor revolution among the Armenians and Azeri spurred the Russian government to make serious change. Life as a Russian Armenian was significantly better than life as an Ottoman Armenian. The CUP's fears were additionally fanned by the fact that Russian Armenians had been smuggling arms into the Ottoman Empire since the 1880s, and Russian Armenian nationalists encouraged their Ottoman brothers to rise up against the Ottoman Empire in favor of an Armenian state.

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Turkish soldiers standing over the skulls of a massacred
village of Armenians
Despite their initial suspicion of the Armenians, the Ottomans were worried about their prospects in the upcoming war. They attempted to recruit the Dashnaktsutyun--the Russian Armenian nationalist group--to fight against the Russian Empire, but the Dashnaktsutyun rebuffed him, saying that Armenians would fight for the country in which they resided. Despite this, after a major loss at the Battle of Sarikamis, the CUP decided that the Armenians on the eastern border were colluding against them. They quietly had all Armenian soldiers executed, and began performing killing raids on villages.

Shortly after, Ottoman forces began deporting Armenians from border villages. They forced Armenians to march thousands of miles into the Syrian desert, depriving them of food or water. People who stopped to rest were killed, and any Armenian who exhibited any sign of fighting back was immediately slaughtered. Between the blistering heat, lack of rest, and deprivation of food and water, hundreds of thousands of Armenians died along the way. Furthermore, many Armenians were killed by members of the 'Special Organization', gangs of freed convicts tasked with killing Armenians en route to Syria. They were also at risk of murder from Circassians as well as the Turkish soldiers escorting them.

By the time they arrived in Syria there was nothing waiting for them. The remaining Armenians were left to die of exposure and starvation. By the end of WWI the Armenian population, previously more than 2 million, had been reduced to 388,000.

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Armenian woman bent over her dead child near the Syrian border
The Armenian Genocide still haunts Armenians and Turks today. All Armenian cultural structures and artifacts on the Ottoman side of the Armenian homeland were destroyed. Libraries were sacked, depriving Armenians of precious knowledge about their history and culture. The Armenians remaining in Turkey were forced to assimilate, stripped of their religion, culture, and identity. Armenians were scattered around the globe. Today, out of the 11,000,000 Armenians living, only 3,000,000 of them live in Armenia itself.

It is important to note that Armenians weren't the only minority group targeted by the Ottomans at this time period. Assyrians and Greeks were also massacred. The genocide of these people, along with the genocide of the Armenians is still vigorously denied by Turkish authorities today. The Turkish government maintains that the killings of Armenians was unfortunate product of war, and not a systematized effort to wipe out an entire people group. Furthermore, may of Turkey's allies, such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel, do not recognized the genocide either.

Sources
Armenian Genocide
The Armenian Genocide
The Armenian Genocide (1915-16) Overview
The Armenian Genocide
Armenian Genocide

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Damn Girl-The Unsinkable Margaret Brown

Often known as 'Molly Brown', Margaret Tobin Brown was a turn of the century reformer, suffragette, and philanthropist, best known for her heroic behavior on the Titanic. She was never known as 'Molly' during her lifetime, and the name 'Molly', along with many of the tales about her, were circulated after her death. Using her work ethic, charm, and great wealth, Margaret helped create the juvenile court system, extend suffrage to her state of Colorado and the rest of the United States, rebuild post WWI France, and have a glittering stage career.

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Margaret
Margaret was born in Hannibal Missouri, the daughter of poor Irish immigrants. Her parents were both devout Roman Catholics, and as such, had six children. Firm believers in education, Margaret's parents insisted that all of their children go to school at least through the eighth grade. An eighth grade education, especially for women, was significant for the time, and instilled a love of learning in Margaret that would carry on throughout her life.

