Saturday, December 24, 2005

Evolution of Santa

Evolution of Santa. The History Channel provides this history of Santa Claus. It begins, "The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick."

Other good Santa history sites can be found at:

The Claus That Refreshes - Urban legends reference page addresses the influence of Coca-Cola on the modern image of Santa Claus.

Kriss - Provides Santa Claus origins, history and legend.

Santa Claus - Some historical articles on Santa as well as information on the birth of Christ, plus links to some general Christmas sites.

Santa Claus Origin and FAQ - History of St. Nicholas and Santa type figures traditions throughout the world.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas! I will be away for the holidays and it will be a few days before I post again.

Friday, December 23, 2005

History of Seychelles

History of Seychelles. This is a brief overview to the history of the African island nation of the Seychelles.

Wikipedia notes, "The Republic of Seychelles (say-SHELLS or say-SHELL) (Creole: Repiblik Sesel) is a nation of islands in the Indian Ocean, some 1,600 km east of mainland Africa, northeast of the island of Madagascar. Other nearby island countries and territories include Mauritius and Réunion to the south, Comoros and Mayotte to the southwest, and the Maldives to the northeast."

From the site:

The Seychelles islands remained uninhabited for more than 150 years after they became known to Western explorers. The islands appeared on Portuguese charts as early as 1505, although Arabs may have visited them much earlier. In 1742, the French Governor of Mauritius, Mahe de Labourdonais, sent an expedition to the islands. A second expedition in 1756 reasserted formal possession by France and gave the islands their present name in honor of the French finance minister under King Louis XV. The new French colony barely survived its first decade and did not begin to flourish until 1794, when Queau de Quincy became commandant.

The Seychelles islands were captured and freed several times during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, then passed officially to the British under the 1814 Treaty of Paris.

From the date of its founding by the French until 1903, the Seychelles colony was regarded as a dependency of Mauritius, which also passed from the French to British rule in 1814. In 1888, a separate administrator and executive and administrative councils were established for the Seychelles archipelago. Nine years later, the administrator acquired full powers of a British colonial governor, and on August 31, 1903, Seychelles became a separate British Crown Colony.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Drunks of War

Drunks of War. This is an article from the July/August 2003 issue of Modern Drunkard Magazine. In it, the author (Rich English) argues that "Societies possessing a robust and realistic attitude toward intoxication have produced mightier warriors than those which censure consumption. "

This thesis in never proven in the article. However, it does provide an interesting account of the Battle of Thermopylae. In fact, this account is the majority of the article. (This is the battle where 300 Spartans held a million plus Persian army at bay for seven days and killed over 100,000 men. )

English concludes, "Spartan success at Thermopylae hinged on several important elements: Persian arrogance, Xerxes’ dependence upon conscripts, the narrow terrain of the Hot Gates, wildly superior Spartan training and tactics and wine. "

Again, the wine part is not really proven even if the Spartans were known to drink before battles while the Persians were forced to fight sober. But heck, this is Modern Drunkard Magazine. It is an interesting read even if the scholarship is lacking.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

City of the Dead: the Roman Town of Calleva Atrebatum

City of the Dead: the Roman Town of Calleva Atrebatum. The BBC offers this report by Michael Fulford about Roman Britannia. Field work in Hampshire uncovered the remains of Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum.

The big questions is why this site was abandoned. One theory offered is that the population was primarily Irish and that Anglo-Saxon ethnic cleansing in the 6th Century may have lead to the downfall of the town.

From the site:

The Iron Age and Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum can be found deep in the north Hampshire countryside in the parish of Silchester. But where once there was a busy, populous centre, now there are only green fields. All that is now visible above ground, of a settlement that thrived for more than 500 years between the first century BC and the fifth or sixth century AD, are sections of the late Iron Age fortifications of rampart and ditch, the Roman amphitheatre and, most impressive of all, the entire circuit of the late Roman town walls.

Most Roman towns evolved into modern counterparts, either directly over the site of the ancient city, such as at Chichester, Winchester or London, or close by such as at St Albans or Norwich.

So two very reasonable questions to ask about Calleva are: why did a major settlement develop in this location; and why is there no successor medieval and modern town? There are no certain answers to either of these questions, but trying to resolve them is one of the eternal fascinations of Calleva.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

FIRST ALLIED VICTORY: The South African campaign in German South-West Africa, 1914-1915

FIRST ALLIED VICTORY: The South African campaign in German South-West Africa, 1914-1915. This article is by Hamish Paterson of the South African National Museum of Military History. It was published in the Military History Journal (Vol 13 No 2). This is the official publication of the South African National Museum Of Military History in association with the South African Military History Society.

From the site:

On 9 July 1915 the German forces in South-West Africa (now Namibia) surrendered to the Union Defence Forces under the command of the prime minister of the Union of the South Africa, General Louis Botha. The Union Defence Forces had barely been in existence for three years when they secured what was seen at the time as the first major allied success of the First World War. This victory was achieved with a minimum of casualties in a war which has become a byword for slaughter. This and the ascendance to power in South Africa in 1924 of the National Party/Labour Party Alliance meant that the campaign would be largely forgotten, the National Party having opposed South Africa’s undertaking the campaign on behalf of the British Empire. Even today, very little has been published on this campaign and copies of the two main works, Collyer’s 1937 staff history and the 1991 popular history by L’Ange, are difficult to obtain.

