The National Library of Canada provides an authorized mirror of this e-publication. The base document, however, is the one at http://ejmas.com/kronos. Most recent update: December 2004. Copyright © 2000-2004 Joseph R. Svinth All rights reserved.
Kronos; A Chronology of the Martial Arts and Combative Sports, represents my idiosyncratic interpretation of the history of the martial arts, combative sports, and associated philosophical topics. If you have suggestions for improvement, please let me know. If you think you can do better, please do so.
The periods covered are:
0000 to 0499: http://ejmas.com/kronos/NewHist0000-0499.htm
0500 to 1349: http://ejmas.com/kronos/NewHist0500-1349.htm
1350 to 1699: http://ejmas.com/kronos/NewHist1350-1699.htm
1700 to 1859: http://ejmas.com/kronos/NewHist1700-1859.htm
1860 to 1899: http://ejmas.com/kronos/NewHist1860-1899.htm
1900 to 1939: http://ejmas.com/kronos/NewHist1900-1939.htm
1940 to present: http://ejmas.com/kronos/NewHist1940.htm
The bibliographies are at:
Online references, a summary of recent changes, and general housekeeping information are found at:
If you prefer reading traditional print format, then please see the abbreviated chronology in Thomas A. Green, Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2001). Meanwhile, if you prefer reading articles arranged topically rather than chronologically, then please see the essays in Green's encyclopedia and the chapters in Thomas A. Green and Joseph R. Svinth, editors, Martial Arts in the Modern World (Greenwood, 2003).
Finally, if you want to see how Kronos has evolved over time, then please see the first edition, which appears online at http://ejmas.netfirms.com/kronos.
About 6 million years ago:
According to some anthropologists, ground-dwelling apes and humans share their last common ancestor, a ground-dwelling hominid called ramapithecus. Other anthropologists, however, say ramapithecus is the ancestor of orangutans, not people, and Creationists deny that either hominid was the ancestor of humans. The Creationist caveat is mentioned in all seriousness, too, as in August 1999 the Kansas State Board of Education voted to eliminate all references to evolution and discussions of the age of the earth from that state’s science curriculum.
About 5.5 million years ago:
By pouring through a 2,600-foot high waterfall near Gibraltar, the Atlantic Ocean forms the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the Great Rift forms in east Africa.
About 5 million years ago:
The small ground-dwelling hominids known as Australopithecus afarensis appear in east Africa. According to many anthropologists, these are the oldest known ancestors of modern humans. However, there were at least a dozen large ground-dwelling hominids, all of which had evolutionary branches and dead ends. Therefore the straight-line hypothesis is probably too simple and therefore incorrect, and of course Creationists deny any hominid involvement at all.
About 4.1 million years ago:
Evolutionary changes to their inner ears and knees cause Australopithecus to become habitually bipedal. According to the mainstream scientific theory, Australopithecus lived on the open savanna, and their evolution facilitated omnivorous scavenging. A less accepted theory, however, is that Australopithecus spent most of their time foraging in rivers and lakes, and that the erect stance was simply a way of keeping heads above water. Supporting the latter theory is the observation that few large savanna mammals carry much body fat, whereas most aquatic mammals (and humans) carry rolls of it. Creationists deny both theories.
About 2.7 million years ago:
Hominids known as Australopithecus garhi appear in east Africa. This is the first hominid species known to have used tools to cut food.
About 2.5 million years ago:
The small hominids that Louis Leakey named Homo habilis after a suggestion by Professor Raymond Dart appear in Ethiopia and Kenya. Of course, Homo habilis, "the handy man," is only a modern anthropological name, and it is possible that "the handy men" were simply australopithecines that had learned to knapp flint. Either way, flintknapping is the world’s oldest documented profession, popular mythology not withstanding. Flint, by the way, is a type of chalcedony (or non-crystalline) quartz. It is useful in two ways. First, it breaks with a sharp edge, thus providing a natural cutting tool. And second, it makes sparks when struck, thereby making it a slow but functional fire-starter.
About 1.7 million years ago:
The hominid species that some anthropologists call Homo ergaster moves from eastern Africa into southwestern Asia. The reason is believed to have been long-legged hunters following game migrations.
About 1.6 million years ago:
Homo erectus, or "the upright man," appears in eastern Africa. Erectus is notable for manufacturing stone cleavers by bifacial flaking. Bifacial flaking involves knapping large flint cores into smaller, more manageable pieces. These pieces are sharp as any modern surgical blade, and make excellent knives. The procedure was possibly an outgrowth of rock music. (Literally. Musical stones are the oldest percussion instruments, and the best tones come from the lava-extruded rocks today known as phonolites.)
Because erectus did not make stone ax heads or atlatl (spear-thrower) points does not mean that he was not a hunter or a killer. Instead, it suggests that he used other methods for acquiring game. Such methods included stampeding game over cliffs, stoning or clubbing to death the young or crippled, and relentlessly pursuing game until it dropped from exhaustion. The latter method is not conjectural, either: humans routinely travel distances that would kill any other land mammal. For instance, in 1917, a 61-year old New Jersey pedestrian named James Hocking traveled 97 miles in just over 19 hours, and in 1988, a Greek pedestrian named Yiannis Kourous walked 1,000 miles in 150 hours. Human females are not much slower, either, as in 1991, the New Zealand pedestrian Sandra Barwick walked 1,000 miles in just over 302 hours.
Homo erectus also knew how to make and control fire. This technology provided the species with heat, light, and a way of cooking tubers (meat was probably still eaten raw). Later, fire also became hominid species’ first weapon of mass destruction. Early fire hunters were not especially careful. Indeed, they often set forest or grass fires for the purpose of panicking game animals into jumping over cliffs. Of course, as agricultural settlements became more common, then hunters started having beaters drive game toward killing zones using flaming torches. The modern practice of using high-powered electric lights to paralyze prey is simply a variation on the theme.
About 800,000 years ago:
A hominid species known as Homo antecessor flourishes in Iberia. The Gran Dolina cavern in the Spanish Sierra de Atapuerca, which contains about thirty 300,000-year-old Homo antecessor skeletons, contains about three-fourths of all known human fossils from the Middle Pleistocene.
About 700,000 years ago:
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis appears in central Europe and the Balkans. Anthropologists still debate whether Neanderthals were species separate from Homo sapiens sapiens or were instead a European sapiens community mistaken for a separate species by nineteenth century anthropologists.
Tool-using hominids spread throughout southern Asia.
About 500,000 years ago:
Hominid skulls are turned into drums, drinking cups, and bowls. The skulls might have belonged to war enemies whose spirits were being mocked or whose proteins were needed. They could have belonged to deceased relatives whose spiritual protection was needed by the still-living. Alternatively, they might have been drums, drinking cups, and bowls.
About 400,000 years ago:
Digging sticks and spears are fire-hardened. The process involved burying wet sticks near fires, then allowing them to slowly temper into strong, springy rods. While simple wooden spears and throwing sticks surely preceded fire-hardened weapons, these fire-hardened sticks still represent the oldest wooden weapons known to have survived 400,000 years in the ground. Fire-hardened curved sticks also have been found in gravesites in Eastern Europe, but probably these were drumsticks rather than throwing sticks. Why? Because people normally don’t expend a great deal of effort making things meant to be thrown at birds or small mammals. An exception is Australia, where Aborigines started fire-hardening the edges of their curved throwing sticks as early as 25,000 BCE. The reason for using curved sticks most likely has more to do with available materials -- both acacia and bankia species are gnarled, making strong straight pieces hard to obtain -- than preference.
Huts with palisaded walls are built in France. It is not known if the palisades were meant to keep wild animals and human enemies out, or children and domestic animals in.
About 300,000 years ago:
Homo sapiens sapiens, the hominid whose descendents would term "intelligent man," appears at various locations in east Africa and southwest Asia. Until recently, anthropologists believed that the biggest difference between Homo sapiens sapiens and other hominids was that Homo sapiens sapiens had a vocal tract that allowed sophisticated speech. Then Neanderthals were found to also have sophisticated hyoid bones. So the real difference may be nothing more than Homo sapiens sapiens’ development of a very large ego (something his descendents certainly have in abundance). On the other hand, there may be something to Julian Jaynes’ theories of bicameral consciousness, with sapiens’ left brain defining consciousness in the sense of "I" and the right brain providing mystical guidance in ways that were then considered divine rather than schizophrenic. If so, then I’d be more inclined to date the development of bicameral consciousness to this era than to the first millennium BCE, as Jaynes did in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
About 170,000 years ago:
According to the human gene research of the late 1990s, modern humankind’s oldest known common female ancestor lives in Africa. The oldest known common male ancestor is also African, and dates to about 59,000 years ago.
About 140,000 years ago:
Hominids (exactly which kind is debated) become the first large placental mammals in Australia. While most prehistorians state publicly that these immigrants walked there from Indonesia or New Guinea via Ice Age land bridges, there is nothing saying that some of them didn’t ride rafts. Either way, Australia becomes modern humankind’s first New World. Reading history backwards and using modern terminology, aboriginal hunting and war parties probably killed individual prey using throwing sticks (boomerang), heavy clubs (nulla-nulla), long spears, and atlatls (woomera). Dogs (or, more precisely, dingoes) don’t arrive until around 6000 BCE, however.
About 100,000 years ago:
Some Neanderthals living in northern Iraq become the first hominids known to have buried their dead. Because the graves contained flowers, some prehistorians say that the Neanderthals invented spiritual concepts, and perhaps even religion. Anthropologist Marvin Harris, on the other hand, suggests that the burials may have been no more than a way of getting stinking, rotting bodies out of the house. Ethnobotanists such as Gordon Wasson and Terence McKenna have argued that modern religions are more concretely dated to the Neolithic discovery of psychotropic mushrooms and fermented drinks. Therefore, as with most prehistoric matters, the answer to the question remains speculative rather than certain.
About 90,000 years ago:
People living along coastal regions of the Northern Hemisphere begin consuming large amounts of salmon gathered from spawning streams and shellfish stranded by receding tides. The shells of the latter were also made into cooking pots, musical instruments, and jewelry, and may have been used as a form of money.
About 80,000 years ago:
Stone lamps fueled by animal fats are manufactured in Iraq and China.
About 70,000 years ago:
Human populations become large enough that family groups find themselves skirmishing for territory. While modern research has found that the aggressor usually gains additional space during band-and-village wars, there is little evidence to support the Victorian belief that skirmishing males ranged widely while gathering females stayed at home to raise the babies. Instead, there is just as much evidence to suggest that the females traveled with the males, gathering, cooking, sewing, and setting up and taking down the tents as they went.
About 50,000 years ago:
Homo sapiens sapiens starts spreading into southern Asia, eastern Europe, and western Africa. (Due to the global cooling that caused the Ice Ages in the Northern Hemisphere, the African ecology would have been more inviting then than now.) Bifacially-flaked tools (the chipping method was percussion) dating to this period include spear points, scrapers, and drills.
About 40,000 years ago:
Stone spearheads and hafted axes are developed in north-central Africa. (At the time, the Sahara was a well-watered savanna and Lake Chad was larger than Greece and connected to the Nile.) When medieval Bantu and Amazigh ("Berber") immigrants subsequently discovered these stone weapons, they reportedly believed them to be thunderbolts left by the gods.
Ferrous (iron-rich) clays are mined in southern Africa, probably for use as cosmetics.
The aboriginal inhabitants of Japan reportedly manufacture the world’s oldest known pottery. These pots were not used for cooking, but for holding cosmetics and perfumes. Unfortunately, the archaeologist who announced the discoveries later admitted faking them. Consequently, Japanese pottery remains more reliably dated to perhaps 10,000 years ago.
About 35,000 years ago:
Twisted-fiber thread, jewelry, clay fertility figurines, and corrals are developed. If modern ethnographic data can be read backward, then the manufacturers of thread, jewelry, and clay figurines were probably female, while the herders were probably male. This supposition remains conjectural, not proven.
Tally sticks appear at various locations around Eurasia and Africa. These are notched sticks used to track how many animals someone owns. (The English word "score" originally referred to the notches cut into such sticks, and the marks probably led to the creation of integers such as I, II, and III.). Tally sticks also were used during religious rituals in which participants were called upon in a specific order, and this has been offered as a possible explanation for why most cultures divide their integers into male/female or odd/even. ("Count off by twos; even numbers, stand fast!") Early counting systems included base-two, base-four, base-five, base-ten, and base-twenty. Modern ethnographers found that about 70% of North American Indian cultures counted using either base-ten or base-five. Another 20% used base-two and 9% used base-twenty. Base-four was used in less than 1% of the cultures sampled.
About 33,000 years ago:
According to some theories, Homo sapiens sapiens appears along the Pacific coast of South America. This date is not widely accepted, and is instead usually moved forward about 20,000 years. (The oldest verified archaeological site in the Americas, Chile’s Monte Verde, is dated about 14,500 years before the present, and some archaeologists doubt that, too, preferring instead the more recent Clovis site in New Mexico.) The chief argument used against all earlier dates is that the stone artifacts used to claim the greater antiquity are crude, and therefore not obviously human-made. Racism may be an issue, too, as the earlier dates suggest Australoid populations rather than Mongoloid, and there are still some people who do not want to admit the possibility that dark-skinned humans might have beaten light-skinned humans into the Americas.
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis starts becoming extinct. While theories include intraspecies violence and reduced resistance to disease, the real reason may have been interbreeding with Homo sapiens sapiens. Support for the latter belief includes a 24,500-year-old skeleton found in Portugal that shows both human and Neanderthal anatomical features.
About 30,000 years ago:
The ancestors of the San (or !Kung Bushman) peoples settle the Kalahari regions of southern Africa. This migration was hardly as bold as it sounds, as the great salt pans of modern Botswana were well-watered lakes at the time.
Slings (or perhaps spear-throwers) appear in Iberia. Whichever they were (the two surviving artifacts are simply stag antlers carved in the shape of horses’ heads), they are early examples of compound weapons. (A compound weapon is, quite simply, one with parts.)
Flint arrowheads appear in northwest Africa and Iberia. This implies – but does not prove – the development of self-bows. (As the oldest surviving self-bow only dates to around 8000 CE, the arrowheads might have been fitted to darts thrown by atlatls. On the other hand, atlatls are not known to have existed in Africa.) Anyway, a self-bow is made using a single piece of wood. While saying this may sound otiose, most subsequent bows have been made from a variety of materials laminated together using animal glues. Maximum range of a modern self-bow is about 150 yards, while maximum effective range is about 30 yards. Because the weapons are not very powerful, self-bow hunters usually dip their arrowheads into animal or vegetable toxins. These toxins are probably humankind’s oldest biological weapons. Sources of inspiration for the invention of self-bows may have included stringed musical instruments. Regardless of use and date of invention, self-bows are the first human machines capable of accumulating, storing, and releasing energy in a controlled fashion.
About 29,000 years ago:
Cordage, nets, and textiles made from woven cloth are manufactured in Central Europe.
About 25,000 years ago:
Cave paintings found in France, Spain, and Africa show stars, planets, animals, and people in various poses. Speculations concerning these paintings include the caves being schools or churches into which youths were taken so that they could be trained or initiated in preparation for adulthood. (While older art exists in Australia, no one seems quite as willing to speculate about what it means.) A few cave paintings show men wearing antlered helmets and animal skins. If modern ethnographic data can be safely read backward, then the artists either were apologizing to the spirits of the animals their hunters killed or showing the mask dances that their hunters used to acquire divine assistance while stalking game. Of course, all the preceding remarks are ultimately speculative, as no one knows why these pictures were painted, or what the artists intended them to mean.
Fire-hardened J-curved throwing sticks appear in Australia. The returning version known today as a boomerang dates to around 6000 BCE, and was a toy rather than a hunting weapon. (The aerodynamic principles that allow a boomerang to return make it unsatisfactory for striking targets at varying ranges.)
About 22,000 years ago:
Human settlement in Japan is definitively identified. The early settlers may have been Caucasoid (e.g., ancestors of the Ainu), but were more likely Australoid or Melanesian.
About 20,000 years ago:
People, probably female, grind barley and einkorn wheat into gruel and flour. The oldest known sites are in the mountains of Turkey and Iraq. The same people also made skirts using twisted fiber strings. These are the first clothes known to be worn for symbolic rather than utilitarian purposes. That is, while string skirts do little for warmth and accentuate rather than hide the pubic region, they do swish and swirl sensuously when worn by dancers. While the twisted fibers suggest the beginnings of cloth manufacture, archaeologists have traditionally dated the development of mats, baskets, looms, and other artifacts to the eighth millennium BCE.
About 18,000 years ago:
People living in the Sudan and Chad process barley and einkorn wheat into food products. (Again, the Sahara was still well watered at the time.)
About 13,000 years ago:
According to the generally accepted theory, large numbers of Siberian hunters, the ancestors of the modern American Indians, cross an Ice Age land bridge into North America. It is possible, however, that there were actually a series of mass migrations into the Americas from elsewhere.
People living in Iraq begin tooling leather, and making it into belts and pouches. (Previously, they had carried things using dried animal stomachs.) If ethnography may be read backward, then men were associated with leather working, while women were associated with felting.
Southeast Asians domesticate zebu cattle.
About 12,000 years ago:
Bone-tipped harpoons appear in Newfoundland, Iberia, and central equatorial Africa.
The most recent major Ice Age ends. In its wake, new grasslands spring up while many animal species become extinct. These ecological changes cause the people living along the banks of the world’s rivers to establish the first permanent horticultural (literally, "hand-farming") settlements. According to one popular theory, these early villages provided homes for the young, infirm, and elderly. The rebuttal to that theory is that horticulture is more time-consuming and at higher risk from ecological or military disaster than either hunting or gathering. Regardless of why horticulture happened, its impact on the human race was profound, as over the next 7,000 years, the Earth’s human population grew from four million to 100 million.
According to one geological theory, an ice comet following a flat northwesterly trajectory explodes high above the Carolina coast of North America. The 1908 explosion in Siberia was due to the explosion of an ice comet, so it is possible that the various ancient stories of the gods using thunderbolts to destroy humanity owe something to this event.
About 11,000 years ago:
Atlatl-using human hunters begin visiting the high Andes. Judging by the animal remains found at their sites, these people lived by killing Pleistocene horses, sloths, and guanaco. The shape of their darts (often misidentified as arrowheads) suggests either a major technological innovation or the arrival of a second wave of Paleo-Indians.
About 10,000 years ago:
Spear-marks on its ribs make an Ohio mastodon the oldest animal known to have been butchered by North Americans. This dating is fairly precise, as it was calculated using rates of carbon-14 decay. All living creatures contain trace elements of radioactive isotopes in their body chemistry. The amount of these isotopes as a percentage of body mass remains roughly constant while the creature lives, but decrease in a predictable way after the creature’s death. This predictable rate of decrease allows for reasonable estimates of the amount of time that has passed since the creature died. That said, all carbon-14 dates before 7400 BCE are speculative. Why? Because 7400 BCE currently represents the longest continuous tree-ring series: carbon-14 in the atmosphere fluctuates from year to year, and without tree ring samples, that fluctuation cannot be precisely determined. Pioneers in radiocarbon dating include Willard F. Libby and Elizabeth Ralph, while pioneers in dendrochronology, as tree ring counting is known, include Andrew E. Douglass and Henry Michael.
Humans spread oil trees of the genus Canarium throughout the rainforests of West Africa.
About 9500 BCE:
Metal ornaments are manufactured in Iraq and Turkey.
About 9000 BCE:
Goats and sheep are domesticated in Iran and Iraq. As wool was not made into cloth for another four thousand years, and as milk is an acquired taste, the domestication was probably for the purpose of providing a steady supply of meat and hides.
Humans settle Umnak and Hog Islands in the Aleutians. Although it is not known if these people walked or used boats, by 7000 BCE the Aleuts were fully equipped with the boats, harpoons, and clothes needed to hunt sea mammals.
Dogs are domesticated in North America.
Oats and lentils are domesticated in Europe and southwest Asia.
About 8000 BCE:
Some male Europeans are buried with horned helmets nearby. While some prehistorians conjecture that the helmets gave wearers the powers of the animals that they hunted, it seems equally plausible that the wearers simply liked the look. Either way, hats decorated with horns remained popular with European men for the next ten thousand years, as any fan of American football can attest.
Ceramic pots are used for soaking grains and legumes in the Libyan Sahara. Similar pots subsequently appear in Syria. This suggests that the technology spread from Africa into southwest Asia rather than the other way around.
About 7500 BCE:
Cattle are domesticated in southeastern Europe, central Asia, and northern India.
Beans are domesticated in the Americas and southeastern Asia.
About 7250 BCE:
Walled towns appear in Turkey and Jordan. While their builders are unknown, it is possible that they were Sudanese refugees fleeing the desiccation of the Sahara. There are scholarly debates about whether these walls protected inhabitants from mudslides, wild animals, evil spirits, or armed humans. In general, the nineteenth century Europeans liked the military solution, modern ethnographers liked the wild animal solution, and post-modern feminists preferred the evil spirit solution. Myself, I suspect that there is truth in all these claims. Also, let’s not forget that walls keep small children and animals from straying and help customs agents make their collections.
Before 7000 BCE:
Ceramic pottery appears in northern Malaya.
Gourds are used to carry water and store grains throughout south Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas.
Maize is domesticated. There is considerable scholarly debate concerning whether this occurred first in Guatemala or the Peruvian Andes. Either way, inasmuch as the crop does not grow in the wild, the domestication represents the first known genetic modification of plants.
About 7000 BCE:
Chickens are domesticated in southeastern Asia. It is possible that the domestication was originally for fighting rather than domestic purposes.
Organized religions appear throughout India, China, and southwestern Asia. While the exact beliefs and nature of these early religions are unknown, speculation on the subject has provided much amusement for polemicists and prehistorians.
According to the calendar used in Russia until 1699, the Russian Orthodox God creates the world.
About 6500 BCE:
Dice are manufactured in Egypt and southwest Asia. The surviving bones -- for that is what they are, sheep anklebones -- are invariably shaved. In other words, they were made for cheaters. This is hardly surprising, inasmuch as men have wagered women, goods, kingdoms, and their lives on the throws of die throughout history.
About 6400 BCE:
Ceramic pottery appears in Greece.
The betel chewing habit appears in Malaya.
Before 6000 BCE:
Millet is cultivated in northern China along the Yellow River Valley. Since the Chinese do not begin growing wheat for another five thousand years, the development was probably an independent invention instead of diffusion from Mesopotamia or India.
About 6000 BCE:
Cherry wine is produced in Turkey and Iraq. Post-modern feminists conjecture that the wine provided priestesses with a blood-like offering to the Great Goddess in her role as the Crone, or Destroyer of Life. Menstrual blood, which used to be comparatively rare -- adult females were generally pregnant before the development of effective birth control pills during the 1950s -- is often believed to have magical powers. So the intoxicating effects of the wine would have been a man-made imitation of those powers. Of course, this is only speculation, as the Great Goddess is as much a Victorian creation as historical fact. So the actual reason may be mundane rather than sacred.
The Tibetans domesticate cannabis sativa, and use it for making hemp string and cloth. As the development is virtually simultaneous with the invention of heddles (the parallel cords used to guide warp threads in a loom), the development may be owed to females.
Pinewood canoes are built in Holland. Wooden boats are also shown in rock art created in Scandinavia and Russia.
Mud and straw bricks are manufactured in Anatolia.
Gelding male animals becomes common throughout Eurasia. In the case of cattle (horses weren’t domesticated yet), it made herding safer, while in the case of goats and sheep, it improved wool production.
According to the Egyptian Copts, the Lord creates the world. The Egyptian churchmen arrived at this conclusion in 284 CE.
About 5500 BCE:
Swollen by melting glaciers, the Mediterranean breaks through a natural earthen barrier at the Bosporous to drown a huge freshwater lake and create the modern Black Sea. Due to this method of creation, below 200 meters, the water in the Black Sea was (and is) without oxygen. The result is a marine archaeologist’s dream: a world where organic material does not decay.
Copper tools begin replacing stone tools in the Balkans, Moldavia, and the Ukraine.
Flax, which provides the base for both linen and linseed oil, is domesticated in eastern Iraq. Archaeological data shows that wild flax was used for at least 2,000 years before its domestication.
According to the Greek Orthodox Church, the Lord creates the world. Nicephorus, the future Patriarch of Constantinople, arrived at this conclusion around 800 CE.
According to the Ethiopian Copts, the Lord creates the world. The Ethiopian churchmen reached this conclusion in 7 CE. (Note: the Ethiopian calendar also runs approximately eight years behind the Julian and Gregorian calendars.)
About 5300 BCE:
Religious graffiti is carved into rocks in Transylvania and the Balkans. The scripts used include Minoan Linear A and Classical Cypriot.
According to Roman Martyrology published by the Vatican in 1580, the Lord creates the world.
About 5000 BCE:
Horse-like animals are domesticated in Central Asia. As the development of fermented milk products such as butter, cheese, ghee, and yogurt also date to this era the domestication was probably related to milk production and meat rather than transportation.
The embalmers of the Chinchoros culture of northern Chile start mummifying bodies, and by the third millennium BCE, their techniques were as sophisticated as anything done by the Egyptians. Prehistorians speculate that the purpose of the mummification was a belief that human bodies needed to be intact for their owners to enter the afterlife.
Cultivation begins along the Nile. The reason may have been a changing climate forcing African farmers to move east and north in search of water.
According to the Julian calendar created in the sixteenth century by a Frenchman named Joseph Justus Scaligier, the Lord creates the world on January 1.
About 4500 BCE:
Gold nuggets are turned into jewelry in the Ukraine. A nugget weighing 1,050 ounces came from the Ural Mountains in 1936, so probably identification of individual nuggets wasn’t all that difficult.
Ceramic pottery appears in the British Isles.
The Chinese are known to be making hemp rope and fishing nets. (Rope and twine rarely survive to be found by archaeologists.)
About 4350 BCE:
Giant mud-brick ziggurats are built at Sumer. These constructions are claimed as the source of inspiration for the Biblical tower of Babel.
According to a scholar of the third century CE named Censorinus, the Egyptian solar calendar begins. However, if the Egyptian calendar started out corresponding with the seasons, then a more plausible starting date is around 2773 BCE. Furthermore, the Egyptian calendar was not solar but riverine: its premise was that the Nile always flooded after the star Sirius started rising in the east before instead of after sunrise. Still, it was a 365-day calendar, and except for missing the leap years, it worked quite well.
According to a Biblical commentary published by Bishop James Ussher in 1650 CE, the Anglican God creates the Universe. Ussher’s discovery became precise four years later, when Cambridge vice-chancellor John Lightfoot reported that Creation coincided with the beginning of the British academic year, which was 9:00 a.m. on October 26. Ussher and Lightfoot’s chronology has been widely disputed. For example, the seventeenth century German astronomer Johannes Hevelius dated Creation to 6:00 p.m. on October 24, 3963 BCE. (In 1925, CE wags at the Scopes Monkey Trial asked if that hour was calculated using Eastern Standard or solar time. While Standard time posits the length of a day as exactly 24 hours, in solar time the period from one noon to the next can vary as much as 14 minutes shorter or 16 minutes longer than 24 hours.)
Around the same time, a black scientist named Yakub uses selective breeding to create the first people who are not black. This is a doctrinal tenet of the Nation of Islam, which was established in Detroit in 1930.
About 4000 BCE:
The process for manufacturing ale spreads through China, Iraq, Egypt, and sub-Saharan Africa. As the development appears to have been a spin-off of bread-making technology, it is more affirmatively linked to women than most early social developments.
