Thursday, June 28, 2018

Damn, Girl-Sisi of Austria-Hungary

Known to her family as 'Sisi', Elisabeth, Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, remains one of the most Romantic (the capital R is on purpose) and tragic queens in history. Married to her cousin at only age sixteen, Elisabeth was thrust into a life of strict etiquette and heavy media scrutiny. Deeply unhappy, she wandered Europe for more than three decades searching for peace.

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Elisabeth on her wedding day.
Elisabeth was the fourth child of Duke Maximilian in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria. Ludovika and Maximilian were cousins, and were almost constantly at loggerheads with each other. Maximilian was something of a free spirit--preferring to roam Bavaria disguised as a commoner, playing the zither in taverns for public amusement. Maximilian also had several affairs, and had a distinct distaste for life in Possenhofen--the castle where Elisabeth and her siblings grew up. Though Maximilian seemed to have dislike Possenhofen, he didn't dislike his children. He would frequently take them on long nature expeditions, lasting weeks at a time. Due to this, and her mother's disbelief in an extensive education, Elisabeth's education was fairly unsettled, and she did not have the  education she would later need to rule.

From all accounts, Elisabeth's childhood at Possenhofen was idyllic. She played with her siblings, avoided her lessons, wrote poetry, and rode horses. However, all of that changed in 1853 when Elisabeth was 15.

Western Europe at the time contained many more countries than it currently does. At the final dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Empire split in 360 smaller states. Many of those states banded together to form the German Federation in 1815. The German Federation was a loose collection of states presided over by the Austrian Emperor. Elisabeth was born into Bavaria--the third biggest of these German Federation states, and the direct neighbor of the much larger Archduchy of Austria.¹

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Europe 1854, note the closeness of Bavarian and the
Austrian Empire
The archduke of Austria, Franz Joseph, was single, not opposed to mingling, and was the most eligible bachelor in Europe. Princess Ludovika was Franz Joseph's aunt, and she, along with Archduchess Sophie, Franz Joseph's mother, hatched a plan to marry Franz Joseph to Elisabeth's older sister, Helene. When Ludovika took Helene to meet the emperor, she had Elisabeth accompany them, presumably so she could set Elisabeth up with an equally enticing gentleman.

The plan was perfect--one trip, two marriages. However, Ludovika and Sophie didn't take Franz Joseph's feelings into mind. In a rare occurrence of love (or lust, if you're feeling cynical) at first sight, Franz Joseph informed his mother that he would not be marrying Helene, but that he would be marrying Elisabeth, and that was that. He proposed to Elisabeth after only a week.

Elisabeth, of course, accepted, and the couple announced their engagement on August 19, 1853. The fact that Franz Joseph was 23 to Elisabeth's 15, and that the couple were cousins doesn't seem to have mattered much to the parties involved. Franz Joseph loved Elisabeth, and one didn't tell the emperor no. It is, however, difficult to ascertain the depths of Elisabeth's feelings for Franz Joseph. Any hesitations she may have had aside, the couple was married in the April of the next year.

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Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna. 
Adjustment to the Imperial Court at Hofburg was difficult for Elisabeth. Etiquette was draconian, recalling the strict rules in place at Versailles. Particularly the rules about dressing irked Elisabeth. Court etiquette stated that the Empress could wear a pair of shoes only once before giving them to a lady in waiting. Gloves had to always be worn. There was a strict system of precedence, and a great deal of activities Elisabeth had previously enjoyed were deemed 'unseemly'. Elisabeth crossed swords with her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie over this more than once, particularly after the birth of Elisabeth's children.

In the view of the archduchess, Elisabeth's role was to provide heirs and look pretty, nothing more. This rankled Elisabeth, who had some interest in governing, particularly with the Hungarian part of the empire. However, Elisabeth's distaste for etiquette, and reticence at public gathering pushed her to the fringes of power, and isolated her at court.

This isolation, combined with a lack of freedom made Elisabeth deeply unhappy. Furthering her unhappiness was the fact that upon their births her first three children were taken away from her, and she was allowed little contact with them. She and Franz Joseph had three children in the first four years of their marriage, with two surviving to adulthood. These children--two daughters and a son--were raised by a staff of servants and the archduchess Sophie.