This begs the question: why should we revisit the German South-West Africa Campaign? There are several reasons. Firstly, it was the only major campaign undertaken by a Dominion with very little Imperial support - mainly in the form of the provision of Royal Navy protection, a unit of Royal Navy armoured cars, aircraft for the South African Aviation Corps, and 20 000 Portuguese Model 1904 Mauser-Vergueiro rifles and twelve million rounds of ammunition. Secondly, owing to the young age of the Union Defence Forces, to fight the Germans, South Africa had to rely on the expertise and skills developed by the Cape colonial forces, Natal militia, Transvaal volunteer force and the commandos of the former Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. There was also the question of mobilising men who had been on opposing sides only twelve years earlier, during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902, many of whom perceived Germany to have been one of their major supporters during that conflict and some of whom saw the First World War as an opportunity for the former Boer republics to regain their independence. Those who were closer to the seat of power saw things differently. Botha and Smuts considered that the terms of the Treaty of Vereeniging were generous and that oaths of allegiance were binding. With the formation of the Union of South Africa, they felt that independence had effectively been achieved. Amongst those of British descent, the cause of the Empire enjoyed wide support.

The ‘urgent Imperial service’ which was requested of the Union of South Africa involved the capture of the ports of Lüderitz Bay and Swakopmund and the silencing of the radio transmitters there and especially of the powerful one in Windhuk which, when conditions permitted, was capable of sending signals to Nauen in Germany. The ports could be used as bases for German raiders, controlled and fed intelligence via the coastal wireless transmitters. These facilities, positioned as they were on the jugular vein of the British Empire, had to be denied to the German Reich. Capturing the ports called for an amphibious operation, which presented its own difficulties. For the Union Defence Forces, this type of operation was entirely new, but a land attack from the south was a logistical nightmare. The South African railheads at Steinkop and Prieska were between 80km and 480km from the border with German South-West Africa. In either case, the campaign would entail crossing a desert barrier before the more hospitable inland highlands could be reached. With military transport beyond the ports and railheads still dependent on animal traction, the pace of the campaign would be determined by the ability of the South African logistical apparatus to bring water to the forward troops and the provision of water would depend on how quickly railway lines could be constructed or repaired.

Monday, December 19, 2005

At Cold War's End: US Intelligence on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, 1989-1991

At Cold War's End: US Intelligence on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, 1989-1991 - A CIA document including links to full-text intelligence reports on events during the final years the Soviet Union and the Cold War. It also includes a brief historical overview and extensive references.

From the site:

The last great drama of the Cold War--the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the end of the four-decade-old East-West conflict--unfolded in three acts between 1989 and 1991. Even as the story began, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev already had made the largest opening to the outside world in Russian history. To convince the West, and above all the new administration in Washington, of his sincerity, Gorbachev had made major concessions on arms control, withdrawn Soviet troops from Afghanistan, pledged to reduce Soviet ground forces by half a million, and rejected class warfare in favor of "pan-human values" as the basis of Soviet foreign policy. Initially skeptical because of past disappointments with détente, President George Bush and his foreign policy team gradually convinced themselves that Gorbachev was ready for dialogue and compromise. They set a high price for cooperation, however, and were gratefully surprised to find that the Soviets were willing to pay it.

The second act of the drama began in the fall of 1989 with peaceful revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe (except Romania) and the fall of the Soviet "outer empire." The de facto collapse of the Warsaw Pact (it would formally dissolve itself a year later) plus a new treaty that substantially reduced Soviet superiority in conventional forces in Europe resulted in a stronger Western alliance--so strong that the US could redeploy forces from Europe to the Persian Gulf for use against Iraq. East Germany, the USSR's main prize from World War II, was united with West Germany and integrated into NATO.

The third and final act closed with the 1991 dissolution of the USSR. The centrifugal forces in the "outer empire" stimulated and accelerated those in the "inner empire" as the Soviet republics sought sovereignty and then independence from Moscow. At the same time, Gorbachev's domestic reforms ran into serious trouble, and the economy went into a tailspin. Gorbachev's struggle with the old imperial elite in the communist party, the armed forces, and the military-industrial complex culminated in the August 1991 coup, which, when it failed, finished off the USSR--and Gorbachev himself. On Christmas Day 1991, at 7:35 p.m., the Soviet flag flying over the Kremlin was lowered and replaced by the new Russian banner. The USSR officially ceased to exist on 31 December. The Cold War was over.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The American Experience: Lost in the Grand Canyon

The American Experience: Lost in the Grand Canyon - Companion site to the PBS series about Jown Wesley Powell's Colorado River journey. It includes a timeline, maps, and program information.

From the site:

In the summer of 1869 a one-armed Civil War veteran, John Wesley Powell, led an epic journey down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. It was the last important exploration within the continental United States. Powell wrote a literary classic about his trip, explored the region for another ten years, studied Native American cultures, and used his position as director of the U.S. Geological Survey to argue against the over development of the West.