Saturday, April 15, 2006

History Carnival #29

History Carnival #29. The newest edition of the History Carnival is up at (a)musings of a grad student. Rebecca Goetz has done a great job sorting through and posting a great number of quality history blog posts. (And Rebecca is getting even more famous as her blog was just featured in US News and World Report.)

A couple of posts I have checked out and found of great interest:

What the Romans did to women in early Britain - Any regular WHB reader knows I am a big fan of ancient Rome. However, I was not amused to read about female infanticide as practiced in Roman Brittania.

Axis of Evel Knievel looked at comparisons between Bush and Truman. It also seems kind of premature in my view. You might also look at comparisons between Lincoln and Bush as both were unpopular presidents fighting unpopular wars. (Except that Lincoln was hated more...) I guess it really will be history (and not public opinion polls) which will determine the Bush legacy.

Top five tax troublemakers ever - This is a fun read as taxes are due on Monday in the USA! The H&R Block tale is a hoot.

Who needs to celebrate Easter tomorrow? Stay home and read all of the History Carnival posts. :]

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mithraism: An Essay by David Fingrut

Mithraism: An Essay by David Fingrut. This is a general survey of Mithraic religion, with bibliography and photograph of a 2nd-century Roman Mithraic marble statue from the British Museum. Mithraism was the Roman Empire's last Pagan state religion.

From the site:

For over three hundred years the rulers of the Roman Empire worshipped the god Mithras. Known throughout Europe and Asia by the names Mithra, Mitra, Meitros, Mihr, Mehr, and Meher, the veneration of this god began some 4000 years ago in Persia, where it was soon imbedded with Babylonian doctrines. The faith spread east through India to China, and reached west throughout the entire length of the Roman frontier; from Scotland to the Sahara Desert, and from Spain to the Black Sea. Sites of Mithraic worship have been found in Britain, Italy, Romania, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey, Persia, Armenia, Syria, Israel, and North Africa.

In Rome, more than a hundred inscriptions dedicated to Mithras have been found, in addition to 75 sculpture fragments, and a series of Mithraic temples situated in all parts of the city. One of the largest Mithraic temples built in Italy now lies under the present site of the Church of St. Clemente, near the Colosseum in Rome.

The widespread popularity and appeal of Mithraism as the final and most refined form of pre-Christian paganism was discussed by the Greek historian Herodotus, the Greek biographer Plutarch, the neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, the Gnostic heretic Origen, and St. Jerome the church Father. Mithraism was quite often noted by many historians for its many astonishing similarities to Christianity.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

History of Saint Helena

History of Saint Helena. This site has a brief history of the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena. It is best known as the place where Napoleon died.

Wikipedia notes, "Saint Helena is an island of volcanic origin and an overseas territory of the United Kingdom in the South Atlantic Ocean. It consists of the island of Saint Helena, as well as the dependencies of Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha."

From the site:

Uninhabited when first discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, Saint Helena was garrisoned by the British during the 17th century. It acquired fame as the place of Napoleon BONAPARTE's exile, from 1815 until his death in 1821, but its importance as a port of call declined after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Ascension Island is the site of a US Air Force auxiliary airfield; Gough Island has a meteorological station.

The island was discovered on the 21st of May 1502 by the Portuguese navigator Joao de Nova, on his voyage home from India, and by him named St. Helena. The Portuguese found it uninhabited, imported live stock, fruittrees and vegetables, built a chapel and one or two houses, and left their sick there to be taken home, if recovered, by the next ship, but they formed no permanent settlement. Its first known permanent resident was Fernando Lopez, a Portuguese in India, who had turned traitor and had been mutilated by order of Albuquerque. He preferred being marooned to returning to Portugal in his maimed condition, and was landed at St. Helena in 1513 with three or four negro slaves. By royal command he visited Portugal some time later, but returned to St. Helena, where he died in 1546. In 1584 two Japanese ambassadors to Rome landed at the island. The first Englishman known to have visited it was Thomas Cavendish, who touched there in June 1588 during his voyage round the world. Another English Calling ships are those which have been boarded by the harbour master and given pratique. Since 1886 boatmen are allowed to communicate with ships that have not obtained pratique, and these are known as passing ships.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Famine of 1770 in Bengal

The Famine of 1770 in Bengal. This is a chapter from the book, The Unseen World, and Other Essays. It was written by John Fiske and published in 1869.

In this chapter, Fiske provides his explanations for the catastrophic famine resulting from British rule in the previous century. The Bengal famine of 1770 was a disaster that between 1769 and 1773 affected the lower Gangetic plain of India. The famine caused the deaths of an estimated 10 million people, approximately one-third of the population at the time.

From the site:

Throughout the entire course of recorded European history, from the remote times of which the Homeric poems preserve the dim tradition down to the present moment, there has occurred no calamity at once so sudden and of such appalling magnitude as the famine which in the spring and summer of 1770 nearly exterminated the ancient civilization of Bengal. It presents that aspect of preternatural vastness which characterizes the continent of Asia and all that concerns it. The Black Death of the fourteenth century was, perhaps, the most fearful visitation which has ever afflicted the Western world. But in the concentrated misery which it occasioned the Bengal famine surpassed it, even as the Himalayas dwarf by comparison the highest peaks of Switzerland. It is, moreover, the key to the history of Bengal during the next forty years; and as such, merits, from an economical point of view, closer attention than it has hitherto received.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Taxes and Decline

The day of doom fast approaches in the United States. Income tax returns need to be filed by April 17th or else! (Yeah, I know. Extensions are available but you might still get a penalty if you do not pay on time.)