Citrons are domesticated in east and southwest Asia. Because citrons were sacred to the Sumerian snake-god Enlil, New Age writers have suggested Eve offered Adam citrons in the Garden of Eden. (The story about the fruit being an apple only dates to 405 CE.) However, Jews used citrons in their ritual Feast of Booths, and citrons appeared on Hebrew coins of the early second century BCE. Therefore, Talmudic scholarship usually portrays Eve’s offering as a pomegranate. For their part, Muslims say that the forbidden fruit was a banana. However, bananas are from southeast Asia, and only entered the Middle East after Alexander the Great’s invasion of India. Finally, some modern writers speculate that the forbidden fruit was something used in the production of intoxicants or hallucinogens whose production was originally associated with women. Examples might include grapes, apricots, or soma. Bottom line? Theologians do a lot of speculating.
People living near Lake Baykal in Siberia develop methods for making composite bows. A composite bow is one whose staves are made using a laminated construction. The procedure involves gluing the long ligaments from an animal spine to the outside of an elm or birch core, and then bellying the inside of that same core with a layer of animal horn. The result was a bow that was far less likely to "slither," which means to fracture under pressure. Because it was a difficult procedure, there was great ritual associated with it. As described by Chinese chroniclers 4,000 years later, trees were cut during the winter, horns were melted in the spring, glues were extracted during the summer, and bows were made during the fall. Then, after a three-year wait for the glues to cure, the bows were adorned with cow horn, wrapped with sinew, and covered with red varnish and green silk. The weight of such bows, meaning the strength required to pull its string the full length of a 24-25" arrow, ranged between 60 and 160 pounds. The smaller recurved ("Cupid") bows were popular with mounted hunters and warriors, while the immensely powerful longbows were used by strength athletes competing to see who could shoot an arrow the farthest. Maximum range of the shorter weapons was around 100 yards, with an effective range of around 30, while the maximum range of the longer weapons was around 900 yards, with an effective range of around 300.
Sumerian and Indian merchants and aristocrats mark their personal possessions using seals made from fired clay. These seals probably inspired royal priests and clerks to begin keeping records using pictograms drawn on clay tablets. The Sumerian ceramics were often colored with antimony, a metal extracted from stibnite (antimony sulfide, Sb2S3), which is fusible in candle flame and common throughout Central and East Asia.
Farmers begin digging irrigation canals in Iraq.
About 3800 BCE:
Weaving, net fishing, and horticulture develop at various points along Peruvian and Ecuadorian coasts of South America. Chili peppers, corn, manioc, beans, pineapples, gourds, and squashes were among the crops grown. (Bananas had to wait for the Spanish conquest.)
Pottery appears in the Andean lowlands.
According to the findings of a fourth century CE calendar council headed by Rabbi Hillel II, YHWH creates the Universe.
The worship of a grain goddess called Isis (or Osiris) spreads throughout Nilotic Africa. There is evidence to suggest that the Osirian religion, which used unleavened bread as a medium of exchange and was one of the roots of early Judaism, first developed in black Africa.
About 3600 BCE:
Bronze is manufactured in the Crimea, the Caucasus, and Iraq. Prehistorians conjecture that the development was owed to people accidentally mixing copper and tin in their pottery kilns or bread ovens. However it happened, the smiths’ need for tin (which is rare in southwest Asia, but common in the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia) led to the development of long-distance trading. Doubtless, some traders found it easier to steal goods than to manufacture them. Therefore, this may explain the concurrent emergence of militarized Central Asian bands.
About 3500 BCE:
Rice farming develops in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. As wet-rice farming is hard for farmers without metal tools, this was probably dry-rice farming along river deltas. Nevertheless, the coincidence of these events suggests the emergence of maritime trade.
Eastern European potters start using flat disks that rotated around a central pivot. While some prehistorians conjecture that these potters’ wheels influenced the design of vehicular wheels, log-rollers seem a more likely inspiration, especially as the earliest vehicle wheels known (some Sumerian wheels dated to around 2800 BCE) were made from solid planks.
Sweet potatoes are domesticated in the northwestern Andes. These tubers are unrelated to Asian and African yams, and only became an Asian dietary staple after the Spanish transported them to the Philippines in 1594.
Sumerians experiment with kiln-firing brick, a technology that is perfected a few hundred years later in northwest India.
Grape wine is manufactured in Iran.
Central Asians begin riding horses. Bridles and bits were made from rope, leather, and bone.
About 3400 BCE:
Opium poppies are cultivated in Germany, Switzerland, France, and Italy. Of course, this does not mean that the plants originated there, only that archeobiologists have found Papaver somniferum seeds there. It also does not mean that the ancient Swiss used the alkaloid-rich sap medicinally or recreationally. After all, poppy seeds are tasty in their own right, and make very useful oil.
About 3200 BCE:
Babylonian merchants revolutionize southwest Asian trade by using their cuneiform scripts to track secular profits and losses. (Previously such scripts had been used solely for recording religious and political events.) Feminist prehistorians conjecture that the development may have been owed to women. After all, Babylonian religion had female priestesses and gods, and merchants’ wives were frequently writing to their husbands concerning business ventures.
North Chinese fortune-tellers experiment with divining the future using cheap yarrow stalks instead of expensive sheep bones. Drawings of these yarrow stalks are thought to have inspired the linear trigrams used to illustrate the ancient Chinese text known as I Ching, or "Classic of Changes." Started as early as the twelfth century BCE, I Ching is the third oldest Chinese text, and the scripture that the Chinese use instead of Bibles and Qur’ans to ward off zombies and soulstealers.
About 3127 BCE:
According to Indian accounts written during the sixth century BCE, Lord Krishna is born at Mathura, in Uttar Pradesh. Lord Krishna spent fourteen years there and another eleven years at a nearby town called Jumna. At the beginning of the Kaliyuga cycle, Krishna retired to an island across the ocean, where he lived for another hundred years before ascending to heaven. Stories describing the life of Krishna report that he sometimes engaged in wrestling matches. To win these bouts, Krishna used knees to the chest, punches to the head, hair pulling, and strangleholds. As such tactics are by modern standards unprincipled, to say the least, the story suggests that early Indian wrestling champions may have been more concerned with gaining personal reputation than earning karmic credit.
According to a stele erected in Guatemala about 690 CE, the Mayan calendar cycle known as the Long Count begins on August 13. Mayan corn-planting and forest-burning rituals probably determined the day, while the year was probably due to some seventh century astrological theory.
According to Indian astrologers writing in the sixth century BCE, the Vedic Kaliyuga ("Age of Iron") begins on February 18. Some modern Vedic astrologers have rectified this date so that it reads April 15, 3101, while yet others say that it began with the ascension of Krishna in 3006 BCE. No matter: the Kaliyuga Age is 432,000 years long, and Indian Standard Time was only introduced on January 1, 1906. By the way, the 432,000-year cycle probably has nothing to do with psychological archetypes, the procession of the equinoxes, or alien transmissions, and everything to do with base-sixty. Lacking zeroes and using base-sixty, the Indians and Babylonians wrote 432,000 as II, and as such, it represented their first very large round number.
About 3100 BCE:
A Sudanese warrior known as Mena or Narmer forcibly unites Egypt and Syria with the Sudan, thereby establishing himself as Egypt’s first Pharaoh. This is known because Egyptian court reporters simultaneously began recording reign histories on tomb walls using pictorial writing. As the Egyptian patron of record keeping was the goddess Seshat, and as tapestries existed in Syria during the fourth millennium, some prehistorians believe that these early clerks were female. (Reign histories and tax records were probably embroidered or woven unto pictorial cloths before they were painted on walls or inscribed on boards or clay tablets.) On the other hand, some African prehistorians have said that because Mena was Sudanese, writing must have a black African origin. Either way, no one knows who the Egyptian clerks were, nor who created their pictorial (hieroglyphic) and symbolic (hieratic) notational systems.
As for weapons, the contemporary Egyptians and Nubians used stone-tipped spears and maces, wooden self-bows and throwing sticks, and flint knives and arrows. Their armor, meanwhile, consisted of hide shields and fabric halters and midriff bands. (Bone-and-metal armor did not appear until the development of chariot-borne archery during the sixteenth century BCE. Why? Because the armor weighed too much to walk around in.) Magical weapons were also probable, given the Biblical evidence, but are not as easily documented using archaeological sources.
About 3000 BCE:
Copper is smelted in Malaya.
Throughout Eurasia, people start building levies and dams, digging irrigation ditches, and yoking oxen to plows. Still, humans provided most of the muscle power, as the surviving pictures show the yokes attached to the animals’ horns, which is not mechanically efficient.
In a list of his more valuable prescriptions, a Sumerian physician describes something called "joy plants." Many prehistorians believe that this refers to the use of opium gum as a medicine. Perhaps. But, if true, the total amounts used must have been tiny, as the first recorded death due to opium overdose did not occur until 1037 CE, nor were opium’s addictive qualities described until 1613 CE.
The Phoenicians and Minoans (the latter is an archaeological term, since no one knows what the people of that culture called themselves) ship tin, salt, wine, brightly colored cloth, and olive oil around the Mediterranean. Excepting salt, which was an important preservative, these were products used for the luxury trade, not common consumption.
A limestone plaque from a Sumerian site called Nintu Temple VI show pairs of belted wrestlers, while a bronze cup or vase shows two standing wrestlers struggling for control. The wrestling was probably used for ritual purposes, as Sumerian soldiers waged war using slings, spears, and lances. (Although bows and arrows existed, they were used mainly for hunting.)
Membrane drums appear throughout the world. The development was probably due to people discovering that untanned hides stretched over beer-pots resounded with the voice of the Thunder God when struck. The percussion implied magical powers and divine intervention, provided amusement during festivals and sewing bees, and gave an auditory distraction during surgeries, tooth extractions, and childbirth. If the surviving artwork is correct, then the early drummers were as often female as male.
According to tradition, Indochinese astrologers create the Sino-Vietnamese calendar. Of course, if you assume that those astrologers knew what they were doing, then they would have invented this calendar about 1679 BCE, when its cosmology would have matched the night sky. At any rate, the 12-year cycle this Sino-Vietnamese calendar used described the length of time it took Jupiter to complete one orbit of the night sky. The animal names ("tiger," "rat," etc.) currently used to describe the years in that 12-year cycle date to the ninth or tenth century CE. The creators of those names were Buddhist astrologers interested in popularizing their science among the unlettered masses.
About 2940 BCE:
According to a text written in the sixth century BCE, the Emperor Fu Hsih introduces marriage contracts into China. Fu’s successor, Sui Jen Shih, reportedly introduced single-edged swords into the Middle Kingdom. This is possible, considering that jade spearheads and axes have been found at archaeological digs throughout China. (Although the green soapstone sold to tourists is fragile, true jade -- that is, nephrite and jadite -- is so hard to break that the Chinese even make anvils of the stuff.) Nevertheless, Chinese swords are more conclusively dated to the eighth century BCE than the thirtieth.
About 2800 BCE:
Four-wheeled carts appear in Eastern Europe and Manchuria. This dispersion suggests that the steppe peoples transmitted the technology.
Egyptian papyri describe the use of Indian spices such as cinnamon. These spices were not used to flavor food as much as to make medicines, dyes, and perfumes. Indeed, a fourteenth century CE list of "spices" included 288 different items, of which the less-tasty ones included turpentine, frankincense, and gold leaf.
A great flood occurs in the Tigris-Euphrates valley. Although not featured in Babylonian writings and the Bible, there was a much larger flood in the Pacific Northwest 16,000 years earlier.
Cotton is domesticated in India.
Clothing decorated with metal or bone disks appears among the steppe nomads living east of the Black Sea. Judging by burial sites, decorated clothing was originally worn by women. Later, similar disks are found stitched unto men’s clothing, too, in patterns that suggest an eye toward arrow and knife resistance rather than style.
About 2780 BCE:
The Step Pyramid is built at Saqqara, Egypt. This makes it the world’s oldest unreconstructed stone structure. The distinction is made because there are reconstructed remains of a tower at Jericho that date to around 8350 BCE, and reconstructed temple ruins on Malta that date to around 3250 BCE.
About 2700 BCE:
The Phoenicians give names to the constellations. While the development may have had astrological purposes, it was also a mnemonic system, for as late as the sixteenth century, astrologically based mnemonic systems were common in seafaring European nations.
Britons begin making and using yew bows. Although made from a single piece of wood, and therefore technically self-bows, these weapons were actually compound bows, as the wood from which they were made from was carefully selected to include both sapwood and heartwood. (The flexible sapwood was used for the back of the bow, while the denser heartwood was used for its belly.) Anyway, yew bows were more flexible and powerful than bows made from ash, elm, and other potential bow woods. Still, selecting the right trees required considerable skill, and making and adjusting the weapons was not easily learned. Therefore, yew bows were generally aristocratic hunting weapons instead of war weapons. (Although fourteenth century English kings used Portuguese yew to equip corps of mercenary archers, what people did in the fourteenth century is not necessarily indicative of what people did in more ancient times.)
According to documents written between the sixth century BCE and the third century CE, Wang-ti, the Yellow Emperor, rules China. Wang-ti is subsequently credited inventing many things, including the animistic philosophy known as Taoism and modern sports such as archery, wrestling, swordsmanship, and football. Legends aside, Taoism is more conclusively dated to the sixth century BCE, perhaps as part of the folk response to the more rigid philosophies known as Confucianism and Legalism. The link to sport meanwhile was only established in 1926, three years before the Smithsonian Institute began the first archaeological digs in China. The creator of the latter stories was Professor Gunsun Hoh of Peking’s Tsing Hua College. In 1939, L.K. Kiang repeated Hoh’s claims almost verbatim, and they have since been accepted uncritically by most students of the East Asian martial arts.
According to tradition, silk is domesticated in China. Archaeological evidence, however, suggests that this traditional date is 600 years too early.
About 2600 BCE:
According to a Babylonian account written during the thirteenth century BCE, a chariot-driving hero named Gilgamesh becomes the ruler of the Sumerian city of Uruk. His method involved beating his opponents in wrestling matches, then raping their women afterwards.
Between 2551-2494 BCE:
The Giza Sphinx, whose design was associated with the worship of the goddess Hathor and whose face has been associated with its patron, the Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh Khefren, is built in Egypt. Erosion rather than gunfire damaged the Sphinx’s face, subsequent Christian and Muslim claims notwithstanding.
About 2500 BCE:
Sumerian sculptures show infantrymen advancing shoulder-to-shoulder carrying copper-reinforced wooden shields to protect them from the spears and arrows of their opponents. The surviving artwork shows the soldiers six across. This may represent a column of sixes, an early example of a phalanx, or artistic convention. The use of sixes is a reminder of the Sumerians’ concurrent development of base-sixty calculations. Although astrologers claim that base-sixty was due to Sumerian astrologers’ knowledge of lunar cycles, surviving Sumerian arithmetic problems included questions such as "How long would it take for a certain amount of money to double if it has been loaned at a compound annual rate of twenty percent?" (Three years, two hundred eighty-seven days.) Therefore, it seems more likely that base-sixty was really owed to Sumerian merchants combining some existing base-five and base-twelve counting system.
Egyptian engineers sail wind-powered boats up the Nile. According to some modern writers, the Egyptians also experimented with gliders. While this might explain the legend of Icarus, the Cretan youth who flew too near the sun, such technological feats seem unlikely. Therefore, a more likely source for the story of Icarus is an unpleasant Minoan ritual that involved tarring and feathering criminals, and then throwing them off cliffs.
Central Asians domesticate Bactrian camels. At their fittest, these animals could go 33 days without food and nine days without water while carrying 500 pounds of baggage at a rate of 32 miles a day. In short, they opened the Central Asian deserts to human use.
Dogs are introduced into Indonesia.
About 2350 BCE:
By making his sons into regional governors and his daughters into the high priestesses of the Moon-Goddess, the Akkadian warrior known as Sharru-kin ("Legitimate King") creates Mesopotamia’s first important military dynasty. Sharru-kin (known today as Sargon the Great) is also famous for being the first southwest Asian leader to have been saved from infanticide at birth by being placed into a basket of rushes and sent forth on a river.
Sharru-kin’s army consisted of a core of nine battalions stationed near Akad (Agade) supported by militia raised as the situation required. Akkadian regulars wore cloth kilts, leather jackets, and copper helmets, and were equipped with single-curved composite bows, bronze-tipped spears, and copper axes and knives. Around town, they also carried shields and rode chariots. The regulars left these chariots at home during rural campaigns, as the four-wheeled contraptions lacked suspensions and would have fallen apart if maneuvered at speed in rocky country. The Akkadian militiamen, meanwhile, wore sheepskin kilts, and were equipped with self-bows, wooden spears, and slings. They were paid in bread and beer, and their leaders were known as "cup-bearers."
According to the exegesis of Anglo-Irish Bishop Ussher, the Great Flood occurs. This dating puts the Flood about 800 years after the last archaeologically verifiable massive flooding of the Euphrates. Ancient Babylonian accounts say that after the latter flood, the Earth Goddess punished the mischievous male god who caused it, but if Ussher was aware of these stories, doubtless he dismissed them as mere superstition.
In October, Tan’gun Wang’gom, the legendary progenitor of the Korean people, ascends to heaven. The name translates as "the most honorable chief who descended from heaven and assumed human form." The base document is called Samguk Yusa, and the oldest known copy dates to 1279 CE.
About 2300 BCE:
A map depicting the Mesopotamian city of Lagash is carved into a stone tablet held in the lap of a Sumerian god. Equivalent maps were also made at Luxor, in Egypt, about the same time, or perhaps a little earlier.
Donkey-mounted couriers begin carrying written messages about Iraq and Iran. Originally, these imperial messengers, called angaros in Persian and angelos, or angels, in Greek, had no scheduled routes or relay stations. Instead, they counted on getting replacement mounts from the areas through which they traveled. This procedure sometimes led to conflict with the locals. (The government paid local leaders to provide the post riders with grooms, shelter, watering facilities, and substantial numbers of mounts. Obviously, not all complied, which meant that the post riders simply took what they wanted. Hence the conflicts.) A modified system in which the kings kept their own postal herds worked better, and by the thirteenth century, the Mongols had relay stations linking every major town between the Yellow and Black Seas.
Eastern Mediterranean smiths begin beating meteoric iron into sacred knives and medallions. Meteoric iron has continued to be made into aristocratic weapons into historic times, Indonesian krisses being the most famous examples. As about 2,000 meteorites fall on earth during the typical year, meteoric iron is common throughout the world. While the Ka’bah in Mecca is probably the world’s most famous iron meteorite, the largest was found near Grootfontein, Namibia, in 1920. For those who were wondering, the latter is a 60-65 ton block of iron shale measuring about 9 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 3-1/4 feet thick.
Friezes on the walls of a tomb in Saqqara, Egypt show youths wrestling. Other friezes on the same tombs also show boys in light tunics boxing with bare fists and fencing with papyrus stalks, perhaps in the context of playing soldier.
About 2200 BCE:
People belonging to the Kotosh culture of the Peruvian highlands burn chili peppers in ceremonial fire pits. Since burial sites were nearby, this may have been done to provoke tears.
Irrigation agriculture spreads through the Andean lowlands of Peru. Avocados, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and peanuts were among the crops grown. Coca chewing and beer drinking also date to this era.
About 2100 BCE:
According to the usual exegesis of Genesis 12, the Hebrew patriarch Abraham leaves Harran (a town in Anatolia) for the Promised Land. If Noah’s sons lived 40-60 years rather than the 400-600 years described in the genealogies, then the story becomes a mythic description of a Central Asian migration into Palestine circa 1570 BCE rather than a literal account of one elderly man’s solitary trek.
Before 2000 BCE:
Mongoloid populations displace Australoid populations in southeast Asia.
Chariots and the horses used to pull them are buried with dead humans at sites throughout the central Asian steppes.
Egyptian medicine becomes famous throughout the Mediterranean world. Too much must not be made of this reputation, though. For example, the author of the Kahun Papyrus, the oldest surviving Egyptian medical text, did not distinguish diseases from their symptoms, and its author was unsure how venereal diseases were transmitted, let alone treated.
Silver begins to be separated from lead ores. At the time, the lead was probably the more valuable industrial metal.
About 2000 BCE:
According to tradition, the Yellow Emperor of China defeats a horned monster named Ch’ih Yü in a head-butting contest. From a philological standpoint, the Yellow Emperor’s participation seems unlikely, partly because he would have been about 700 years old at the time, and partly because the story was not recorded until the sixth century BCE. So perhaps the allusion is to siege warfare rather than actual wrestling. This said, northern Chinese farmers were reliably reported playing head-butting contests during the third century BCE, and similar head-butting games are still played in Korea, where they are known as pakchiki.
Sumerians start cooking with garlic and onions.
Norwegian rock paintings show elk-hunters wearing skis.
About 1950 BCE:
The world’s oldest known wrestling manual appears as frescoes on the walls of four separate tombs built near Beni Hasan, Egypt. Their purpose was probably to show the departed ways to defeat the opponents they might encounter in the afterlife. If the dead were able to follow the pictures, they might have been successful, too, as nearly all of the 400 holds and escapes shown are still used in freestyle wrestling. The wrestlers are usually naked except for a wrestling belt, and are shown with contrasting skin colors to make it easier to distinguish individual holds.
About 1900 BCE:
A British culture known as the Wessex People builds Stonehenge IIIB on Salisbury Plain. Although often called a Celtic construction, the Gallic Celts did not arrive in southern England until the sixth century BCE. Likewise, the story about it being a Druid temple only dates to the seventeenth century; before that, the English believed it some Roman or Saxon construction. Meanwhile, an unidentified culture places 167 large stones in an ellipse at Mzoura, Morocco, about 30 miles southwest of Tangier. Prehistorians speculate that both constructions served astronomical functions. For example, Stonehenge is said to measure the 19-year cycle of lunar eclipses while Mzoura is said to align with the setting sun during spring and autumn. However, given enough stones and a little imagination, anything can be made to align with anything. Consequently, these alignments might just be examples of the Law of Small Numbers, which mathematician Underwood Dudley defines as "Coincidences happen."
Egyptian sappers use portable huts made from reed frames and covered with animal hides to protect engineers from arrows and hot oil while they used spades to dislodge bricks from enemy cities’ walls.
According to the twelfth century CE Irish Book of Invasions, the Tailltenn Games are established near modern Telltown, Ireland. These games featured singing, wrestling, and racing, took place about August 1, and commemorated Tailltu, the mother of a pre-Christian sun god named Lugh (pronounced Lew, but nonetheless sometimes anglicized as Lammas).
About 1800 BCE:
Sumerian astronomers, many of whom were female, are reported trying to predict and control the weather. Their meteorological methods are a subsequent root of Hellenistic astrology, as are their 60-minute hours and 360-degree circles. Hellenistic, by the way, is more accurate than "Greek," as the people known as the ancient Greeks spoke various languages, many of which were not Greek. Macedonian, for example, is a Slavonic language. Additionally, many Hellenes did not live in Greece. Troy, for example, is on the Dardanelles coast of Turkey. Nevertheless, these people shared a common culture. Accordingly, historians use the word "Hellenic" to describe the very insular pre-Alexandrian Greek culture, and the word "Hellenistic" to describe the more cosmopolitan post-Alexandrian Greek culture. (For convenience, historians date the change to 337 BCE, when Alexander’s father, Philip II of Macedon, united the previously antagonistic Hellenic city-states behind an invasion of Iran.) In addition, while it is commonly said that Sumerian astrology influenced Vedic, or Indian astrology, this is probably ethnocentrism rather than documented fact. Moreover, even if they did, the Indian methods clearly diverged. To give just one example, Vedic astrologers divide the day into 60 parts (nalika) each having 24 minutes rather than the other way around.
Metallurgy spreads through northern Europe.
Ceramic pottery and heddle weaving spread through the Andean highlands. The cloth and pots were decorated with designs similar to ones still in use four thousand years later.
According to a Chinese legend dating to the ninth century CE, the Shang Dynasty is established near Anyang in Honan Province. According to twentieth century archaeological findings, the Shang Dynasty is more firmly linked to a Central Asian victory over Chinese armies circa 1523 BCE. Either way, Shang armies, like those of the Eastern Mediterranean, consisted of several dozen chariot-mounted aristocrats and some unarmored servants. Archaeological discoveries show that Shang weapons included composite recurved bows and copper-tipped spears and axes, while defensive weapons included palisaded walls, leather-and-bone armor, and moats.
About 1750 BCE:
The Babylonian king known as Hammurabi orders his clerks to inscribe their legal codes into stone steles and clay tablets. As evidence of what the king thought important, surviving inscriptions include sixty-eight sections on family law, fifty on property rights, and seven on the rights of priestesses.
About 1700 BCE:
Lightweight two-wheeled chariots appear on the steppes north and west of the Caspian Sea. These were made from light hardwoods and leather mesh, and weighed less than 70 pounds. From a technological standpoint, the heat-treated wooden wheels were also impressive, as they weighed a tenth as much as a disk wheel. Their use allowed chariot-borne archers to pursue game at nearly 20 miles an hour across flat sandy terrain. Of course, such use required considerable skill, as the chariots were unsprung and flipped whenever a bump was hit too hard. The vehicles were also enormously expensive, as were the composite bows, metal-studded leather armor, three crewmen, several horses and grooms, and the mountain of spare parts and feed needed to support each vehicle. Moreover, let’s not forget the even bigger bureaucracy needed to manage the lot. Nevertheless, military kingdoms based on chariot-borne archers controlled Asia Minor by 1650 BCE, and were spreading into the Balkans and India by 1600 BCE. Accordingly, historian Robert Drews speculates the chariot-borne revolution involved soldiers using their chariots as archery platforms rather than as battle taxis for aristocratic infantrymen.
About 1628 BCE:
A volcanic eruption calculated at three times the power of Krakatoa blows the center out of Aegean island of Thera. In 1967, the Greek scholar Angelos Galanopoulos claims that stories about the tsunamis caused by this 500-megaton explosion inspired Plato’s stories about sunken Atlantis. While this theory sounds plausible, Atlantis also has been sited in Greece, Turkey, South America, and Plato’s imagination. For what it’s worth, the prophet of sunken Atlantis in modern times was Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota, who published Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, in 1881.
Mycenaean signet rings show women holding what look like opium poppies. As these rings were made from gold, and as what look like smoking paraphernalia has been found nearby, prehistorians speculate that Mycenaean shamans may have inhaled opium smoke through pipes. If so, it was an idea that didn’t catch on, as smoking did not become a general European fashion for another 3,000 years.
Mesopotamian art shows armored four-wheeled carts protecting sappers as they dislodged bricks from enemy cities’ walls during wars in northern Syria. As the walls of major Mesopotamian cities could be over 80 feet thick, such operations were time-consuming. Therefore treachery, disease, and starvation usually decided most siege operations.
Assyrian priests are reported divining their gods’ will by reading the still-steaming innards of freshly killed animals. The gods were then tempted to change their minds through the sacrifice of certain parts to sacred flames. What was done with the rest of the sacrificed animal? People ate it, of course. In short, the gods got the innards and the smoke, the priests and aristocrats got the good cuts, and the beggars got the scraps. (While the word "sacrifice" means "to make offerings," it also implies "feast.")
About 1600 BCE:
The Mycenaean Greeks fight wars for the purpose of collecting female slaves. Why? For one thing, female slaves were less likely to rebel, and rarely tried to run away after having had a child or two. More importantly, they were used to working with textiles, which the Mycenaeans used for trading and for money. The Mycenaeans had recently introduced quota systems as a way of manufacturing commercial textiles. While men grew flax, tended the sheep, and sold the finished cloths, women combed, spun, wove, and dyed the raw materials. Although the men’s responsibilities were not especially labor-intensive, the women’s responsibilities were extremely labor-intensive. Since industrious men could produce hundreds of tons of raw wool and flax annually, this was hardly an inconsequential problem. Hence the need for constantly acquiring more cheap, comparatively docile industrial workers.