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Probably the most famous of Elisabeth's
portraits, this dress was later the inspiration
for the 'Think of Me' dress in the 2004
'Phantom of the Opera' movie.
Elisabeth was a private person with a distaste for crowds and invasions of her privacy. Unfortunately for her, Elisabeth lived at a time when more people in Europe were literate than ever before, and European press was becoming a bigger and bigger industry. Royal reporting became the newest craze, with presses constantly cranking out articles and pamphlets about what Elisabeth ate, wore, and did.  (and who she allegedly did) This only increased Elisabeth's feelings that she was in a sort of gilded cage, and imprisoned. Though she was much beloved by the masses, and she was welcomed everywhere she went, Elisabeth believed that she was viewed as a curiosity, once comparing herself to a dancing monkey.

Despite her distaste for it, Elisabeth discharged her duties as empress with great aplomb. She was, as mentioned, much loved by her people, and with good reason. She was known for personally interacting with her subjects, and taking time to speak with the people in front of her. She frequently would visit hospitals, a lady in waiting in tow, and would hold the hands of and converse with the patients.²

What Elisabeth is best known for, of course, is her legendary beauty. With wide dark eyes, and eighteen inch waist, and ankle length hair, Elisabeth was considered one of the most beautiful women of the era. Numerous paintings and sculptures were done of her, with, according to her husband, only a few coming close to actually capturing her good looks.

Elisabeth spent hours on her beauty routine. She would spend hours exercising, applying various compresses and ointments, and spent three hours having her hair done each day. While having her hair done, Elisabeth studied, learning Greek, Latin, and Hungarian.

As might be expected from a couple with an eight year age difference, who'd known each other a week before making a lifetime commitment, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph's marriage was less than congenial. Franz Joseph viewed Elisabeth's dislike for public duty as childish, and Elisabeth found Franz Joseph dull and humorless. Both had numerous extra-marital affairs.

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A portrait of Elisabeth featuring her
famous hair.
Though she was a beautiful woman, Elisabeth was not a healthy woman. She suffered from depression, and exhibited all the signs of what we now recognize as anorexia. She ate little, at times only living off raw milk and oranges. She exercised obsessively, spending hours in a gym she'd had specially set up for her. She had a morbid fascination with death, and frequently remarked that insane people were the only ones who made sense. Her depression combined with her eating disorder took a great toll on Elisabeth, and unsurprisingly in 1862, Elisabeth had a nervous breakdown.

After her nervous breakdown, Elisabeth began to travel extensively, often spending more time outside of Austria than in it. She took long cruises on the royal yacht, sailing around the Mediterranean and western Africa. Elisabeth tried to keep a low profile while traveling. She wasn't making or receiving state visits, she was traveling for herself, often under an assumed name or auxiliary title. She eventually purchased land on the island of Corfu, and began to build a castle there.

In 1866 Elisabeth returned to her husband, and began putting pressure on him to treat with the Hungarians to make them an equal part of the country. Elisabeth was successful, and in 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Compromise was passed, granting Hungary equal status with Austria, and allowing them a greater degree of sovereignty. It is unknown exactly how much Elisabeth had to do with the passing of the compromise, but it is known that following the compromise Franz Joseph forbade her from interfering in politics ever again. Franz Joseph couldn't have been too angry, however, because the couple's fourth child was born in 1868.

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Elisabeth at her coronation as Queen of Hungary
For some time Elisabeth's life was more or less uneventful. She was allowed to raise her last child, Marie Valerie, and they were quite close, Elisabeth taking her daughter with her on her travels. Though she and Franz Joseph didn't stay reconciled, the couple seemed to have been on amiable terms. And in 1890 Elisabeth was able to persuade Franz Joseph to allow Marie Valerie to marry the archduke of Austria-Tuscany, a man Marie loved despite his lack of dynastic connections.

While ostensibly a happy occasion, the engagement of Marie Valerie to her archduke dug up some bad feelings in the family. Crown Prince Rudolf, Elisabeth's third child, and heir to the throne, had been pressured into marrying a Belgian princess nearly a decade earlier, and seeing his younger sister get to marry for love rankled him. On January 30, 1889 he was found dead in a hunting lodge along with his mistress, having apparently shot her then himself.