In late 1800s America people of all races were making their way out west. Immigrants who had dreamed of making their fortune in the New World found employment closed to them on the east coast due to their nationality, and headed west for land and work. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, people dreaming to make a fortune mining left the east in droves. Daniel Tobin, Margaret's brother, was one of them. He found success as a mine promoter, and in 1886, he sent for Margaret to join him. Margaret joined in him Leadville Colorado, and found a job working in a drapery store.

Margaret had grown up very poor. She'd had to leave school at age 13 to work in a tobacco factory making cigars. She hated living in poverty, and she wanted very much to take care of her parents through their elder years. This in mind, Margaret was determined to marry rich, and Leadville wasn't a bad place to find a rich husband. Leadville had a flourishing silver mine, and with the US government heavily invested in silver, it was a pretty lucrative business. A man could become a millionaire overnight depending on his finds. Margaret was looking for such a man. However, what she found was J.J. Brown.

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James Joseph 'J.J.' Brown
James Joseph (also known as J.J.) Brown, was a handsome, well educated, vivacious miner, and Margaret fell in love. J.J. had trained as an engineer and geologist, and was set up to become much more than a mere miner, but he had yet to make his fortune, and was far from wealthy. Though Margaret had some serious reservations about marrying him, she did, and the pair married in 1886, then moved to Stumpftown to be closer to the mines.

Though not rolling in money, Margaret and J.J. seemed to have been doing alright financially. While she still did her own housekeeping, Margaret was able to devote time to helping the wives and families of some of the less well off miners. She created soup kitchens, and engaged in other charitable efforts. She also helped establish the National American Women's Suffrage Association in Colorado, and became heavily involved in lobbying for women's suffrage. These early actions in Sumpftown set the tone for the rest of Margaret's life.

Margaret and J.J. had two children--Lawrence, and Helen. They moved back to Leadville after Lawrence's birth, and they were in Leadville when the Sherman Silver Act was repealed, starting the 'Silver Crash', and putting the financial future of the entire state at risk.

What the repeal of the Sherman Silver Act meant was that the US Government would no longer be buying silver at the same rate it had been. Previously, the government had been required to buy at least 4.5 million ounces of silver a month, and pay for them with paper money. This silver was then minted into silver dollars to back up the paper money. This act was meant to prop up the failing silver industry, but had failed. When it was repealed in 1893 there was a large surplus of silver, and the entire industry went into a panic. Many families like the Browns discovered that their money was now near worthless, and were plunged into poverty.

Luckily for the Browns, J.J. was a real smart cookie. He was the manager of the Little Johnny Mine, and he used his geology and engineering experience to find a way to shore up the walls of the mine so that the miners could delve deeper into the earth. Luckily for all involved, miners found what is, to this day, the largest vein of gold in the American West.

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The Brown family home at the time it was purchased. Molly
would later make extensive renovations.
Almost overnight, life for the Browns changed completely. The owners of the mine were so happy with J.J. that they gave him significant shares in the company, and the Browns became millionaires. The Browns bought a house in Denver, Margaret sent for her parents to join her, and began to establish themselves among the wealthy elite.

It was in social circles that Margaret really shone. She was kind, outgoing, and charmed more or less everyone she met. She had a wide group of friends, and with the financial help of these friends, she set about seriously affecting change. During these early years in Denver, Margaret personally funded the local animal shelter for several years, successfully lobbied for the installation of public baths in courthouses, campaigned for city parks, and provided aid for the thousands of people living in the slums of Denver. She also raised money to build the St. Joseph's Hospital, and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Part of her new social circles brought Margaret into contact with the judge and reformer Benjamin Lindsey. Lindsey, formerly a lawyer, was deeply disturbed by the presence of children in adult prisons. A young boy, jailed for stealing bread, could be tossed into a cell with a man convicted of murder. Lindsey felt that this system wasn't productive towards the reforming goal of prisons, and set about lobbying for a juvenile court and prison system. As a mother and an advocate for children's rights, Margaret was right on board. She helped with fundraising and lobbying efforts, and in 1899 the Juvenile Justice System was put in place. This system is still the basis for the modern US Juvenile Justice System.
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Benjamin Lindsey
Margaret was still heavily involved in the suffragette movement. She was involved with organizing one of the first women's suffrage conventions, and in 1901 she became one of the first women to run for senate. She would run for Colorado senate three times--losing twice, and withdrawing from the third because of the advent of WWI. Though she never won a political office, Margaret affected serious political change.