Baltic amber becomes a major trade commodity throughout Europe. Called elektron by the Greeks, the 40 million-year old fossilized pine resin was thought to possess magical powers. Therefore it was often worn as a bead or amulet, or made into rosaries.
About 1550 BCE:
The Egyptians obtain horses from the Syrians.
Metalworking tools appear in Andean America. Gold was worked in the northern highlands, while copper, tin, and brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) were worked in the southern. Miners and smiths used hafted stone hammers, wooden scrapers and sticks, hide bags, and coiled baskets.
About 1520 BCE:
A fresco made on the Aegean island of Thera shows boys boxing. The youths wore loincloths around their waists and leather or cloth wrappings around their right hands. Their targets were facial, and their blows were clubbing rather than straight. Considering this and other artwork, plus evidence in the Iliad, some prehistorians speculate that the boxing was part of some Minoan funeral ritual. But that is not certain, especially since the Iliad was written 700 years later by people from another culture, and much "Minoan" artwork is forged. Therefore, it is safer to say that surviving art suggests that boxing may have had ritual significance for the Minoans.
About 1500 BCE:
Near the ford at Jabbok, the Hebrew patriarch Jacob wrestles with a spirit being, thereby earning the title of "Israel," or "wrestler with God." There is some controversy about Jacob’s winning technique. The Christian Bible, for example, credits Jacob’s victory to his refusing to give in even after his opponent grabbed him by the genitals ("the sinew which shrank, that is upon the hollow of the thigh"). The Jewish tradition, however, has Jacob continuing despite an injury to his sciatic nerve, which in turn explains why the sciatic nerve is discarded during kosher preparation of meat. The nature of Jacob’s opponent is also debated. For example, Christian theologians typically say it was an apparition of God. Jews, on the other hand, say that it was the guardian angel of Jacob’s brother Esau, and that the victory symbolizes Jacob’s spiritual victory over Esau.
Millenarian philosophies appear in Iran and Syria. Subsequently attributed to the Iranian prophet Zoroaster, these claimed that an apocalyptic confrontation between the forces of good and evil would lead to a world without imperfections. In practice, they simply fueled peasant uprisings resulting in the deaths of millions of people.
Human-powered plows appear in northern Europe.
Lamellar (sewn plate) armors appear in Central Asia, Syria, and Eastern Europe. When making such armor, artisans took horses’ hooves, cleaned them, and split them to resemble scales. Then they drilled holes into the scales and stitched them into knee-length goatskin coats with ox-sinews. Finally, they painted the armor to look like snakeskin. The paint was partly to prevent rust and partly to invoke the protection of the Goddess, whose symbol was the serpent.
While searching the Mediterranean for the tiny sea snails that they crushed to manufacture their famous dyes (and the tin that they used to mordant, or set, them), the Phoenicians pass the Pillars of Hercules, and settle Iberia’s Atlantic coast.
The Olmec culture arises around Tabasco and Veracruz on Mexico’s Gulf Coast. Olmec means "people of the region of rubber" in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. Accordingly, it is a historiographical term created by Marshall Saville in 1929 rather than a name these people used for themselves. Indeed, what they called themselves is not known. Many Olmec sculptures have "African features" (that is, everted lips and flat noses). Therefore, José Melgar, Thor Heyerdal, Ivan Van Sertima, and others have speculated that an Egyptian or Phoenician convoy may have been blown off course and then drifted into the Caribbean, thus introducing "Egyptian" ideas into the region. Meanwhile, Wayne Chandler, Gordon Ekholm, and Rafique Jairazbhoy have speculated that Shang-era refugees were simultaneously introducing Chinese culture and artifacts to Peru and Costa Rica. For his part, Charles Wicke claims that the Olmecs were originally from Oaxaca and Guerrero on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, and only gradually moved east. Finally, Mexican art historians state that the artists were Mayans. To them, the Olmec statues depict kings as manifestations of the jaguar god. All this is to say that nationalism often colors historians’ interpretations.
The Sechín culture builds some large cities along Peru’s northern coast. Sechín decorations included monuments showing warriors standing among decapitated enemies.
An army of a thousand or more chariots commanded by the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III defeats a smaller Canaanite chariot army in the field, and then sacks the city of Megiddo. While the purpose of the war is unknown, Elizabeth Wayland Barber suggests that it could have been to introduce the Syrians’ sophisticated weaving techniques into Egypt. At any rate, due to a concurrent solar eclipse mentioned in the brief account of the battle that survives, this event provides the world’s first astronomically datable battle. And, if the Revelation of Saint John the Divine is to be believed, then a future battle at this site, which the Jews knew as Armageddon, is also to be the last.
About 1450 BCE:
An Anatolian nation that the Greeks called the Chalybes learns how to make iron from ferrous soils. Some prehistorians speculate that the development was related to the manufacture of red ocher cosmetics used to honor the Great Goddess. A less mystical explanation has people rooting through the remains of wind-driven fires making the discovery. (There are points along the Black Sea coast where the sand is so ferrous that it fuses into iron at very low temperatures.)
Alphabetic writing appears in Syria.
Swords (that is, metal blades that are more than twice as long as their handles and equally usable for cutting, thrusting, and guarding) are made in the mountains of Austria and Hungary. Known to archaeologists as Sprockoff Ia swords, these were cast bronze weapons that measured about 28 inches in length from pommel to tip. Their double-edged blades roughly paralleled one another until the last six or seven inches of their length, when they narrowed to a point. To prevent breakage, the tang was cast with the blade, and wood or bone scales were riveted to the tang to create a handle. Long channels ("fullers") also ran the length of the blade. Often called blood grooves, their real purpose was to lighten the sword without reducing its strength. If cold-hammered with a high tin content, these weapons could be almost as sharp and flexible as good quality steel. The weapons and the methods for casting them gradually spread south into the Italian Alps, and became very popular with Greek and Macedonian adventurers during the thirteenth century BCE.
According to the Bhagavad-Gita ("Lord’s Song"), the god-man Krishna and the warrior-king Arjuna discuss the meaning of life. Their decision was that a warrior should have a code of ethics and fight in defense of it. They also decided that it was inappropriate for a warrior to avoid battle by choosing to live as a merchant or a priest, as he would then be untrue to his obligations.
Fourteenth century BCE:
The ancestors of the modern Turks, Mongols, and Tungus make copper weapons and metal-studded leather armor. The Chinese say that the Mongols or Tungus learned the methods from them, while the Russians say that the Turks learned them from the Ukrainians. But, as the Turks, Mongols, and Tungus are all quite imaginative and warlike people often maligned by the Russians and Chinese, it is not impossible that the Central Asians actually created the technology themselves.
A solar eclipse is reported at Ugarit, in northwest Syria, on May 3. According to contemporary astrologers, the event meant that the local lord was about to be attacked by his vassals. This was hardly a bold statement on their part, considering that the Hittites were then in the process of conquering Syria and Palestine.
About 1350 BCE:
Religions honoring triune gods appear in Mesopotamia.
Pharaoh Amenhotep IV promulgates the first known monotheism, a cult of himself as the personification of the sun god Aten. (The Hebrew patriarch Joseph was probably one of Amenhotep’s ministers.) The pharaohs often prided themselves on their archery, too. Amenophis II, for instance, claimed that he had once shot four targets set 34 feet apart with such force that his arrows penetrated three inches of Asian copper.
Rock-throwing slings appear in Egypt funerary supplies. These slings were several feet long and were made of plaited linen. Their purpose was probably to scare birds from heavenly fields, as the story of David and Goliath notwithstanding, the military use of slings in the region was militarily uncommon until the seventh century BCE. The advent of military slings was owed in part to the development of aerodynamically efficient missiles made of cast lead. The weight of these projectiles was typically a couple of ounces, or 20 to 50 grams. Effective range was around 200 yards, while maximum range was around 400. Rhodians and Balearic Islanders were particularly famous for their skill with slings.
Around 1345 BCE:
A Hittite horse trainer ("Kikkuli") describes a new method for training chariot horses. As his technical terms were Mittani (an Iranian people living in Mesopotamia and Syria), the methods probably were, too. The process lasted 169 days. It involved training horses and driver to stop rapidly from a gallop, turn about, and then retreat in the direction they from which they had come. Training was also given in rapidly harnessing and unharnessing animals, probably so that exhausted or wounded animals could be replaced, and finally learning to maneuver in squadrons of 10 to 50 chariots.
About 1300 BCE:
The Arabs domesticate dromedary camels. As dromedaries can’t bite or kick especially well, and have no real defenses except relatively slow flight, this probably saved the animals from extinction.
Patrilineal religions spread through southwest Asia. The many stories about male gods castrating their fathers and raping their mothers are probably reminders of the conflicts between the new and old religions. Or maybe it simply refers to the Assyrian practice of conquest by genocide.
The Rig Veda ("Knowledge Hymn") provides a textual reference to hereditary castes in India. In these documents, the mouth of the god Purusha became brahman ("those who pray," or priests). Purusha’s two arms became rajayana, or kings, a category that was later changed to kshatriya, or nobles. Purusha’s two thighs became wealthy merchants and landowners (vaishya) and his two feet became farmers and artisans (shudra). The Rig Veda also reported the god Indra defeating the demon Vrtra by attacking his vital spots. This is the first known description of vital point striking. But as no particular details are provided, the description may be legendary.
About 1275 BCE:
To keep their calendar in step with the seasons, Chinese astrologers add intercalary months to their lunar calendars. The mathematical calculations involved are not simple, and as late as the seventeenth century errors were still being corrected. Accordingly, Chinese dates earlier than the ninth century BCE that are not supported by archeological data should be treated with suspicion, and all dates that are not supported by external data should be treated with caution.
An Egyptian army commanded by the Pharaoh Ramesses II fights a major battle against the Hittites near Hatti, Syria. The Egyptian army had hundreds of chariots and tens of thousands of soldiers and support personnel. Charioteers, chariot-borne archers, and aristocrats comprised 15% of the total force. Another 10% were "shooters," "runners," and "strong-arm boys." (Shooters were dismounted archers used to protect remudas or chase guerrillas through the mountains. "Runners" were the light infantrymen who followed the chariots. Strong-arm boys were the men who protected noblemen and their supplies.) The rest were engineers, support personnel, and camp followers. A speculation: did the entertainment provided by the "runners" and "strong-arm boys," few of whom were ethnically Egyptian, include the wrestling, boxing, and stick-fighting games painted on a tomb wall near El Amarna, Egypt, around the same time?
About 1250 BCE:
According to tradition, the Hebrew patriarch Moses leads his people out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land. While this date is speculative, it is plausible, as the Patriarch Joshua was burning Canaanite towns around 1200 BCE. The Akkadian root-word hepiru means "vagrants," and refers to the Semitic peoples who served as mercenaries in the Egyptian, Sumerian, and Hittite armies.
According to the story of Jason and the Argonauts, a Lakedaimonian (Spartan) boxer named Polydeukes defeats a foreign bully named Amykos. In the story, Amykos, who was the larger of the pair, wielded his fists and forearms like clubs and charged into the attack, while the smaller Polydeukes bobbed, weaved, and feinted, and ultimately battered the larger man into bloody submission. While a fine story, the strategies and techniques described may reflect the boxing of the third century BCE, when Apollonius Rhodius put Jason’s tale into its final form, rather than the thirteenth. Nevertheless, the story may describe Europe’s first recorded gold rush – according to Strabo, Hellenic sluice boxes were hollowed trees and their separators were sheepskins. Hence, the Golden Fleece.
Mycenaean funeral rites are described as including high-stepping dances performed by armored men who used their shields as drums, and their swords as drumsticks. This seems anachronistic, as archaeological evidence does not reveal the presence of swords at Mycenaean sites until after 1200 BCE. But, at any rate, that was what Plato, writing seven centuries later, claimed. Plato also said that the Mycenaeans had three different kinds of dances. These were military dances, public dances, and general dances. Military dances imitated warfare through high leaping and expressions of darting and striking. Public dances served religious functions. General dances were done for recreation and entertainment. As the descriptions of leaping dances in preparation for warfare also assume the use of leg-biting swords, this also seems anachronistic. So perhaps Plato’s descriptions really describe the dances of his own time rather than those of his Mycenaean ancestors.
About 1230 BCE:
According to Exodus 20, God issues the Hebrews ten rules for ethical behavior. Although an unusually non-culturally-specific set of rules, the fifth of these, namely "Thou shalt not kill," evidently did not apply outside the community. For example, in Numbers 31, Moses rebuked the Hebrews for not killing their male captives and all female captives who had known men by lying with them, and then selling the orphaned children into slavery. It also did not prevent the mutilation of dead enemies. Otherwise I Samuel 18:25-27 would not describe how David delivered the foreskins of 200 slain Philistines to King Saul as part of a prenuptial agreement. (The Hebrew practice involved removing the penises of uncircumcised enemies and the right hands of circumcised enemies.) Similar practices remain popular in Lebanon. For example, in 1976 the French photographer Catherine Leroy observed Palestinian and Lebanese fighters routinely castrating still-living prisoners.
About 1210 BCE:
According to Homer, the Fates give Achilleus, golden-haired son of Peleus, the choice between a short life crowned by everlasting fame and a long life that no one would remember. The youth chooses the former (perhaps because he was tired of his mother dressing him as a girl) and goes on to become the short-lived (but famous) hero of Homer’s Iliad. This dilemma has recurred throughout history, and as recently as 1991 it was suggested that the Chinese American actor Bruce Lee chose an early death and cinematic fame to a long life and historic oblivion. (Another recurring theme is the hero’s mother not being so pleased by the son’s decision.)
About 1208 BCE:
A Libyan king hires Balkan, Italian, and Palestinian mercenaries to help him during an attack on the Egyptians. Although the Egyptians killed the Libyan king and drove off his mercenaries, the Europeans and Palestinians continued raiding the Nile Delta for the next hundred years. In 1873, French historian Gaston Maspero said that these raids were a manifestation of a Hellenic Volkwanderung, and called the raiders the "peuples de la mer." Although never really proven, by the 1920s, Maspero’s theories were accepted as scientific fact. Consequently, the "Sea Peoples" are often described as a unified nation that roamed the Mediterranean rather than as Greek and Sicilian pirates who traveled about in boats.
About 1200 BCE:
Many eastern Mediterranean towns and cities are systematically looted and burned. In 1942, Gordon Childe suggested that the destruction had a technological basis. (He believed it was owed to Anatolian smiths discovering a method for making cheap iron swords and arrowheads.) However, in 1968 Jane Waldbaum showed that 96% of twelfth century eastern Mediterranean weapons were made of bronze instead of iron. Therefore, metallurgy wasn’t the answer. Accordingly, Robert Drews argued in 1993 that the destruction was instead owed to a revolution in military tactics. Said Professor Drews, "Men in ‘barbarian’ lands awoke to a truth that had been with them for some time: the chariot-based forces on which the Great Kingdoms relied could be overwhelmed by swarming infantries." If Drews’ theory is correct -- and it seems plausible -- then the nearest modern analogy is probably the Mfecane of nineteenth century southern Africa.
Chinese aristocrats start eating with chopsticks.
Late Stone Age Mongoloid peoples displace the Early Stone Age Australoid populations of Indonesia and the Philippines. These Mongoloids included the ancestors of the Polynesians and Micronesians.
About 1193 BCE:
After a 12-year siege, Achaian warriors succeed in destroying the Mycenaean seaport on the Dardanelles coast that they called Troy. Although I can’t prove it, I suspect that the Greeks’ famous wooden horse refers to totems carried by Central Asian mercenaries hired by the crafty Odysseus. My reasoning is that the ancient Kirghiz were known as the Wooden Horse people, after their practice of traveling about on skis. While the Finnish epic Kalevala describes a magic elk built of timber and willow branches, the Kalevala was only collected during the nineteenth century. Be that as it may, while Homer attributed the causes of the Trojan War to the wrath of Achilleus and the beauty of Helen, modern scholars usually attribute it to trade disputes and generic conflagration-era battles between infantry and charioteers. Dates of destruction range from 1275 BCE to 1180 BCE, which suggests multiple assaults on the same geographic location.
Funeral games (agon gymnikos) played by the Homeric warriors during their siege of Troy included chariot races, boxing, wrestling, foot races, discus throwing, and archery events. Prizes (aethlon) included valuable metal artifacts, weapons, oxen, mules, and slave women. Some of the prizes were taken from the dead man’s property. This was not theft, but a way for the living to receive mementos of the dead. George MacDonald Fraser wrote in Quartered Safe Out Here about a similar division of dead men’s property in 1945. "It was not callousness or indifference or lack of feeling for two comrades who had been alive that morning and were now names for the war memorial; it was just that there was nothing to be said." Heroes included Odysseus, who knew every trick in wrestling, foot racing, and war, and the noble-born Euryalos, who defeated the boastful carpenter Epeios by stepping inside Epeios’s guard and punching him on his jaw.
About 1179 BCE:
Egyptian artwork lauds Pharaoh Ramsses III for his prowess on his feet, and shows armored spearmen doing as much fighting as chariot-borne archers. Egyptian militiamen fought in teams of four, while foreign mercenaries fought as individual skirmishers. The change probably reflects the transition away from chariot-borne armies to infantry armies.
A Trojan refugee named Brutus establishes a New Troy that eventually becomes London. Or so goes a story created by the Welsh historian Geoffrey of Monmouth about 1147 CE, probably to justify the Norman Conquest. Geoffrey’s story was particularly popular during the fourteenth century, a time when it seemed that Britain was without heroes.
About 1160 BCE:
A frieze at Medinet Habu celebrating the accession of Pharaoh Ramesses III shows ten pairs of wrestlers and stick-fighters in an arena surrounded by grandstands. The matches were probably fixed, as the art shows that Egyptians always won, and the Libyans, Sudanese, and Syrians always lost.
According to tradition, King Wan and his son, Tan, the Duke of Chou, patronize the publication of I Ching ("Classic of Changes"). King Wan is also attributed with increasing the number of the linear diagrams shown in I Ching from their original eight to their modern sixty-four. Modern accounts often attribute the Dukes of Chou with introducing wrestling and archery. However, as these claims are based on documents written centuries later, this may represent temporal compression. Ceremonial archery exhibitions, for example, do not seem to have been common in China until after 600 BCE.
According to tradition, a Chinese prince called Chi-tzu establishes the Choson Dynasty in what is now North Korea. However, the tradition does not appear in written sources until after the Chinese Han Dynasty invaded Korea during the first century BCE.
Twelfth century BCE:
Sculptures show barefoot Syrian warriors riding horses. These warriors carried clubs, wore metal helmets, and strapped small round shields to their upper arms for protection.
About 1100 BCE:
Babylonian astrologers create days having twenty-four sixty-minute hours. As the length of a solar day varies according to the seasons, the reason was that the astrologers were using a base-sixty mathematical system.
Arab women start riding dromedary camels. Pre-Islamic Arab society was matristic, and the women often taunted enemy armies by lifting their skirts and threatening them with female pollution.
About 1075 BCE:
The War Ministry of Shang Dynasty China organizes huge hunts within imperial game preserves, apparently to train its military reservists in the art of war. This was likely some form of fire-hunting, with peasant infantrymen frightening game animals toward an astrologically significant killing field where chariot-borne archers waited to shoot down the animals as they appeared.
About 1050 BCE:
Engineers employed by the northern Chinese Duke Wu of Chou build siege weapons capable of throwing 3-pound stones to a range of about 100 yards. Forty men were needed to operate and maneuver these weapons, which were originally little more than giant slings. To justify his rebellion against the Shang, Duke Wu also encouraged the development of a philosophical doctrine known as t’ien-ming, or the Mandate of Heaven. This stated that as the rightly guided human sovereign was accountable to Heaven for his actions, divine support would be withdrawn from him when he became unjust. The belief that God was on the side of the bigger battalions was codified during the sixth century BCE, and made a fundamental part of the Six Secret Teachings of the T’ai Kung general.
About 1015 BCE:
According to I Samuel 17:21-58, a Hebrew shepherd named David uses five stones and a sling to slay a Philistine named Goliath. David’s weapon may have been similar to the Palestinian tribal slings of the 1930s, which were about 30 inches long and made from woven wool. The slinger hooked his right forefinger through a loop while holding the other end with his finger, and then wound the sling as if it were the propeller on a rubber-powered airplane. With a two-ounce projectile, maximum range was about 200 yards, and effective range was about 60. The general belief that Goliath was a giant is probably owed to confusion with I Chronicles 11:22-23, where Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, slew an Egyptian who was seven and a half feet tall using the Egyptian’s own spear. II Samuel 21:19 adds that Goliath carried a spear "like unto a weaver’s beam. " However, this was Goliath the Gittite, and his killer was Elhanan, son of Jarre-Oregim. Goliath the Gittite’s unusual weapon may have been a sling-launched javelin. (Although sling-launched javelins were unusual in Judea, they were used in Thessaly and there were Hellenic mercenaries throughout the Mediterranean world.) Maximum range for sling-launched javelins is over 200 yards, but due to the size of the projectile, effective range was about 30.
Tenth century BCE:
Polynesian sailors begin paddling their twin-hulled canoes around the Western Pacific. Their ancestral home was probably somewhere in Indonesia.
Phoenician tuna fishermen establish Makom Shemesh, "the City of the Sun," on Morocco’s northwest Atlantic coast. This Far Western outpost is associated with the exploits of the Phoenician god Melkarth, whom the Greeks called Herakles (Latin: Hercules).
Caravans link India with Tibet and sub-Saharan Africa with the Mediterranean. While archaeological proof for caravan routes between China and Iran only becomes certain during the first century BCE, earlier trade is likely there, too.
Chinese texts mention a game of strategy called wei hai ("encirclement chess"). This game, the progenitor of the Japanese game of Go, was played using black stones and white shells on an astrologically significant board.
Iron farm tools appear in north India.
In Denmark, stinging nettles are boiled in lye to create linen-like fibers. Historian Elizabeth Barber suggests that clothing made from these nettle fibers is a likely source for the northern European stories about the magical shirts worn by gods and heroes.
About 950 BCE:
The Egyptians grow opium poppies at Thebes. Poppy seeds were burned as incense, used as aphrodisiacs and amulets, and made into hair dyes. As for the narcotic sap, it was put into honey-based medicines used to put crying babies to sleep.
Ninth century BCE:
In a series of speculative treatises called the Upanishads, or "Sitting Next to One’s Teachers," northern Indian philosophers describe reincarnation and the transmigration of souls. Three centuries later, these theories become known as yoga, or "the union (of the mind and senses)."
Chinese generals are reported riding about battlefields on horse-drawn chariots. Since these four-wheeled carts were hard to handle and lacked any suspension, their use was more symbolic than practical.
Mandolin-shaped bronze daggers and red ceramic pottery appear in Korea. There is evidence to suggest that Korean rice cultivation began developing simultaneously.
About 890 BCE:
Warriors living along the eastern Mediterranean littoral start riding horses. The development was perhaps economic, as it cost twice as much to buy a chariot as it did to buy the team that pulled it. Furthermore, horses and camels could operate in rougher terrain, and carry heavier weights at higher speeds for longer distances. The transition from charioteering was slow, however, and contemporary Assyrian artwork shows one rider holding the reins while another rider shot arrows from horseback. The move toward equestrian activity also caused men to start wearing trousers instead of pleated kilts.
The Athenian King Theseus is entertained by the spectacle of men hitting each other in the head with leather-laced fists. While post-modern feminists have claimed that these bouts were part of bloodletting fertility rituals honoring either the Sun God or the Earth Mother, male historians often say that that they were part of funerary games. My own speculation is that boxing is the sport of butchers and smiths. Consider the following examples: Odysseus boxed for a prize of a blood-sausage. Butchers have easy access to a high protein diet, and the staggering quantities of meat eaten by Indian wrestlers remain a proud part of their boasting. One of the few pugilists mentioned in the Kievan Chronicles was a tanner. Many early English boxers were butchers – and Smithfield Market in London has been the site of pugilistic bouts and animal fights since the twelfth century. Many early American boxers were also butchers, Tom Hyers, for instance, and as recently as 1960, Smokin’ Joe Frazier worked at a Philadelphia slaughterhouse. (His training methods were subsequently immortalized in the movie Rocky.) Japanese swordsmen who routinely sliced bodies were not aristocratic sword-testers, or even wayward samurai, but butchers. Chinese Muslim boxers were often butchers, and the exorcists, the ones who created star-walking in the thirteenth century did most of their exorcisms in twentieth century Taiwan for butchers. Hausa dambe boxers are predominantly young men belonging to the butchers’ guild. Gurkhas test their khukuris and their strength by slicing bulls’ necks during Hindu festivals. The bulls killed in Iberian bullfights are taken to slaughterhouses and butchered, and the father of the Spanish matador Francisco Rivera Paquirri (gored to death during a fight televised in Spain on September 26, 1984) was a butcher. In 1952, the Korean professional wrestler Mas Oyama was filmed karate-chopping an ox outside a Japanese slaughterhouse. And on it goes. Smiths, meanwhile, are associated with sword dances. For example, smiths organized the Marcusbrüdern and other medieval European fencing guilds, and as recently as the seventeenth century medical texts urged that one treat the sword with the same salve as the injury. Therefore, there may be some sympathetic magic going on here. After all, butchers are physical laborers whose job involves killing an animal with an edged weapon or hammer, then immersing themselves in its blood and guts and gore. Smiths meanwhile made those implements of death, and therefore may feel some remorse about the way that they are used. (The animals know what is coming and don’t like it much.) Anyway, I believe this theory fits the facts better than any alternatives that I’ve seen. For instance, while flagellants beat themselves and Aztec priests augured the future using human entrails, I’m not aware of many priests outside tenth century Iceland who routinely engaged in mutual combat. A priest’s battles, after all, are with demons, physically safer occupations than battles with men and beasts. Peasant recreations also do not seem to apply. (Typical peasant recreations included football, wrestling, foot racing, and drinking.) Nor do nomad recreations, for usually tribal people preferred archery, wrestling, and horseracing. Excepting the patronage of aristocratic gamblers (and they don’t count, as a dyed-in-the-wool gambler will bet on when the sun will rise), aristocratic recreations do not apply, either, as rich people always liked archery, whoring, and hunting. Ditto for the mercantile classes, whose favorite recreation has always been counting coin, or the scholars, whose student brawls are mostly drunken orgies. Who is left? Butchers and smiths. Of course, all this remains only conjecture.
About 870 BCE:
To counter the thick walls that many eastern Mediterranean towns had built to keep infantry out, the Assyrians introduce wheeled battering rams.
About 850 BCE:
The Syrians begin writing their language using a combination of Aramaic and Assyrian scripts. The modern Syrian Arabic script dates to around 512 CE, when Egyptian missionaries created it for the purpose of translating religious texts into the Syrian vernacular. While Muslim tradition holds that these missionaries were Nestorian Christians or Jews fleeing Byzantine persecution, they were more likely worshippers of the Goddess.
The jaguar gods of the Mexican Olmecs appear in northern Peru. As the surviving art does not show warriors, and as weapons are rarely found in contemporary graves, the jaguar religion probably did not conquer by warfare. Instead, merchants probably spread it.
