A Chronological History of the Martial Arts and Combative Sports 0500-1349 (rev 01/05)

The National Library of Canada provides an authorized mirror of this e-publication. The base document, however, is the one at 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:

0500 to 1349:

1350 to 1699:

1700 to 1859:

1860 to 1899:

1900 to 1939:

1940 to present:

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




Sixth century:

Greco-Babylonian personal horoscopes appear in India. The source of introduction was probably Athenian or Alexandrian scholars avoiding Byzantine and Roman persecution.

Members of the Nazca culture of southwestern Peru and northern Chile build hundreds of petroglyphs. The Nazca made these stone etchings by removing the surface layer of the desert and lining the cleared area with stones. Animal shapes are probably the oldest Nazca designs while the geometric shapes are probably newer. There are many theories concerning the original purpose of these stone patterns. Because the Nazca petroglyphs are best viewed from the air, the most famous explanation is perhaps Erich von Däniken’s theory about them being extraterrestrial landing sites. A more pedestrian (and plausible) theory suggests that the petroglyphs were viewed from nearby hilltops during part of some divination ritual. Thus the date used here: while the Nazca culture dates to the first century BCE, it did not start building major underground aqueducts in the Atacama Desert until the sixth century CE.

About 500:

Atlatls, or spear-throwers, become standard military weapons in Mayan armies. The reason was that these doubled the maximum effective range of hand-thrown spears. (In 1993, the world-record javelin throw was 300 feet, while the world-record spear throw using an atlatl was almost 617 feet.) As this made killing men little different than hunting animals, it offended religious leaders. Therefore swords, clubs, and javelins continued to be the standard military weapons elsewhere in the Americas.


The King of the Burgundians introduces trial by battle into Western Christianity. The idea was to invoke the judgment of God concerning hard-to-prove charges, such as those involving incest or cuckoldry. For, in King Gundobar’s words, "people might as well risk their bodies as their souls." Proxy fighters were allowed in these fights, with the proviso that after the battle the loser would have his hand chopped off and his employer would be hanged.


A plausibly dated Yamato emperor appears in Honshu. But even that is being generous, as despite Japanese propaganda the man would be better described as a clan head or tribal chieftain than an emperor.

About 510:

The Chinese replace their large stone gongs with large bronze gongs. These instruments were used for curing illness, chasing away evil spirits and robbers, and sounding military retreats. The idea appears to have been borrowed from some iron-working Mongolian tribes that the Chinese called the T’u-chüeh, or Turks.

About 525:

A Roman Catholic abbot named Dionysus Exiguus introduces Easter tables that assumed Christ was born 753 years after the founding of Rome. On Christmas Day, 800, Charlemagne made Dioynsus’ Easter tables the standard for the Carolingian empire, and in 1627, a French Jesuit named Denis Pétain used them to divide human history into BC and AD. Pétain’s system entered common use in France about 1650, and international use soon after.


The Council of Oxia prohibits Christians from consulting sorcerers and diviners, or using any methods of divination that used wood or bread.


The Byzantine Emperor Flavius Justinianus forbids the teaching of Neoplatonic philosophy and numerology in Athens and Alexandria. He also orders everyone who refused to become Christian to surrender his or her property and leave the government. Many scholars fled to Syria and Iran, where they could continue their astrological and scientific research unhindered.

About 530:

According to tradition, an Indian monk known as Bodhidharma (literally, "Carrier of Wisdom") introduces southern Indian moving meditations to the inmates of the Shaolin monastery in Honan Province. These meditations are often cited as the inspiration for northern Shaolin boxing. While this relationship is probably mythological, the idea that monks had a responsibility to exercise was clearly in the air, as Saint Benedict was simultaneously introducing the idea of Christian monastic labors into France and Italy. In both France and China, prayer services, or matins, occurred every three to four hours. To increase the power of prayer, simultaneity was encouraged. Nonetheless, there was a problem here. Not only were hours of different length during the summer and winter, but sundials didn’t work in the dark and water-clocks froze in the winter. Meanwhile, guards ("watches") sometimes fell asleep or got distracted, and so forgot to light one-hour candles or incense sticks. More importantly, none of these devices was useful for making the precise astronomical observations that astrology required. So research continued into ways of making more accurate timekeeping devices, research that resulted in the invention of mechanical bell-ringers during the eleventh century and mechanical clocks during the thirteenth.

About 535:

Korea’s Silla Dynasty converts to Mahayana Buddhism. The Korean aristocracy’s appreciation for the Buddha’s philosophy is unlikely, as just seven years earlier, some Korean aristocrats had murdered a high noble (I Ch’a-don) for too strongly advocating conversion. About the same time, however, the Korean aristocrats also replaced female sword-dancers with male sword-dancers, and moved to limit the power of female shamans. Therefore, Buddhism was more likely a request for divine protection and a way of limiting female power within the court.


Fifteen successive waves of bubonic plague spread from Egypt throughout Eurasia, killing at least a third of the world’s population. These plagues crippled governments and undermined people’s faith in their old gods, and serve as a partial explanation for the spread of new religions such as Islam and Tantric Buddhism during the following century. Witness, for instance, the way that the Byzantine Saint Cyprian converted to Christianity after his astrology failed to thwart a plague near Antioch.

About 543:

Egyptians fleeing Byzantine persecution introduce Nestorian Christianity into Arabia and Ethiopia.

About 549:

An Alexandrian monk known as Cosmas Indicopleustes completes a geographical text called Topographia Christiana, or "Christian Topography." In it, Cosmas used Biblical exegesis to show that the earth was the flat floor of a gigantic, vaulted temple instead of a spherical ball located at the center of a geocentric universe. As his theory was both mathematically and theologically improbable, it was widely ignored during its own time. The theory was rediscovered in the 1870s, and used by Darwinists as an example of how the Catholic Church, which was then strongly opposed to evolutionary theories, had acted throughout its history to retard science, scholarship, and learning. That is a calumny, of course, but people with ideological axes to grind rarely have qualms about stretching truth to prove a point.

About 550:

Due to Buddhist prohibitions against gambling with dice, Indian aristocrats give up dicing for another gambling game known as chaturanga, or "the four corps." The immediate ancestor of chess, chaturanga was played on a board whose checkerboard pattern symbolized fate (or irrigated fields), and whose pieces represented infantry, cavalry, archers, and elephants. The Byzantines and Arabs introduced the Normans to the game during the eleventh century, and by the mid-thirteenth century, there were chess books in Italy and Castile. The European game was of course revised to suit local conditions. The Indian vizier, for example, was a weak piece, but in the European game, this became the most powerful piece on the board (and the only female), namely the queen. Likewise, in Italy, elephants became castles, while in thirteenth-century Scandinavia they became berserkers.

During an exhibition held at the court of the Liang Dynasty Wu Ti emperor, a Buddhist monk called Tung Ch’uan ("Eastern Fist") uses unarmed techniques to disarm armed attackers. What these techniques were is unknown. Therefore, while this exhibition has been cited as proof of the early existence of Shaolin temple boxing, it could as easily have been a religico-magical preparation for a Liang Dynasty attack on some enemies living north of the Yangtze River. Meanwhile, in Western China, artists commemorate Chinese victories over Avars, Uighurs, Mongols, and other nomad groups ("bandits") by painting murals on the walls of Dunhuang Cave 285. The story of the 500 Bandits' conversion to Buddhism is a popular theme in later Chinese theatricals, and so represents a possible source of inspiration for Chinese boxing styles.

Japanese soldiers start experimenting with Mongol stirrups and Chinese siege technologies.

Gothic clergymen write court histories describing German history as having been as heroic and noble as Roman history.


Christian missionaries smuggle silkworms into Europe.

About 558:

The Avars introduce Mongol stirrups and Chinese trebuchets into Eastern Europe. The Avars were a western Siberian people related to the Huns that the Byzantines brought west to serve as a buffer on their northern frontier. Before the advent of stirrups, Western European cavalrymen mounted their horses by vaulting into the saddles, and obtained firm seats using four-cornered saddles and severe bits. For a trained rider, sticking pigs or peasants with a lance was not that difficult without stirrups. What stirrups did was make it easier for heavily armored men to mount their horses, and then to gain the advantage needed to knock other armored men from their saddles. This method of fighting, which emphasized meeting force with force, greatly appealed to the Germans and Celts, with their long history of force-on-force confrontations.


