Bloody Girdles

Things You Didn’t Know About
Gladiators, Vikings & Crusaders

As soon as football season kicks off the U.S., we’re once again fed a nauseating diet of war metaphors to go along with the game. All this talk about warriors, soldiers, and battles, has an upside though: it gets us to raid our files on that trio of mythical combatants of ancient times.
Far from unique on their intimacy with pain and blood, or the glory and virtue often associated with them, they’re still tickle our pseudo-anthropological bone. And as it turns out, there are new surprising discoveries that may indeed change, just a bit, our idea of them.
It may come to no surprise, for instance, that gladiators lived an extremely hard life. But a recent trove of skulls and body parts, uncovered in England, put yet another brutal twist to the fate of these brave slaves. And unlike contemporary beheadings by religions freaks, theirs were arguably bloodier.
You’ve always knew that Vikings had been all over Europe, either waging war or not-so-gently settling in foreign lands. But new research has shown that not just the contingent of female warriors, but also, casual texting, were both more numerous and common than we previously thought. Who knew?
And speaking of war and pillage due to religion strife, no other enterprise had a bigger role leaving a legacy of hatred and broken bones in their wake than the Crusades. Now we know that at least the armies of Richard I, the Lionheart, left something else behind too: feces parasites in a castle in Cyprus.
Perhaps the need to periodically update our archives helps us keep in perspective what essentially hasn’t changed in the past two thousand years: humans will be always busy training to crush each other, either to conquer personal freedom, to expand their cultural heritage, or to simply annihilate the followers of a different god.
Then as now, soldiers are sold a bill of lies, wrapped in promises of immortality and ribbons of reward. They will go for the gold and glory and return inside bags of bones, lives and names already lost before the cannons’ first strike. Centuries later, it may be up to us to dig them up out of the dust and study their predicament.

FIGHTERS WITHOUT AN ARMY
Gladiators, for as well trained and combat-ready they seemed in the second century C.E., were closer to today’s WWF than to Marines. Being slaves would prevent them from ever be armed and part of the regular Roman legionary forces, even though they did once rise up against their overlords, led by the legendary Spartacus.
Zliten Mosaic, Libya, 2nd Century C.E.But for all purposes, they were there to entertain the crowds and, eventually, gain if not freedom, at least steady employment. Two recent discoveries, in Vienna and London, add a bit more color to what’s known about these stage fighters: a gladiators school, the first found outside Rome, and partial skeletons from some 40 men.
The building in Austria clearly shows that gladiators were prisoners, living ‘in cells, in a fortress with only one gate out,’ according to archeologist Ludwig Boltzman. Continue reading

Counting Glyphs

Three Outstanding Numbers &
a Century of the Voynich Enigma

For budding mathematicians, the Number Pi is sacred territory. For mystics, there’s the cryptic Belphegor’s Prime. Some social pundits give currency to the Dunbar Number. But after one hundred years, no one has come even close to decipher the Voynich Manuscript.
While Pi is called an ‘irrational number,’ Belphegor is a palindrome with a religious cipher at its core, and a glyph lifted from the Voynich. Now, about the Dunbar, guess what? is not even a number.
We’ll go over each one in more detail, of course. But we do love this sort of thing, even without quite fully understanding their implications. So what? Does anyone need to be an astronomer to admire the stars at night? OK, that was a cheap shot.
But there are definitely ways of immersing oneself in the beauty of these mysterious landmarks of the human thought, without necessarily being current with quantum semantics and the intricacies of code-breaking and algorithmic calculations.
One of them is, naturally, shut the hell up and just enjoy them. But we, dilettantes and amateurs of all stripes, fancy ourselves to be able to Continue reading