According to Roman historians writing in the second century CE, the Phoenician Queen Dido establishes Carthage (near modern Tunis). Carthage became the Phoenician capital following the fall of Byblus, Sidon, and Tyre to Alexander the Great five centuries later, and was the scene of epic battles with the Romans during the third and second centuries BCE.
According to tradition, an Ionian poet known as Homer creates the Greek epic poems called the Iliad and the Odyssey. The poems more likely date to the mid-eighth century, and may been created by different poets. The truth is probably unknowable. (Our modern versions only date to the third century BCE, by which time they were already legendary.) Nonetheless, these two epics created Western literature’s prototypical soldier-kings, namely "The Man of Pain (Odysseus) and the "Heroic Failure" (Achilleus).
According to tradition, an unnamed scribe records the words of the Boeotian poet Hesiod, whose work Theogony described the Hellenic deities. However, the surviving texts appear to be gleaned from various sources rather than prepared by one scribe and poet.
Eighth century BCE:
According to the Ramayana epic, the Indian kingdom of Kosala conquers Sri Lanka, perhaps over control of the spice trade with Yemen and Ethiopia. Lord Rama is the Indian hero of this conquest. In these tales, Rama’s best friend was the monkey-god Hanuman. As long as Hanuman remained celibate and loyal to his Lord Rama, he was blessed with great wisdom, wind-like speed, and immunity from all types of weapons. Since Hanuman did stay celibate and loyal, he eventually became the patron saint of many subsequent Indian soldiers and wrestlers. This celibacy probably gave rise to the Indian saying, langoot ka saccha, "Be true to your trunks."
Iron is smelted in Rwanda, in the Mountains of the Moon.
King Midas of the golden touch dies in what is today central Turkey. There does not seem to have been great sadness at his passing, as the mourners at the sealing of the Phrygian king’s tomb spilled enough grape wine, barley beer, honey mead, and food to give archaeologists insight into the menu. (Barbecued sheep and goat, lentils, and olive oil, among other things.)
According to tradition, the first Panhellenic Games are played at Olympia, a shrine to the god Zeus standing on a plain west of Corinth. Although it has been speculated that these games commemorated the victory of the hero Herakles over his enemy, King Augeias of Elis, their original purpose is actually unknown. Furthermore, archaeologists have shown that foot races were run at Olympia during the twelfth century BCE, while philologists have not found a list of Olympic victors that predates the sixth century BCE. Therefore, the exact date appears to be important mainly for setting the epoch for a calendar created by Timaeus of Sicily in 264 BCE. Timaeus’ calendar measured time by describing the years between the Olympic games. Therefore, television sportscasters notwithstanding, the word "Olympiad" properly describes the four years between the two festivals rather than the Olympic Games themselves. Or, more precisely, the five years between those games, as in Greek and Latin you count both ends of the sequence rather than just the beginning, as is done in English.
A solar eclipse on September 6 provides the first astronomically verifiable date in Chinese history. Another solar eclipse on March 10, 721 BCE serves the same function in Babylonian history.
About 770 BCE:
Swords appear in China. These early Chinese weapons were generally made of hammered bronze. While the Chinese worked terrestrial iron from about 1000 BCE, until the fourth century BCE they used it mainly for tipping plows.
After seeing a flight of twelve vultures, the wolf-boy Romulus reportedly establishes Rome on the left bank of the Tiber River. The date is legendary and only appeared in print during the fourth century BCE. Nevertheless, it is important because the Romans used it as the starting point for the Julian calendar of 46 BCE. It also suggests how towns on opposite sides of the Tiber may have united to create the city of Rome.
According to the poet Pindar, who was born around 522 BCE, victors at the Olympic Games begin receiving crowns made from the leaves of wild vegetation. While the dating is doubtful, the winners of similar games held at Delphi, Corinth, and Nemea were receiving crowns of wild vegetation by the mid-sixth century BCE. The reason was that the best players often competed for honor and reputation (arete) rather than monetary gain (aethlon).
About 750 BCE:
The Assyrians develop bridles and bits that allow riders to control their horses while shooting their bows. This effectively doubles equestrian firepower, leaving chariots to become nothing more than rich men’s playthings.
About 741 BCE:
Babylonian astrologers introduce 365-day solar calendars.
About 740 BCE:
Assyrian friezes show riders armed with lances and swords, and armored with metal helmets and cuirasses. Yet, these were probably not true cavalries, as, in a world without stirrups, cavalrymen would have carried bows rather than swords or lances. Further, few ancient men could afford a metal cooking pot, let alone a fancy cuirass. Therefore the men shown were probably aristocrats who rode their ponies to the battlefield, then dismounted and fought in formation with their men. ("Dueling nobles," says Robert Drews, "are essential for the poet’s story, but in reality the promachoi [dueling nobles] were much less important than the anonymous multitude in whose front rank they stood.")
About 720 BCE:
"And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins," says the writer of Isaiah 11:5 (who, with Amos, was among the earliest Hebrew writers). What he evidently meant was that being a righteous man was as honorable as earning a victor’s belt in wrestling or chariot racing.
According to a Roman writer of the second century CE named Pausanias, the runner Orsippos becomes the first Hellenic athlete to compete in the nude. Yet, while Pausanias was usually reliable, he may have been wrong about this, as the Athenian historian Thucydides, who lived during the fifth century BCE, described athletic nudity as a recent development. Thucydides also said (as Homer had said before him) that wrestlers and boxers wore loincloths when they competed. So it is possible that Hellenic athletic nudity was restricted mostly to runners, artwork, and the Olympics. As for the motivations behind this nudity, Pausanias said that it was mostly to keep women from serving as coaches and trainers. (Hellenic women’s magic was said to reside in their bodies, while Hellenic men’s was said to reside in their clothes.) On the other hand, another Roman writer named Lucian said that the nudity mainly ensured that the athlete trained hard, as without clothes fat showed. Either way, the fact remains that we don’t know why the Hellenes competed in the nude, only that they apparently did.
About 710 BCE:
According to Livy, a Roman historian of the first century CE, a Roman king called Numa Pompilius establishes Italy’s first calendar of twelve months duration. As Nu-Ma is the name of a Roman creation god, this is a dubious tradition at best. Given this, one suspects that the Roman 355-day calendar, with its ten-day weeks and March 1 New Year, was created later, too. Internal evidence suggests that this was perhaps around 450 BCE.
According to a victor’s list made up by Sextus Julius Africanus after 217 CE, wrestling becomes part of the Olympic Games. However, the date is questionable, as the oldest statue at Olympia to honor a wrestler is only dated to 628 BCE. Nevertheless, wrestling was popular with the ancient Hellenes, and their wrestling was standing wrestling done by men wearing loincloths and belts. Unless otherwise specified, winning seems to have consisted of throwing the opponent on his back three times. If the crowd grew restive (matches often took hours), winners also could be decided using a best-of-three lifting contest.
The Assyrian army withdraws from Israel without conquering Jerusalem. Although the Hebrews attributed their salvation to divine intervention, the Assyrians probably attributed it to the timely arrival of an Egyptian army. The Egyptian general, Taharqa, was born in southern Sudan, and like most of his soldiers, he was black African. The Kushite military included cavalry, chariots, javelin men, and archers.
About 700 BCE:
A Chinese text written in the sixth century BCE ranks wrestling as a military skill on a par with archery and chariot racing. Early Chinese wrestling was called shuai chiao ("leg-bone wrestling"), and it consisted of standing jacket wrestling combined with elbow locks. As far as can be determined, foot sweeps were not allowed, nor was there much groundwork or choking. The sport was associated with harvest festivals, and Japanese sumo and Korean ssireum may be offshoots.
Ancestors of the Mayans establish the city of Tikal in central Guatemala. The reason probably had to do with a local abundance of easily worked flint.
Seventh century BCE:
Assyrian soldiers are reported celebrating their victories by whirling like tops. In other words, dancing. This is remarkable mainly because southwest Asian cultures generally associate whirling dances with women instead of soldiers. Given this, it is possible that the Assyrian soldiers’ dances honored Mother Earth, whose ground these men had consecrated with human blood. On the other hand, as these soldiers were some of the most vicious ever known, it is possible that they danced because simply because they enjoyed it.
An Iranian people known as the Scythians uses horses and two-wheeled chariots to conquer southern Russia. While the Scythians had a matrilineal society that modern archaeologists appreciate for the magnificence of its funerary artifacts, they were not a pacific people. For instance, they hung scalps and heads from their horse-harnesses and tent-poles, and made arrow-quivers and drumheads from human skin. While this emphasis on human artifacts may have had metaphysical meaning, the Scythians and the Altaic Pazyryk people to their east were also the world’s first known international drug dealers. So it is also possible that the skulls and skins simply ensured that dead business rivals stayed dead. (In a pre-modern society, putrefaction is the only sure sign of death.)
According to a victor’s list drawn up by Sextus Julius Africanus after 217 CE, boxing with ox-hide hand-wrappings is added to the Olympic games. As the first Olympic statue to honor a boxer was only erected in 544 BCE, this dating is unreliable. Some very ancient writings describe these coverings as being wrapped under the hollow of the hand, thus leaving the fingers free. (Leather and metal knuckle-dusters were only added during the fourth century BCE.) Their purpose was to protect the boxers’ own thumbs and wrists from injury. (Most Hellenic boxers used clubbing attacks to the temples and neck rather than jabs to the face or hooks to the body.) Speculation: is Hellenic boxing analogous to modern Hausa dambe boxing, where young men of the butchers’ guild tie knotted string around their strong-side hands, and then proceed to hit one another in the head for the amusement of post-harvest crowds, and the honor and glory of their guilds and villages?
About 685 BCE:
An Assyrian letter writer describes the hallucinogenic properties of kunubu, or orally ingested hashish. The Greek translation of this term subsequently provides the basis for the English word "cannabis."
About 670 BCE:
The Hellenic city-state of Argos organizes its army into human battering rams known as "phalanxes." (The word means fingers, and apparently refers to the soldiers’ spears thrusting out from the main body like fingers from a palm.) The idea behind the phalanxes was to make small numbers of expensively equipped men capable of defending walled vineyards and orchards from the ravages of equally small numbers of unarmored cavalrymen. Phalangite warfare is important because it introduced the myth of quick, decisive wars into Western consciousness.
The mints of the Lydian King Gyges make the oldest datable coins. This said, coins also appeared in China about the same time. No one knows if there is any relationship between these two events, or whether they were independent inventions.
On the eleventh day of the second month of the lunar calendar, Jinmu, grandson of the sun-goddess Amaterasu, declares the inauguration of Imperial rule in Japan. This story first appeared in a Chinese-language text published in Japan in 720 CE, and from 1600-1945, it was widely accepted as fact.
According to the victor’s list produced by Sextus Julius Africanus after 217 CE pankration (literally, "total fighting" in the sense of "no holds barred") is introduced into the Panhellenic Games. A giant named Lygdamis of Syracuse being its first known champion. Unfortunately the latter attribution is not certain, as the oldest statue honoring an Olympic pankratiast was only dated 536 BCE. In pankration, competitors were allowed to punch, kick, or wrestle. Although twentieth century Germans said that pankration was a fight to the death, contemporaries said that the sport was popular mostly with men who were too short to box and too light to wrestle. They also complained that pankratiasts danced and sparred more than they fought, and did not train as hard as wrestlers.
According to a fourth century BCE Chinese text, the Prince of Chin has dreams of wrestling. The oldest archaeological evidence of Chinese wrestling, however, only dates to the Warring States Period (403-256 BCE).
About 628 BCE:
According to a story written in the sixth century CE that said that "The Old Camel Man" lived 258 years before Alexander, the Iranian prophet Zoroaster ("The Old Camel Man") flourishes in Azerbaijan and Afghanistan. While the dating is suspect, the Zoroastrian faith featured powerful invisible gods pitted against equally powerful foes called satans ("adversaries") and described those gods as speaking to men from burning bushes. (Cynics note that natural gas fires are common throughout the area frequented by Zoroastrians, and as recently as the 1890s, hallucinatory schizophrenia caused at least 7% of men and 12% of women aged 20-29 to hear voices or see apparitions.) Zoroastrian priests were interested in astrology and divination, and the Greek word for those priests, "Magi," means "foreign wizards who are skilled in spells."
About 600 BCE:
Chinese engineers use irrigation canals to facilitate their farmers’ wet-rice cultivation.
Chinese scholars start compiling a text ultimately known as the Shih Ching, or "The Book of Songs." The work, which included many oral traditions, is the source of many of the legendary tales of early China.
The Mongols and Tungus move into Mongolia. (They originally lived in Siberia.)
North Indian philosophers introduce the idea of omnipotent male gods who occasionally manifest themselves on earth during times of trouble.
A Danubian cult of bread and wine known as Orphism (after Orphis, a Mycenaean poet who rowed through the Dardanelles with Jason and the Argonauts) or Dionysianism (after its principal deity) spreads through Greece and Italy. As commonly practiced, Orphism was less a religion than a cult of sociability. Male pipers and female percussionists were widely associated with its festivities, which were known as Bacchanalias. While its fetishes of bread and wine survive in the Christian communion rites, and its revelries became Carnival, its association with drunken orgies also caused pipes and drums to become unpopular in most orthodox Christian services.
Etruscan tomb art shows a man whose head is covered with a bag using a club against an opponent armed with a noose and a dog. While some historians speculate that such amusements were the progenitor of Roman gladiatorial combats, there is no proof that this Etruscan art was literal rather than symbolic. Moreover, the Romans did not start holding gladiatorial combats for another 400 years. Nor were they popular for another 500. (There were, for example, just 25 known gladiatorial exhibitions between named individuals in the half-century between 94 and 54 BCE.) Accordingly, more researches are required to prove causality rather than coincidence.
Ukrainian and Kuban equestrians start carrying fire-hardened lances. These weapons were probably tipped with bone or flint, as metal lance heads are only positively dated to the first century CE in Central Asia.
Mesoamerican architects build their first pyramids. These probably served as funerary mountains for the souls of kings.
About 587 BCE:
Silver amulets bearing verses from Numbers 6:22-27 are made, and subsequently lost for archaeologists to find underneath a Jerusalem church in 1979. The event is mentioned because these inscriptions represent the oldest surviving Biblical inscriptions.
According to accounts written many years after the fact, the Hellenic mathematician Thales of Miletus becomes the first person to predict a solar eclipse. Ten years later, Thales also was said to be the first Hellenic philosopher to discuss whether water, air, fire, or earth provided the underlying principle for the cosmos. (In Greek, Kósmos means "order".) As Thales’ death was reportedly by sunstroke, and his conclusion was that fire (which both created and destroyed) was the most important of the four elements, Zoroastrian influence is possible.
About 580 BCE:
Women are reported participating in Hellenic athletic events. The reliability of these reports is debatable. After all, they include Athenian jibes at Spartan virility, Platonic utopian dialogues, and Roman bawdy tales. Still, rich women managed athletes and owned stables during Hellenic times. Doubtless rich men’s daughters also ran foot races, raced chariots, and went hunting like the sons their fathers wanted but did not have. So perhaps the activities of these fortunate women are the sources for the entries.
About 570 BCE:
The Etruscan King Servius Tullius introduces Greek-style phalanxes to Rome. His army contained one large legion of about 4,000 armored men, plus separate companies of unarmored infantry, mounted infantry, engineers, musicians, and priests numbering perhaps 2,000 more.
About 564 BCE:
Coaches are introduced into Hellenic athletic competitions. These men were generally former athletes hired by local landowners to improve local youths’ chances of winning intra-urban competitions.
About 550 BCE:
Iranian dismounted archers are reported going out in pairs. One carried a compound bow and the other carried a shield. The idea was probably not original to the Iranians, as the eighth century poet Homer had described Hellenic forces using similar techniques. At any rate, the way these shield-pairs worked was that one man held the shield. Meanwhile his partner would pop up from behind its protection, launch a shaft toward the biggest group of men that he could see, and then dodge back behind the shield, "like a child running to its mother." The maximum range of the Iranian archers was about 200 yards, with an effective range of about 60 yards.
Reflexed compound bows appear in Central Asia. (A reflexed bow is one which, when unstrung, reverses its curve, while a compound bow is one made by uniting staves of similar material.) In the large sizes seen in eighteenth century Ottoman arsenals, these bows were powerful enough to penetrate plate armor or heavy wooden doors. Little Cupid-sized bows were popular during ancient times, probably because they could be shot ambidextrously with great rapidity. This would have been a useful trick for cavalrymen who still lacked stirrups, or city policemen who shot low-powered arrows from behind cover. The latter use is certain, by the way, as the Athenians used Scythian policemen from 530-350 BCE and their bows were of this type.
The Romans reorganize their volunteer infantry after the Greek fashion. The requirement for individual soldiers to purchase their own equipment helps to make the Roman Republic the first culture known to divide its population by wealth instead of birth.
The Iranians mount archers on dromedary camels. A year later, these mounted archers prove their worth during a campaign that ends in the defeat of the famous Lydian King Croesus.
According to tradition, the Buddha achieves Nirvana while sitting under a tree in Bodhgaya, India. In the process, he becomes Siddharta Gautama. (Gautama is a name meaning "One who achieves his aim." The title Buddha means "Enlightened One," while the title Siddharta means "One who is rich in the power of the universe.") The Buddha’s power was not entirely spiritual, either. According to subsequent stories, he was a champion wrestler, archer, runner, swimmer, and mathematician who won his first wife in a duel. While modern scholarship suggests that this traditional date for the Buddha’s enlightenment is sixty years too early, it remains important because medieval Buddhist calendars used it as their starting point.
Around 540 BCE:
A Hellenic wrestler named Milo of Kroton (a Hellenic city in southern Italy) reportedly develops his famous strength by carrying a heifer the length of a stadium every day for four years. In modern times, the feat has been claimed as the progenitor of progressive weight training. The truth of the tale is unknown, however, partly because the length of a Hellenic stadium varied, and mainly because the Hellenistic writer named Athenaeus did not record the tale until around 228 CE. Still, the feat is theoretically possible. After all, Herbert Mann of Germantown, Tennessee once threw a 600-pound bull over his hips and carried it 185 yards.
An Icarian poet named Thespis delivers a monologue during a spring festival held at Athens, and in the process, becomes Europe’s first famous actor. One wonders what made his words so memorable, as competing acts included acrobatic displays, obscene comedians, and sexually explicit dances. No matter: stage plays became enormously popular soon after, perhaps because rich men viewed the commissioning of a play to be a reasonable way of honoring the gods while simultaneously competing with their neighbors.
According to the victor’s list produced by Sextus Julius Africanus after 217 CE, the hoplitodromos, or foot race in armor, is added to the Olympics. The Roman traveler Pausanias, who lived around 170 CE, thought that the purpose of this event was military training. According to surviving artwork, armored racers ran naked except for helmet, greaves, and shield. While the armor was special lightweight armor made for racing instead of fighting, the helmets and greaves were eventually discarded, probably to reduce heat injuries among the athletes. Modern scholars believe that the event actually became popular during the 460s rather than the 520s. The reason is that the most important armored races were held at Plataea, where Spartan discipline and training had been a root of a military victory over the Iranians in 479. By the way, story about the death of a military runner on the steps of the Athenian courthouse dates to around 170 CE, and a story written by the Roman moralist Lucian. In English, the fame of the tale is owed to the Robert Browning poem "Pheidippides." In addition, the modern marathon’s distance of 26 miles, 385 yards, set in 1908, has nothing to do with ancient Greece. Instead, it is the distance between Windsor Castle and Stamford Bridge Stadium in London. For their own part, Hellenic runners usually ran distances ranging from a few hundred yards to just under two miles.
About 512 BCE:
The Throne of Jamshid is built at Parsa, in southwestern Iran. Called Persepolis ("Persian City") by the Hellenes, it was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE. The name persisted in Greek, and consequently Europeans still refer to the Iranians as "Persians."
About 511 BCE:
According to tradition, Sun Wu, a crippled general from Shantung Province known as Honorable Sun, or Sun Tzu, writes a text called The Art of War, doubtless as a way of passing his knowledge on to others. The text is among the earliest discussions of strategy as a rational rather than heroic endeavor, and to scientific terms in its analysis. (Describing warfare in terms of the Five Spheres, Earth, Wood, Fire, Water, and Metal suggested considerable scientific knowledge.) It is possible that the book’s thirteen chapters were written (or at least, seriously revised) a century and a half later by a relative of Sun’s known as Bin. Evidence to support the latter claim includes Sun Tzu’s description of the use of war music in Book Six. True, Chinese armies used bells, cymbals, and drums to beat the assembly, call halts, and maneuver forces during night attacks until the 1950s. Nonetheless, these innovations are usually dated to 387 BCE, and military reforms instituted by the Marquis Wen of Wei.
About 510 BCE:
According to Livy, Roman senators overthrow an Etruscan king named Tarquin the Proud after Tarquin’s son rapes a senator’s daughter. While Livy’s story probably owed more to theater than to historical fact, it still suggests the beginnings of the Roman Republic.
Fifth century BCE:
The Chinese start dividing their days and nights into twelve watches of two hours apiece. Although the practice is associated with the night watches of Turkish merchants and Mongolian soldiers rather than the studies of Chinese court astrologers, these double hours were subsequently incorporated into both Chinese astrology and martial arts. In astrology, they were used to provide astrologers with a guide to the inner person, and in the martial arts they were used to suggest the best times for using various striking techniques.
Etruscan soldiers start carrying curved short swords known as kopis. Later popularized by the armies of Cyrus and Alexander, these slashing weapons are sometimes claimed as ancestors for the Gurkha khukuri. That relationship seems unlikely. First, the Romans and Greeks are not the only people smart enough to design curved short swords. Second, the Nepalese used khukuris mostly for slaughtering livestock, chopping wood, and clearing brush until their transition to firearms and bows during the 1760s. Thus, the Nepalese invention was probably independent.
Mayans make statues showing psilocybin mushrooms.
Peruvians make pots showing men chewing coca leaves and friezes showing men carrying staffs made from the stalks of psychotropic cacti.
The Hellenic philosopher Pythagoras of Samos dies in Italy, perhaps in an arson fire set at the house of the wrestler Milo of Kroton. (Milo’s wife Muia was an avid Pythagorean, and Pythagoras reportedly had been an avid wrestler during his own youth.) Pythagoras has been credited with discovering that the square root of two is an irrational number, determining a method for measuring right angles, and creating a system of rhythmic exercises done to the accompaniment of musical instruments. There is no contemporary evidence to support any of these claims. It also has been claimed that Hellenistic philosophers such as Apollonius of Tyana spread these Pythagorean exercises into India during the fourth century BCE, and that in the fourth century CE Buddhist monks introduced similar exercises into China. This is also unproven. Now, on firmer historical footing, during the second century BCE a school of philosophers called Neopythagoreans invented gematria. Gematria is the art of assigning numbers to letters and thus to words, which in turn are supposed to provide metaphysical guidance. The reason this worked was that until the fifteenth century CE, Europeans used letters to represent numerical values, and some including the Armenians, still do. (And even in English, numerals smaller than twenty are commonly written using words rather than numerals. The previous sentence contains an example.) Ancient numerology also included the ability to use numbers to create both magical and obscene words. The most famous example is in Revelations 13:18, where the numerical value of a man’s name was said to be six hundred and sixty-six. Now, as most any name from the Roman emperor Nero to the televangelist Pat Robertson can be beasted, who precisely was meant is unknown. Nevertheless, when the Bishop Irenaus of Lyon first remarked the entry during the second century CE, the allusion was probably to a Roman emperor. That said, the practice of assigning numerical values and vibrating tones to individual names only took root during the late nineteenth century; pioneers of this practice included Mrs. Lorenzo D. (Josephine) Balliett of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Anyway, over time gematria spread through Eurasia, and consequently the names of many modern martial art practice forms have numerological significance. Examples include the Okinawan karate kata suparinpei and sanchin. The former translates as "One hundred and eight meanings" and alludes to the place in the Buddhist hell where souls receive their final decisions on reincarnation. The latter translates as "Three straight" and alludes to the three bodies of the Buddha that can be understood only through direct intuition.
A Chinese text describes siege weapons as throwing 50-pound projectiles to a range of 400 yards.
A Hellenic sprinter called Astylos wins two Olympic running events, a feat he repeats during the next two Olympics. His training program reportedly included large amounts of strenuous exercise and near-total abstinence from wine, meat, and sex. If true, then his regimen probably was based more on religious taboos than on science, as there was a contemporary theory that one gained in proportion to what one gave up. The practice also may have been useful for allowing athletes to avoid the unwanted advances of bisexual patrons.
About 484 BCE:
Some Mongolian transhumants known as the Yüeh-chih make equestrian raids into northern China. Most other northeast Asian transhumants remained pedestrian for another 200 years.
According to a stele erected around 370 BCE, Theogenes, son of Timoxenos, starts a string of 1,300 victories in boxing, wrestling, pankration, and running. By the second century CE, Pausanias of Magnesia had extended that list of victories to 1,400. Even allowing for exaggeration (Theogenes [Theagenes] was the hero of a Hercules shrine at Thasos, an island near Thrace), that still works out to a contest every six days for 22 years. Therefore, unless there were truly giants in those days, Theogenes’ career was probably managed as carefully as was the career of any professional wrestling champion. By way of contrast, boxer Joe Louis fought just 25 times during the nearly twelve years that he was the world’s heavyweight champion. Likewise, Harry Greb’s 178 wins still stand as the longest unbroken string of boxing victories known -- and even those included five unofficial losses and over a hundred "no decision" bouts.
The Chinese philosopher known as Master Kung dies in Shantung Province. Although his philosophy, known as Confucianism, was ignored in its time (the fourth century philosopher Meng-tzu was actually the first famous Confucianist), it subsequently became the cornerstone of the Imperial Chinese bureaucracy. Confucianism also underlies East Asia’s earliest chivalric codes, for, in the sage’s own words, "By the drawing of the bow, one can know the virtue and conduct of men." Still, the generally agnostic Confucianism was not popular among people who preferred shamanism or who lacked access to formal education and the jobs it ensured. Therefore, Taoism ("School of the Way and Its Power") developed throughout the following century. The early Taoist sages included the retired bureaucrat Lao Tzu, who taught that to go far meant to return to one’s roots, and the philosopher Mo Tzu, who advocated both universal love and peace through superior firepower. Nevertheless, many everyday Taoists were not so enlightened, and folk Taoism’s advocacy of group sex and other curious customs appalled Confucian officials for the next 2,000 years.
A Greek woman named Hydne becomes a Hellenic hero by helping her father Skyllis pull up the anchors of some Iranian ships during a storm, thus causing the ships to founder and their crews to drown. While most modern authorities suggest that Hydne and her father were probably sponge-fishers, it is possible that they were upper-class athletes whose training for Dionysian swimming meets had been interrupted by war. Why? First, Hydne and Skyllis’ subsequent fame (Greek sponge-fishers rarely became Athenian heroes), and second, the paucity of detail and mass of conjecture surrounding the original sources.
A Bengali prince known as Vijaya, "the Victorious," conquers Sri Lanka. Doubtless Vijaya and his army went to the island by boat, although Indian legend has it that they walked there via a stone bridge. Vijaya’s imperialism was probably motivated by his desire to control the region’s rapidly expanding trade with Iran.
Literary sources report Chinese men dressed as bulls engaging in pushing contests. Stone carvings dated to 250 BCE also depict pushing contests between real bulls. Similar non-lethal bullfights remained popular in southern Japan into the 1920s, and Okinawa and Indonesia into the present.
About 470 BCE:
Following repeated defeats at the hands of armored Greek infantry, the Iranians try armoring their cavalry. While their earliest efforts led them in the direction of armored saddles, these proved bulky and without stirrups, uncomfortable to sit (or stand) in. So, toward the end of the century, the Iranian cavalrymen started carrying shields and wearing bronze thigh guards instead.