A major worldwide drought occurs. Ice core samples from in South America show that precipitation was 30% below normal throughout the period.

About 563:

Irish missionaries introduce Roman Catholicism into the Scottish Highlands; Saint Columba, the patron saint of poets, plagiarists, and computer pirates, is the hero of the story.

About 570:

An attack on Mecca by the Yemenis and Ethiopians is stopped by smallpox. This plague is significant partly because it coincided with the birth of the Muslim apostle Muhammad, and partly because of the elephants the Ethiopians reportedly had in their van. (I say reportedly because from the stories it is not entirely clear whether those elephants were real beasts or instead the elephant-headed standards of Indo-Ethiopian court astrologers.)

The T’ien T’ai school of Mahayana Buddhist moving meditations develops in China; its most famous teacher was the third Patriarch, Chih-i and its principal scripture was the Lotus Sutra. This system was known for its enthusiastic use of the sudden realization method of enlightenment, and when introduced into Japan during the ninth century as the Tendai school, it became particularly popular with the monks of Mount Hiei.

About 575:

The Chinese invent kitchen matches. These do not become popular in Europe until the nineteenth century.

About 580:

The Welsh hero Long Shaft dies in Yorkshire. In the twelfth century, the German troubadour Wolfram von Eschenbach converts this semi-legendary figure into Percival, the self-castrated hero of the search for the Holy Grail.


French churchmen debate whether women have souls. At least that is the postmodern feminist view of the debate, which was actually about whether the Old French word vir meant the same thing as the Vulgate Latin word homo. (The decision was that it did not.)


A Yamato archer named Yorozu becomes the first Japanese hero to commit suicide as a way of showing his master that while he might be killed, he could not be defeated. As the historical veracity of the source documents is dubious (the story was not written until the eighth century), the story may be allegorical rather than literal fact. Regardless, the Japanese were hardly the only medieval warriors to take their obligations and honor so seriously. For example, Harold Godwinson’s huscarles (personal bodyguard) fought the Normans to the death at Hastings in 1066 rather than try to escape to Scotland. And in 1301 and 1567, some besieged Rajputi knights opted to kill their wives and children, then ride to their deaths, saffron lance pennons and robes streaming, rather than sneak out the back door disguised as Muslims. Such heroism was not entirely self-effacing. For one thing, to this day many people prefer a quick, glorious death to a long, meaningless life marred by guilt or shame. And for another, the standard early medieval practice upon capturing a town was to castrate or blind any male prisoners, then gang-rape their women and sell their children into slavery. Not that this has changed much over the years. During the 1530s, the Afghan Sher Khan castrated the sons of a dead Rajput prince and gave the man’s daughters to some itinerant minstrels so that they could make them dance in the bazaars. Military rape-gangs were also a feature of World War II and the Afghan and Balkan warfare of 1980s and 1990s.


Japanese musicians living in Korea’s Paekche kingdom start learning Chinese stick-drumming techniques. The musicians’ motivation may have been military, as the both the Chinese and Korean militaries used drums to banish ghosts from encampments and flutes to turn cowards into heroes.


A north Chinese hero named Ch’in-hu wins a strategically important victory during "a tiger year, a tiger month, a tiger day, a tiger hour." From an astrological standpoint, such an attack required considerable courage, as tiger days and years are not normally a time for taking chances. On the other hand, from a pragmatic standpoint, all this meant was that Ch’in-hu used elite cavalry formations to mount a pre-dawn attack on the morning of February 20.

About 590:

Arab warriors start riding their horses into battle. (Previously they had ridden their animals to the battlefield, then dismounted and dueled with swords before crowds of scantily clad female admirers.)


The Christian Synod of Druim Ceat orders British women to quit going into battle alongside their men. The ban must not have been especially effective, since the daughter of Alfred the Great is remembered as the conqueror of Wales and the people who taught sword dancing to the Ulster hero Cû Chulainn were female. Most Metal Age cultures have sword or sword-and-buckler dances. The dances are often associated with butchers, tanners, and metal workers. According to Xenophon, good sword dancing provided good training for war and showed individual prowess. Of course, as countless writers, from Homer to Saadi to Bat Masterson, remind us, this is not always true. ("Courage is of little use to a man who essays to arbitrate a difference with [a weapon] if he is inexperienced in the use of the weapon he is going to use," said Masterson in 1907. "Then again he may possess both courage and experience and still fail if he lacks deliberation. Any man who does not possess courage, proficiency in the use of [the weapon] and deliberation had better make up his mind at the beginning to settle his personal differences in some other manner than by an appeal to [violence].") Therefore, sword dances are, from a pragmatic standpoint, useful mostly for providing entertainment, improving physical fitness, and attracting sexual admirers. Whether women participate in these dances depends entirely on the culture doing the dances.


Bodies are placed in the walls of a building at Canterbury, England. This was not necessarily a reminder of some bloodthirsty pre-Christian rite. After all, construction-project burials were also popular among certain twentieth century Mafia leaders, and nobody ever accused them of religious atavism.

Seventh century:

Sanhaja merchants from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco introduce camels into the Western Sahara.

Trade routes begin connecting the peoples of the Gulf of California with those of Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico. Reportedly waterholes can be found every twelve miles along the route, and trade items included abalone, coral, turquoise, copper, and macaw birds.

About 600:

The T’ang Dynasty hires Punjabi and Bengali astrologers to teach Vedic astrology in China. This may have significance to the Chinese martial arts, as many subsequent martial art practice forms have rectilinear patterns whose designs are similar to those used by Vedic astrologers to cast birth charts and horoscopes. Practice inside tiled courtyards is another possible explanation, but defining social space using geometric methods was vastly more important to thirteenth century Muslims and sixteenth century western Europeans than seventh century Chinese.

Wari becomes an important ceremonial center in the Peruvian Andes. Wari’s economy was based on labor-intensive terraced agriculture, and to fight drought irrigation canals carried water long distances from high altitude sources. Wari’s aristocrats apparently developed the knotted string records that the Incas later used for communication. Color rather than knots was the primary method of encoding information. As with their neighbors the Tiwanaku and their successors, the Incas, the Wari cemented social relationships by drinking intoxicating beverages until everyone was in a state of unconsciousness. The deity of drinking (and death) was Wiracocha, the Staff God.

About 602:

Buddhists fleeing political repression in Korea introduce Chinese calendars, astrology, and soya plants into Japan.


The Chinese start selecting civil servants based upon their knowledge of the Confucian classics. Among the subjects taught were archery (the pull was said to show character, and scholars were expected to hit the mark three times out of five) and knowledge of Sun Tzu’s Art of War and the Analects of Confucius. At its best, the system honed students’ minds to razor-sharpness via the requirement that they first master their material then provide well-crafted and witty oral and written commentaries on it. Meanwhile, at its worst, the caused students to spend decades memorizing to rote perfection one or two ossified compositions, a practice that has since been shown to stifle creativity. Still, there is much to be said for the system, as it was not significantly improved until the late nineteenth century.


A Buddhist priest named Wongwang describes the laws of war for the Korean soldiers Kwisan and Ch’uhang. These were loyalty to the king, piety toward parents, sincerity toward friends, courage in battle, avoiding combat on holy days, and killing as few people or animals on either side as possible.


On the first day of the lunar New Year, religious sectarians dressed as Buddhist monks attack the Chinese Imperial Palace. Three years later, other sectarians plot an attack on the carriage in which an imperial prince was riding. In both cases, the reasoning was that, since ordained monks were hypocrites and governments were corrupt, it was the duty of the upright man to overthrow them, and the result, unsurprisingly, was increased government distrust of popular Buddhism.


The Council of Tours instructs Roman Catholic priests to tell parishioners that prayer cures illness better than any earthly physician does. Mary Baker Eddy revived the concept during the nineteenth century and called it Christian Science.