After their move to Denver the passions between J.J. and Margaret began to cool. Margaret was heavily involved in society and reform work, and J.J. preferred to focus on mining. J.J. didn't care for society, and he certainly didn't care for his wife's political efforts. He didn't appreciate how often his wife was in the paper, and he didn't think she should be running for public office. In an attempt to rekindle old passions, the pair began traveling together in 1902. They went around Europe and Asia, and while the couple did seem to reconcile for a time, it was not to last. In 1909 they quietly separated, with J.J. moving to Arizona to continue mining.

Post separation, Margaret traveled more than ever. In 1912 she set off on a journey to Paris, Rome, and Egypt with her friends and daughter Helen. While in Egypt, she received a telegram from her son Lawrence. The telegram stated that Lawrence's son, Margaret's eldest grandson, was gravely ill, and would most likely die. Margaret promptly put herself on the next ship across the Atlantic, hoping to see her grandson one last time before he passed.

Unfortunately, that next ship was the RMMS Titanic . When the ship hit an iceburg on April 14th, Margaret was thrown from her bed. An experienced traveler, Margaret knew something was wrong when the engines stopped running. She asked a crew member what was wrong, but was assured that everything was fine. Margaret went back to bed, and was awoken later, and told to get her life saver.

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RMMS Titanic
Margaret very practically put on layers and layers of clothing. She grabbed some money, she got her lifesaver and went up on deck. She wasn't too keen on getting in a lifeboat herself, but she helped many other families into the lifeboats. When a crew member realized who she was, he bodily threw her over the side of the Titanic into lifeboat 6.

On the lifeboat, Margaret quickly set to work. The crew member with them was involved steering, and there were only two men on her boat. The air was a balmy 28 degrees Fahrenheit, (-2 degrees Celsius), and the water even colder. Many of the passengers were wearing only their nightclothes, so Margaret stripped off her layers, and passed clothing around. She directed the other women in rowing so that they would stay warm, and avoid being dragged into the wreckage. Margaret spoke four languages, and she put this to good use directing and comforting the women around her.

At 4:30 am Margaret's boat was picked up by the Carpathia. After getting on board, Margaret swiftly set to work fundraising for the people in the third and second classes. Many of the people in those classes were immigrants, just as Margaret's parents had been, and because of the 'women and children first' policy, many of the families had lost their main breadwinner, as well as all the money and goods they had brought with them to start a new life. She was concerned that they would all be refused entry at New York, and so she began asking her fellow first class passengers from the Titanic and the Carpathia for money to help the passengers.

Many of the passengers from first class were reluctant to give money to help the survivors of the wreck. However, using her charm, Margaret wheedled money from some passengers, and strong armed the rest. She posted a list of passengers who had given money, and how much they had given, as well as a list of passengers who hadn't given money in public. Faced with donation or social ruin, all the first class passengers ended up donating money. Before they reached New York, Margaret had raised $10,000.
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Margaret presenting an award to the captain of the Carpathia
Upon arriving in New York, Margaret received a telegram that her grandson was fine. He wasn't dying, he was just lactose intolerant. Reassured that her family was fine, Margaret set about making arrangements for the survivors from the Titanic. She found living arrangements and contacts for all the survivors. She helped document the whereabouts of every survivor, and made sure that no one would be alone in their new country. She continued this work for about a year before she was recalled to Denver.