Taxation is not new. It is probably as old as the first human governments. However, some believe that excessive taxation has brought down past societies.

In the essay How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome, Bruce Bartlett argues that heavy taxation was a root cause of the fall of the Roman Empire. He wrote, "As the private wealth of the Empire was gradually confiscated or taxed away, driven away or hidden, economic growth slowed to a virtual standstill. Moreover, once the wealthy were no longer able to pay the state's bills, the burden inexorably fell onto the lower classes, so that average people suffered as well from the deteriorating economic conditions. In Rostovtzeff's words, 'The heavier the pressure of the state on the upper classes, the more intolerable became the condition of the lower' (Rostovtzeff 1957: 430)."

I doubt taxation alone brought about the fall of Rome. There were other factors such as marauding German tribes. But it may well have played a role.

Americans have not always had to pay an income tax. This type of taxation was first imposed by President Lincoln during the American Civil War. However, the Supreme Court found that a Federal income tax was unconstitutional in 1895.

The Brief History of IRS notes that, "In 1913, Wyoming ratified the 16th Amendment, providing the three-quarter majority of states necessary to amend the Constitution. The 16th Amendment gave Congress the authority to enact an income tax. That same year, the first Form 1040 appeared after Congress levied a 1 percent tax on net personal incomes above $3,000 with a 6 percent surtax on incomes of more than $500,000."

Only 1% and 6%! And the government got by just fine for the most part. Does a government which has to impose a 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35% tax rate risk decline just like the Roman Empire? And then of course there are local and state taxes too...

I realize taxes are higher in Europe but this may not be a defense for a high tax rate in the USA. It could mean that those European nations simply will have economic collapses sooner than America. Does high taxation discourage investment and convince the average citizen not to start a small business of his/her own? Or, is no tax rate ever high enough and that all the ills of the world can be solved if income can be redistributed via government bureaucracies? I think believing either may require a leap of faith.

For fun, check out the 1913 1040 form. With instructions, it was only four pages long! And then go and look at all of the forms required today. Is Washington starting to look like Rome in decline? Probably not but one has to wonder how high taxes can go before collapse is likely.

Regardless, I want to send one message to the IRS. My check is in the mail.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Roman Law Articles of Smith's Dictionary

The Roman Law Articles of Smith's Dictionary - This site has about 250 articles on Roman law of varying length originally published in 1875. These cover topics such as civil rights, codes and procedures, contracts and torts, officers and magistrates, and specific laws.

The actual title of the work is A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. It was compiled by William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.. The site notes, "This single volume, of 1294 pages in rather fine print set in two columns and amounting to well over a million words, is a treasure trove of information on the ancient world, and was for many years a standard reference work, carried thru several British and American editions from the first in 1842 to the last in 1890‑91 with relatively few alterations. It shares one of its selling points with the Web: many illustrations. They are woodcuts, but often rather good ones, and sometimes clearer than photographs could be."

This section of the work I am highlighting is a subpage that indexes the Roman Law articles in the work separately. The creator of the site notes, "In inputting the various articles in the Dictionary, I gradually realized that the Roman Law information in Smith's is qualitatively different from the other material: it's as if there were a second 'concealed' dictionary within the first. The law articles, almost all of them written by one man, George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College, while constituting no more than a very basic primer of the subject, are considerably better and more scholarly than the average article on other topics; a fact that William Smith more or less acknowledges in his preface, where Mr. Long's contributions are specially mentioned at some length."

This is a great treasure trove of public domain information about Ancient Roman. It is nice that a scanner and someone with free time can make it available to the whole world.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Princeton for the Nation's Service

Princeton for the Nation's Service. Before becoming the President of the USA, Woodrow Wilson was the President of Princeton University. He was inaugurated there on October 25, 1902. He gave a famous speech on this occasion which was widely circulated and admired.

From the speech:

Six years ago I had the honor of standing in this place to speak of the memories with which Princeton men heartened themselves as they looked back a century and a half to the founding of their college. To-day my task is more delicate, more difficult. Standing here in the light of those older days, we must now assess our present purposes and powers and sketch the creed by which we shall be willing to live in the days to come. We are but men of a single generation in the long l ife of an institution which shall still be young when we are dead, but while we live her life is in us. What we conceive she conceives. In planning for Princeton, moreover, we are planning for the country. The service of institutions of learning is not pr ivate but public. It is plain what the nation needs as its affairs grow more and more complex and its interests begin to touch the ends of the earth. It needs efficient and enlightened men. The universities of the country must take part in supplying them.

American universities serve a free nation whose progress, whose power, whose prosperity, whose happiness, whose integrity depend upon individual initiative and the sound sense and equipment of the rank and file. Their history moreove r, has set them apart to a character and service of their own. They are not mere seminaries of scholars. They never can be. Most of them, the greatest of them and the most distinguished, were first of all great colleges before they became universities; an d their task is two-fold: the production of a great body of informed and thoughtful men and the production of a small body of trained scholars and investigators. It is one of their functions to take large bodies of young men up to the places of outlook wh ence the world of thought and affairs is to be viewed; it is another of their functions to take some men, a little more mature, a little more studious, men self-selected by aptitude and industry, into the quiet libraries and laboratories where the close c ontacts of study are learned which yield the world new insight into the processes of nature, of reason, and of the human spirit. These two functions are not to be performed separately, but side by side, and are to be informed with one spirit, the spirit o f enlightenment, a spirit of learning which is neither superficial nor pedantic, which values life more than it values the mere acquisitions of the mind.