About 460 BCE:
The Doric historian Herodotus describes the practices and culture of some female warriors he called the Amazons. Who the Amazons were is not known, and in practice, there were female warriors and priestesses throughout the Mediterranean world. In addition, stories about Amazon mastectomies are likely owed to Hellenistic stage tradition rather than actual practice: Hellenistic actors traditionally bared their right breasts to show that they were playing unmarried females.
About 457 BCE:
The Jewish prophet Ezra transcribes the Laws of Moses using the Aramaic script that evolved into Square Hebrew during the second century BCE. Around the same time, someone writes down the Hebrew Creation story known as Genesis. Both developments show Babylonian influence.
About 450 BCE:
After a combination of frustrated imperial ambition and local corruption bankrupts the Athenian treasury, the Athenian government begins equipping its soldiers with just helmets and shields instead of full armor. Still, this is hardly the almost total nudity shown on contemporary Athenian art. Instead, that is more probably an indication of the sexual proclivities of those Athenians wealthy enough to afford high-quality art. (A 1989 study found that 64% of human societies openly tolerate bisexual liaison between dominant males and their social inferiors.)
Hellenic philosophers divide mathematics into arithmetic (numbers at rest), geometry (magnitudes at rest), music (numbers in motion), and astronomy (magnitudes in motion). These were combined with the study of grammar (the art of using words properly), rhetoric (the art of making eloquent speeches), and dialectics (the art of deductive reasoning) to form the basis for a proper Hellenic education, the purpose of which was to train young aristocrats to become bankers, merchants, politicians, and tax-collectors. Scholars (notably Martianus Capella) rediscovered these seven liberal arts during the fifth century CE, and subsequently turned them into the Western world’s pedagogical ideal. In the nineteenth century, German academics described these subsequent philosophies "Neoplatonism" to distinguish them from the philosophies of Plato himself.
Etruscan art shows athletes competing for prizes. Sports included wrestling, discus throwing, jumping, running, and vaulting. While boxing, both gloved and bare-fisted, also appears on Etruscan art, it was separate from wrestling and done to the accompaniment of music. So perhaps it was linked with ecstatic dancing or religious ritual instead of athletic competition per se.
In the Pythian Ode, the poet Pindar wrote that for losers at Hellenic athletic events, there was "no pleasureful trip home. When they came back to their mothers, no joy burst forth, none of that laughter that gratifies. No. Rather, down back roads, hiding from their enemies, they skulk, bitten by their calamity." In other words, for the Hellenic athlete, just as for American football’s Coach George Allen, winning was not everything; it was the only thing.
About 445 BCE:
Hellenic philosophers describe the four "roots" of the universe as being Fire, Air, Earth, and Water. These elements in turn had basic characteristics, namely hot, cold, dry, and wet. The concept of "atoms," or invisible, indestructible particles in motion, developed from these fifth century BCE discussions. It is not known if these Hellenic philosophies were based on the contemporary Chinese theories concerning Earth, Wood, Fire, Water, and Metal, or whether they were reached independently. My suspicion is that they were reached independently, but I cannot prove this.
About 440 BCE:
The Doric historian Herodotus writes that when Scythian priests put certain seeds into an urn filled with red-hot stones, "Immediately it smokes, and gives out such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed." Indeed. The seeds being burned were those of cannabis ruderalis, or Siberian marijuana, and they were probably used in harvest rituals, as the Scythians used hemp to make clothing.
Spartan military training is described as including a gymnastic weapon dance known as pyrrhiche, or "dressed in red." Boys started learning the movements of this dance about the age of five, and versions were practiced by women and by professionals. The martial dances taught youths to guard with their shields and to thrust with their swords, and made them stronger, more agile, and better team players. Accordingly, the Athenian philosopher Sokrates observed that the best dancer was usually the best warrior.
The Parthenon ("Virgin’s Apartment") is consecrated in Athens. The name refers to the building’s original purpose, which was to house a gold-plated statue of the goddess Athena Promachos ("the Champion"). The Byzantines shipped this statue to Constantinople in 426 CE, where it disappeared. The building itself was blown into picturesque ruins in 1687, when an Ottoman powder magazine built on its grounds exploded after being struck by lightning.
About 425 BCE:
The Boeotian League fields a bellows-powered flamethrower during the Peloponnesian War.
About 410 BCE:
An exiled Athenian general named Thucydides starts work on the text that would become the seven-and-a-half volume History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides was a careful scholar, and always used eyewitness accounts when he could get them. Therefore, he is considered the father of modern history. Unfortunately, his writings ignored political and economic problems, so his text is also the first (but hardly the last) military history to be written in a social vacuum.
The world’s oldest surviving personal horoscope is cast in Babylon.
An Iranian prince known as Cyrus the Younger hires 10,000 Hellenic mercenaries to help him wrest control of Iran from his brother Artaxerxes II. Although the coup fails after his brother’s soldiers kill Cyrus, his campaign remains interesting. For one thing, Cyrus’ Hellenic mercenaries represent one of the first paid armies. For another, the Greek retreat across Iran toward the Black Sea prompted the writing of Xenophon’s Anabasis ("Upcountry March"). This epic (if not always reliable) tale in turn started Prince Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander to thinking about conquering the world.
During their retreat across Iran toward the Balkans, Xenophon’s soldiers and camp followers sometimes used sword-and-shield dances to encourage local potentates to let them pass peacefully through their kingdoms. (As the Hellenic dances were very athletic, anyone who did well in them was likely to do well during actual combat. And, according to Xenophon, the dancers chosen for the demonstrations did very well.) Similar displays of prowess are reported in many cultures, often to preclude actual fighting (by proving one’s ability to fight well). Therefore, they suggest one root of the martial art practice forms called kata.
Besides Anabasis, Xenophon also wrote a separate and much shorter text called On Horsemanship. As saddles and stirrups weren’t invented yet, most of the text described selection, care, and feeding rather than technical riding. As for breaking horses, Xenophon wrote, "One advanced in years should occupy himself with his family, his friends, and with state or military affairs rather than with the breaking of colts… and whoever knows as much as I do about the breaking of colts, will unquestionably send his colt out to be broke." With such attitudes, it is obvious why the March of the Ten Thousand was an infantry affair.
Fourth century BCE:
The Chou Pei Suan Ching, or "Arithmetic Classic," appears in China. In it, a Chinese prince and his astrologer discuss the manufacture of calendars and the properties of right triangles and fractions. Because their system relied on knowledge of base-five and base-ten instead of base-sixty, the Chinese mathematics appear to have been free of much, if any, Greek or Babylonian influence.
Blacksmiths begin working iron in northwestern Tanzania, the Jos Plateau of Nigeria, and Meroë in the Sudan. Although contemporary developments, they were probably independent inventions.
Chinese iron begins spreading through northern Korea. The Chinese Wei History described the people of Korea as quick-tempered and violent, and remarked that their men held daily military training. Their ancestor was called Chumong, a Tungus word meaning "the best archer."
The concept of "soul" or "incorporeal life-force" enters mainstream Hellenic thought. The development is attributed to the school of an Athenian philosopher named Aristokles, who was called Plato, or "broad shoulders," after the shoulders that he had developed as a wrestler in his youth.
Horseshoes appear in Central Spain. At the time, they were apparently used mostly for decoration.
About 400 BCE:
Mayan astronomer-priests start hammering their Long Count dates into stone steles. The Mayans’ arithmetic skills were sound, and their system of notation included a zero at least five centuries before southern Indian philosophers hit upon the idea. The Mayan system is noteworthy since it uses base-twenty, a rare and cumbersome system that is well suited for use by an educated minority that wants or needs to maintain its monopoly over knowledge.
About 398 BCE:
Engineers working for the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius the Elder invent what the Greeks called katapeltes ("hurlers") and the Romans called ballistae ("throwers"). Essentially giant crossbows set crossways on pedestals, and spanned using windlasses, these weapons threw clay balls or iron arrows over 300 yards. By Imperial times, the Romans mounted these machines on ox-carts, and used them as field artillery. A related lever-armed weapon known as a scorpion or an onager appeared around 240 BCE. Early versions threw 10-pound projectiles about 300 yards, while later versions threw 60-pound projectiles about 400 yards. Modern researchers believe that a sling was used at the top of the arm. Otherwise, maximum ranges would have been about a third less. During the early Christian era, the Eastern Romans also used hand-held versions for hunting birds. These smaller weapons were called "belly-shooters" (gastraphetes), after the way that they were held while reloading. The weapons shown in bas-reliefs in the Musée Crozatier in Puy-en-Velay are so short that they may have been made of steel. They probably fired lead bullets or darts about 20 yards with great accuracy. Maximum range was probably around 300 yards. Nevertheless, hand-held crossbows played no role in European warfare until besieged Normans started using them for household defense during the 940s CE.
The Chinese invent trebuchets. These were enormous slings attached to pivoting wooden beams. While crews of men pulling on ropes powered early trebuchets, later ones were powered using mechanical countermasses. The Iraqis, Syrians, and Iranians introduced trebuchets into India and Outremer during the twelfth century, and the French started building them soon after. While small trebuchets threw 30-pound rocks about 200 yards, thirteenth century trebuchets hurled 300-pound rocks nearly 400 yards, and much heavier weights (such as dead horses) about half that.
The Romans experiment with paying soldiers using salaries rather than percentages of the loot. The idea was to keep them interested during protracted sieges and campaigns through areas where there was little loot. As actual cash arrived only infrequently, good officers soon found it useful to advance their men portions of their pay whenever passing through towns or villages. Before thinking that arrears of a year or more are awful, remember that in those days cash economies were rare and commercial banking was nonexistent. Therefore, as late as 1945, British soldiers in Burma and Africa were doing most of their buying and selling using foodstuffs rather than cash.
A Spartan princess named Kyniska becomes the first woman to win the chariot racing events at Olympia. While Plutarch wrote that Kyniska personally drove the winning chariot, most other ancient sources suggest that she was the owner of those horses rather than their driver.
During one of the first fixed fights on record, a boxer named Eupolos the Thessalian pays the fighters Agetor of Arkadia, Prytanis of Kyziokos, and Phormion of Halikarnassos to lose to him during the Olympics. The Syracusans and Cretans trying to buy national teams rather than train their own also scandalized the same games.
About 387 BCE:
Marquis Wen of Wei hires veteran soldiers to teach his new recruits how to march and wield weapons. The marquis also used bells, drums, and gongs to control his soldiers’ maneuvers. Similar innovations also appeared in Roman and Indian armies around the same time.
A Chinese army of this period was what the Romans would call a legion, as it had an authorized strength of about 12,500 men. (Forces on a side often numbered in the hundreds of thousands, so there were literally armies within armies.) The art of command and control was known as manipulating ch’i (energy), and within headquarters elements staff functions were defined and articulated. Companies and battalions drilled in the use of arms and in eight basic formations; the latter were known by such names as circle, square, horizontal, and awl. (Horns, drums, and flags were used for signaling.) Infantry provided the bulk of the force, but there were also chariot-borne shock troops and horse-mounted scouts. Company-level logistics consisted mostly of foraging, but extra arms and officers’ luxuries were carried by ox-drawn wagons.
About 385 BCE:
Attic mathematicians introduce logistics to warfare. That is, they taught their quartermasters to count beans and their captains to hold daily head-counts. (The word’s modern meaning, which is to procure, maintain, and transport military equipment, facilities, and personnel, only dates to 1861. It is attributed to the Swiss Baron Henri Jomini, who enjoyed identifying principles and coining words.)
About 380 BCE:
Aristocratic cavalrymen from the city-state of Taras (modern Taranto, in northeastern Italy) introduce shields to mounted European warfare. The fashion probably evolved from equestrian games. Roman armies normally assigned about 300 cavalrymen per legion, and used them mostly for scouting and pursuit.
After suffering a string of disastrous defeats during which thousands of their soldiers ran away, the Spartans try publicly humiliating their deserters instead of killing them.
About 366 BCE:
The Romans introduce the Ludii Romani ("Roman Games"). These took place in September, and included boxing matches and chariot races. The matches were popular, and five additional festivals appeared between 220 and 173 BCE.
About 360 BCE:
The Hellenic cavalryman Xenophon writes that Spartan military pedagogy taught its young men that the greatest sin was not lying or stealing, but getting caught. The Spartan system is then contrasted with the Iranian system, which taught young men to ride and shoot, and respect the King. Such conceptual variances were also present in the two societies’ views on athletics, which the Hellenes viewed as a sacred endeavor, while the Iranians saw them as activities fit only for children.
About 356 BCE:
Raids by the Mongols and Turks into northwestern China cause the Chinese to build earthen forts around water holes and other essential points in the desert. In 215 BCE, Shih Huang-ti, "the First August Sovereign" of a united China, orders these forts linked with by roads smooth and wide enough for cavalrymen to use. These early fortifications provided the foundations for the modern Great Wall of China. Note, however, that the sections of the wall most visited by tourists today were not completed until around 1720 CE.
About 350 BCE:
Winners in Hellenic boxing or wrestling events are described as receiving prizes equal to 500 days of a skilled laborer’s time. This translates to a lot of tax-free dollars, and serves as a reminder that, despite modern Olympic mythology, most Hellenic athletes were paid professionals rather than noble amateurs. This said, the Greeks still paid fourth-rate musicians better than they did second-rate athletes.
In an essay called Laws, Plato describes Hellenic boxers and pankratiasts as wearing leather thongs over their hands while fighting and padded gloves while sparring. He also noted that when sparring partners were not available, the boxers and pankratiasts would beat on sandbags or shadow box. Too much should not be made of this civility, as during matches the boxers and pankratiasts punched genitals and thumbed eyes as happily as any club fighter of the 1930s.
According to a story by Chuang-tzu, Chinese kings enjoyed watching sword fights, sometimes to the exclusion of affairs of state. While hundreds of fencers were killed or injured during these events, new players were always available due to the rich prizes offered. Chinese gladiators were described as having their hair in a tangle, with their whiskers pointing out. They wore slouching caps with coarse tassels and short coats. They also had staring eyes, and talked about nothing but the hazards of their game, a condition which twentieth century physicians would term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
About 341 BCE:
According to the Chinese historian Ssu-ma Ch’ien, 10,000 Ch’i crossbowmen shoot an enemy general as he stops to read a message left nailed to a tree. While it is doubtful that 10,000 men could stay quiet long enough to ambush anyone, that is probably not too surprising since Ssu-ma lived circa 145-86 BCE. Anyway, this is the traditional date used for introducing crossbows into Chinese warfare. From an archaeological standpoint, these Chinese crossbows probably were not related to Hellenic katapeltes or Indian yantra. The reason is that their cast bronze triggers were not like the simple wooden levers used on Hellenic and Indian weapons. Instead, most archaeologists believe the Chinese weapons were a Thai or Vietnamese invention, perhaps adopted for use by women on horseback. Anyway, the Chinese crossbows were called ch’uan ("hand"), after the way that they were drawn, or nu ("anger"), after the way that they were used. Their maximum range was about 200 yards, with a maximum effective range of about 100 yards, and they fired either short iron-tipped arrows or small clay balls.
Ssu-ma described righteous campaign policies: "When you enter the offender’s territory do not do violence to his gods; do not hunt his wild animals; do not destroy earthworks; do not set fire to buildings; do not cut down forests; do not take the six domesticated animals, grains, or implements. When you see their very elderly or very young return them without harming them. Even if you encounter adults, unless they engage you in combat, do not treat them as enemies. If an enemy has been wounded, provide medical attention and return him." However, the reverse was probably closer to the norm, for as the philosopher Mo Tzu noted with sadness, "The rulers and feudal lords of today are not like this."
About 340 BCE:
Engineers serving King Philip II of Macedon develop Europe’s first torsion catapults. These shot javelins 400 yards, or 30-pound rocks half that distance. Other important military innovations attributed to Philip’s army include the creation of permanent reserves, the vigorous pursuit of defeated enemies, and the development of cavalry forces designed to exploit weaknesses in the enemy line.
About 338 BCE:
The infantrymen of King Philip II of Macedon are issued eighteen-foot long pikes called sarissa. When used in phalanx-style formations, these were equally effective against cavalry and infantry. Similar pikes became popular in Switzerland and Germany during the sixteenth century.
Roman artwork shows shields emblazoned with wolves, minotaurs, horses, and boars. This suggests that there were four legions rather than just one.
The Carthaginians introduce Balearic and Rhodian slingers into their armies. The slingers’ weapons consisted of a small pouch attached to two strips of sinew about 18 inches long. The slingers whirled these strips about their heads once, and then released one of the two strips of sinew. While rocks could be fired, prepared projectiles included metal darts and the small lead balls that the Normans called boulettes. Maximum range was about 200 yards. Inside 20 yards, they could kill deer or unarmored men. Nevertheless, slings (and bows, for that matter) were disliked by most aristocratic officers, probably because they were the tools of farmers and goatherds instead of the tools of heroes.
Inscriptions engraved at Delphi record the feats of a family of athletes from Thessaly, in northern Greece. While the pankratiast named Hagias won thirteen major games, it was his brother Telemachos, the wrestler, who apologized for having accidentally killed an opponent. This suggests that death and crippling injuries were not common during Hellenic wrestling matches. Moreover, it also implies that death was not that common during the pankration. After all, Telemachos, who had the steles erected, didn’t mention any deaths in association with his brother.
About 335 BCE:
During some essays on proper government, Plato describes a utopia called Atlantis. Most people took this story allegorically instead of literally until 1553, when Hernán Cortés’ panegyrist Francisco López de Gómara suggested that Plato’s Atlantis could have been located in the Americas. Gómara’s unsubstantiated musings cause Gregorio García and Diego Durán to speculate that the American Indians descended from the Ten Tribes of Israel. Their leap of faith in turn influenced the mythology of the Pennsylvania Quakers, the Latter Day Saints, and various New Age prophets.
Prince Alexander III of Macedon orders his soldiers to shave their faces daily. Ostensibly, this was to deny enemies a grip during hand-to-hand combat. Yet, since the Macedonians equated beards with manhood, it was more likely a way for the 20-year old monarch to assert his authority over his older advisors.
About 333 BCE:
Prince Alexander III of Macedon cuts an intricate knot tied on the yoke of an ox-cart used to transport Phrygian kings to their weddings. This fulfills a local prophecy and provides Hellenes with the story of the Gordian knot. From a modern perspective, the story also symbolizes the spread of Hellenistic patriarchies into matristic Central Asia, as a common weaving knot is known as a Gordian knot.
About 330 BCE:
A Hellenic navigator called Pytheas of Massilia (Marseilles) circumnavigates Britain and talks about the islands lying farther north. Nine centuries later, translations of these reports inspire Irish monks to sail toward the Fairy Islands, or Faeroes, in cockleshell skin boats.
The Alexandrian conquests introduce Babylonian and Egyptian astrology into the Hellenic world, and Hellenic astrology into the Indo-Iranian world. Blending the philosophies and religions of these different cultures is behind much of the scholarship of the Hellenistic era.
Etruscan bronze statuettes show men wrestling with women. While the men were naked, the women wore thigh-length tunics. Accordingly, the art was probably allegorical rather than erotic.
About 324 BCE:
According to tradition, the cavalrymen of Alexander the Great begin carrying unit standards. The inspiration was said to be their practice of flying their prisoners’ clothes from their lance points. As lance pennons appear on Central Asian art much older than the fourth century CE, the practice was probably borrowed from the Central Asians, who used pennons to give widely-separated riders an indication of their leaders’ positions. Their use suggests, however, that Alexandrian battlefields were beginning to sprawl beyond the sound of a hunter’s horn, or the control of a single charismatic leader.
About 322 BCE:
Inspired by the successes of Alexander the Great, a North Indian robber baron called Chandragupta Maurya sets out to conquer India. Like Alexander, with whom he reportedly served for a while, Maurya was wildly successful, and the North Indians, or Aryans, push south of the Ganges for the first time.
According to Greek sources, Chandragupta kept an armed female bodyguard. As most subsequent Indian kings viewed women as breeding stock and amusements, and little more, these women may have been sword-dancers. On the other hand, they may have been real. After all, Central Asian women often donned armor and fought alongside men and many kings have found that women and eunuchs make more trustworthy bodyguards than their own scheming brothers. (The Mughuls, for instance, used female archers and eunuchs to defend harems as recently as the sixteenth century.) Finally Chandragupta was a Jainist rather than a Buddhist. Early Buddhists despised women. The Buddhist contempt was due to the Indian belief that women were impure and loathsome, and had insatiable sexual drives. Thus, Buddhist texts featuring the sayings of female saints did not appear until the first century CE, and fundamentalists fought the notion that women might achieve Paradise until the twelfth century. The Jainist philosophy, on the other hand, appeared in Bihar during the sixth century BCE. Unlike Buddhism, Jainism encouraged women to hold responsible positions in society. Jainism’s most enduring precept, however, is the philosophy that it is better to conquer the evil lurking within one’s heart than it is to conquer a thousand enemies.
During a battle along the Dardanelles, two Hellenistic (e.g., post-Alexandrian Hellenic) soldiers named Neoptolemos and Eumenes seek each other out. First the two men fought on horseback with their swords. Then they wrestled one another to the ground. Finally, Eumenes won and Neoptolemos died. This is a reminder that despite Roman philosophers’ discussions of martial discipline, ancient and medieval warfare was often an individual activity.
About 320 BCE:
While fighting the Samnites of southern Italy, the Romans start dividing their infantry units by age and experience instead of by arms and armor. About the same time, they also started deploying their units in checkerboard patterns known as maniples. While this made it easier for commanders to provide reinforcements, the checkerboard pattern also may have invoked divine assistance. (The Romans, like the Chinese and Indians, commonly used checkerboards for geomantic and divinatory purposes.)
About 312 BCE:
Roman engineers start construction on the Appian Way. Although the first road to be built for the purpose of allowing armies to easily move men and supplies from one end of a country to another, there is evidence to suggest that it generally followed Celtic traders’ wagon tracks.
About 307 BCE:
North Chinese charioteers convert to cavalry mounts. For many old soldiers, the hardest part of the conversion was learning to wear trousers instead of robes.
About 306 BCE:
The Hellenistic king Ptolemy I establishes the Mouseion, or "the place of the Muses" at Alexandria. Ptolemy then stocked the Mouseion with rare texts and talented scholars, and made Alexandria the center of Hellenistic higher learning. There were actually two libraries at Alexandria. The larger was the Brucheum, which was attached to the Museum, and the smaller was the Serapeum, which was attached to a nearby temple dedicated to the god Serapis. According to bibliographies dating to the third century BCE, there were over forty thousand papyrus scrolls stored in the Serapeum and almost half a million scrolls in the Brucheum. As a single edition of the Iliad required twenty-four scrolls, complete works were of course fewer. (Bound books date to the first century CE, and the early bindings protected popular rather than scholarly works.) Consequently, the resources of these libraries would have been dwarfed by single wings of modern university libraries, and rivaled by many metropolitan and suburban libraries. Royal libraries appeared at Rhodes during the third century BCE and at Pergamum during the second century BCE. The latter was the most important rival, mainly because of its easy access to the animal skins needed to make parchment. (Because of shipping costs, only Egyptian texts could be inexpensively printed on papyrus.)
Equestrian sports become the rage in Rome. The training ground was called Campus Martius, or "War Plain." The start of the racing season was in March, a date that represented the official beginning of the campaign season, and ran until October (the official end of the campaign season). The biggest meet of the season took place on July 15, during the feast of Castor and Pollux.
About 300 BCE:
A Korean people ancestral to the Japanese introduce southern Chinese wet-rice agriculture into the Japanese home islands. Meanwhile the Iranians introduce wet-rice agriculture into Egypt and Syria.
People living near Lake Turkana in northwestern Kenya place basalt pillars in patterns that some modern archaeologists believe were sited so that they aligned with the constellations at certain times of the year.
About 297 BCE:
According to tradition, an Indian vizier named Kautilya writes the Artha Sastra, or "Treatise on Material Gain." Internal evidence, however, suggests that various authors contributed to the text over several centuries. Either way, the Artha Sastra remains one of the first texts to say that kings had a right to wage wars against their peers if all other means of achieving their goals had failed.
About 290 BCE:
While commenting on I Ching, the Chinese scholar Chuang-tzu introduces the convention of describing "yin" and "yang" as "bright" and "dark" instead of "weak" and "strong."
About 285 BCE:
Chinese engineers develop torsion catapults. It took a hundred men to twist the silk ropes to the degree of tension needed to launch 25-pound rocks about 160 yards.
Southern Indians start using elephants as siege weapons, perhaps because their use constituted an appeal to the elephant-god Ganesha, or more likely because they were large, noisy, and very powerful beasts. The animals’ usefulness as battering rams also explains why iron spikes usually studded the gates leading into Indian towns and forts.
The Roman Republic becomes the first government to issue its soldiers with weapons, shields, and helmets from central stores. Military necessity forced this largess, for if the Romans system of maniples and centuries was to work, then individual soldiers had to be equipped similarly. Nevertheless, body armor remained an individually acquired item. Accordingly, it was worn mainly by veteran soldiers or rich men.
A Hellenistic king called Pyrrhos of Epeirus introduces war elephants into Italy. Despite Pyrrhos’ notoriously costly victories, his war elephants impressed Carthaginian observers and therefore the Carthaginian military replaced its war chariots with African forest elephants about 262 BCE. Becasue elephants faced extinction in Morocco and cost a lot to obtain from India, the animals do not figure in European warfare after Hannibal’s defeat in 168 BCE.
Twenty thousand Baltic Celts occupy the area around modern Ankara. This causes the Greeks to start calling this region Galatia, meaning the kingdom of the Gauls. (To the Greeks, all Celts were Gauls.)
About 275 BCE:
The Romans start habitually fortifying their military encampments at the end of the day’s march. This made their camps more resistant to surprise attacks and gave their inhabitants a refuge following defeats. This was not the Romans’ own idea, but one they borrowed from King Pyrrhos of Epeirus. Nevertheless, the Romans learned the lesson well, and it became a key to success for an army that was expected to win despite the incompetence of its leaders.
About 270 BCE:
Chinese scholars describe matter in terms of the Five Configurations (wu hsing). These elements included wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, and may show Hellenistic influence via India. The appearance of this cosmology in Sun Tzu is part of the reason that many non-Chinese scholars think that a relative named Sun Bin actually wrote -- or at least extensively revised -- the text.
About 265 BCE:
The Romans introduce mail armor. Since the adopted this practice from their Gallic mercenaries, historians’ tales about the Gauls’ heroic nudity are exaggerated. The source of the story is probably Plutarch, writing about 101 BCE. Said he, "These barbarians were contemptuous of the Romans and so eager to harass them that they faced snowstorms dressed in light clothing, more to show their endurance and fortitude than because it was necessary."
About 263 BCE:
Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, dies. The word "Stoic" means "Portico," and refers to the Painted Portico in Athens where Zeno had taught. Stocism taught that human beings were souls burdened with a corpse. Moreover, people could free their souls from worldly passions and fears by strictly, almost savagely, disciplining their bodies. Due to the patronage of Caesar Marcus Aurelius, who had been a wrestler during his youth, Stoicism became an unofficial state religion of Rome during the second century CE. A similar muscular athleticism also appeared in Europe and Japan during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
About 260 BCE:
The Hellenistic philosopher known as Aristarchus of Samos publishes On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and Moon. This text denied the Babylonian theory that the earth, sun, moon, and the five known planets all revolved in uniform circles around a central fire in the heavens. Instead, it presented a geocentric model that dominated Western thought for the next 1,700 years.
