Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hidden Gold, Lost Cities, Endless Quest-El Dorado.

For centuries the lure of vast treasures, lost civilizations and cities of gold hidden in the wilds of the New World have fevered the minds of explorers and adventurers, congealing in the magic term-El Dorado.  El Dorado ("the gilded one"), untold riches hidden from the greedy clutches of the Europeans by Ancient civilizations long lost to the knowledge of the rest of the World. Thousands have searched and died in failed attempts to find El Dorado.   One time it was the "Seven Cities of Gold" in the South West, others involved hidden Inca cities in Peru or the fabulous wealth of Queen Calafia and her female warrior empire.  The Jungles of the Amazon basin (also thought to be the home the the ferocious female warriors)  were a favorite destination for countless expeditions.
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Yet, no matter how many searched or the lives lost, none have come back with the treasure of El Dorado.  The lure remains, the search continues the explorer travels on and on until

" his strength                            "Over the Mountains
Failed him at length,                          Of the Moon,
He met a pilgrim shadow-                Down the Valley of the Shadow,
"Shadow," said he,                           Ride, boldly ride,"
"Where can it be--                            The shade replied--
This land of Eldorado?"                   "If you seek for Eldorado!"

From Eldorado  by Edgar Allen Poe 1849

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Conquistador's-Warriors for Glory, God and Gold

From the 15th to 17 centuries a class of warriors roamed the globe searching for glory, wealth, the wish to spread the Catholic faith and new worlds to conquer for the Empires of Spain and Portugal-the Conquistadors. These warriors for glory, God and gold, believed they were spreading civilization and the True Faith to the barbarian pagans they conquered.

Armed with the latest weapons and armor yet developed in Europe and battle tested in both the Old and New Worlds, the conquistadors were a potent force in the capture of new colonies and destruction of numerous native cultures.
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 Across three continents, the conquistadors helped to spread the Roman Catholic faith as their armies always contained missionaries as well as warriors. (Note the image of the Virgin and Child on the flag and the soldiers in prayer in the background.)
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By the end of the 17th century the Spanish and Portuguese Empires were on every known inhabited continent.  Most of the New World was in the control of these two imperial titans, as was the vast natural wealth of these land.  Other European countries were quick to follow the example of the conquistadors, and soon most of the New World was claimed as colonies by the powers of the Old World.  The wealth they took would flow for centuries into the coffers of the Europeans further enriching their nations and encouraging yet more colonial expansion.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Columns-Keys to Grand Government Buildings

The Greeks designed three classic forms of columns for their largest buildings.  These were easily identified by the designs on their capitals (the top part upon which the weight of the roof rests).  These were the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles.

Doric Column is the simplest design with little or no embellishment on the capital.  The colums were also wider at the bottom and most often is without a elaborate base, resting directly on the support floor.

Ionic Columns have the distinct scroll design, or volute as the Greek would call it, at the capital.

The Corinthian Column is the most elaborate of the three.  Classic Corinthian columns are slender, usually fluted (vertically grooved), decorated with a capital of leaves (most often the acanthus) and scrolls.

The Hoplite

Well trained and armed with a short sword and eight foot long thrusting spear as well as armored with bronze helmet, shield, greaves and a cuirass of bronze, linen or leather, the hoplite was the ultimate Greek warrior from the 5th to 4th centuries BCE.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Privateer

Privateers were privately owned ships that were equipped and crewed at private expense but were given official government licence to attack, raid and harass the enemies of said government in time of war. Privateers were de-facto legal pirates that were supposed to be treated a legitimate combatants if captured.File:Lettre-de-marque2.png
Privateers achieved their authority through the "Letter of Marque." The letter of Marque was a government commission and permission to a private citizen to build their own warships. The use these warships was to gain "prizes" (captured enemy ships and their cargo) that would be sold in friendly ports.  The government received up to twenty-five percent of the profit gained by the privateer from these auctions.  This greatly added to the number of ships available to wage war upon an enemy for virtually no cost to the government.
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The most famous privateer was Sir Francis Drake, sailing the Golden Hind, he became the first Englishman to sail around the globe (1577-79).  In his attacks upon Spanish shipping on that voyage he brought home a treasure reported to be worth more than the entire yearly expenditures of the English Government (the capture of the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción  alone netted more than 15 million dollars in today's money in gold, silver and jewels). His backers earned a 4700% return on the money they invested in his ships and crew for this epic voyage. He so angered the Spanish through his successful raids that they offered a 20,000 ducat reward for his capture (over 7 million dollars). It was never collected.
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Merchant ships were large, slow targets for the smaller and faster privateers who preferred to capture rather than destroy these valuable targets.  The lure of easy pickings brought many a privateer to sea during major conflicts (more than 1200 Letters of Marque were issued by the Americans during the Revolution alone).
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Privateers tried to avoid battle with warships as the latter were usually better armed and carried little cargo of value. But occasionally the warships caught up with the privateers as in this action between the American Chasseur vs HMS St. Lawrence in the War of 1812.  The American won, an unusual occurrence for privateers.
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Privateers came in all sizes, brigs and sloops were the most common but they could be small as this Confederate privateer during the American Civil War demonstrates.  The American Civil War was the last major action by privateers, the Industrial Revolution, improvement's in Naval technology and communications reduced the need and increased the risk to the point that privateering was no longer profitable.  Future wars would see more deadly ships and subsurface vessels whose goal would be to destroy, not capture enemy commerce.  The age of legal piracy was over.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Aztec Warrior