About 620:

The Byzantines introduce the Varangian ("Pledged") Guard. Before 1066, this mercenary force was filled with Slavs and Norsemen, the most famous of whom was the eleventh century King Harold Hardraada of Norway. After 1066, many members were English.


Christian monks complain about Scandinavian attacks on Christian monasteries along the Irish littoral. This was nothing new: Frisian pirates had been raiding Britain for centuries. It had nothing to do with Christianity, either: Danish and Swedish "sea victuallers" remained a threat in Baltic regions until the fifteenth century. Christian propaganda notwithstanding, Irish monasteries were hardly defenseless. For one thing, the seventh century Irish were not a pacific folk, and a contemporary text called Mellbretha ("Special Judgments") described aristocratic youths engaging in charioteering, javelin and rock throwing, boxing, and wrestling. Second, Irish monasteries had their monks, many of whom had been soldiers before discovering that the monastic life provided a more comfortable living than soldiering. (Western Christian warrior-monks could be downright redoubtable, too. For example, Gozlin, the Bishop of Paris, is remembered for killing pagan after pagan with a sword during a Scandinavian attack on his city in 885. Meanwhile, the Norman Bishop Odo is remembered for crushing English skulls with a mace at Hastings.) Most importantly, however, these priests had their faith and their God. ("A mighty fortress is our God," said Martin Luther 900 years later.) Therefore, the infamy of these Viking attacks owes much to the spread of literate Christian priests throughout Britain and Ireland.

About 627:

The T’ang Dynasty T’ai Tsung emperor establishes the Chinese military training standard that required military crossbowmen to hit a man-sized target two times out of four at a range of 300 yards.

Between 629 and 645:

A Chinese scholar named Hsüan-tsang takes 600 Yogacara ("Unifying Practice") texts from North India to China by way of Katmandu. These Indian texts taught that people view life as they wish it to be, not as it is. They also taught that logic was meaningless, that sin and goodness were meaningless, and that both faith and works were meaningless. Instead, meaning was found entirely within one’s own heart and nature. The development is important to the martial arts because the philosophy provided the basis for the Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism of China, Korea, and Japan.

About 630:

Narasimhavarman I Mamallan, the Tamil king of southern India’s Pallava Dynasty, commissions dozens of granite sculptures showing unarmed fighters disarming armed opponents. These sculptures might have been state propaganda. After all, Narasimhavarman and his sons were constantly fighting with their neighbors. Or they may have had religious symbolism, as the modern Indians have some violent dances honoring the goddess Kali that use similar movements. Or they might have shown an early form of varma adi, a southern Indian wrestling art since subsumed by kalarippayattu, that allowed kicking, kneeing, and punching to the head and chest, but prohibited blows below the waist. (The Agni Purana of the eighth or ninth century describes such an art, and Mamallan means "Great Wrestler.") Or they could have been all of the above or none: The Indians used their sculptures to tell stories, and it is presently impossible to tell whether those stories were true or fanciful.


The Synod of Whitby decides that the Roman Church’s dating of Easter will be the British standard. The Irish held out for a different method of calculating Easter until 704, while the Welsh resisted until 768. Why did the Irish and Welsh resist? Probably because there were so many mathematical errors in the English Easter tables.

According to Arabic traditions, an Iranian general named Hormuz invites an Arab general named Khalid bin Al-Waleed to wrestle with him. Obviously one must be unarmed to wrestle, and when Khalid laid down his sword to wrestle, Hormuz’s men sprang from ambush to seize him. However, Khalid’s men were prepared for such an eventuality, and slew the perfidious infidel. Although Hormuz probably did organize an ambush, the structure of the story suggests folk theater rather than actual military practice.

About 636:

The eighty-first chapter of a Sui Dynasty history called the Sui Shu mentions the Eastern Barbarians, meaning the Koreans, Japanese, and Okinawans. About some people living south of Japan, the chroniclers wrote, "There are villages here and there, each with a headman called wu-liao. Invariably a good fighter becomes the wu-liao and controls the village… There are knives, pikes, bows and arrows, and things like swords. There is little iron there, and their blades are all thin and small. Bone and horn are generally used, to make up [for the lack of iron]. For armor they use plaited hemp or the thin skins of bears or leopards… The people of this country like to attack one another. They are strong and robust, and they run well. They do not die easily and bear their wounds well. The various districts live unto themselves and do not succor one another. When two bands of fighters face each other, three to five brave men come forward and leap and dance about, yelling and hurling insults at each other. Then they fight, shooting arrows at each other. If neither side can vanquish the other, they all run away." During the late nineteenth century, European scholars theorized that this passage referred to Taiwan rather than Okinawa, and after the Japanese popularized this idea after militarily occupying Taiwan in 1895. Twentieth century Chinese scholars, on the other hand, claimed that it referred to Okinawa. Most US scholars accept the Chinese interpretation.

About 639:

A Tibetan king known as Srontsen Gampo establishes the Tibetan capital at Lhasa and orders the Tibetan language to be written in the Kashmiri script of North India. According to tradition, the latter was done to please the king’s Nepalese wife, who wanted to see the king’s armies spread Buddhism throughout the world. It is also possible that Srontsen Gampo wanted to obtain translations of North Indian medical textbooks.


The Muslims establish sunset on July 16, 622 CE as the starting point for their lunar calendar. The date was the day that the Apostle Muhammad entered Medina after being forced to flee from Mecca.


A handful of Arabs conquers Southwest Asia. Their victories were due to various factors. First, the Byzantines, Sassanians, and Visigoths had already militarily exhausted one another. Second, the Muslims’ were initially willing to provide fair and equitable taxation to everyone (and religious freedom to those who were willing to pay extra for it). Third, they had Islam, the first multinational ideology to ascribe a profit motive to warfare. Of course, their better use of cavalry and siege artillery didn’t hurt their cause, either. Internally, however, Muslim merchants often resorted to wrestling matches rather than warfare. For example, the Apostle himself was something of a wrestler, and he twice threw a physically powerful Quraysh sheikh named Rukana ibn ‘Abdu Yazid in order to prove to him that his teachings were truly the revealed truth of God.


The sons and younger brothers of some Japanese district officials are made to wrestle for the amusement of a group of visiting Korean ambassadors. The idea seems to have been to impress the Koreans with the strength of the Yamato infantry, as the wrestlers were men in their twenties and thirties, not youths in their teens.

About 645:

The sayings of the Muslim Apostle Muhammad are collected by the orthodox ("Rightly-Guided") caliph ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan. The result was four hand-written copies of the Qur’an. The name means "The Recitation," and refers to the 6,211 verses that the archangel Gabriel revealed to the illiterate Apostle.


Fear of a Chinese invasion causes Japan’s future Emperor Tenji to seize control of the Yamato court. With his systematic imitation of the T’ang Dynasty Chinese, Tenji is sometimes credited with creating medieval Japanese culture and civilization.

About 646:

A still extant astronomical observatory enters use at Chomsongdae, near Kyongju, South Korea. The twelve stones of its base symbolize the months of the year, and from top to bottom, other stones represent the days of the months. The best guess is that its original purpose was to create Chinese-style horoscopes for the Silla Queen Sondok.


According to tradition, the Taoist saint known as Ancestor Lü is born in China. Ancestor Lü is popularly credited with establishing the Complete Reality school of Taoism (which sought to integrate Confucianism and Buddhism) and with being the disciple of Chung-li Ch’üan. (The latter is the Taoist internal alchemist credited with creating the Chinese calisthenics known as pa-tuan-chin, or Eight Pieces of Brocade.) However, because the Complete Reality school is more concretely dated to the teachings of a very human philosopher named Chang Po-tuan who lived during the late eleventh century, pa-tuan-chin is likely of later origin, too.