Elisabeth went into deep mourning after the death of her son. She gave away her jewels, and dressed in black for the rest of her life, much in the same way Queen Victoria had been doing since 1861. She wandered Europe listlessly and without purpose.

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This is the last photograph of Elisabeth, taken
shortly before she died.
In 1898 Elisabeth found herself in Geneva, Switzerland. She was there visiting a friend when on September 10 she was stabbed by anarchist Luigi Lucheni³ in front of a hotel. Luigi had stabbed Elisabeth with a small file, and Elisabeth had initially thought that he'd punched her until one of her ladies noticed the blood on her dress. Though they called for a doctor, Elisabeth soon died.

Today Elisabeth is remembered as a romantic figure--the beautiful empress who never wanted to be empress. Though her story was undeniably tragic, it must be remembered that she could wield great power when she wanted to. Her actions in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise contributed a great deal to Hungary's later independence from the empire. Given her huge impact with just one issue, it is easy to imagine just what she might have done had she been allowed to properly rule.



¹It is worth noting that while Austria may have been classified as an Archduchy in the context of the German Federation, it retained its status of an Empire due to it's possession of the Kingdom of Hungary and associated territories.
²This, along with many other parts of Elisabeth's life have led to many comparisons between her and  Princess Diana.
³Luigi Lucheni didn't have anything against Elisabeth personally, he just hated the ruling class. He hadn't even come to Geneva for Elisabeth, he'd come to assassinate Prince Henri of OrlĂ©ans. However, Prince Henri had canceled his visit at the last minute, and Luigi, not wanting to waste the trip, decided to assassinate Elisabeth instead.

Sources
"The Anorectic Empress: Elisabeth of Austria." by W. Vandereycken and T. Abatzi
Elisabeth, Empress Consort of Austria
The Tragic Austrian Empress Who Was Murdered By Anarchists
Sisi Museum
Empress Sisi
Elisabeth, Empress of Austria

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Harvey Milk

Along with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk is one of the most iconic and influential American LGBT leaders. Politically active from 1973-1978, Milk was one of the first openly gay political leaders, and pushed for both political and community reforms in San Francisco and California.

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Harvey Milk
Milk was born May 22, 1930 to Minerva and William Milk in Woodmere, New York. Though he knew he was gay from a young age, he stayed quiet about it until adulthood. He was a popular, well liked athlete in high school, and participated in school operas.

Harvey attended New York State College for Teachers, graduating in 1951, and moving on to attend Officer Candidate School after enlisting in the US Navy. He was subsequently stationed in San Diego, serving as a diving instructor on the U.S.S. Kittiwake. He achieved the rank of junior lieutenant before his discharge in 1955.

There is some debate about the nature of Milk's discharge. Milk stated that he was dishonorably discharged after being questioned about his sexuality, but the U.S. Navy records reflect that Milk was honorably discharged. It is difficult to ascertain which party is telling the truth, as both parties have a reasonable reason to lie--Milk to give depth to his political agenda, the Navy to avoid the embarrassment of having mistreated a man who would later become an international hero. It is worth noting, however, that Milk's discharge was during the height of the Lavender Scare, which gives credence to his story.

After leaving the military Milk worked as a high school teacher for a few years before going to work as a financial analyst. Milk enjoyed a stable career in finance until 1970 when he left to become a production assistant for Broadway musicals. Milk's credits include Jesus Christ Superstar, and Hair.


Milk in front of Castro Camera, 1973
In 1972 Harvey moved to San Francisco with his lover, and opened a camera shop in the Castro district, and area of San Francisco known for it's LGBT population and liberal politics.

Milk soon became a staple of Castro political life. His store--Castro Camera--was a gathering place for LGBT people. In 1973, shortly after moving to the Castro Milk declared his candidacy for City Supervisor, spurred on by a heavy tax on small businesses and the Watergate Scandal. Though he lost the campaign he gained recognition as a popular politician, and began to gather more political support.

Supporting small businesses as well as LGBT rights would become a focus of Milk's for the next few years. In 1974 he founded the Castro Street Fair--an event devoted to bringing commercial activity to the Castro. He worked with local businesses to revitalize the Castro Village Association, and convinced local bars to stop selling certain brands of beer during a Teamster's Strike, in exchange for the teamsters hiring more gay and lesbian drivers.