From the common conscript soldier to the elite "knights" of the Jaguar and Eagle Warriors, the Aztec Army was a brave confident force that had only known victory for over a century of conflicts-until the arrival of the Spanish in 1519.
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This Jaguar Warrior clearly illustrates the two pieces of equipment most commonly used by Aztec warriors, the small shield and the stone edged wooden Maquahuitl sword.
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Commanders with standards from the Codex Mendoza. Note the elaborate costumes, use of feathers and the razor sharp stone tipped tepoztopilli spears (usually five and an half feet long) of the officers.
File:Codex Mendoza folio 65r.jpgRanks awarded for captured prisoners and imperial officers, Codex Mendoza.
The capture of prisoners was one of the main goals of Central American Pre-Colombian wars. Those who were most successful quickly rose in rank and privileges within the army and society. Here in the codex are listed the stages of honors given to a warrior for the increasing numbers of prisoners captured. Note the sixth honor is entry into the elite Jaguar Warrior Class. The Lower eight figures are officers of the empire. The rank is delineated by the ever more elaborate feathers and costume design of the officers.
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Warriors armed with the Maquahuitl (obsidian sword) and shield, note the eagle warrior in the lead, from the Florentine Codex.
Ranged weapons were varied and included :
The atlatl,a spear thrower that allowed longer range than a basic hand thrown spear.
The tlahuitolli, bow, ranged from light weight with short range weapons to some heavy weight that reportedly had a range of several hundred yards. All bows fired the mitl-stone tipped arrow.
The tematlatl was a sling made from maguey fiber. This was the ranged weapon most feared by the Spanish as it was often aimed at the unprotected face with deadly accuracy.
In addition to the maquahuitl and tepoztopilli, Aztec soldiers had access to a variety of additional wood and stone hand weapons.
The huitzauhqui was a club/mace sometimes with obsidian blades. These were about the size of a modern baseball bat but could be up to twice this size when yielded by a very strong warrior.
The tecpatl was a double bladed dagger with a nine inch length, excellent for close in fighting.
A weakness of all Aztec weapons was their stone and wood construction. The former dulled or chipped readily and the latter was no match against steel blades.
Protective gear/armor of the Aztecs was very minimal. It was designed to be light and give a limited protection against the stone tipped weapons of the Aztecs traditional Central American enemies. This equipment was basically made of two items the Chimalli and the Ichcahuipilli.

The Chimalli were small round shields made of wood or woven cane stalks often covered with cloth or feathers. The could be elaborately decorated for warriors of importance.

The Ichcahuipilli was a form of quilted cotton armor and inch or two thick. This padding was normally worn over the chest and back with the arms and legs unprotected. This gave such good protection against Indian stone tipped arrows that many Spanish soldiers would adopt this armor and continue to wear this style of protection when facing Indians well into the 18th century.
Eagle and Jaguar Warriors from the Codex Mendoza.

The tlahuiztli were the distinctive costume suits worn by the elite warrior classes. These usually covered the entire body including the head which often was covered in a form of helmet. These suits give a limited additional armor covering-especially if the costume included leather animal skins.
While adequate against their traditional enemies, the protective gear of the Aztec warriors was virtually useless against the steel weapons, iron tipped crossbow bolts, musket and cannon balls of the Spanish.
Aztec weapons could and did maim and kill their enemies who were similarly armed and protected. But in most conflicts capture of enemies was much preferred over killing them-dead men could not be sacrificed to the gods. So it is not surprising that the majority of Aztec weapons could be readily used to stun an opponent to ease in his capture. This tactical choice and the limited strength of Aztec weapons and armor, would prove a great hindrance to their army when they met the modern armed forces of the Spanish.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gods of Olympus-and Earth

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Zeus, rule of the sky, Supreme Leader of the gods. Married to his sister Hera, with her he fathered Ares, Hephaestus, Hebe (goddess of youth), and Eileithyia (goddess of childbirth/children). With other women he also fathered Athena, Persephone, Artemis, Apollo, Hermes, Dionysus (some myths mention he was also the father of Aphrodite) and numerous demi-gods (Herakles being the most powerful and famous).
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Hera, older sister and jealous wife of Zeus, goddess of marriage, family, hearth and home. Known to punish the many children of Zeus by other women, especially Herakles.

Ares god of war and battle lust. He enjoyed battle but was a wimp about personal pain. The queens of the Amazons, Eros, Romulus and Remus were his greatest children.