About 647:

The White Huns settle in Northern India. Various Rajput ("King’s Sons") clans claim descent from these warriors. This seems unlikely. First, reliable Rajput genealogies rarely go back further than the eleventh century. Second, Muslim chroniclers do not start describing Hindu warriors as Rajput rather than kshatriya until the tenth century. Therefore, the Rajputs are probably not White Huns, but Hindus who got tired of the passive resistance that many Brahmans preached. At any rate, by the twelfth century there were thirty-six separate Rajput clans. They claimed descent from the sun and the moon. Kali, the dark goddess of destruction, was their favorite female deity, while Hara, or "Robber," was their favorite male deity. The men enjoyed hunting, fighting, and music, and kept their women in purdah. Their training included hunting, polo, and sword dancing. Although they did not eat beef or pork, they did eat fowl. Despite religious prohibitions, they drank wine, mead, and other spirituous liquors, and often ate opium. Their states prospered because Rajput leaders usually left day-to-day administration to teetotaling Muslims or Brahmans. Although the Rajput system of government resembled feudalism, it was not truly feudal. For one thing, the senior prince never directly controlled the subjects of his vassals, only the vassals themselves. More importantly, each state was relatively autonomous, and free to make or break alliances as its leaders wished. (Strict ethical codes prevailed in daily life, but national politics were separate matters altogether.)

About 648:

Following the marriage of the T’ang Dynasty princess Ch’ing Wen to the Tibetan king Srontsen Gampo, Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist temples begin spreading into Tibet. While the marriage was originally arranged to placate the Tibetans, whose soldiers were then busily pillaging northern China, the Chinese subsequently use the nuptials to justify their own conquest of Tibet.


While looking through India for the ever-elusive elixir of life, a Chinese alchemist named Wang Hsüen-ts’e visits Bihar and Bengal. There, the forces of a local potentate named Arjuna attack him and his entourage. Undaunted, the Chinese pilgrim hires some Nepalese and Tibetan mercenaries and returns to capture the offending Indian monarch and carry off his valuable Buddhist texts.

Frankish laws begin regulating hunting, fishing, and logging in the royal forests. (The word "forest" itself dates to this era, and referred to the wild places beyond the walls and towns.) Rules against poaching in royal forests were severe. Charlemagne, for instance, imposed a fine equivalent to the price of 60 cows for snaring hares, while James II of Scotland made illegal salmon fishing a capital offense.

About 650:

Central American stone carvings show Mayan men smoking cigars while their vases show Mayan women giving Mayan men tobacco enemas. (Not to be outdone, the seventeenth century Danes recommended tobacco juice enemas as defense against tapeworm, while the eighteenth century French recommended intravaginal tobacco insufflations as a cure for female disorders.) The species of tobacco that the Mayans used was more hallucinogenic than modern tobacco, and was probably mixed with lime juice or hot peppers to make it even more potent.

About 660:

A general’s wife usurps control of the T’ang government. A violent, ruthless woman, she became the Wu Chao empress in 690, and ruled China until 705. During her reign, the Chinese fought (and usually defeated) the Koreans, Thais, Tibetans, and Turks.


Syrian political rivals assassinate ‘Ali ibn Abu-Talib, the son-in-law of the Apostle Muhammad. Non-Arab Muslims subsequently use this murder to justify the creation of the heterodox Shiite sect of Islam. The name "Shi’a" means "Partisans of ‘Ali," and refers to those people, who were generally poor, who supported the murdered son-in-law instead of his Syrian rivals. Shiite Islam differs from orthodox Islam in several ways. First, it claims that temporal leadership should be in the hands of the descendants of the murdered ‘Ali instead of Syrian clan chieftains. Second, it introduced the doctrine of sinless imams, or spiritual guides, into Islam. Finally, it taught that death in battle paved the way to Paradise. Famous martial Shiites included the Syrian Assassins and the Iranian conqueror Nadir Shah.


The Chinese capture the Koguryo capital of Pyongyang. This leaves a political vacuum in Korea that Silla quickly fills. Why didn’t the Chinese also conquer Silla? Evidently the government was too well organized and the military too strong. Koreans also believe that the Silla warriors’ hwarang spirit bears some of the credit. So, what was hwarang? The name translates into something akin to "Young Flower Masters." The allusion is unclear. For example, it could refer to: a) an earlier women’s group that its members replaced politically, b) the flower of manhood the members represented, c) a flower that the Buddha once held aloft to admire, d) a Korean gambling game that involves fencing with reeds, or e) something else altogether. Either way, the followers of hwarang were said to refine their morals, learn right from wrong, and select the best from among themselves to be their leaders. Aristocratic youths were inducted into this organization while aged 14-18 years. Usually there were about 200 hwarang scattered throughout the kingdom, each with an entourage of about a thousand, and members frequently served as generals or political advisors.

About 671:

The Byzantines develop a liquid incendiary that the Franks called Greek fire. The invention is credited to a Syrian alchemist named Kallinikos. The dragon-headed tubes used to propel this combustible liquid, which was apparently a mixture of sulfur, naphtha, quicklime (calcium oxide, CaO), and liquid hydrocarbons, helped inspire subsequent stories about knights fighting fire-breathing dragons. The men who handled the Greek fire wore asbestos suits, which in turn were a source of inspiration for stories about magical shirts. Spun asbestos was usually serpentine chrysolite, meaning a fibrous variety of magnesium silicate.

About 675:

Aristocratic Frankish training for war included lessons in horsemanship, archery, and fighting with swords. Although some training took place in courtyards under supervision, most occurred while hunting. Wolves, bears, wild boars, and peasants were all fair game. Accordingly, we read about seventh century hunting accidents that probably were not accidents, and well-mounted Frankish nobles fracturing their skulls on door-frames while chasing peasant girls into their parents’ cottages.


During a battle at Karbala, in Iraq, the third Shiite imam, al-Hussein ibn ‘Ali, disappears under a shower of arrows. To commemorate his martyrdom, the Shiites instituted a 40-day period of mourning in 1109. Known as Muharram ("abstinence"), this originally meant little more than hanging black sheets from windows. Nevertheless, over time people took to showing their piety in more sanguinary ways. For instance, in 1906, Sir Malcolm Darling described Indian Muharram activities as including "men wrestling dagger in hand; tumblers rolling on the ground or leaping in the air with jugglers slicing potatoes under a man’s chin as he lay prone." More recently, travelers to Iran were warned against photographing men in blood-spattered black shirts scourging themselves to the hypnotic chant of "Ya Hussein!" For Rajputs, the equivalent festival was Dussehra. On the tenth day of the Dussehra festival, Rajput men did sword or stick dances. "You treated the stick in exactly the same manner in which you treated a sword, with respect, touching it to your forehead," one elderly Rajput aristocrat told historian Charles Allen during the 1980s. "You could either use two sticks, one for offence and one for defence, or you carried a stick and a dhal, which was a shield made out of steel inlaid with gold or sometimes a tortoise shell. So it was a dance with a purpose behind it and not just a celebration. The drumming itself was very martial and gave you unbridled energy so that you could keep dancing and leaping for an hour at a time." The presence of sword and stick games during festivals seems fairly universal. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, Fulani youths gather at an appointed place at the beginning of each harvest season and trade blows with sticks. The rules of their game, called shadi, are simple: first you get your blow, then I get mine, and then we’ll take turns until blood is spilled or someone winces or cries out. Fulani boys started playing this game as early as age seven and continued playing it until they were married. Avoidance was not really an option, as mothers withheld food, girls withheld love, and men withheld work from any boy who was too cowardly to take his blows like a man.


Abu Hurayrata dies. During his life, Abu Hurayrata memorized many sayings of the Apostle Muhammad, one of which was, "The strong man is not the one who is strong in wrestling, but the one who controls himself in anger."


In an essay called The Canon on the Philosopher’s Stone, the Chinese alchemist Sun Si-miao becomes the first person known to have written that saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur are explosive when mixed. Centuries of subsequent experimentation revealed that the optimum mixture is 75% potassium nitrate, 15% carbon, and 10% sulfur. (The oxygen required for combustion is contained in the potassium nitrate, which ignites at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and propellant gases generated include sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen.) Sodium nitrate was also known as saltpeter. Under ideal conditions, sodium nitrate was also combustible, but because it readily absorbed atmospheric moisture, in practice it made a better food preservative than explosive.

The petty nobles of Korea’s Silla kingdom advocate the adoption of Confucian bureaucracies. Reasons included countering the preaching of Pure Land Buddhist monks (then upsetting status quo by saying that Paradise was for everyone, including peasants), limiting the power of females, and challenging the path to power enjoyed by Silla’s "true-bone" aristocrats.