Milk ran again and lost in 1975. By this time he was the leader of the Castro gay community, fondly known as 'The Mayor of Castro Street'. His civic activities brought him to the notice of mayor George Moscone, who appointed him to the city permit's appeals board. Harvey served in this position for a few weeks before leaving to run for California State Assembly, a race he would end up losing.

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The Castro lies in the heart of San Francisco
Realizing that he needed to rely on his voter base in the Castro, Milk worked with Anne Kronenberg, and George Moscone to revise the city laws so that supervisors would be elected by the people in their specific district, rather than the city as a whole. The passing of this amendment meant that when Harvey ran for city supervisor again in 1977, he won easily.

Harvey's election was met with joy from liberals, and angry grumbles from conservatives. Once in office, Milk proved a dedication to serving all the minority groups of San Francisco, not just the LGBT community. He established free daycare services for working mothers, and had abandoned military facilities converted into low cost housing. He reformed the tax code to benefit small businesses, and worked on measures protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.

Though he was universally loved in the Castro, and generally admired across the United States, Milk received death threats almost daily. Unfortunately on November 27, 1978, Dan White--a former colleague of Harvey's--carried through on that threat, assassinating both Milk and Mayor Mascone.

Today, Milk is remembered as a legendary activist, and a great politician. Though he was only in office for a short time, he was able to pass a great deal of reforms which still benefit the people of California today.

On a wider scale, Milk is an inspiration for LGBT people around the world. His belief that homosexuals needed to come out of the closet to fight for greater rights and understanding has inspired LGBT people around the world to speak out, and follow in his example.

Sources
Harvey Milk-Activist (1930-1978)
Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk, American Politician and Activist
Harvey Milk Biography
The Official Harvey Milk Biography

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Good Game

If your ideal career involves breaking and entering, eating free food, and judging the state of other people's housekeeping, you might have a future in witchcraft--if you lived in medieval Europe that is.

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Cathedral in Milan
In the early 1380s Sibilla and Pierina, two women living in Milan were brought up on charges of witchcraft. They were accused of the usual witch malarkey--eating babies, bumping uglies with the devil, baptizing wax figures. However, the 'crimes' that they confessed to are far more interesting than any sort of heresy.

Sibilla and Pierina both claimed to be members of 'The Good Game', or the dominae nocturnae. This game was a group of ladies who met with the fairy court in the night. They sang, danced, partied, then left to roam the countryside. While roaming, they would enter houses, many of which would have a full meal and a mirror on the table to satisfy their nocturnal visitors. Should the meal be satisfactory, and should the house be tidy and upkept to the ladies standards, they would place a blessing of prosperity on the home.

The witchcraft tradition of medieval Europe is filled with pagan practice, and merged with tales of faeries, ghosts, and demons to the point that It's difficult to ascertain what the medieval witch's actual craft was, and what is pure myth. It is difficult to ascertain if the dominae nocturnae was an actual society (or gathering) of women, or just a corruption of a fairy story.

Unfotunately, Sibilla and Pierina were both taken seriously by the courts of their time. They were both burned to death in 1390.

Sources
The Mythology of Witchcraft
Night Witches and Good Ladies

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Damn, Girl-Jeanne de Clisson, Bloody Lioness of Brittany

Shrouded in mythology, Jeanne de Clisson was one of the bloodiest privateers of the 14th century. Born a wealthy lady of high rank, Jeanne took to the seas against the French after the execution of her much loved second husband Olivier. She proceeded to harry French ships--militaristic and merchant--on behalf of the English crown for 13 years before settling down into another happy marriage.

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Modern picture of Jeanne done in
the artistic style of the time. It is
unknown exactly what Jeanne
looked like.
Born Jeanne de Belleville, Jeanne was born in 1300, and married wealthy land owner Geoffrey de Chateaubriant at the age of 12. Very little is known about Jeanne's first marriage, but she did have two children with Geoffrey--a son and a daughter. The son would inherit the Chateaubriant estate after Geoffrey's death in 1326, and the daughter would later inherit the de Belleville estate, as Jeanne had no living brothers.