Margaret's actions in the aftermath of the Titanic made her internationally famous. Salacious gossip newspapers printed that her first words, upon setting foot on the Carpathia were 'Typical Brown luck, I'm unsinkable!'. Newspapers started to call her 'The Unsinkable Mrs. Brown'. Though these comments were meant to sting, Margaret thought they were hilarious. She became a Denver heroine, and in 1914 she was asked to mediate in the Ludlow miner's strike. The miners and their families, having saw her work with the survivors of the Titanic, and the Mexican War called on her for protection, and the Rockerfeller family (owners of the mine) saw her as an ally. Though violence did break out, Margaret managed to the Rockerfeller's to soften. She spoke out for the rights of the miners, and convinced the Rockerfeller family that they would look much better if they paid the miner's fairly.

After her experience on the Titanic, Margaret began spending more and more time back east, specifically in Newport Rhode Island. She became involved with the National Women's Trade Union, which not only advocated for universal suffrage, but for a minimum wage and an eight hour work day. Margaret traveled around the country, and wrote dozens of articles in favor of these causes. Margaret's passion and persistence earned her censure from the press, but she pressed on undeterred by literally anything. In her passion for reform, she once burst into the office of President Calvin Coolidge, dragging an Eastern European woman with her, and lectured the president on the virtues of her causes.

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Margaret at a Suffragette rally
When World War One started in 1914, Margaret was once again running for Colorado Senate. Though she was favored to win, she ended up dropping out of the race because her sister had married a German man. She turned her efforts to helping war torn Europe, first fundraising for ambulances, then driving those ambulances herself on the front lines. After the war ended, Margaret became involved with the efforts to rebuild France, and for her work with this she was awarded the French Legion of Honor.

When J.J. died in 1922 he neglected to leave a will. The Brown family went to war, with Lawrence and Helen taking Margaret to court for possession of the house in Denver, as well as J.J.'s wealth. Unwilling to fight with her family, Margaret moved to New York to pursue a career as an actress. She was quite successful, playing a leading role in L’Aiglon in both New York and Paris. She was a successful actress, and won awards for her work in that roles.

Margaret was getting on a bit. She was 53 when she took to the stage, and she continued to work there for another decade until she died suddenly of a brain tumor in 1932. She wanted to be buried in Denver, but because of the Great Depression she was buried in New York along her husband J.J.

Image result for molly brown tombToday, Margaret's main legacy is as the character of 'Unsinkable Molly Brown', but that isn't who she really was. Her real legacy is much more strong and meaningful. The juvenile court system she helped implement still stands, women have the vote, there is both a minimum wage and an 8 hour work day. In addition to these aforementioned achievements, Margaret is also the reason that having enough lifeboats for all passengers aboard a ship is compulsory. She also lobbied to change maritime law to say that families would be saved together, instead of women and children first. Margaret's house in Denver still stands, and is open as a museum. The animal shelter she helped fund is still open, and to this day she remains one of the great reformers of the turn of the century. Though she became unbelievably wealthy, Margaret never forgot her humble beginnings, and used her wealth and influence to help bring people (especially immigrants), out of poverty.

Sources
Molly Brown Biography
Mrs. Margaret Brown
Meet Molly Brown
Molly Brown
Margaret 'Molly' Brown

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Country Formerly Known as Yugoslavia

Though it came into existence before the start of the Cold War, Yugoslavia was a major communist player on the world stage during the 1900s. Officially and formally dissolving for good in 2006, Yugoslavia managed to last for nearly a century in some form or another.

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Yugoslavia at its height.
Yugoslavia, as a country, had three distinct periods. Pre WWII Yugoslavia, Post WWII Yugoslavia, and Serbia-Montenegro Yugoslavia. However, when people talk about 'the former Yugoslavia', they are usually referring to the second incarnation--Post WWII Yugoslavia.

Today, the region that was once Yugoslavia is now the six¹ independent countries of FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) or Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, and Montenegro. These countries have, ostensibly, very little in common. A mix of Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Muslims, Yugoslavia wasn't even composed of a singular ethnic group--a fact that led to great tension during its (relatively) short time as a country.