As part of his process of centralizing political power in Japan, the Yamato Emperor Tenmu bans the private possession of ballistae (oyumi) and other siege weapons. While this ban reduced the ability of major landowners to wage civil war, it also had the unintended effect of causing the Japanese to forget how to use and repair the devices.

About 690:

Saxon and Norse cattle thieves start wearing mail shirts. These ringed shirts were called hauberks, or "neck protectors," after the attached mail hoods that many men wore under their conical iron helmets. Hauberks extended below the knees, and were slit up to the crotch so that their wearers could move their legs. Nonetheless, most Anglo-Scandinavian warriors continued relying more on luck than mail. In some cases this was due to faith, while in others, it was due to the Norse battle frenzy known as berserkr ("bear-shirts"). However, usually it was due to the expense, as a good Frankish hauberk cost as much as a good war horse or 60 sheep. Post-modern ethnobotanists speculate that the berserkers’ fury was chemically induced. To support these arguments, they point out that Mexican shamans used honey to preserve and transport psilocybin mushrooms while Lapp herders made hallucinogenic drinks from the urine of reindeers that had been fed fly agaric. While possible, the speculation remains unproved. The berserk cult seems to have been associated with the Joms Vikings, a seventh century detribalized warrior society whose center was in Denmark. Its name was evidently the result of the bearskin coats that worn by fully initiated members.

About 694:

English legal codes define an army, or here, as any body consisting of more than 35 armed men. This is a reminder that post-modern street gangs are frequently larger and better organized than early medieval armies.

Uighur Turks introduce Manichaeism into northern China. Essential elements of this faith included laymen leading scriptural study classes, full-time vegetarianism, and an awareness of the dualistic nature of good and evil. While Manicheaen temples appear after 768, this was probably for translating Iranian astrological material into Chinese rather than converting people. Consequently, Manichaean influence was minimal in China until the 920s, when government repression forced the Zoroastrian priests to spread throughout the Honan countryside rather than stay locked up inside their monasteries. Historian Daniel Overmyer has identified Manichaean influence in the Buddhist White Lotus sect, so the intellectual challenge of the Iranian religion was not ignored by the Buddhists any more than it was by the Christians or Muslims.


The Sumatran kingdom of Srivijaya sends ambassadors to China. Srivijaya stood in the Palembang River valley, and had been doing business with southern Indian Buddhists since the second century CE. Therefore, Western historians credit those Indians with introducing wet-rice agriculture, horses, plows, chess, and literacy into Indonesia. This causality is not entirely certain, as those same merchants appeared in Bali about the same time, and Balinese culture did not show significant Indian influence until the 1520s, when the island was invaded by Javanese Hindus fleeing Islamic persecution. A T’ang Dynasty history said that Sumatran infantry used bows, arrows, swords, and lances, and wore leather armor. Kings also had elephants, on which rode four men armed with bows, arrows, and lances. That said, Sumatran kings always had at least as much interest in obtaining victory through magical methods as through armed conflict. Tenth century artwork suggests that the swords were narrow and straight rather than serrated. Bows were longbows rather than Chinese crossbows. Shields were both oval and square. There may also have been some sword-and-shield dances done by women as well as men. Leaders indicated rank using parasols and peacock-feather insignia.


Roman Catholic priests prohibit Irish women and children from appearing on contested battlefields. This institutes a cultural change, for in pre-Christian times, Irish women and children had often accompanied Irish men into battle.

The Adriatic city-state of Venice declares independence from both Byzantium and Rome.

Eighth century:

Vishnaivite monks living in Kerala, in southwest coastal India, are described as devoting their mornings to archery, singlestick, and wrestling, their afternoons to chanting and dancing, and their evenings to walking in the woods. Their martial art was probably a root of the subsequent varma ati/kalaripayyatu tradition. Their North Indian counterparts were called chobi. In the 1810s, a British officer named James Tod reported that the sight of hundreds of chanting chobi swinging iron-ringed clubs during their annual festivals was a sight to see. Shaivite warrior-monks, meanwhile, wore saffron robes, braided their hair around their heads, and took vows of celibacy. Their sacred weapon was the sword, and they played kettledrums instead of tambors. Their major festival was the Dussehra festival at the end of the rainy season (late September or early October). Animals were sacrificed daily during the two-week long festival, and it was a good omen if the executioners could behead a buffalo with a single blow. During Duessehra there were also animal fights, cavalry games, and wrestling matches. Some of these matches were political theater or popular entertainment, meaning they had prearranged outcomes, while others were contests waged for prizes and reputation. According to Tod, Shaivite monks were good soldiers and better businessmen, but inclined to eat hashish and drink mead in prodigious quantities.

A Sanskrit epic known as the Agni Purana appears in India. Several chapters described Brahmin fighting arts. (Warfare was a sacred duty for Brahmin soldiers.) The emphasis was not on strategy, team building, scouting, or logistics, but instead on improving individual prowess. Killing the enemy with an arrow brought the Indian warrior the greatest honor; killing him with spears, swords, or with fists were consecutively inferior methods. The warrior went to war in chariots, on elephants, on horses, and on foot. Foot methods were subdivided into armed and unarmed methods, and the chief unarmed combative was wrestling. Instructors included both priests and old soldiers; the former taught rituals and the latter taught fighting methods.

The Kievan annals describe a Slavic boxing game. This involved fistfights between picked champions. Bouts took place during the winter on the frozen rivers that established boundaries between districts. Kicking, tripping, and putting iron into one’s gloves were discouraged. Additionally, the two men had to fight face-to-face and chest-to-chest without recourse to magic or trickery.

The alcoholic beverage known as pulque becomes popular in Yucatan and Mexico. Its creation is attributed to a woman named Xochitl, and the beverage, which was brewed from agave sap and had a 6% alcohol content, was widely used for entertaining men and keeping infants from crying. In other words, inebriation was common among American Indians well before the arrival of the Europeans.

About 700:

The Chinese scholar Hung Pei-sze describes an esoteric Buddhist movement art using the phrase ch’uan fa. This term, which has become a generic term for the Chinese martial arts, is probably best translated as "boxing methods" (ch’uan means "fist" while fa means "method" or "law," usually in a philosophical context).

Buddhist monks living near Kyongju, Korea produce a woodblock print of the Dharani Sutra. This was 150 years before the publication of the Diamond Sutra, "the world’s first book," in northwestern China in 868.


The Yamato government introduces the Taiho law code, which formally established a Chinese-style government in Japan.


Caliph al-Walid I orders Ummayad tax-collectors to write their reports in Arabic instead of Greek. Besides closing opportunities in government to Christians, the decision makes Arabic the language of money throughout the Mediterranean world. Nevertheless, the Ummayad accountants continued to do their calculations using Greek or Roman numerals until the 870s, when they started using Indian numerals instead.

About 710:

Turkish merchants and soldiers spread curved sabers through West Central Asia. Although the weapons were better suited for equestrian combat than straight-bladed swords, the design may have owed something to concurrent developments in quenching techniques, which caused the steel to curl as it cooled.

Christian Serbs are reported using poisoned arrows against Bosnian Muslims. The English word "toxin" comes from the Greek toxikon pharmakon ("bow poison"), which is what the Byzantines called these arrow-borne poisons.


The Yamato imperial city is established at what is now Nara, Japan. To give it legitimacy, a manuscript called Kojiki ("Record of Ancient Matters") is produced in 712. Eight years after that a second chronicle, Nihongi ("Chronicles of Japan") also appears. Both texts were written by government employees, and began by tracing the genealogies of the reigning leadership back to ancient gods. The authors, having no clue what really happened, borrowed liberally from Chinese classics, Japanese folktales, and their own imaginations. Nevertheless, both texts were accepted as Gospel in Japan for the next twelve hundred years.


Islamic armies under the command of Muhammad ibn Qasim invade Khurasan, Punjab, and Sind. Fighting the indigenous North Indian cavalry causes the Muslims, many of whom were former Sassanid soldiers, to quit viewing stirrups as signs of weakness, and to begin using them themselves.