A particularly bloody victory over Kalinga (in modern Orissa) causes a Brahman emperor named Ashoka to convert to Buddhism, and renounce his demonic conquests (that is, wars for gain rather than necessity). While this conversion reportedly reduced the violence of North Indian warfare, it also retarded the advancement of Indian science and technology, as the early Buddhists held both astrology and alchemy in contempt.
About 255 BCE:
The Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament, is translated into Greek at Alexandria. Alexandria had more Jewish residents than any other city in the Hellenistic world, and the best educated spoke and read Greek rather than (or at least as well as) Aramaic.
About 250 BCE:
The Chinese start making cast-iron weapons. That said, iron swords were outrageously expensive until the first century CE, when a man called Tu Shih invented a water-powered bellows that facilitated the smelting of metals. Furthermore, Tu’s forge must have remained a closely guarded secret, as similar water-powered forges do not appear in Europe until the Swedes independently invented them around 1340.
Copper and bronze artifacts appear in Indonesia.
About 246 BCE:
As part of a memorial for a deceased patrician named Junius Brutus Pera, three pairs of slaves are made to fence with one another in the Roman cattle market. The spectacle makes this funeral famous, and soon has other Roman patricians clamoring after their own bustiarii, or "funeral men." While many modern historians believe this Roman morbidity had Etruscan roots (evidently the Etruscans thought that blood ensured fertility), so little is known about Etruscan society that this remains unproved. My own speculation is that it was something created by bored rich men. In Northwest Coastal Indian terms, it was a potlatch. That is, the wealthy Romans squandered their money and slaves simply to raise their social standing. (The cost could be breath taking, too. In 174 BCE, for instance, 74 men fought for three days to honor the father of Titus Flaminius.) Although some early Imperial gladiators were freemen, early gladiators were usually slaves. The sport was uncommon until the first century BCE, when schools were established in Capua and other Campanian towns. Trainers at these schools included retired gladiators. Furthermore, the modern historian Carlin Barton writes, "The gladiator had perhaps one chance in ten to be killed in any particular bout in the arena in the first century, and much greater chance of death in the following centuries." Thus, the suspicion arises that Hollywood showed more gladiators dying during any of a dozen forgettable movies than actually died in an early Roman ring. While early gladiators were prisoners of war, by the third century about half were volunteers. Why did they volunteer? Said Tertullian, writing in the early third century CE, "Men give them [gladiators] their souls, women their bodies too." Anyway, gladiators were in great demand as bodyguards for rich men, and professionals fought wild animals more often than they fought one another. Christian propaganda notwithstanding, the animals the gladiators fought were probably bears or bulls instead of lions, as captive African lions are notoriously reluctant about attacking people they don’t know. Witness, for example, the debacle in Jakarta, Indonesia, in September 1966, where a lion refused to attack a modern gladiator named Bandot Lahardo despite goading by armed officials. A bull, on the other hand, was not so reluctant, and gored Lahardo badly before being driven into a cage.
About 245 BCE:
Successful Hellenistic generals start replacing their infantry phalanxes with armies combining cavalry and infantry. In the seventeenth century, descriptions of these post-Alexandrian armies helped define modern European military professionalism.
About 235 BCE:
Toward eliminating all anachronistic additions and changes, Hellenistic scholars start analyzing the Iliad and the Odyssey. The result is the creation of the literary sciences known as philology, grammar, and critical analysis. Third century Hellenistic literary critics included Aristarchus of Samothrace, who had once managed a wrestling school.
Following the establishment of diplomatic contacts with Corinth, the Romans begin participating in the Isthmian Games. The promoters of the Circus Maximus introduce Hellenic athletes into Rome in 186 BCE, and essentially move the Olympics from Elis to Rome in 80 BCE. The nudity of the Greek athletes offended Imperial audiences, however, and even clothed their exploits never impressed the Imperial crowds as much as animal fights.
A northern Chinese conqueror known as King Cheng of Ch’in announces himself the Shih Huang-ti emperor, or the First August Sovereign of a unified China. The name "China" is a corruption of the name of this conqueror’s home province.
About 220 BCE:
Chinese priests begin writing their thoughts on silk using ink and brushes instead of using styluses to engrave them on wood, bamboo, or metal. This changed the flow of their ideograms, and led them toward the realization that calligraphers’ brushes can be mightier than warriors’ swords.
About 217 BCE:
Following a string of spectacular Carthaginian victories, the Libyan soldiers serving under the Carthaginian general Hannibal start wearing captured Roman armor. Nevertheless, Hannibal’s Gallic and Celt-Iberian soldiers continued to fight stripped to the waist, perhaps as a means of showing contempt for death. At any rate, this bare-chestedness was probably what the Romans meant when they described their foes as fighting naked, as even in Latin, there is a considerable difference between fighting "naked" and fighting "stark naked." Support for this theory, by the way, includes the Victorian and Wilhelmian descriptions of Japanese and Indian wrestlers, who are invariably described as "naked," when every indication is that the wrestlers actually wore loincloths.
Chinese monks begin studying Indian Buddhism, probably in the hope that it would help them exorcise troublesome ghosts and demons. While Chinese interest in Indian astronomy and medicine provides an alternative explanation, the first famous scholar to convert to Buddhism was Yen Fou-tiao, who converted in 189 CE. Hence, my conviction that the original uses involved folk religion rather than philosophy and science.
King Ptolemy IV of Egypt sends his best pankratiast, a man named Aristonikos, to the Olympic Games. His goal was to show Egypt’s superiority over Greece. However, to the Greeks’ satisfaction, the Theban pankratiast Kleitomachos ultimately prevailed. How did he do this? Not by outfighting the Egyptian, but by appealing to the patriotism of the ethnically Greek officials and crowd. This is a reminder that neither the use of athletics for political purposes nor biased officiating is anything new.
About 210 BCE:
The oldest surviving Chinese map is made for the Shih Huang-ti emperor. As it was made to a scale of 1:170,000, and used standardized symbols, this implies a previous cartographic tradition.
About 209 BCE:
Work stops on the underground mausoleum of the Chinese Shih Huang-ti emperor. When Chinese archaeologists excavated it during the 1970s, inside they found 20 horse-drawn chariots, 29 saddled cavalry mounts, 1,400 terra-cotta warriors, and 10,000 bronze weapons. The Chinese war chariots were painted black, and pulled by four horses. While commanders’ chariots had roofs that festooned with bells and drums, battle chariots went topless, probably to facilitate archery. There were sixteen chariots in a company, and four companies in a battalion. Each chariot had four men riding inside and eight infantrymen running alongside. Charioteers’ weapons included self-bows, lances, and battle-axes. Some nearby guardian figures stand in what appear to be boxing postures. As boxing is unlikely on the battlefield, perhaps they were men employed to carry shields or calm horses. The Imperial cavalrymen rode in squadrons of 48. Two squadrons made a troop. Their horses’ manes were shaved and their tails were knotted. Having saddles, bits, and bridles, but lacking stirrups, the Chinese cavalrymen used crossbows instead of lances or swords. This meant that they had to stop to reload, as their weapons were cocked by putting the feet on the bow on either side of the stock and pulling the string up with both hands. The Chinese infantry were divided into units attached to the chariots and units that were not. However, the equipment and formations used by both groups were similar. Officers carried swords while non-commissioned officers carried halberds. Common soldiers in the front and the flanks carried crossbows or polearms. Soldiers in the rear carried axes and two-handed swords. All groups carried crescent knives for self-defense and cutting meat and kindling. Field-grade officers and generals wore long coats of plate armor painted against rust and linked together with linen cords. (The armor plates above the waist were fixed, while the plates below the waist and at the shoulders were moveable.) Company grade officers wore shorter coats of plate armor. Non-commissioned officers sometimes wore armor, but usually wore heavily padded fabric coats instead. Rank was shown by distinctive headgear as well as armor. Soft caps were worn on the march or in garrison, while helmets were worn in the field.
A Roman proconsul called Publius Cornelius Scipio takes the Iberian seaport of Carthago Nova (Cartagena) from the Phoenicians. He then orders its Celt-Iberian smiths to teach their steel-quenching techniques to the Romans, who, like the Chinese, were better at working bronze than steel. (The Phoenician steel-making techniques were good enough that the Romans rarely duplicated them, and modern mills have a hard time improving on them.) According to the Greek historian Polybius, Scipio’s metallurgical interests also caused the development of the gladius hispaniensis, the Romans’ famous double-edged sword. (Previously the Romans had used blunt-tipped choppers called ensis.) Archaeological evidence, on the other hand, suggests that Iberian mercenaries introduced heavy-bladed short swords to the Romans several decades earlier.
About 208 BCE:
According to tradition, the theft of a Vietnamese king’s magic crossbow trigger causes his kingdom to fall to the Chinese. Nevertheless, the process of Chinese expansion into northern Vietnam had begun decades earlier. Therefore, this story is probably a reminder of the difficulties the Vietnamese had in trying to produce huge numbers of the precision-cast bronze crossbow triggers used by Chinese archers.
During the unrest following the First Emperor’s death, a general known as Liu Pang (by this time, it was common for Chinese people to be given two names at birth; the former, a clan surname, to facilitate tax collection and the latter, a personal name used to invoke divine assistance) accepts the Mandate of Heaven, and establishes himself as the first Former Han emperor. The Former Han was China’s first stable empire, and Liu Pang’s descendants ruled China from their capital at Ch’ang-an until the first century CE, when a rebellion forces them to move their capital to Lo-yang. Therefore, the Han Dynasty is analogous to Rome, whereas the First Emperor is more analogous to Alexander the Great.
About 200 BCE:
Thumb rings appear in Central Asia. Archers using the Mongol hold, a method by which the archer locks the thumb to the right side of the string and locks it into place with the index finger, used these rings to prevent chafing skin. Using thumb rings, skilled archers could shoot five 18-inch shafts in three seconds in return for reduced range and accuracy. The Han cavalryman Li Kuang (flourished 166-137 BCE) repeatedly shattered Hsiung-nu attacks by having his cavalrymen dismount, lie down behind their horses, and then release their crossbow bolts when the enemy got to with 20-30 yards. In other words, while mounted troopers preferred rapid fire, dismounted soldiers were better served by aimed fire. In any event, Han’s methods required well-trained and disciplined soldiers. Lacking these, most Chinese generals preferred shooting back from long range to risking all on good archery.
North Indian texts describe the magical power of war drumming. According to these texts, when the best bull-hide drums were beaten on one side, enemies were put to flight, while when they were beaten on the other, the same enemies were turned into friends.
The Hellenistic philosopher called Bolos of Mendes writes The Physical and the Mystical, the oldest surviving alchemical text.
The Rosetta Stone, which was a trilingual reiteration of the Ptolemaic tax laws applicable to temples, is inscribed in Egypt. It probably stood near a temple gate to remind revenue agents that church property was exempt from taxation.
Second century BCE:
So that they can make stronger infantry shields, Roman contractors develop plywood. This infers the development of sophisticated animal glues.
The Chinese historian Ssu-ma describes hsia, a word that can be translated as "knights who wore coarse clothes" or "knights from humble alleys." In general, these heroes were noted for their altruism, courage, and sense of justice (with the emphasis being on correcting individual rather than social injustices). They were notorious for associating with butchers and gamblers, drinking in public, and ignoring normal social courtesies. While not all of them were famous swordsmen or archers, some were, and these probably provided models for subsequent Chinese martial art heroes.
The ninety-fifth Olympics introduce pankration for boys. (When calculating dates by Olympiads, remember that the first one doesn’t count.) The winner was a youth named Phaidimos of Troas.
About 190 BCE:
Alchemy and astrology flourish in Alexandria. The scholarly tradition (Corpus Hermeticum) associated with this era is attributed to devotees of the deity Hermes, who was the divine patron of Hellenistic astrologers, poets, and boxers.
Hellenistic professional athleticism comes to Rome. This was probably part of an aristocratic lust for novelty, as freak shows, animal acts, and the public execution of condemned criminals entered Rome almost simultaneously.
Following defeats at the hands of German armies, the Romans experiment with decimating units that embarrassed themselves through flight. (That means that they executed every tenth man.) However, the Romans soon find the practice counterproductive and subsequently settle for flogging shirkers and dishonorably discharging deserters.
Fueled by rural resentment and sparked by the installation of statues of Zeus in Jerusalem, Judas Maccabaeus starts a guerrilla war in Palestine. Within two years, Jerusalem is freed from Seleucid rule. However, the Jewish victory, which is commemorated by the festival of Hanukkah, owed more to simultaneous tax revolts in Syria and Iran than to any particular military successes on the part of the Maccabees. Religious texts dated to this era include Enoch, Jubilees, and the Book of Daniel.
A rope-dancer and a pair of boxers upstage a new stage play by the Roman dramatist Terence. Terence was undaunted, and five years later, he unveiled an improved play. This time, he was upstaged by the announcement that the boxing acts were about to begin. This is a reminder that Roman boxing and wrestling were as much theatrical acts as combative sports.
About 140 BCE:
Paper is invented in northwest China. At first, it was used mostly as a packing material. However, according to legend, around 105 CE the Chinese began using it as writing material. The way this supposedly came about is that a eunuch called Tsai Lun convinced the emperor that hemp (the main ingredient in pre-industrial paper) made an inexpensive and lightweight substitute for bamboo leaves and metal plates.
Hellenistic mathematicians begin dividing circles into 360 parts. This development has been attributed to a Rhodian astrologer named Hipparchus of Nicea, who is also remembered for creating a star catalog that greatly influenced the Alexandrian astrologer Claudius Ptolemy. However, the influence of Iranian astrologers, or magi, is apparent, as Babylonian horoscopes had always been cast using circles divided into 360 parts.
Praetor Cornelius Scipio Hispanus bans Chaldean astrologers from Rome, "since by their lies and by a false interpretation of the stars, they bewildered weak and foolish minds for their own profits." In other words, they caused unrest among the socially disadvantaged by suggesting alternative futures.
The katapeltes, or tripod-mounted crossbows, of the Roman Republic are described as throwing 1-pound metal arrows for a distance of about 300 yards. Meanwhile, the largest Roman catapults (called onagers, a word meaning "wild ass") were throwing rocks weighing 150 pounds for similar distances. Nevertheless, these extremes do not tell us what the maximum effective range was. Maximum range is the greatest distance to which a projectile can be propelled under ideal conditions. On the other hand, maximum effective range is the greatest distance to which a projectile can be propelled under normal conditions while still causing significant damage to its target. Maximum range is of interest mainly to gamblers, while maximum effective range is of more interest to soldiers.
China’s Former Han Wu-Ti ("Martial Ruler") emperor sends his cavalrymen on a series of annual raids into Central Asia. The objective of these raids was partly to forestall similar raids by the Central Asians, and mainly to steal good horses from the Turks. The Wu-Ti emperor is also remembered for creating huge stud farms throughout China, and introducing a centralized bureaucracy staffed by civil servants selected on their ability to pass standardized tests rather than their political connections.
A Chinese diplomat named Chang Ch’ien introduces Mediterranean wine grapes to the Former Han Imperial court.
An Liu, a Turkic grandson of the Former Han emperor, is whisked to Heaven after imbibing too much of a Taoist elixir of life. Since Taoist elixirs tended to include high concentrations of mercury, the prince’s death is hardly surprising. However, it is important as a reminder that tea, distilled alcohol, and black powder were all developed by occultists searching for ways of extending human life.
About 110 BCE:
The Chinese perfect the horse collar, which makes plowing using animal power practical for the first time. Still, deep plowing was not truly practical until the sixth century CE, when the Slavs invented iron-tipped moldboard plows.
About 107 BCE:
A string of military defeats at the hands of the patrilineal Gauls causes the Roman Senate to replace the Roman army’s Goddess totems with the more manly eagles of Hercules. This is probably the source of the stories about Hera’s hatred of Hercules.
To show recruits exactly what happened on battlefields, the Roman governors of Pavia, Italy, introduce public gladiatorial matches. That these matches were not intended to be recreational (ludii) is indicated by their name, munera, which means "spectacles." Other important military innovations dating to this era include the development of lightweight javelins called pilum. The thin iron heads of these weapons were attached to their wooden shafts using brittle rivet. That way when they struck the ground they broke, which in turn meant that they could not be thrown back. On the other hand, if they stuck in a shield, they left their long iron heads sticking out. These made shields unwieldy and encouraged shield-bearers to throw them away. This in turn made the now unprotected infantry extremely vulnerable to additional javelins or sword thrusts. This latter innovation is attributed to the Roman general Gaius Marius.
Turkish merchants introduce Chinese silk into Europe. By the first century CE, silk joins African ivory, Arabian incense, Baltic amber, and Indonesian spices on Imperial Rome’s list of "essential luxuries."
First century BCE:
The Syrians introduce rigid camel saddles. These transferred the weight of the load to the animals’ ribs without causing the animals too much discomfort, which in turn made camels highly practical archery platforms. About the same time, North Indians begin hanging leather toe loops from their horse saddles. South American gauchos used similar toe loops instead of stirrups from the sixteenth to nineteenth century CE. Their advantage was that they allowed a rider to mount and dismount faster, and also to use wooden spurs instead of a quirt, thus freeing his hands for archery, lancing, and roping. (Ropes were attached to horses’ tails, and then looped and thrown underhand to ensnare the target’s legs.) Years of riding like this, says historian Richard Slatta, deformed the toes, and made "walking difficult, not to mention undignified." On the other hand, in the saddle, such a man "was a centaur to be reckoned with."
The Moche culture achieves military control over the fertile valleys of coastal northern Peru. The Moche had a powerful central government that was at its peak in the fifth century CE. Moche engineers constructed large valley-neck irrigation canals, and Moche farmers irrigated their fields using guano collected from coastal islands. Moche architects designed some of the largest adobe structures in pre-Columbian America. (One structure known as the Pyramid of the Sun contained more than 140 million bricks and stood over 130 feet high.) Moche iconography often showed men brandishing knives and severing human heads. Moche warriors decorated shirts and helmets with coats-of-arms and carried maces, javelins, and square shields. The Moches’ enemies probably included the Recuay people of the Peruvian highlands. Recuay ceramics show men with square shields leading llamas and other men wrestling.
About 100 BCE:
Chinese monks describe tea as a possible elixir of immortality. Tealeaves were originally eaten rather than brewed. The bitter flavor caused tea to be used mostly for esoteric purposes until the sixth century, when monks began putting tealeaves into water and then boiling them. Merchants gradually spread the practice of brewing tea into India and Iran, and from there, it moved to Europe during the eighteenth century.
The world’s oldest surviving astronomical observatory is constructed near the Roman marketplace in Athens, Greece. The patron was a Syrian, Andronicus of Cyrrhus, and its principal purpose was to serve as a town clock.
Belgic Gauls displace the Neolithic Britons living along the southern Thames. Their descendants then lose the region to the legions of Julius Caesar in 54 BCE.
About 80 BCE:
A large amphitheater is built at Pompeii. Awnings were placed over it to protect audiences from the sun, and refreshment booths were placed outside its gates. While theatricals, boxing matches, and wild animal shows were all held there, the boxing matches and animal shows were more popular than the theatricals. Apparently, the actors could not match their audiences’ demands for scantily clad women riding horses, or criminals being ripped apart by bears.
Greek assassins are reported blackening their faces with soot before perpetrating their pre-dawn murders.
About seventy gladiators flee a training camp at Capua and establish a defensible position at the base on Mount Vesuvius. The runaways’ original weapons were kitchen utensils, axes, and spits. Along the way, they seized better weapons from traveling merchants and made some fire-hardened spears and hide-and-wicker shields. So armed, they began raiding local estates. Excited by the thought of plunder and freedom, agricultural slaves and disaffected herdsmen flocked to their standards. The local garrison is sent to stop these outrages; the former slaves defeat it. The following spring, four legions come down from Rome to put down the rebellion. They too are defeated. Consequently, in the autumn of 72, the future triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus takes ten legions and marches south. Although incompetently led (Crassus was a better politician than soldier), numbers told, and 6,000 rebels were captured and crucified after the battle of Lucania in the spring of 71. Rebel leaders included the Thracian gladiator Spartacus and the Gallic gladiators Crixus and Oenomaus. Despite tradition, the leadership of the latter men may have been more nominal than real. Says historian Keith Bradley: "The growth of the rebel movement was not a deliberately contrived or carefully orchestrated phenomenon." Instead, it was "an example on the grand scale of traditional patterns of flight and revolt."
About 70 BCE:
Hellenistic astrologers create Babylonian-style horoscopes based on the exact day and hour of birth. Of course, too much should not be made of this newfound precision. In a world without time zones or mechanical timekeepers, most people were lucky to know the year of their birth, let alone the exact day and hour. Therefore, it is likely that astrologers simply identified auspicious times using previously published tables, then claimed that their patron was born during one that matched his or her personality.
Roman laws reserve the first fourteen rows of public arenas for aristocrats.
About 65 BCE:
Syrians introduce dromedary camels into Egypt.
Julius Caesar orders the construction of a gladiatorial barracks at Capua housing 5,000 men, and a year later, makes gladiatorial spectacles a routine part of Roman secular festivals. Plutarch wrote that 320 gladiators participated in these spectacles of Caesar’s. Some seem to have been aristocrats protesting new tax laws. Why would rich men voluntarily accept such risk just to protest new taxes? One reason, says historian Carlin Barton, is that the later Republican and early Imperial Romans viewed noble suicides as an extraordinarily honorable response to a bad situation. A second, says Barton, was that the Romans believed that gladiators lived free from all moral restraints, and were therefore able to do whatever they liked while they lived. Therefore, gladiators were very popular sexual partners, and partied like kings.
Outside Harran, in eastern Anatolia, a Parthian army shooting arrows from long range and re-supplying using camel caravans destroys a Roman army of 39,000 men. From surviving accounts, it is not entirely clear whether the Parthian soldiery was true cavalry using heavy compound bows, toe loops, and saddles, or was instead mounted infantry that used horses as battle taxis.
About 50 BCE:
Indian physicians begin the Ayur Veda ("Life Science"). This text, which forms the basis for subsequent Asian medicine, was an appendix to the Atharva Veda ("The Wisdom of Atharvan"). It is part of a collection of magical incantations traditionally dated to the early first millennium BCE, and is structurally astrological. Other important aspects of a well-rounded Vedic education included studies in grammar, meter, etymology, intonation, and ritual.
Julius Caesar utters the telegraphic veni, vedi, veci ("came, saw, conquered") to commemorate his army’s easy victory over King Pharnaces II of Pontus, a minor ruler in Asia Minor. This slogan is later made into a sign, mounted on a decorated wagon, and paraded through Rome as proof of the speed with which Julius Caesar had defeated his rivals.
The Roman government bans aristocrats from voluntarily serving as gladiators. Why did Roman aristocrats volunteer to enter the arena? According to contemporaries, it was a combination of pride and lust. The lust involved the licentious lifestyle allowed the gladiators, while the pride involved the aristocrats’ desire to protest a political system that promoted sycophants rather than men who would speak their minds.
The Koguryo kingdom is established in northern Korea. Koguryo was a plundering oligarchy, and its aristocratic martial instruction probably included both archery and metaphysical training. (Performing oracle-bone divination and thanksgiving rites correctly were among the most important royal duties.)
A stone stele erected near Tres Zapotes, Mexico provides the first astronomically verifiable date in the Americas.
According to the eighth-century Nihongi ("Chronicles of Japan"), the Emperor Suinin watches a sumo match between a hero named Sukune-no-Nomi and a bully named Taima-no-Kehaya. According to the story, Sukune won the match after kicking Taima in hip, then proceeding to kick him to death. While there are documented cases of sumotori suffering broken legs in the ring, this particular story probably is not true. For one thing, there probably weren’t any Japanese emperors until the sixth century CE. For another, Sukune was the name of Japan’s first famous puppeteer, and while puppet plays and martial arts often go together, that does not make what the puppeteers said happened true.
Before leaving Rome for a tour of his eastern provinces, Octavian, the Augustus Caesar, prohibits private citizens from using gladiators as bodyguards. He also orders that his Imperial Guard be the only military or paramilitary force allowed inside the Roman city limits. The reason was of course to prevent a coup. The Grand One was equally careful to avoid the knives of friends, too, such as had killed his Uncle Julius back in 44 BCE. Therefore, he always went about with a mail shirt under his tunic and a knife in his belt.
About 19 BCE:
The Roman poet Virgilius publishes The Aeneid. This Latin epic followed Aeneas, a Trojan soldier who survived the Trojan War to become a leading citizen of Rome. The text provided the Mediterranean world with its first graphic descriptions of the Land of the Dead. These descriptions greatly influenced early Christian writers such as Clement of Alexandria and Saint Augustine, and through them, the medieval Christian views of Heaven and Hell.
King Herod the Elder dies in Judea, an event remarked because, assuming the Gospels are factually correct, then it represents the latest possible date for the birth of Jesus Christ. (One will recall that Herod ordered the slaughter of the Innocents, and he could not have done that from the grave.) Christ’s birth was probably not in late December, however, as no sensible tax collector would have scheduled a census for mid-winter. (If indeed there was a census -- there are no surviving Roman records to support this portion of the Gospel accounts. Also, December nativity was only determined in 354 CE, when Roman churchmen decided to usurp a Mithraic winter solstice festival.) Nevertheless, this hardly negates the historical veracity of Jesus. After all, Zorastrian magi postulated that the Age of Pisces (the Fish) began in Palestine during September of 7 BCE, Pontius Pilate governed Judea from 26-36 CE, and as recently as the ninth century CE, the Greek Orthodox Church insisted that the nativity occurred 318 years before Constantinius’s conversion to Christianity in 313.
First century CE:
Folding single-edged knives become common in Palestine. As these short-bladed weapons were popular with the anti-Roman Zealots, they became known in Latin as sica, or "murderers." Accordingly, they have been suggested as the source of Judas Iscariot’s nickname. An even likelier source for the nickname, though, is the Semitic word ‘askar, or "soldier."
Exposure to Iranian and Roman philosophy causes Indian Buddhism to fragment into the Theraveda and the Mahayana schools. Theraveda priests taught that they could bring only a few disciples to enlightenment during a single lifetime. On the other hand, Mahayana priests taught that compassionate, semi-divine, saviors known as bodhisattvas could enlighten many. Hence the names, which mean "Teachings of the Elders" and "The Greater Vehicle (to Salvation)." The division is mentioned because many subsequent writers have credited Mahayana monks with establishing the first Buddhist martial arts.
A Chinese annalist named Chao Yeh writes about a woman who was a great swordsman. She said the key to success was constant practice without the supervision of a master; after awhile, she said, she just understood everything there was to know. But as immediately after saying this she accepted the job as swordsmanship instructor for the Kingdom of Yueh, perhaps this description is lacking some verisimilitude. After all, if one did not need a teacher save one’s self to become a sword master, why would she herself become one?
Mail armor spreads eastward from the Ukraine toward Manchuria. Mail vests weighed about 15 pounds, while mail shirts weighed about 40 pounds. They were expensive, too. (A mail shirt cost as much as a good horse.) Nonetheless, mail was popular because it was resistant to lance thrusts and impervious to arrows shot from beyond 30 feet.
Bantu-speaking central Africans move their cattle into south-central Africa. These people and their cattle reached the Zambezi River by the second century and the more hospitable Transvaal and Eastern Cape regions by the fourth or fifth centuries. The African migration appears to have been relatively non-violent, and precipitated mainly by the pressures of rapidly growing populations.