Athena patron of Athens, goddess of wisdom, crafts and warfare. She is the protectress of agriculture, created the olive tree and invented the plow for the benefit of the Greeks.
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Apollo the sun god and patron of music and poetry. Patron of the Oracle of Delphi, the most famous and important of the centers of prophecy. When angered he could bring plague upon those who faced his wrath.

Artemis the virgin huntress, goddess of the hunt, wilderness, moon and childbirth. Sister to Apollo. She was of special importance to the Spartan's who would not go to war without favorable signs from her.
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Aphrodite, the most beautiful of the god's, goddess of love, beauty and desire. Wife of Hephaestus but has her son Eros with Ares.
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Dionysus, the forever youthful god of Wine, Parties, Joy,Theater and Peace. One of the most popular of the gods.

Hades, older brother of Zeus, ruler of the Underworld realm of the dead. Also know as the "Lord of Riches" as he was the god of the hidden wealth of the Earth from precious metals and jewels to the fertile soil itself. His "marriage" to Persephone is why the seasons change.

Hephaestus, the smith of the gods, god of fire, metalworking, stone masonry and the art of sculpture. He is often described as being crippled by his father Zeus after an argument, Hephaestus then made artificial leg supports that allowed him to walk but with a noticeable limp. Married to Aphrodite, who is always unfaithful to him.

Hermes, messenger of the gods, god of travelers, merchants and thieves. His most famous child was Pan the half-goat, half-man god of rustic music, shepherds and flocks.
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Poseidon, older brother of Zeus, god of the Seas, Rivers, Earthquakes, Floods, Droughts and Horses. His most famous offspring were Triton the merman, Pegasus the winged horse and the demi-god hero Bellerophon.

Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, bread, grain, the harvest and the cycle of life and death. Mother of Persephone, who must live with Hades for six months each year. Demeter's saddness over the loss of her daughter for this time is the reason for Fall and Winter when plants die or go dormant.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Reformation-Counter Reformation

Reformation-Counter Reformation, the Christian Church at War with itself!
In 1517, Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses, complaints on what was wrong with the Catholic faith and leadership. The opening salvo of the Reformation had been fired. Reformer protested against the Roman Catholic Faith and soon refereed in general by the title of Protestants.  From 1517, to the end of the thirty Years War in 1648, Europe would be wracked by religious bloodshed.
Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder-1533.   A monk in Germany, Luther (1483-1546) found fault with many aspects of the Catholic faith, especially its basic theology, political and economic policies.  His Ninety-Five Theses, started a rift between those that supported the Roman Catholic faith and those that protested against the Pope and his followers-the Protestant movement to Reform the Christian Faith and Church had begun. The followers of Luther eventually formed Lutheranism which today is the Majority religion in: Denmark (Official National Religion),  Estonia, Finland (Official National Religion), Greenland, Iceland (Official National Religion), Latvia, Namibia, Northern Germany, Norway (Official National Religion), and Sweden.
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John Calvin by René Boyvin in 1562. Born in France, Calvin (1509-1564) became a leading theologian in the Reform movement.  His concepts formed the basis of Calvinism (aka Reformed Theology or Faith) and the Presbyterianism movements. Famous adherents of the concepts of Calvinism included the Pilgrims, Puritans, Huguenots, Scottish Presbyterians and the "Reformed Churches."
John Knox (1514-1572) from Scotland, a former Catholic priest, he was a major leader of the Reformation and was instrumental in the formalization of much of concepts of Calvinism into Presbyterianism.
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King Henry VIII (1491-1547)-Church of England (Anglican). Mainly for political reasons, King Henry VIII established the Church of England (COE) in 1534, with the monarch as the head of the church with all the powers of appointment and ownership of all church properties under the rulers control. Years of unrest during the Tutor Dynasty eventually resulted in the COE becoming the defacto national religion of England.
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Once the seriousness of the Reformation was acknowledged in Rome, the Catholic Church began its own Counter Reformation to stem the tide of gains the Protestants were making among the Christians of Europe. A grand meeting, the Council of Trent (met from 1545-1563), to address many of the challenges and reforms were instituted. Friendly monarchs were encouraged to make war upon Protestant rulers to win lands and people back by the sword if necessary, and the dreaded Inquisition was given full authority to "root out heretics" by what ever means were necessary.
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 One of the Catholics strongest forces in the Counter Reformation were the members of the Society of Jesus-Jesuits, a new order of highly educated priests. Established by Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) to win back protestants through missionaries with educated argument guile.  Education was seen as a key to winning back converts so many schools and Universities were establish under Jesuit leadership ( in 2012 there were 28 Jesuit colleges and universities and more than 50 secondary schools in the USA alone).
By the end of the 17th century the Roman Catholics had retained control of the following: Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Monaco(Official National Religion), Poland, Portugal, Southern Germany and Spain.
The Protestant vs Catholic Religious wars were largely over by the 1700's but the division between the two Cristian groups would continue to grow and influence World affairs for centuries to come.