Turkic silk and spice traders introduce Islam to the T’ang court at Ch’ang-an.


The Hsüan Tsung emperor establishes an acting school at his royal capital, and the sword dances and gymnastics taught in such schools soon became associated with Chinese martial arts. In their own time, however, these dances and gymnastics had nothing to do with military preparedness. Indeed, the Hsüan Tsung emperor was notorious for his draconian prohibitions against people carrying warlike arms or practicing archery unless living in threatened frontier areas.

About 720:

Chinese monks introduce Buddhism into Yunnan Province and Indochina. Their converts were not yet known as Thais, as the word "Thai" means "free men," and alludes to the Nanchao kingdom’s eleventh century resistance to Sung Chinese aggression.

About 725:

Saint Boniface fells the Oak of Thor at Geismar. As Hessian kings held marriage dances around this tree, Boniface’s action reflected the spread of Roman Catholicism through Germany.


China’s Ming Huang emperor proclaims polo one of the arts of war. If so, it was not very effective training, as the Ming Huang emperor was deposed in 756 for his inability to stop a Turkish warlord named An Lu-shan, who had established himself as the "Heroically Martial Emperor" in Lo-yang. While An was a cruel man murdered by a eunuch in 757, his rebellion effectively ended T’ang Dynasty control over its northern and western frontiers.


South of Tours, Frankish mounted infantry under the command of Charles of Austrasia (the future Martel, or Hammer) stop a Muslim army. According to Christian accounts, the Muslims, under Abd-er-Rahman, reportedly had 60,000 men. However, 6,000 is more likely. Anyway, although Charles’ victory was at the time merely an annoyance to the Muslims, Christian panegyrists subsequently hailed the Battle of Poitiers as a turning point in history.


Smallpox epidemics kill half the Japanese population. This causes a temporary end to conscription in Japan, and by 792 encourages the Yamato government to hire small mercenary cavalry forces instead of continuing to conscript large infantry battalions.

About 745:

During the battle for control of Central Asia, the Kirghiz Turks defeat the Uighur Turks. The technologically advanced Kirghiz culture was linked to China, and is believed to have been responsible for the creation of the Turkish runic script.

About 747:

As part of its ongoing process of sinification, Sun Tzu’s Art of War is introduced to the Budokukan, or Academy of Military Sciences, at the Yamato capital of Nara.

Sechie-zumo, or "religious wrestling," is featured alongside poetry competitions during a harvest festival held before the Yamato court during the fifth month of the lunar year (roughly June-July). In time, the wrestling becomes enormously popular and profitable, and to reduce the injuries, the most famous wrestler of the day, a man named Siga-no-Seirin is ordered to devise rules that prohibited striking, punching, or kicking. These rules, which were further codified during the mid-ninth century, are claimed by the Japanese as the foundation of sumo. Nevertheless, as the rules still allowed men to win by pulling, tripping, or battering, sechie-zumo sounds more like freestyle wrestling than modern sumo.

The Yamato kingdom also held a dismounted archery festival during the first month of the lunar year and a mounted archery festival during the fifth. Such festivals appealed mostly to aristocrats, and were never as popular with the peasants as the wrestling.

About 750:

A peripatetic Indian monk called Amoghavajra introduces the esoteric finger movements, or mudra, of Yogacara Buddhism into China. Memorizing these finger movements was supposed to cause subtle changes to the practitioner’s internal energy. (This is possible, since the hands provide more sensory input to the brain than all other parts of the body except the eyes, tongue, and nose.) Accordingly, mudra were subsequently incorporated into some East Asian martial arts. Some historians think that these finger movements originated in North Indian classical dance (nata). On the other hand, the Chinese martial arts use just a few finger signs. Therefore, who knows? It is clear, however, that Chinese finger signs have numerological significance, and as a result the Chinese patterns may owe something to the arithmetic pidgin known as "finger counting." Also known as mudra, finger counting was much more than simply adding one plus one using fingers and toes. Instead, it was an international mercantile language having both esoteric and martial implications. For instance, the Arabs observed that one drew a bow in the same way that one made the number thirty. This in turn referred to the Mongol draw, which locks the thumb into place using the index finger, rather than the Mediterranean draw, in which the string is pulled using the index, ring, and middle fingers.

Probably in hopes of obtaining divine intervention, the Koreans erect Buddhist temples all around Kwangju. By the gates of these temples were statues of bare-chested temple guardians standing in what the Koreans now call kwon bop, or pugilistic, stances. The guardian on the west (the excited fellow with wild hair and open mouth) represents yang energy. His name is Mi-chi. The guardian on the east (the fellow who stands with his mouth closed and his emotions under control) represents yin energy. His name is Chin-kang. Similar temple guardians are also found in Japan. The Japanese statues are made of lacquered hemp cloth spread over a wooden frame, and are called rikishi, or strong men. (Japanese professional wrestlers also use the latter name.) The rikishi at the Todai-ji Monastery in Nara are unique, partly because they stand by the altar instead of the front gate, and mostly because their torsos are armored rather than nude. Note, however, that these latter statues are not sixth century, but instead seventeenth.

Flemish and German monks start adding hops to their brewed malt beverages. In other words, they started making beer. Their standards were hardly as strict as modern advertisers would have you believe, as in those days, the standard involved an inspector pouring some beer on a bench, and then sitting on it until it dried. If the inspector’s leather breeches stuck to the bench, then the beer met standards and the brewmaster or brewmistress got a laurel wreath. On the other hand, if the breeches didn't stick to the bench, then the product was deemed small beer and sold at a lower price until the next official testing.


Islamic armies defeat a Korean-led Chinese army near Talas, in modern Kirghizstan, perhaps through treachery rather than force of arms. No matter how it was achieved, the Muslim victory is important for introducing the Muslims to T’ang Dynasty alchemical, mathematical, and paper manufacturing technologies.


The Chinese government authorizes Buddhist monasteries to charge money for ordination certificates.

About 760:

Maghrebi merchants spread Islam among the Sanhaja of the Atlas Mountains. However, the religion does not gain much credence in black Africa until camel caravans begin regularly crossing the Sahara during the late tenth century.

The ‘Abbasid Caliphate orders important Greek, Latin, and Vedic astrological and alchemical texts translated into Arabic. The knowledge transmitted by these translations helped create the open-minded, syncretic nature of classical Islamic astronomy, mathematics, and literature.


A Yamato army under the command of Tamuramaro Sakanoue conquers the aboriginal Ainu of Honshu. The military reforms required for the Japanese victory included replacing conscript levies with full-time armies maintained by regional lords. The process contributed to the rise of classic feudalism in Japan.


According to the twelfth century Chanson de Roland, Moors destroy a Frankish army led by Roland, prefect of the marches of Brittany. Since eighth century Frankish military columns rarely posted guards or reconnoitered, and as their leaders were frequently intoxicated, the defeat is hardly surprising. Furthermore, inasmuch as Roland was only a minor functionary in charge of a Carolingian supply train, his defeat was hardly important. Finally, as his attackers were Basques rather than Muslims, the defeat had nothing to do with the holy wars. On the other hand, as the tale details how truncheon blows caused their victims’ eyes to fly from their heads, it does suggest that twelfth century audiences were no more squeamish than twentieth century moviegoers.


The Chinese poet Wu Lu writes the Cha-Sing, or "Classic Art of Tea." Wu used Taoist symbolism to describe the proper way of drinking tea, which had become famous for its ability to help monks stay awake during prolonged meditation.


The Frankish king Charlemagne demands that his vassals give him oaths of fidelity. Modern historians often use this event as the birth of classic French feudalism. In my opinion, though, classic French feudalism is better dated to the 840s, which was a time when every rural baron sought to make himself king.

About 781:

Arab and Turkic silk and spice merchants spread Nestorian (Syrian) Christianity into north China.


Ya’qub ibn akhi Hizam writes a text on horsemanship that includes a chapter on veterinary science. Islamic knowledge of animal husbandry was hardly cursory or arbitrary, and by 1286, was sophisticated enough to include descriptions of artificial insemination. Thus, the Islamic contribution to Western chivalry was not stirrups (those were introduced by Avars), but good horses.