The loss of three legions in Germany ends Augustus Caesar’s plans for conquering Europe between the Rhine and the Elbe Rivers. The German victory also causes the Romans to develop lamellar, or scale, body armors. The reason was that scale armor was cheaper than mail armor.
A peasant rebellion rocks Shantung Province and leads to the collapse of the Hsin Dynasty and the creation of the Later Han Dynasty. This unrest (called the Red Eyebrow Rebellion after its members’ practice of painting their eyebrows blood red) was led by a woman who claimed to speak with the voice of the local gods. Strictly speaking, this was a case of spirit-possession rather than shamanism. Still, it clearly was not Taoism, as some modern-day writers have claimed.
The first (and only) emperor of China’s Hsin Dynasty decrees that his officials wear color-coded caps, gowns, and sashes. Bureaucrats wore red, soldiers wore black, scholars wore green, and novices wore white, which were all colors having great symbolic value. (Contemporary military totems included a blue dragon in the east, a red phoenix in the south, a white tiger in the west, and a black warrior in the north.) Asian alchemists and musicians used similar color codes to show their students’ progress toward perfection. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Japanese martial arts teachers introduced analogous color schemes, first as a way of showing progress, then as a way of facilitating tournament play.
Later Han soldiers under the command of the Shensi aristocrat Ma Yüan kill a Vietnamese feudal lord living near Tonkin and publicly rape his wife and sister-in-law. These rapes may have been official acts, as, from the Han perspective, they would have demonstrated the superiority of Chinese patrilineage over Vietnamese matrilineage. On the other hand, they could have been individual acts, as the Chinese did not consider rape a public crime until 1983. Either way, the outrage causes the two women, named Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, to incite a Vietnamese rebellion. This rebellion in turn introduces the Chinese to the giant bronze drums that the Vietnamese mountaineers used to transmit military information and provides a favorite subject for Vietnamese stage and puppet plays.
The Roman military starts issuing iron helmets to first-line units. Nevertheless, bronze helmets remained common in second-line units for another century. The reason was the expense and difficulty of working iron: in general, a competent craftsman was doing well to make six helmets a month.
Saint Paul introduces the Christian doctrine of peace and love to the people of Philippi, in Greek north-central Macedonia. In these accounts, which appeared before the Jewish War of 66-70, no one viewed Jesus as a dangerous Galilean revolutionary, and hardly anyone knew more than "a few sayings of the Lord."
As Germanic mercenaries begin replacing Iberians in Roman service, four-foot long single-edged swords of Germanic design begin replacing two-foot long double-edged swords of Iberian design. The Romans called these Germanic weapons spatha, which subsequently provides the root for various modern words including spade (in the card-playing sense) and the fencing term "epée."
According to Suetonius, 15,000 gladiators (mostly condemned criminals) preparing for a mock sea-battle in a flooded arena greeted Caesar Claudius with the cry, "Hail, Caesar, we who are about to die salute you!" In this spectacular, Claudius played editor, the man who got to decide who lived and died. (The symbol he used to show his decision is debated, but the thumbs-up sign seems to have been invented by Hollywood during the 1920s.) According to Seneca, the Roman crowd was rough, too, crying, "Kill him, beat him, burn him! Why does he run on the steel so timidly? Why does he slay with so little verve? Why is he such a Scrooge about dying?" So why did the gladiators, most of whom were prisoners, fight? Sometimes the alternative was something even nastier, such as public crucifixion. (Despite Jesus’ reported nine-hour example, it usually took crucified people several days to die.) And other times, the fighters were simply impoverished men who joined the gladiatorial schools to get regular meals and a cot.
The Roman Caesar Nero introduces his notorious Youth Games, which featured, in the words of the historian Tacitus, "performances by naked degenerates sorted by age and vice." The degeneracy to which Tacitus referred included sword fights between women. The obscenities he described included barelegged women and the giant phalli that mimes often wore. This said, Nero’s cult of himself as the Savior of Mankind is far more important for posterity, as it encouraged the spread of monotheism throughout the Roman Empire.
According to tradition, Hyokkose, the founder of the Korean Silla kingdom, is born. His title was "Great Chieftain," and his responsibilities included placating the gods. The Silla kingdom was organized into a system known as kolpum, or "blood status." The high status people were all surnamed Pak, Sok, or Kim and could only marry within their kinship group. To the horror of Confucians, females could become rulers and were active in religious leadership. The status of lower-class people (farmers, artisans, merchants, and slaves) is not known, but some upward mobility appears to have been possible through marriage.
After a Celto-British queen named Boudicca refuses to pay taxes to the Romans, a Roman official has the woman flogged and her daughters raped. The outraged Celts retaliate by killing tens of thousands of Romanized Britons living in what is today Norfolk and Suffolk, and burning the Roman capitol at Londoninium. When this rebellion is rediscovered through translation in the sixteenth century, it causes Boadica’s chariot, as the translators called it, to become an integral part of Elizabethan English nationalism. As for the unfortunate British queen, she and her daughters committed suicide near Epping Upland after the Roman legions slaughtered the Celto-British men in battle.
Probably because the Buddhists promised immortality, some influential members of the Later Han Imperial court convert to Buddhism. Buddhist sutras written in Chinese appear immediately afterwards.
In a text called Han Shu, or "the Book of the Han," a Chinese scholar named Pan Kuo mentions something called chi chi hsiu, or "skillful striking." This is sometimes claimed as a reference to an otherwise unknown form of Chinese boxing. However, the allusion also could be to the engraved daggers that the Chinese government awarded to generals who defeated the horse peoples of Central Asia.
Jewish social bandits lead a millenarian revolt against the Roman government of Palestine. During the early stages of the revolt, a terrorist organization known as the Sicarii, in reference to their knives, captures a Herodian fortress called Masada. The Romans respond with force, and when the fortress finally falls to Flavius Silva’s Tenth Legion in 73, all of its defenders except two women and five children commit suicide rather than suffer the ignominy of defeat or surrender. The story is subsequently made a cornerstone of Zionism.
The Roman Caesar Nero orders a new gate built in Rome to commemorate his (rigged) athletic victories in Greece.
According to a seventh century tradition, Christianity appears in Iran. However, this is unproved. For one thing, the oldest extant Gospel (Mark) was still unpublished. For another, the persecutions that supposedly drove the Christians into Iran are more descriptive of the fourth century than the first.
Written accounts of the life of Jesus Christ appear in Palestine. These were probably designed to distinguish the Christians from other eschatological Jewish sects, and intended to help believers avoid Roman persecution. For instance, Saint Mark, the first of these Gospel writers, was always careful to show Jesus rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar’s, and unto God what was God’s.
Gujarati merchants introduce Shaivism into Java.
The Colosseum is built in Rome. The material used in its construction was travertine, a calcareous sinter quarried along the Anio River at Tivoli, sixteen miles east of the city. The same stone was later used to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Pennsylvania Railway Station in New York City.
Toward attracting Gentiles to Christianity, Saint Matthew adds details such as the Virgin Birth and the Slaughter of the Infants to the story of Jesus. He also diverges from Mark by making the Pharisees Jesus’ most vile opponents, and having Pontius Pilate, who was by most accounts a cruel governor, wash his hands of Jesus’ death.
A Han Dynasty geomancer describes how to find south by fixing a piece of magnetite (iron oxide, or Fe3O4) to a strip of wood and then floating it in water. By the eighth century, Turkish merchants were using magnetized needles suspended from silken threads to help with overland navigation. By 1050, Southern Sung sailors were using magnetized needles to help with maritime navigation. Around 1190, an English monk living in France described how European sailors were using gimbal-mounted lodestones to help them with maritime navigation. By the thirteenth century, the Arabs and Indians were using their lodestones at sea, too. The pattern of transmission suggests that while the Europeans may have gotten the idea from Seljuq Turk or Byzantine merchants, they probably developed maritime compasses on their own.
Saint Luke writes the first Christian Gospel to state that the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven were open to Gentiles as well as Jews.
Roman entrepreneurs introduce gladiatorial battles between dwarves. Similar midget acts remained popular in circuses and professional wrestling rings for the next nineteen hundred years.
Saint John the Divine is banished to Patmos (an island off the coast of Turkey). While there, he writes the apocalyptic Book of Revelations.
After learning just how strong the Rome of Trajan was, the Chinese cavalryman Kan Ying wisely refrains from attacking Roman city of Antioch. Otherwise, Kan and his master, the general Pan Ch’ao, were successful in ensuring Later Han control over the entire length of the Silk Road.
The Silk Road was not really a road. Instead, it was a series of interlocking trade routes. Nor was silk its sole commodity; slaves, spices, gold, ivory, and cavalry mounts made the trip. Anyway, its terminuses included Samarkand in Afghanistan, Tashkent in Uzbekistan, and Changan in China. During times of unrest, merchants acquired their goods via intermediaries, but in times of relative peace, some traveled from one end of the continent to the other. Thus, in 754 CE, a Chinese census reported 5,000 Turks, Iranians, Indians, Japanese, Koreans, and Indonesians doing business in Changan. Convoys traveled well armed, as a single bale of silk was worth several months’ pay for an army officer. Garrisons were established to reduce the risk of robbery, and some of the Chinese garrisons were later incorporated into the Great Wall. Philosophies also traveled the Silk Road, and it was along its routes that Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Manichaeism, Judaism, and Islam first entered China.
The Roman writer Tacitus reports that German priests forecast the outcome of upcoming engagements by comparing the strength of the two sides’ war-chants. Warriors amplified their chants by shouting into their shields while clashing their weapons against them. Sixteenth century English playwrights called this sound "swashbuckling," and said it was especially useful against cavalry attacks, as the noise scared horses. These German war cries are probably comparable to the three energy-shouts, or kiai, described by the seventeenth century Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi in his Book of Five Rings. The samurai also placed similar value in the snap of a bowstring, saying that you could tell whether the archer was good or bad just by listening to that sound. Still, stories about these Japanese energy-shouts being powerful enough to kill are fanciful. The loudest unamplified human sound recorded is around 128 decibels, which is a bit below the 130 decibels commonly reached at rock concerts and far below the lethal threshold of 192 decibels.
Indian Buddhists are encouraged to "avoid all contact with evil or cruel persons who brutally practice... the arts of boxing, wrestling, and nata." Nata is, literally, "dancing." However, in some of the more violent dances, the dancers go through choreographed battles against invisible demons. Shifu Nagaboshi (Terence Dukes) has suggested that nata, known as tandava, inspired the exercises that the Indian monk Bodhidharma taught the Chinese Shaolin monks. But the exercises Bodhidharma taught are conjectural, nata are associated with the Lord Vishnu rather than the Lord Buddha, and the Romans and Greeks shadow-boxed, too. ("So fight I," said Saint Paul in I Corinthians 9:26, "not as one that beateth the air." Unarmed versions of these Hellenistic shadow-boxing exercises were known as skiamachiae, or "private contests," while armed versions were known as hoplomachiae, or "armed contests.") So, while coincidence has been established, causality has not.
The medical texts ascribed to the Indian physician Susruta describe 107 vital points on the human body. (Some people added a secret spot, too, to bring the total to 108, a number with important Buddhist cosmological significance.) The simplest explanation of Susruta’s definition of a vital point was that it was a place on the human anatomy where penetration with an arrow was usually fatal. Individual points were classified according to whether death occurred instantaneously, or within a day, a fortnight, or a month. Of these 107 spots, 64 were classified as being lethal if properly struck with a fist or stick. Unfortunately, neither physicians nor martial art teachers could agree on the efficacy of striking more than a couple dozen of these points on a routine basis. (The rest, they admitted, only worked if struck at the right time of the day and lunar month.) Furthermore, the precise location of dozens of spots varies from person to person. Finally, a person who was destined to live a long life was invulnerable to death in any manner. Consequently, practicing vital point striking proved more popular with theorists than with soldiers.
The Romans spread wrestling acts through Europe. The Latin for wrestling was lucta, or "scuffle." Like modern Turkish wrestlers, the Roman wrestlers’ bodies were rubbed with oil and sprinkled with sand before a match. While their techniques emphasized upper-body wrestling, their matches were frequently decided by trips. They also spread pugmachia, or boxing. Roman boxers wore metal-studded leather gloves over their right hands, and aimed their blows at one another’s head and arms. Finally, there was pankration, a form of all-in combat that German archaeologists of the 1920s said was more violent during the Roman era than ever before. Yet, without a time machine, who knows? This said, historian Don Sayenga has suggested that the wrestling done by the Greeks and Romans is a direct ancestor of the oil wrestling done at Turkey’s modern Kirkpinar Festival. For evidence, Sayenga notes that the ancient Greek word for wrestling was pali, while the Turkish word for wrestler is pelevanlar, the Persian word is palewani, and the Hindi word is pulwan. The philology seems wrong, though, as the Turkish word pehlivanlar means "hero" or "strongman," rather than "oil wrestling" (That is yagle gures.) On the other hand, Sayenga’s pattern of transmittal seems logical. Late Roman wrestling schools were concentrated in Hellenized Asia, and, in the words of Gary Lind-Sinanian of the Armenian Library and Museum, "the disappearance of written references to Greek wrestling reflects a shift in the writers, not the sport."
A Hellenistic merchant called Alexander reaches south China by sea. Soon afterwards, the Chinese begin casting individual horoscopes. Did Alexander and his companions introduce Hellenistic astrology in to China? While the causality is not proven, it is possible.
Fortified castles appear in Yemen.
A Roman writer known as Dio the Golden Mouth describes boxing champion Melancomas of Caria as having been beautiful despite his profession. Dio attributed this to a rigorous training regimen that allowed Melancomas to keep his guard up at all times, and to dodge blows instead of receiving them. ("He thought it a noble achievement," said Dio, "to last out the time without being beaten by the weight of his arms, without getting out of breath, and without being distressed by the heat.") Of course, at the time of the writing, Melancomas had been dead for 25 years. Therefore, it is possible that Dio was suffering from temporal distortion, a condition that causes the afflicted to find perfection in people or events of the past.
In a biographical sketch called "Philopoemen," the Roman moralist Plutarch writes that the athletic body and lifestyle were different in every way from the military. The diet and the exercise were particularly different, as the athletes slept and ate regularly, while the soldiers trained to endure wandering, irregularity, and lack of sleep. This being the case, Plutarch viewed athletics as something that distracted a man from more important things, such as waging war or earning fame. This anti-athletic perception is subsequently borrowed by the early Christians, and is one reason why Christian writers often ignored organized athletics. Another factor was a rash of fixed fights followed by faction fights.
According to Cassius Dio, who sometimes exaggerated, the Roman emperor Trajan holds gladiatorial games that lasted four months and involved thousands of prisoners of war.
To stop Korean raids into China, the Later Han Dynasty conquers Korea’s Koguryo kingdom. The Chinese government was not truly colonial, as there were no tax offices, armies, or bureaucracies stationed in Korea. Instead, the Chinese simply gave titles and seals to local politicians in exchange for tribute and statements of loyalty. This led to so much bickering in Korea that no one could unite to overthrow the Chinese, and to the spread of the Chinese syllabary into the peninsula.
The oldest known Chinese-language dictionary is presented to the Later Han Imperial Court at Lo-yang.
To avoid the expense of raising and equipping additional legions, the Roman Caesar Hadrianus orders the construction of fixed fortifications in Germany and Britain. The most famous of these fortifications, a 72-mile long wall running from Tyne to Solway, establishes the modern border between Scotland and England.
Following yet another Jewish uprising in Judea, the Romans start exiling troublemakers to out-of-the way places. To avoid this, Christians begin claiming that theirs is a separate religion instead of just another eschatological Jewish sect.
Taoist alchemists start attempting to transmogrify base metals into gold. Cinnabar (one of the principal ore metals of mercury, it is technically mercury sulfide, or HgS, and often a brilliant transparent red in nature) was one of their favorite transmogrification metals. This is ironic, since the alchemists were seeking wealth and long life, and mercury poisoning kills.
Claudius Ptolemaeus of Alexandria writes a masterful thirteen-volume astronomical encyclopedia that the ninth century Arabs called Almagest. Ptolemy’s observations and mathematics were excellent. In fact, they were so good that his mistaken beliefs about the sun circling the earth went unquestioned for the next 1,400 years. However, to the horror of many medieval Christians and modern Muslims, the purpose of this encyclopedia was to provide students with the background needed to understand the five-volume astrological text called the Tetrabiblos.
The philosopher Justin visits a gladiatorial fight at Rome. Afterwards he wrote that that the spectators went wild when a defeated gladiator defiantly stuck out his neck to receive a deathblow, but hooted and jeered whenever a loser bolted in panic. Gladiators of this era were usually impoverished laborers who sold themselves into slavery to avoid starving. They were then pitted against professional fighters whose managers picked their victims with an eye toward inflating their champions’ records. The same practice subsequently appears in English, American, and Thai boxing and for the same reason: the big money was not in the fighting, but in the side betting.
The Chinese physician Hua Tuo is born. As an adult, Hua was credited with creating a series of exercises called Wu Chin Hi, or "Five Animals Play." According to tradition, Hua chose the bear for its strength, the crane for its ability to turn and roll, the deer for its gentleness, the monkey for its agility and alertness, and the tiger for its rooted and solid nature. Imitating their movements was supposed to lengthen and improve life by strengthening the legs and removing disease, apparently by causing perspiration. (The Greeks, Indians, Romans, and Chinese believed that saliva, sweat, and semen were vital fluids. Therefore their athletes and warriors learned ways of conserving their semen and even spat into their palms before engaging in strenuous activities. Perspiration, on the other hand, removed impurities from the system.) Although the inspiration is said to have been observations of the animals themselves, the dances of Turkic animists seem a more likely source, especially if those dances were done by practitioners interested in acquiring the animals’ magical powers.
The Tibetans and Turks regain control over the middle portions of the Silk Road. Modern British and Soviet historians have argued that these people were the ancestors of the Huns. Although the Székely of Rumania claim descent from the Huns (their name is Hungarian, and means "from beyond the frontiers"), philological and archaeological evidence suggests that the Huns were probably Iranized Goths and Slavs rather than Turks.
In 180, the Roman physician Claudius Galenus boasted that just two of his charges died during his five years of service (157-162) as the physician for a gladiatorial school located at Pergamum. This suggests several things. First, casualty rates among gladiators were probably not as great as Ben-Hur suggested. (Either that or Galen’s gladiators were wrestlers rather than swordsmen and animal fighters.) Second, Galen’s training program, which emphasized regular walking for the wind, progressive weight-lifting for the muscles, and rhythmic movement for the soul, is clearly worthy of emulation. Finally that the gladiators’ physical development had absolutely nothing to do with the physician’s appreciation for his patients, whom he routinely described as being as mindless as dumb animals. "In fact," said Galen in his Exhortation for Medicine, "their lives are just like those of pigs, except that pigs do not overexert nor force-feed themselves."
In Galen’s day, gladiatorial schools existed in most important Roman cities. The head of such schools was known as a gymnasiarchos. The gymasiarchos could be male or female, but had to be 30 to 60 years of age, have good social and political connections, and be willing to attend to the administrative and religious affairs of a school. Martial training was supervised by a man called the xystarches, or master of the guild of fencers and wrestlers. Like the gymnasiarchos, this man was politically well connected, and his job mostly involved hiring and supervising instructors. The instructors, on the other hand, were hired more for their skill than their politics. Retired soldiers, for instance, often taught archery, drill, and javelin-throwing. There were also retired athletes who taught tumbling and supervised diets, gymnastai ("trainers in nude exercises"), and paidotribes ("people who massage male athletes"). In the most exclusive schools, there were also physicians and bonesetters. The two occupations were at this time quite exclusive. The physicians came from the upper classes and rarely deigning to touch a body. Bonesetters and surgeons, on the other hand, usually came from the working classes, and were often retired soldiers or athletes.
Roman merchants in search of a better price for spices and silk (both of which were then worth more than their weight in gold in Europe) sail east from Sri Lanka to reach south China and the Mekong Delta. Meanwhile, other Romans returning home from wars against the Sassanid Persians introduce smallpox into Italy and a quarter of the Imperial Roman population dies within the decade. As if that were not bad enough, Roman soldiers and merchants also spread rubella along the Mediterranean littoral during the 250s. Deaths from this disease in the city of Rome alone were credibly reported at 5,000 people a day. These body counts are mentioned as a reminder that disease may have hurried the collapse of late Roman civilization more than the military invasions so gleefully described by eighteenth and nineteenth century historians.
Central Asian equestrians begin stiffening their saddle pillows with wooden frames. They may have copied the idea from the Chinese. The same Central Asian horsemen appear to have begun experimenting with stirrups about the same time. They may have copied this idea from the Indians, who used toe loops. On the other hand, the stirrups could just as easily have been invented to help fat men mount their horses, and the pillows used to soften the same fat men’s ride. First, the Central Asians were as innovative as anyone else, and as an Arab philosopher once put it, they were to warfare what the Greeks were to science and the Chinese were to art. Second, it is an error to think of Central Asians as solely horse-riding transhumants. For example, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, the brilliant ninth-century mathematician who invented algorithms and algebra, was a Central Asian born east of the Caspian Sea.
Chang Ling, the head of the Taoist Five Pecks of Rice sect, takes the title t’ien shih, or "Heavenly Master." In 1019, this title is awarded to some priests claiming descent from Chang. These priests’ descendants retained it until 1927, when Chinese warlords chased them out of Kiangsi and into Fukien and Taiwan.
Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons declares that the only true Gospels were the ones written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Said Irenaeus, just as there are four principal winds and four pillars holding up the sky, there should be only four gospels. Just as importantly, these four texts also did a better job of supporting Irenaeus’ vision of a Roman Catholic Church than did several other texts that told people to look to Jesus rather than to priests for answers.
Taoist priests including the Heavenly Master, Chang Ling, lead uprisings in Shantung and Szechwan provinces. Known collectively as the Yellow Turban revolts, these were peasant rebellions associated with the collapse of the Later Han Dynasty. While remembered today mainly for their use of group sex as a recruiting tool, in their own time they were notable mainly for their belief in the impending end of the world. The color symbolism has astrological roots, and represents the Saviors of the Ten Directions.
The Gospel according to Saint Thomas appears in Syria, first in Greek script and then in Coptic. As Thomas supposedly introduced Christianity to India during the first century CE, this means that Arab merchants probably took Christianity to southern India sometime during the third century CE.
A supernova appears in the constellation Centaurus. Chinese astrologers claimed that it foretold insurrection. However, one hardly needed to read the stars to see that, only pay attention to Later Han politics.
After 200 years of Han Dynasty occupation, the Chinese syllabary enters common use in Vietnam.
Quilted horse armor appears in China.
The Indian grammarian called Patanjali writes the Yoga-Sutra, or "The Aphorisms of Yoga." While Mahayana Buddhism colored Patanjali’s language, his aphorisms were clearly part of the Vedic tradition. Patanjali’s goal was to teach his disciples to distinguish their spirits from material considerations, and he did this by teaching them to meditate single-mindedly on points located inside their bodies. This process, known as "centering," has since been claimed as important to success in such diverse activities as t’ai chi ch’uan, aikido, and Greco-Roman wrestling.
A Christian philosopher named Titus Flavius Clemens, but subsequently known as Clement of Alexandria, writes that women should be athletes for God. That is, they should wrestle with the Devil and devote themselves to celibacy instead of bowing meekly to their destiny of mothers and wives. However, this was not a universally held view, and wealthy Roman men continued amusing themselves with gymnastic, gladiatorial, and swimming acts featuring scantily-clad female competitors. What these females thought of both the acts and the men who patronized them is unknown. However, the Filipinas working as dancers and prostitutes outside twentieth century United States military bases in the Philippines usually disliked their equally scanty attire, and typically mud-wrestled and boxed more from financial necessity than desire.
A stele is erected in Alexandria that recounted the career of a pankratiast named Marcus Aurelius Asclepiades. According to the stele, Asclepiades was the son of a famous wrestler named Demetrios, and between 178 and 182 won at least ten major championships in Italy, Greece, and Asia. He then retired at the age of 25 to become an elected member of the Museum and a senior official in the World Track Association. Why did he retire? "Because of the risks and the jealousies involved," says his stele. Jealousy seems to have been the real problem, as the rest of the inscription suggests that the results of most matches were prearranged. After all, it did say that Asclepiades "was never in a tie match, never forfeited a bout, never protested a decision, never walked out of a contest nor entered a contest to please a king, nor did I ever win a fight that was started again [following a foul], but in all the contests which I entered I won the crown right there."
A Hellenistic writer named Philostratos writes a short text called On Athletics. Like most subsequent sportswriters, he described the athletes of his day as being inferior to the athletes of the past. Moreover, he said, they were prone to training too little, and eating, drinking, and fornicating too much. He claimed that the Spartans invented boxing to toughen their heads against blows. He said that gloves had replaced leather thongs for boxers’ hands because thumbless gloves reduced the frequency of eye injuries. (Ox-leather was preferred to pig-leather because it was softer, and caused less scarring.) He said that wrestling was the most useful sport for men training for war, as it could be used by men wearing armor after their swords and spears had broken. Pankration, on the other hand, he decried as little more than a combination of bad boxing and worse wrestling. Furthermore, its players preferred shadow-boxing to training with partners, and fought in mud rather than dirt, which broke their falls and robbed their techniques of their power. Therefore, pankration was not much of a sport at all. Whatever combative sport one did, good coaches were essential. Technical skills were taught by paidotribes while diet and exercise were supervised by gymnastes. Surgeons set broken bones and treated soft tissue injuries. (Trachoma was probably common, as it was a problem for wrestlers into the twentieth century.) Finally, why, according to Philostratos, did men wrestle or box or run? Because they could. Not because they had to, but because they could.
Philostratos also urged athletes to disinfect and maintain their bodies with dust instead of steam baths or dry rubs with olive oil. ("Yellow dust," he wrote, "makes the body glisten and is quite handsome to observe when it is on the well-developed body of an athlete from a good family.") On a less homoerotic note, according to twentieth century North Indian wrestlers, dusting also helped athletes avoid both excessive sweating and cooling.) Finally, pre-fight powdering also offers judges a way of easily seeing whether a wrestler has been thrown, or a boxer has been struck.
The Roman Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antonius (also known as Caracalla, after the hooded coat that he habitually wore) grants full citizenship to everyone living within the borders of the Roman Empire. The idea was to make Roman citizens subject to income taxes (from which they had previously been exempt), and non-citizens subject to inheritance taxes (from which they had previously had some relief). Tax laws also were modified to tax what the land could produce rather than what it did produce. The result was that small landowners started fleeing the countryside, the aristocracy started plotting rebellion, and because there was no longer the prize of citizenship to reward sixteen years of faithful service, the army started having trouble getting new recruits,
As a way of recruiting the best fighters for his bodyguard, a Chinese warlord named Liu Pei begins holding fencing tournaments. During one of these, a man armed with an iron rod knocked down a saber fencer, only to have his rod sliced in two by the fencer’s tempered blade. The maker of this magical weapon was a sword smith named Pu Yuan. The poet Chang Hua (232-300) described such fighters as notorious for killing people in the marketplace. Their weapons included curved knives, swords, halberds, and spears.
To supply a Chinese army in the field, extensive logistical support was required. This was not a problem near navigable rivers, where boats could carry supplies, but was a serious problem in mountainous areas. Ox wagons were one answer, but they moved slowly, and the animals required so much fodder that they limited campaigns to just a few months duration. On the other hand, hordes of porters required cash payment and were likely to malinger or pilfer. As a compromise, "single-wheel push barrows" are invented in southwestern China. The inventors were engineers working for the Shu warlord Liang Chu-ko.