Jeanne married again in 1330, this time to Olivier de Clisson, a widower and great friend of Charles de Blois. Though neither left a diary saying 'I <3 Jeanne/Olivier', tradition holds that their marriage was a love match. They would have five children together and live happily for 13 years.

The political situation of the time was more than tense. France and England were having at it (when were they not?), this time over Brittany, a northern Duchy in what is now France. At the time, the English still had extensive holdings in modern France, inherited from Eleanor of Aquitaine. The English, however, were having difficulties holding onto those territories, and had been at war with France off and on for several hundred years.

At Jeanne's time, England and France were involved in what would come to be called the Hundred Year's War, the same war which Jeanne d'Arc would fight and die in. (Remember, this is the HUNDRED Years war.) The war was over possession of Brittany, the territory in which Jeanne lived. Formerly an independent Celtic state, Brittany had become an independent Duchy. It was technically beholden to no other country, but had the misfortune to be surrounded by two major powers who were constantly trying to take it over. Brittany managed to hold strong until 1341 when Duke John of Brittany died without a direct heir.

The duke's death left two potential heirs to the Duchy, one backed by the French, another backed by the English. As was usual with such land disputes, France and England merrily began another war, hacking away at each other's populations and infrastructures mercilessly. Olivier, as a friend of Charles de Blois, the French candidate for the Duchy, was called away to command in the war, being posted at a fort in Vannes.

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Olivier kneels on the scaffold, awaiting his death. He is
surrounded by the corpses of other noblemen executed
for treason.
During the siege of Vannes Olivier was taken captive by the English. He was later released in a prisoner exchange, but his friend Charles de Blois was suspicious. Charles suspected that the English had had French help when they took Vannes, and he suspected Olivier. He condemned Olivier for treason, and had him executed without trial in August of 1343. Olivier's head was sent to Nantes, and placed on a spike above the city.

Jeanne was, understandably, distraught.She took her sons to see their father's decapitated head, and told them that he had been murdered by Charles de Blois. Shortly after, she sold all of her land, and gathered a force of men loyal to her and Olivier's memory. With her men she set off on a revenge mission that would last nearly two decades.

First stop on the revenge tour was the castle of Galois de la Heuse. Galois was a supporter of Charles de Blois, and had been friendly with Jeanne's husband. Why Jeanne chose Galois' home for her first scene of revenge is uncertain, but what is known is that Galois never saw it coming. He opened the gates to let Jeanne in, and was, presumably, quite surprised to soon find himself and most of the people who lived there slaughtered. Jeanne's force left a few survivors to spread the news, then took to the seas where they could make the most impact.

With money from the sales of her lands, Jeanne purchased three ships. They were painted black, and outfitted with red sails. The sight of those ships struck fear into the hearts of many a sailor when Jeanne and her crew overtook unsuspecting French ships in the mist on the English Channel. Those ominous ships meant almost certain death to almost everyone on board the captured vessel. Jeanne only spared one or two members of each crew so there would be a survivor to carry tales of her exploits.

Noble status didn't protect seafarers from Jeanne's crew. Jeanne had a particular hatred for members of the nobility, and legend had it that she would behead noblemen herself. This, combined with her general modus operandi, earned her the ephitet 'Bloody Lioness of Brittany'.

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Brittany on a map of modern France. 
Jeanne wasn't a simple pirate motivated by self interest. She was a privateer. She colluded with the English crown to provide supplies to their troops in France, and to destroy French ships. She received ships and men from the English government, and became an integral part of English naval strategy.

In 1356 Jeanne quit the murder on the high seas business, and married again, this time to Englishman Walter Bentley. Once again, all signs point to this marriage being a love match. The pair moved to a castle near the coast of Brittany, and lived peacefully. Jeanne died quietly in 1359.

Today Jeanne is all but forgotten, and the few stories we have about her are romanticized with myth and legend. It is difficult to say which parts of her life are true and which are fiction, but what few concrete records we have of her paint a vivid picture of a strong woman unafraid to get her hands dirty (or, you know, murder someone.)