The greatest unifying factor of the nations that became Yugoslavia was the fact that they were 1) Southern Slavic peoples² and 2) part of someone else's empire for hundreds of years. For years Serbia³, Macedonia⁴, and Montenegro were a part of the vast Ottoman Empire, and Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina,and Slovenia were a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Though both Serbia and Montenegro had gained their independence at the time of WWI, the memories of former oppression was still strong.

It was these memories of oppression that ultimately brought these Southern Slav people together. Yugoslavian intellectuals believed that the only way to retain their freedoms and ethnic identities was to band together and protect each other from everyone else. In order to realize this idea the 'Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes' was created in 1918.

This first reincarnation of Yugoslavia went about as well as could be expected. Multiple ethnic groups with their own interests unified only by a general shared ancestry couldn't really be expected to get along well. Throw in a large minority of Albanians who really didn't want to be there, and you have a recipe for disaster. The young state was plagued with infighting and violence until it was invaded by Third Reich Germany in 1941.

As in most cases, when faced with a common enemy, the Yugoslavs managed to band together, and take out the Germans. By the end of WWII Yugoslavia was ready to go again, this time as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
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Josip Broz Tito, Leader of Yugoslavia from 1946-1980
In 1946 Josip Broz Tito, the Croat leader of the Yugoslav army, liberated Yugoslavia from Germany, and was installed as president. Tito was a great admirer of Stalin, and wanted to create a communist state in Yugoslavia. Basing his system on the same system used in the USSR, Tito formed a centralized government, with all six member countries having an equal say in governing. However, many constitutional changes led Yugoslavia to become a loose confederation of states largely run by independent companies working on the government's behalf.

This wasn't very communist, and Stalin didn't care for it. However, Tito, who had been declared president for life, didn't really care what Stalin thought, and divorced himself and Yugoslavia from the USSR. Though a communist country, Yugoslavia allowed tourism to, and from, the west. They experienced a post war economic boom, and the north and west of Yugoslavia did very well financially.

However, Yugoslav prosperity was built on a series of loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other countries. Following Tito's death in 1980, leadership of Yugoslavia was delegated to a rotating set of representatives from each country, and the IMF demanded a restructuring of the Yugoslavian economic system. That, in addition to internal violence, lead Slovenia to declare independence in 1991.

Following Slovenia's departure, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia were close behind. Only Serbia and Montenegro remained, and they banded together to become the third Yugoslavia.

However, the third Yugoslavia, now just known as Serbia and Montenegro, wasn't to last long either, in 2006 the union disbanded, breaking up Yugoslavia for good.

There's many reasons why Yugoslavia is no longer on the map, but the major reason is the lack of a stable leadership system. Josip Tito was president for nearly 40 years, and it was his leadership that largely kept Yugoslavia together. Lack of a workable system for deciding executive leadership after his death is what lead to the breakdown of the Yugoslav economy and unity.

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Yugoslavia flag
Though seemingly innocuous, Yugoslavia played a major part in the Cold War. Tito was the first communist leader to defy Stalin, and his refusal to bow to the USSR or the US made Yugoslavia the first non-aligned state. As a non-aligned state, Yugoslavia was able to concentrate on its own interests instead of playing the communist vs. capitalist game for the last half of the 20th century.




¹Seven if you consider Kosovo to be its own country
²'Yugoslavia' means 'Land of the Southern Slavs'
³Serbia was actually part of both the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires at one point in their history. Additionally, Serbia gained its independence from the Ottomans in 1878. Serbia then spent the next three decades being a major trouble maker on the Austro-Hungarian border until a Serbian shot Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, starting WWI
⁴There is quite a bit of controversy between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia concerning the name 'Macedonia', and the FYROM right to use it. However, for simplicity's sake, FYROM will be referred to simply as 'Macedonia' in this article

Sources
Yugoslavia-Encyclopedia Britannica
The Breakup of Yugoslavia: 1990-1992
Yugoslavia: 1918-2003
What is the Former Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia-Holocaust Encyclopedia