Because Byzantine generals found religious icons useful for inspiring the troops, Byzantine churchmen agree to quit destroying them, and soon they are everywhere. The government support for such icons subsequently fuels complaints about the Orthodox Church being a bunch of idolatrous pagans.


The Kerala philosopher known as Shankara achieves enlightenment. While little known in the West, Shankara was arguably the most influential philosopher of his day. For example, his theory that one could escape fate by achieving a mind empty of illusions (sunya) subsequently contributed to the development the Zen Buddhist concept of the Void and the Indo-Arabic numeral zero.


The Japanese aristocracy starts patronizing kumitachi, or sword dances. Their models were similar Chinese and Korean entertainments, and their methods reportedly set the precedent for the choreographed fencing depicted in the seventeenth century Noh and Kabuki theaters.

About 790:

Rhinelanders develop bellows-driven forges. This significantly improves German metallurgy, and becomes a factor behind the subsequent successes of the Danish Vikings, who bought their swords from the Rhenish Germans.

About 792:

Tantric Buddhism becomes the official moral code of the Tibetan aristocracy. Although court intrigues and an Indian philosopher named Santiraksita appear to have been responsible for this change, a demon-slaying North Indian monk called Padma Sambhava ("the Lotus Born") was given credit for it. Nevertheless, belief in the native Bon animism, which appealed to the spirits of the earthquake, blizzard, thunderstorm, and glacier, remained strong in Tibet throughout the twentieth century. Tantrism, by the way, is an offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism. Its proper name is vajrayana, or "The Thunderbolt Path." The thunderbolt of the name refers equally to sudden enlightenment, five-polar symbols of self-unification, iron war hammers, and penises.


Given a choice between seeing his mother torn to pieces before his eyes or losing his horse, an Aquitanian aristocrat named Datus does the only sensible thing: he keeps his horse.

About 795:

As the Muslims spread Chinese papermaking technology throughout southwest Asia, northern Africa, and Iberia, Islamic law begins to be promulgated using paper instead of memory. The four orthodox schools of Islamic jurisprudence, all created during the eighth and ninth centuries of the Common Era, helped discourage sectarianism by encouraging legal rather than military solutions to problems. Therefore, they are among the more important creations of early Islam. The promulgation of paper also led to Muslims growing large quantities of hemp, for in those days hemp was used for making paper, rope, and fabric.

Ninth century:

The Franks start using the Latin word schola, or "school," to describe places where monks studied philosophy rather than places where soldiers wrestled and fenced.

Korea’s hwarang system breaks down. The reason was that most aristocrats preferred staying at home with their wives, building expensive Buddhist temples, or attempting coups to wandering about the country correcting wrongs. The result was a century of disorder and strife.

In south-central Africa, Shona and Kalanga chieftains build stonewalled buildings. These were not King Solomon’s Mines, despite what novelist H. Rider Haggard wrote. Instead, the zimbabwe, or "great stone houses," symbolized the might of the Rozwi kingdom, and were funded by the Swahili (east African Arab) gold and ivory trade.

A Nahuatl people known as the Toltecs establish a militarily powerful empire in Central Mexico. Toltec raids into Yucatan and Guatemala during the ninth and tenth centuries are traditionally blamed for causing the Mayans to start living in small fortified villages instead of large open cities. Various ecological disasters stemming from the destruction of the Central American rain forests have been suggested as more likely causes.

About 800:

Buddhist monks develop the idea of centering the mind and the breathing at a spot about three fingers’ width below and a couple inches behind the navel. While the practice soon became popular among sitting Zennists, it did not become popular outside among Japanese swordsmen for another thousand years. Pioneers of the idea that training in proper breathing and energy projection were important to swordsmanship included Shirai Toru Yoshinori (1781-1843); his book, Heiho michi shirube ("Guide to the Way of Swordsmanship") was widely circulated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Buddhism spreads into Cambodia.


Frankish laws require men who own more than 300 acres of land to purchase and maintain a mail hauberk plus a shield, lance, sword, knife, and bow with two strings and twelve arrows. This marks another important step toward feudalism, for it quickly separated the very rich from the merely wealthy. What did the landowners receive in return? An equitable share of the loot if they won, and whatever they could get away with if they lost. (One important purpose for the war-horse has always been to provide a quick getaway.)


According to tradition, Buddhist monks introduce tea into Japan. Archaeological evidence suggests, however, that Japanese had been growing and using the plants for several decades before.


The Frankish Emperor Louis the Pious imposes special taxes on Jews. By the fourteenth century, these had become so heavy that many Jews had begun preferring education to wealth, and easily buried assets such as gold or jewels to easily stolen assets such as land and industrial workshops.


Confucian officials report Buddhist monks burning dots on their heads or arms to show their religious affiliations. A few monks even sliced their fingers or tongues to get the blood they used to write copies of the Diamond Sutra. The practice is a likely source for Christian stories about people signing blood pacts with the Devil. Procedures and patterns were not as fancy as depicted in kung fu movies. To ensure an appropriate pattern, 3 to 24 spots were marked with ink. Candles were placed over these spots, and then, once everything was perfect, one person would hold the initiate’s head so that it didn’t move, while another lit the candles. The candles burned for about one minute, and the Danish architect J. Prip-Møller noted in the 1930s that as the flames got closer to the skin, the initiates’ voices got higher and higher, and their chants got faster and faster. Once the burning reached the skin, only a few young men could take the pain without flinching; everyone else jerked violently, and shrieked and sobbed.

About 820:

Frankish and Lombardic aristocrats adopt the wood-and-iron stirrups, framed saddles, cross-tipped lances, and padded horse armor of their Avar enemies. (They had previously ridden using severe bits and quilted leather-and-wood saddles that provided firm seats even without stirrups.) The Franks’ adherence to force-on-force confrontations fought to the death were a holdover from their Teutonic and Roman influences, and their method of meeting problems head-on rather than sidestepping was glorified in contemporary Germanic literature. In the ninth century Hildebrandlied (Hildebrand’s Saga), the hero Hildebrand challenges an opposing army to send out its best man. The other side’s hero, Hadubrand, steps forward. The two men list their kin and lines of descent, causing Hildebrand to realize that the man opposite him is his son. Hildebrand offers his son money if he will leave rather than fight. A man of honor, Hadubrand rejects the offer. So instead of embracing, "They walked together, splitting shields, dodging blows with the light area of their shields until the shields were jagged, ruined by the weapons." A mighty warrior, Hildebrand slays his son, then sings: "I loved him with all my heart. Against my will, I became his murderer."

Members of an Indian monastic order called the Dasnami Naga are reported practicing archery and other combative sports. After reading surviving stories, the modern Indian historian Aparna Chattopadhyay writes that the overall picture is of "a society which attached much greater importance and value to the martial training of a Brâmana than excellence in spiritual or priestly life." The monastic martial art academies were called akhara. The word was associated with Rajput dueling societies, and literally meant "age-group" or "regiment." The weapons that individuals fought with indicated their social status. Brahmans, for instance, held archery competitions, while warriors fenced, merchants fought with sticks, and peasants wrestled. There was religious symbolism behind these weapons, too. For example, the Brahmans associated wooden clubs with the god Shiva, while the Buddhists associated them with Guhyakta Vajra, "the hero who holds in his hand a thunderbolt." Likewise, the Brahmans associated iron hooks with the god Ganapati, disks (cakra) with Lord Vishnu, and tridents with the god Rudra.

About 825:

The T’ang Dynasty Ching Tsung emperor is described as an avid patron of wrestling.


The Utrecht Psalter shows Christians sharpening their swords using rotary grindstones while sinners sharpen theirs using files and stones. This is important to the history of technology, as it represents one of the first known uses of the rotary crank.

About 835:

After finding their desert brethren politically unreliable, urban Arabs begin acquiring foreign slave soldiers. The word mamluk ("owned") refers to these Arabs’ Slavic and Turkic slave soldiers, while the word ‘abd ("black") refers to their Nubian and Ethiopian harem guards.