The eruption of the Ilopango volcano in El Salvador engulfs most of Central America in ash. This causes many people to flee El Salvador and Honduras for the Guatemalan highlands, and is probably responsible for the Guatemalan village of Tikal turning into an important Mayan capital by the 280s.
Because cavalry could respond faster than infantry to incursions by mounted raiders, the Roman emperor Gallienus orders the establishment of large (about 500 men each) mounted infantry units in northern Italy, Greece, and the Balkans.
A group of Gothic women captured while armed and dressed as men are paraded through Rome wearing signs that read "Amazons." Therefore, while television heroines such as Xena, Warrior Princess are exaggerations, not every ancient reference to armored female warriors is apocryphal or allegorical.
To quell a mercantile uprising, the Romans burn the Brucheum quarter of Alexandria. It is likely that the great secular library of Alexandria was looted during the fighting, or burned during the arson that followed it. However, the smaller religious library at the Serapeum survived until 390, when the Christian patriarch Theophilus had it destroyed.
In a stinging renunciation of the Gnostics’ Buddhist-influenced descriptions of reincarnation, the Christian bishop of Lyons decrees that human souls go immediately to heaven, hell, or purgatory. The acknowledgment of an afterlife was something new for most Christians, who had previously held that death was nothing more than a kind of permanent sleep.
The Sassinid Persians crucify the Iranian philosopher Manes. Nevertheless, the Manichaean teachings, which equated men with the God of Light (the sun) and women with the Prince of Darkness (the moon), survive this setback for several reasons. One was that Manes' disciples spread his faith (which was not as misogynist as modern feminists sometimes say) through the Sassinid Empire using an improved Syriac script known as Pahlavi. The other was that the Manichaean theories about the duality of good and evil greatly influenced the theories of the Christian saint known as Augustine of Hippo.
Because the Britons living north of Hadrian’s Wall dyed their bodies with woad to ensure their life after death, the Romans called them the "Picts," meaning "Blue People." The Romans also called them Caledonians, meaning "People of the Underbrush." On the other hand, they called themselves Gaedil, a Gaelic word meaning "Stormy People." Fingal and his son Ossian are these people’s legendary hero-kings. Whether they were real people or were subsequent creations is a matter of scholarly debate. Either way, they were not Scots. That name only dates to the late fourth century, when Norwegian pirates who worshipped the goddess Skadi began settling northern Britain. A wife of Odin, Skadi was the daughter of an ice-giant killed by Thor. She hunted wolves and bears from skis, and was notorious for collecting dead men’s penises. In less legendary terms, this means she was a Finno-Ugric snow-goddess tamed, rather reluctantly, by patrilineal Norsemen.
The Indian prince Chandragupta I establishes the Gupta Dynasty in Bengal. As staunch Vishnaivites, Changdragupta and his son Samudragupta persecuted Indian Buddhists throughout the fourth century, which in turn caused many Buddhist intellectuals to emigrate to China and Tibet.
Arab merchants introduce opium into East Asia.
Stirrups appear in Chinese art.
Christianity appears in Britain. According to tradition, British resistance to the Roman religion provided a catalyst for a revival of Druidism. However, that explanation only dates to the eighteenth century, so may provide more insight into eighteenth-century Welsh confrontations with Anglican and Methodist clergy than fourth-century British confrontations with Roman Catholic clergy.
Buddhist monasteries appear around Canton, Tonkin, and Nanking.
According to an account written during the 330s by an Orthodox bishop named Eusebius, the Eastern Roman Caesar Constantinus I converts to Christianity. Reportedly, Constantine's goal was to obtain divine power over his enemies. However, Eusebius’ account is of questionable veracity. For one thing, the cross he described sounds more like a Mithraic labarum than a Christian cross. (Zoroastrians were inclined to see signs in the sky, and many of Constantine’s soldiers were Iranian.) For another, Constantinus did not convert the Roman Empire to Christianity. Instead, he only ended its persecution of heterodox religious cults. Finally, subsequent propaganda notwithstanding, Constantine did not become a Christian until he was on his deathbed in 337 -- and then it was to Arian, or Alexandrian, Christianity rather than Orthodox, or Roman, Christianity.
A Turkic people known as the Hsiung-nu introduces heavily armored cavalry into northwestern China. Chinese cavalrymen soon began equipping themselves similarly, and funerary artifacts depicting armored cavalrymen appeared as far south as Yunnan by the end of the century. However, the Chinese did not figure out how to use their knights until the sixth century, when the first reports of mounted lancers appear. Instead, the fourth century Chinese, like the fourth century Romans, the tenth century Scandinavians, and the nineteenth century Apaches, used their horses mostly as battle taxis.
The most famous member of the Han resistance to the Hsiung-nu invasions was Hua Mulan, a young girl who took her elderly father’s place in the Northern Dynasty army. According to the story, Mulan disguised herself as a man, served twelve years, and won high recognition. In the Chinese opera, the emphasis was on Mulan’s willingness to sacrifice for kinsmen, but in the twentieth century the stories stressed how she dedicated her life toward national salvation. For example, in 1907, her story was put into a textbook designed for use by schoolgirls. In 1920, her story was set to music. In 1939, she was made the heroine of a war against foreign invaders who were clearly Japanese. And so on.
The Chinese scholar Ko Hung writes that "Taoists prize and keep secret the recipes leading to [immortality]. They take pains selecting the very best pupils, and only after a long time do they give them the all-important oral instructions." This attitude continues to influence the pedagogy of the Chinese martial arts into the present.
Missionaries introduce Christianity into the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum. However, it remained a rare faith until 451, when the Eastern Roman Council of Chalcedon declared Monophysism to be a heresy, which in turn forced many Egyptian churchmen into exile.
Byzantine churchmen create Easter by combining the Jewish Passover and a Cybelene spring solstice festival, and introduce the Nicene Creed. At the time, the Creed was used mainly to persecute Syrian and Egyptian Christians who opposed Roman political power. However, arguments about whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father or from the Father and the Son caused the Roman Pope and the Byzantine Patriarch to excommunicate one another in 1054.
Dismayed by the rapid spread of Christianity, King Shapur II of Iran makes Zorastrianism the official religion of the Sassanid Empire, and begins actively persecuting Christians living in Iraq, Iran, and Armenia.
The Goths introduce wooden saddles of a Hunnish design into the Roman Empire.
The Buddhist scholar Hsien Fa visits India, and returns to China via Sri Lanka and Java.
Formal ordination procedures for Buddhist monks develop in China. While supposedly meant to keep criminals from pretending to be monks, and to keep young people from being converted against their will, they were also a way for the state to extract money from the monasteries.
The Council of Sardica makes the Bishop of Rome, or papas, the highest authority in the Roman Catholic Church.
The oldest surviving Christian Bible is written. Known as the Codex Vaticanus, it was written in Greek rather than Latin.
A Sanhedrin council headed by the Patriarch Hillel II synchronizes Judaism’s 354-day lunar calendar with the 365-day solar calendar of the Romans.
Japanese adventurers occupy large portions of the Korean coastline. They liked the country so well that they were not successfully evicted until 562.
Korea’s Silla kingdom begins adopting Chinese bureaucratic practices.
The Ecumenical Council of Laodicea issues a canon prohibiting Christian clerks and priests from becoming magicians, enchanters, astrologers, or mathematicians.
The rival Caesars Valentinian and Valens divide the Roman Empire (and military) in half.
China’s Chien Wen emperor uses Buddhist monks to exorcise the influence of evil stars over his empire.
Korea’s Koguryo court converts to Buddhism. The motivation for the conversion was part of the general sinification of the kingdom; a Chinese school for aristocratic children was established in Koguryo in 373, and the kingdom’s reign history was written in Chinese script. Korea’s Paekche court adopted Buddhism in 384, as did the Silla court in 528.
The city of Tiwanaku flourishes on the shores of Lake Titicaca. By this time, the city was several hundred years old, and home to 20-40,000 people. While dipping snuff and drinking maize beer were integral parts of Tiwanaku ritual, there is little to suggest major drug and alcohol dependency problems.
Rather than fighting their enemies honorably in hand-to-hand combat, the Tikal king Jaguar-Paw and his brother Smoking-Frog begin using atlatls, or spear-throwers, for the purpose of killing men from long range. Other military innovations attributed to these Mayan warrior-princes include taking prisoners for the purpose of human sacrifice to bloodthirsty deities. Modern historians call these developments "Tlaloc-Venus warfare", as the Tikal campaigns were coordinated with the cycles of the planets Tlaloc (Jupiter) and Venus.
Near the Thracian town of Adrianople, Gothic cavalry overruns and destroys an Imperial Roman army numbering over 60,000 men. Seen by modern historians as the beginning of the end for the Later Roman Empire, the defeat was seen in its own time as God’s way of punishing the Caesar Valens for having become an Arian rather than Orthodox Christian.
The Sarmatians settle Bulgaria. These semi-nomadic herders, better known to posterity as the Huns, moved to Bulgaria from the Ukraine at the request of Eastern Roman officials interested in using them to counterbalance the Gothic threat. The Huns sometimes fought singly, but more often fought in organized groups. Lacking stirrups or spurs, their warriors rode sidesaddle. For weapons, they used mounted archery at long range and swords and lassos at close range, and for a battle cry, they used a wolf-howl.
Roman decrees prohibit Orthodox Catholic churchmen from having sexual intercourse with their wives. These bans, which were inspired by desert mystics, were not always followed. For example, a thirteenth century bishop of Liège became infamous for having fathered 65 illegitimate children, while several fifteenth century popes became equally notorious for promoting their sons into bishoprics.
As the end of the Roman Empire was equated with the end of the world, the raids of Gothic horsemen into northern Italy send Roman churchmen into an eschatological panic. Therefore, in 394 the Western Roman Caesar Theodosius expels both Mithraic priests and Vestal Virgins from Rome and stops the reckoning of time in Olympiads. The Olympic games, however, continued for another century; their demise was the result of earthquakes destroying the stadium at Olympia.
A Byzantine nobleman named Vegetius writes The Military Institutions of the Romans. This book probably had few readers in its own time, as its author was a historian instead of a soldier, and he combined tactics that were obsolete centuries earlier with tactics that had only recently been invented. Nevertheless, his book, which was designed to improve late Roman armies, influenced European military thought between the tenth and eighteenth centuries, and was a source of inspiration for Machiavelli’s Art of War.
To cut expenses, the Roman government closes its imperial gladiatorial schools.
The Georgian script enters use in the southern Ukraine. The ecclesiastical script was called Khutsuri and the warriors’ writing was called Mkhedruli. Although the ecclesiastical script has since become obsolete, the warriors’ script remains in use.
Sanskrit inscriptions are engraved in steles built on Borneo and Java, probably at the command of the Javanese king Purnavarman.
The Natya Sastra, which assigned ritual meanings to the hand, head, and body movements used during North Indian gesture dancing, appears in Bharata. This text describes mudra, or hand-signs, which appear to have been similar to the finger movements often seen in East Asian martial arts. Perhaps this was because Nataraja, the King of the Dancers, was also Shiva, the Destroyer?
Quarterstaffs become associated with Taoist exorcisms. The idea was that when the priest pointed his staff toward heaven, the gods bowed and the earth smiled. However, when he pointed it at demons, the cowardly rascals fled. Drumming was also associated with these exorcisms, perhaps to help the priest enter the necessary trance states.
The Chinese learn to make weapons-grade steel. Their process involved mixing different grades of cast and wrought iron.
Korean monks introduce the Chinese syllabary into Japan.
The Indian poet Vatsayana writes the Kama Sutra, or "Aphorisms on Love." While the poet’s frank descriptions of erotic activity are sometimes claimed to have Roman or Taoist roots, his emphasis on acrobatic love between consenting adults of the opposite sex was clearly a local invention. The insistence on classification was also very Indian, and contemporary Indian military accounts identified over 130 thirty different classes of weapons! Anyway, the Kama Sutra is mentioned partly because it taught Indian courtesans to captivate men through regular "practice with sword, single-stick, quarter-staff, and bow and arrow," partly because its arcane breathing methods subsequently got tangled up with martial art practice, and mainly because it helped create the concept of romantic love between men and women, an idea that the Arabs borrowed in the eighth century and the Normans took to Europe in the eleventh.
Indian merchants divide their cannabis into bhang (marijuana) and ganja (hashish). Their wrestlers then ate bhang mixed with almonds as a way of curbing their strength-sapping sexual desires. Arguments about the perils of drug abuse aside, I think that the Indian gurus had it wrong, as to my mind a fighter’s abstinence from sex is less important to his chances of winning than his abstinence from love. After all, love has a way of satisfying that hunger in a fighter’s soul, whereas sex is frequently nothing more than mutual masturbation.
Turkish astrologers living in Afghanistan combine Babylonian and Iranian lunar calculations with Greek zodiacs to create the Vedic religious calendar.
The Polynesian kings of Samoa begin building heavily fortified villages on top of hills. These included hilltop defenses made from logs and packed earth, and were at the time among the most sophisticated on earth.
When a Christian monk named Telemachus interferes with a gladiatorial bout by rushing between the two fighters, bystanders drag him out and beat him to death.
With the help of two female assistants, a Dalmatian monk named Jerome produces the Vulgate Latin Bible. Jerome’s assistants must have been attractive as well as intelligent, too, as the good priest started his translation to help him keep his mind off them.
The Visigoths capture Rome. Edward Gibbon notwithstanding, the main importance of this event is that it effectively severed the Western Roman Empire from the Eastern Roman Empire.
Eastern Roman governors order the deportation of all Jews from Alexandria. Although they were far from successful, the Arab conqueror ‘Amr ibn-al-As reporting the presence of 40,000 tribute-paying Jews at Alexandria in 642, this decree nevertheless marks the practical beginnings of the Diaspora and Rabbinical Judaism.
To commemorate their military conquests, the Mayans start building stone replicas of their battle standards. These symbols included owls, spear-throwers, crossed javelins, and the War Serpent.
Saint Augustine introduces the doctrine of original sin to Christianity. For Augustine, death and suffering were the result of Adam’s sin instead of God’s will, and over time this belief becomes dogma because it served three important purposes. First, it made male humans the most important life forms on Earth. Second, it justified clergymen selling salvation for a price. And, most importantly, it released people from taking responsibility for their mistakes by transferring the blame for those mistakes to scapegoats such as Adam and Eve.
An epidemic decimates the bodyguard of a Romano-British chieftain living in East Anglia. To replace his losses, the East Anglican chieftain hires Frisian and Saxon mercenaries. Their paid arrival is the so-called Saxon invasion of fifth century Britain.
Buddhist nunneries appear in China.
As an example of its political power, the Koguryo kingdom moves its capital to Pyongyang. When not building monuments, the Koguryo state also attacked its neighbors. This in turn led its Korean enemies to unify and organize themselves along Chinese bureaucratic lines. Silla, for example, established an office of war organized along Confucian bureaucratic lines in 517.
Germanic chieftains living west of the Main River convert to Roman Catholicism, evidently as a way of obtaining Christ’s assistance in the shape of Gallo-Roman arms and armor.
The Council of Ephesus condemns Nestorian (Syrian and Egyptian) Christianity. While the Nestorians said that Christ’s divinity and humanity were separate, and the Orthodox Christians said that they were coequal, the real argument was whether the Church leaders should come from Alexandria, Constantinople, or Ravenna. As the Egyptians had the least military power, they were forced from Alexandria into Syria and Iraq. There, they started translating Greek texts into Syriac, which in turn made it easier for the Arabs to assimilate Hellenistic science and technology.
Christian art starts showing Christ on the cross. This was probably an outgrowth of Christian asceticism, which revered suffering and pain. Early crucifixes depicted Christ nude, as that was how fifth century rebels were usually hung. However, during the sixth century Christian artists began depicting Christ in diapers so that audiences would not mistake him for the Scandinavian god Freyr or the Roman god Priapus, whose sculptures always showed them with erect penises. Probably due to lack of funding, there were few artistic depictions of Christ on the cross until the Renaissance, at which time such images became common throughout Catholic Europe. James Twitchell says that the renewed interest in such art was due to two things. The first was that such images showed the dual nature of Christ. That is, while he was a human, and therefore subjected to the pains of the flesh, he was also divine. Consequently, the suffering he endured had to be sadistic to make it seem important. However, the second and more important reason was that people enjoy looking at images of what Twitchell calls "preposterous violence," and in a time before books and television, their chief sources of entertainment included religious iconography.
Roman Catholic patricus, or "Fathers," start appearing in Ireland. The first named one was Palladius, not Patrick, and the stories about Saint Patrick’s driving the snakes out of Ireland probably refer to these priests’ conflicts with the local priestesses, who used snakes as totems. The invention of whiskey also has been attributed to Saint Patrick. Yet, this isn’t likely, since Iranian alchemists didn’t invent stills until the eighth century, or distill rum until the thirteenth. So the fifth century uisge beatha ("blessed water") of the British priests was more likely a description of hard apple cider, then in the process of being spread through northern Europe by Basque sailors and fishermen.
The Vandals conquer Roman North Africa from Mauretania to Libya. The Vandals were a Germanic confederation from Central Europe. They looted their way across France in the early 400s, and eventually settled in northern Iberia. By the 420s, the Vandal armies reached southern Spain, with its ports and fleets. The Vandal generals then decided to use those fleets to mount attacks on North Africa. As the Vandals were Arian rather than Orthodox Christians, they severely persecuted Roman Catholics. Consequently, Vandals were treated badly in Latin ecclesiastical writings. At sea, the Vandal fleets, manned mostly by North Africans, were the ancestors of the Barbary corsairs. Meanwhile, on land, the Germanic Vandals were equestrians who preferred charging with spears and swords. Their Amazigh ("Berber") allies, meanwhile, rode camels and dipped their arrows in poison. Armor was meshed mail painted black against rust.
To quell a Burgundian uprising, a Western Roman warlord named Aetius recruits thousands of Alan mercenaries from Eastern Europe, and then uses them to smash a Burgundian uprising. The Alans are then rewarded with land in the Rhone Valley. By the eleventh century, the Roman general has been renamed Attila, and his Alan mercenaries have become the Hunnish villains of the Nibelungenlied. The Ring described in the legend refers to ring-works, a series of concentric ditches the Eastern Europeans and Turks dug around houses, villages, barracks, and watchtowers. The incorporation of a motte, or artificial hill, adjacent to those ring-works, was a fifth century invention in Polynesia, and a tenth century invention in Western Europe.
The Eastern Roman Empire holds its last known gladiatorial contest. As chariot racing and public executions remained hugely popular, and acrobats, wrestlers, and sword-dancers continued working the intermissions, the disappearance was probably unrelated to Christian piety.
Artwork shows Eastern Roman cavalrymen carrying short bows instead of javelins. This suggests that these men were either Iranians or Huns. Whoever they were, they wore helmets, metal corselets, and greaves. (Or, more precisely, carried: unless battle was imminent, armor was normally carried in a leather case behind the saddle. The reason was that this reduced rust in bad weather and heat injuries during hot weather.) The Eastern cavalry wore their swords on their left side, their quivers on their right side, and slung their bows in sacks alongside their saddles. They shot arrows while on the move, and shot left, right, front, and back equally well. Germanic cavalrymen, on the other hand, kept their javelins and shields. The reason was that they preferred trotting forward to about 20 yards range, then, if the enemy stayed steady, veering right and throwing their javelins, or, if he broke and ran, chasing him down and impaling him. The standard defense against both methods of attack was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with shields raised or spears out-thrust, while simultaneously shouting and clashing weapons. Stirrups remained rare, which meant that men mounted horses either by vaulting into the saddle or with help from a servant.
Taoism is proclaimed the state religion of the short-lived Northern Wei Empire. As this represents the only time that Taoism was ever the official religion of China, reports of Taoist discrimination against Buddhists are based more on prejudice than fact.
The Hun leader known as Attila (after a Gothic word meaning "Great Father") murders his older brother to become the paramount leader of the Danubian Black Huns. As such political assassinations were hardly uncommon, sensible landowners usually had several hundred well-armed and well-paid bodyguards. Because the bodyguards were paid in bread and beer, they became known in France as cum panis, or "bread sharers," and in Germany and the Eastern Roman Empire as bucellaires, or "biscuit eaters." Like the 47 Ronin of Japanese history, bucellaires often remained loyal after their master’s death, especially if that death was due to homicide. For example, in 454 the Western Roman emperor Valentinian murdered his general Aetius, who had come to the emperor to ask for a marriage between his son and Valentinian’s daughter. Several months later one of Aetius’ bucellaires helped Valentinian dismount his horse, then repeatedly rammed his knife into the emperor’s head.
The Council of Toledo becomes the first Christian institution to describe the Devil as "a large, black, monstrous apparition with horns on his head, cloven hoofs, hair, fiery eyes, terrible teeth, an immense phallus, and a sulphurous smell." In other words, the Devil was a composite of any number of pre-Christian deities and their representative masked dancers.
Tantric Buddhism spreads through the North Indian states of Assam, Bengal, and Orissa. Tantric Buddhism promises bliss through physical experiences of pain and pleasure instead of asceticism, and argues that sex outside of marriage, ecstatic dancing, and magic are legitimate for people who fully understand reality. (Indeed, the name "Tantra," or "weaving," infers the weaving of the supernatural into everyday life.) While this philosophy outraged mainstream Buddhists (to say nothing of mainstream Christians, Jews, and Muslims), Tantric philosophers created many important metaphysical concepts, including those of kundalini energy, chakras, and mantras.
Wood-and-iron stirrups appear in Korea and Manchuria. These allowed lancers to stand in their saddles, and turned horses into portable battering rams.
As Christianity spreads through Germany and France, the Gauls and Germans begin seeking universal rather than local laws. This results in the Code of Euric in 461, the Law of the Burgundians in 502, and the Salic law in 511. However, the rights and privileges of the local warlords remained far greater than those of the local bishops, and most of the Frankish regulations described ways of peacefully resolving vendettas and inheritance disputes.
The Silla kingdom expands throughout southeastern Korea. Its expansion was due in part to increased wealth following the adoption of Chinese wet-rice agricultural methods.
Indian philosophers design the first sriyantra, or "Blessed Devices." Sriyantra are geometric diagrams made by drawing nine interlocking isosceles triangles, five of which point downward and four of which point upward. The nine large triangles symbolized the feminine and the masculine energies of the universe, while the 43 smaller triangles made by their intersections symbolized various deities. As Tantrics later used similar patterns during their moving meditations, sriyanta are a possible source of inspiration for the patterns that seventeenth century Tibetan Buddhists used to teach fang wa, or sword dances.
A Japanese noble whose descendents styled him an emperor institutionalizes cockfighting at his court at Heijo, a place later renamed Nara. The sport may have had Chinese origins. On the other hand, it may have simply been a gambler’s delight, as the same Japanese aristocrat also required his serving girls to wear loincloths and wrestle like men.
The oldest continuously burning Zoroastrian flame in the world is lighted at the ateshkadé, or fire temple, at Yazd, Iran. The Indian wrestling practice of doing thousands of dands, or dipping push-ups, each day may have begun with Zoroastrian genuflections to the sun, the supreme flame. The equivalent Brahmin genuflection was called surya namaskar, and even Sikh scripture says that performing dands is a great virtue.
Chinese monks describe the Indian meditation practices that subsequently become known as Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism.
Rome is sacked, and the last Western Roman emperor is deposed.
According to eighth century documents, shrines honoring ancestral spirits are introduced to Japan. Also known as kami-no-michi, or the Way of the Gods -- Japanese deities have names, so they are gods rather than spirits -- Shinto not so much an organized religion as a folk doctrine with roots in North Asian shamanism. As a result Buddhism and Confucianism were historically more important doctrines in Japan until the 1880s, when Meiji-era reformers decided that making Shinto the state religion would lend credibility to the new Imperial government.
According to tradition, a Romano-British chieftain named Arturius is killed while fighting another Romano-British chieftain named Ambrosius. This defeat is important for two reasons. The first is that it destroyed the last Romano-British chieftain with the resources to oppose the Saxon and Scandinavian robber bands then invading Britain. The more important is that it inspired a series of legends concerning an ancient British king called Arthur. The date is unreliable, however, as the Easter tables used to deduce the traditional date were off by 28 years.
According to the eighth-century Nihon Gi ("Chronicles of Japan"), Japanese warlords stage an exhibition of equestrian archery at Heijo (modern Nara). Unfortunately, Heijo hadn’t been built yet (the establishment of what would become Nara dates to the late seventh century), so the story was probably an eighth-century effort at lending antiquity to then-current practices. Anyway, Japanese equestrian archery festivals, including the one held at Kamakura’s Hachimangu Shrine every September 16, date from the 1720s. They reflect the patronage of the eighth Tokugawa shogun, who in turn had hired some unnamed Chinese archers and a German riding master named Hans Jürgen Keyserling. The eighteenth century Japanese were well aware of their borrowings, and insisted on calling their mounted archery festivals kisha hasamimono, or "mounted archery of the wedged-in targets," instead of using the older name yabusame, which meant "horse-galloping archery."
Saint Brendan is born. The patron saint of Irish navigators, Brendan and his kind spread Christianity throughout the North Atlantic littoral. Their transportation was wood-and-leather boats called curragh, or canoes. In 1976, Tim Severin sailed a curragh from Ireland to Iceland; in 1977, he sailed the same craft from Iceland to Newfoundland. Says Severin, "Perhaps historians do not realize just how well the medieval seafarers were equipped for their endeavors with bronze fittings, handpicked timbers, leather, and flax cordage; and the modern seafarer forgets the tremendous advantages of flexibility and durability in the traditional materials which are all-important when the crises occur, as they always do at sea."
The Shaolin Temple is built at Bear’s Ear Peak in the Sung Mountains of Honan Province. The name means "the young forest," and alludes to the forest in North India where the Buddha chose to depart this life. While legends say that its inmates learned boxing and cudgeling from the Indian monk Bodhidharma during the 530s, this seems unlikely for several reasons. For one thing, while the Chinese believe that Tamo, as they call Bodhidharma, was a real person, most Western and many Indian scholars suspect that the Shaolin legend incorporates stories borrowed from the hagiographies of several different patriarchs. More importantly, ordained Buddhists were prohibited from fighting. (While the Buddhist demigods known as the Thirty-six Maras may run about shouting, "Kill," men with hope for salvation do not. A fourth century ordinance told monks that the thing they needed to fight was not other people, but their own arrogance. Added a sign at a Kiangsu monastery in 1683, "Should there be brawling or fighting, those offending against the rules will be expelled.") And as late as 1937, ordained monks, both in Europe and Asia, were more likely to take their exercise by walking in circles than through boxing or stick-fighting. Accordingly, the modern fame of the Shaolin fighting monks probably owes more to novels, stage plays, and the cinema than any historical skill in practical combatives.
King Clovis of the Salian Franks decides to become a Roman Catholic. According to Bishop Gregory of Tours, writing about a century later, Clovis’ motivation included Jesus Christ’s assistance during a battle against the Allemani (a people living in what is today Alsace). However, as the Allemani were Arian Christians, while Clovis worshipped Thor, such divine assistance seems unlikely. Therefore, Clovis’ motivation was more likely his desire for Burgundian and Italian military assistance. Regardless, Clovis’ conversion is important for making Roman Catholicism (and, by extension, its papal bureaucracy) the Western European standard.
The Byzantines ban venationes, or fights between men and beasts. The Western Romans follow suit in 523. In both cases, the reason was not scruples but economy: it cost a lot of money to collect and feed lions and tigers and bears.
An Iranian Jew called Rabbi Rabina finishes the last chapters of the Babylonian Talmud. This codifies Rabbinic law for posterity.