Sources
Jeanne de Clisson
The Lioness of Brittany
Jeanne de Clisson, the Bloody Lioness of Brittany


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Indus Valley Civilization-The Secrets of Two Cities

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Called 'The Priest King' this iconic
Harappan statue was found in
Mohenjo Daro
Existing several hundred years after the Varna Culture, and home of one of the worlds first major urban center, the Indus River Valley Civilization, or Harappa Civilization, was almost forgotten to history until the early 20th century. Contemporaries with Egypt and Sumer, the Harappa civilization has some of the earliest and finest examples of urban planning, writing, and a standardized system of weights and measures. Unlike their neighbors, they didn't pursue conquest, or build large monuments. This, along with the fact that scholars have yet to decipher the Harappa system of writing means that unfortunately very little is known about this great civilization.

Harappa was rediscovered (by a white person) in 1826 CE by British Army deserter, James Lewis. Lewis was wandering the Punjab region of the then British India in search of ancient artifacts, and, presumably, in avoidance or people who would take him back to the army. At the time Lewis, and the archaeologists who later followed him, assumed that the city dated to around the era of Alexander the Great. However, later discoveries of artistic seals identical to ones found in Sumer would prove that the Harappa civilization is much, much older.

Beginning somewhere around 2500 BCE, and ending about a millennium later, the mysterious Harappa Civilization left little behind except their enigmatic cities. Because the Harappan script has yet to be deciphered, information on the Harappans has to be gleaned from the remains of their cities.

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Ruins at Harappa
There are two major sites associated with the Harappa civilization--Mohenjo Daro in Sindh Pakistan, and Harappa itself, in Sahiwal. These cities are laid out in similar fashions, and artifacts found have confirmed that these two cities were most likely part of the same civilization, if not quite the same country. It is widely speculated that, much like in Greece, Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were each sovereign city states participating in a wider culture. There is clear evidence of communication between the two, and it seems likely that they shared common laws and customs. Many archaeologists speculate that, of the two, Mohenjo Daro was the 'capital city', but this is, as of now, conjecture.

Harappan cities are laid out on a grid system, with streets aligning with the cardinal directions (north, east, south, west.) These streets were paved, and there were separate residential and commercial streets. In addition to planned streets, there was also a general sewer system, which was connected with every home.  In general, most houses had latrines and a bathing facility. Additionally, houses were located nearly public wells and fountains so that citizens had access to fresh water.

An interesting feature of Harappan cities is the uniformity of their building materials. Buildings were made of mud bricks covered in plaster. Brick size seems to have been standardized across the Harappan civilization, as bricks in Mohenjo Daro are the same size as the bricks in Harappa, and all bricks in the city are the same size.  Additionally, the durability of these bricks have led to them being constantly reused in new building projects. At the time of Harappa's rediscovery most of the bricks had been stripped away from the city to build the Lahore Railroad. It is a testement to the Harappans' skill that over 100 miles (161 kilometers) of railroad was paved using those bricks.

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The 'Great Bath' in Mohenjo Daro. Though little is known
about Harappan religion, it is speculated that bathing was
an important religious ritual.
Based on archaeological findings, the Harappa Civilization seems to have been a somewhat egalitarian society. Residences, by and large, contain the same levels of luxary, and there is no indication of any sort of monarchy. It is speculated that the Harappans were governed by elected rulers.

The disappearance of the Harappa Civilization as traditionally been attributed to an invasion from Aryan peoples. (No, not those aryans). For many years it was believed that the Aryans had wiped out the Harappa Civilization when they conquered India. However, recent discoveries have called this theory into question. The lack of evidence of mass slaughter, and the genetic continuity between remains from Harappans and the modern people of Punjab and Sindh suggest that the Aryans may have arrived after the Harrapans had left. It is now hypothesized that shifting climate and overcrowding caused the Harrapans to leave their cities, and disperse to other settlements in the region, abandoning Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. This theory is hardly satisfactory, and undoubtedly continuing research will see this theory modified within the next decade.

Sources
Indus Valley Civilization
Indus River Valley Civilizations
Indus Civilization
Early Civilization in the Indus Valley
The Ancient Indus Civilization
Harappa: An Overview of Harappan Architecture and Town Planning
Harappa
The Harappan Civilization
The Lost City of Mohenjo Daro
Mohenjo Daro
Mohenjo Daro and Harappa