About 840:

Sumai ("struggle") wrestling, an ancestor of modern sumo, develops in Japan. Associated with harvest festivals, the wrestlers were part of a giant potlatch relationship designed to show their patrons’ ability to squander such mighty energies. The roots of the sport may lie in Korea.

Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist monks establish tea plantations in Korea. The plantations were designed to support their Taoist-inspired tea drinking rituals, which included gathering before an image of Bodhidharma and drinking tea from a communal bowl.

Bon animists attack Buddhist temples throughout Tibet. Three years later, a Buddhist monk named Palgyi Dorje assassinates the Tibetan king who ordered the desecration. According to Buddhist tradition, the king’s last words were: "Oh why was I not killed three years ago to save me from committing so much sin?" It is probably no coincidence that these famous last words are part of an established stage tradition.


The Chinese government orders the persecution of all Buddhist sects that taught that all men were equal in the eyes of Heaven. In the process, its soldiers burned thousands of shrines and temples, and confiscated millions of acres of land. This destruction was politically rather than religiously motivated, and subsequent Buddhist propaganda notwithstanding, the victors were Confucianists rather than Taoists.


Charlemagne’s grandsons Charles the Bald and Louis the German have their minions swear their fealty using proto-French and proto-German instead of Old Latin. Such linguistic divisions help split Charlemagne’s empire into France and Germany.


Islam begins supplementing Buddhism throughout north China.


Mon merchants establish the Kingdom of Pagan around the middle valley of the Irrawaddy River in central Burma. Although the Pagan economy was originally built on trade, during the eleventh century it became a military power under the leadership of King Anorahta. This eleventh century expansion was itself inspired by Anorahta’s desire to control the maritime trade with Kerala and Sri Lanka.

About 850:

A Chinese text called Classified Essentials of the Mysterious Tao describes how to mix sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal for the purpose of scaring away evil spirits, and opening a path for contentment and peace. This is ironic, for the mixture is that of gunpowder.

Hincmar, the Archbishop of Rheims, complains about the way unscrupulous Frankish lords had taken to divorcing their wives: first they sent the women to inspect their kitchens, then they had their butchers slit the women’s throats. (As rich men, the husbands could afford to pay the monetary compensations levied for homicide, while as widowers, they were free to remarry.) This is mentioned as a reminder that the Hispano-Arabic idea of chaste conjugal love, a key element of late medieval chivalry, was not introduced to southern France until the eleventh century.


An Iranian merchant named Soleiman mentions the headhunters of Nias, an island west of Sumatra. These headhunters were somewhat unusual for the region, as they did not eat their victims before decapitating them. Otherwise, they were typical in that they engaged in ritual murders in order to settle feuds and satisfy the bloodlust of various hard-hearted deities. The Indonesians’ weapons included wooden spears and hand-held stones. Favorite methods of killing included the casting of evil spells and impaling enemies in their beds. Projectile weapons were sometimes used. (While the Western Indonesians disdained military archery, while the Eastern Indonesians relied on it almost exclusively. Both groups hunted game using blowpipes, and often poisoned their arrows and darts using vegetable toxins.) Women accompanied these headhunters during their campaigns, usually as bearers and cooks, but sometimes as warriors. The training for Indonesian warfare included participating in daylong dances conducted in full battle armor and even longer religious rituals.


According to an unreliable tradition the Japanese Emperor Buntoku determines succession between his sons by ordering them to fight one another barehanded. The winner became the new Emperor Seiwa. The losers died.


An Islamic widow named Fatima bint Muhammad establishes the Great Mosque at Fez, in Morocco’s Middle Atlas region. This becomes a major source of Islamic learning during the twelfth century, and is the site of the University of Karueein, the oldest continuously operating educational institution in the Western world.

About 860:

The Iraqi mathematician Abu Yusuf Ya’qub ibn-Ishaq as-Sabbah al-Kindi ("Alkindus") writes that the finest swords in the Islamic world came from Yemen and India. To al-Kindi, the steel used in the manufacture of these weapons was known as wootz, after the Indian and Iranian steel used to make them. The intricate patterns that characterize wootz weapons came from FE3C striations that appeared during the quenching process, so when European Christians started buying the weapons, too, they called the metal Damascus, after the damask cloth that wootz steel resembled. The Crusaders in particular set smiths to duplicating the wootz weapons, which in turn led to developments in pattern-welding blends of soft and hard steels. It wasn’t the same technology at all, but the result was similar, both in appearance and in strength.


According to the Primary Chronicle, the burghers of the Slavic town of Novgorod hire some Swedish Vikings under the command of a man named Rurik to protect their town from foreign attacks. Around 880, Rurik’s son Oleg conquers Smolensk, Lyubech, and Kiev, thereby establishing the kingdom subsequently known as Russia, after the Slavic word meaning "Rowers."

Turkic pressure forces a steppe people known as the Magyars to move from the Urals to the Danubian plains. The Magyars successfully raided throughout central Europe until 955, at which time they were defeated south of Augsburg by a German army commanded by Otto I. The Magyars then retreated into Hungary, where theirs became the dominant culture.


The Chinese storyteller Tuan Ch’eng-shih dies. His works included a text called Yu-yang Tsa-tsu ("Miscellaneous Fare from Yu-yang," the latter being a mountain in Hunan where great masters hid books containing great knowledge). One story described a young man who learned that a prospective knight-errant needed to master swordsmanship as well as archery. Another described a sword-dancer who whirled two swords as if pulling silk, then planted them in the ground in the manner of the seven stars of the Big Dipper.

About 864:

According to the Primary Chronicle, the Greek Orthodox patriarchs Cyril and Methodius create the Slavonic alphabet. (The dating is imprecise because the Primary Chronicle had multiple authors, and was not written before the 1110s.) While Cyril’s was the first successful Slavic alphabet, the modified Cyrillic alphabet created by Kliment of Ohrid, who spread Christianity during the 890s, was ultimately more popular with secular readers.


Frankish landowners are ordered to train their sons to ride horses and fight with swords, lances, and javelins. French historians have seen this as an important step toward classic French feudalism, but it is more probably an outgrowth of older Germanic customs requiring the association of younger warriors with older ones.

About 870:

The Norwegians settle Iceland, Europe’s first large overseas colony. Irish monks were already there when the Norse arrived, but as the Irish had no women, they cannot be considered permanent settlers.


Charles the Bald, King of the West Franks, issues a decree stating that every man entitled to bear arms must have a patron or lord. This starts the process of codifying French feudalism.


Due to secular political squabbling, the Roman Pope and the Byzantine Patriarch excommunicate one another.

Islamic travelers report that Canton’s major sources of revenue included tariffs on tea.


The Russian Prince Oleg orders his capital moved from Novgorod to Kiev. This institutes Kievan hegemony over the Ukraine, or Little Russia.


France and Germany split into two separate kingdoms.

About 890:

According to Professor David Howlitt of Oxford University, King Alfred the Great of England has a cleric named Aethelstan write a vernacular description of proper chivalric behavior that even Alfred’s grandson could understand. The result was an untitled poem that eighteenth century scholars called Beowulf. The story is set in the sixth century. It starts with Beowulf, a Swedish prince, sailing to England to grapple with a human monster named Grendel, who invaded Anglo-Scandinavian mead-halls at night and ate their inhabitants. In the dim light of Hrothgar’s mead-hall, Grendel comes to eat Beowulf and his men. Beowulf, the strongest of men, resists by seizing Grendel’s arm. (Since Grendel killed using just teeth and hands, Beowulf believed it would be dishonorable to use swords or shields against him. This was just as well for Beowulf, as Grendel had magic charms that protected him from steel.) Grendel quickly realizes that he has met his match and turns to flee. Beowulf keeps his grip and rips Grendel’s arm from the socket. Grendel runs screaming into the night and dies soon after. Several days later Grendel’s vengeful mother attacks Beowulf. Beowulf swings his sword at the woman, but the steel would not bite. Whenever swords failed, said Beowulf’s scribe, a man had to trust his wrestling. Knowing this, Beowulf drops the useless sword and throws the woman to the floor. Grendel’s mother trips Beowulf and then thrusts her knife into the fallen hero’s shoulder. Beowulf’s ring-mail turns the knife, and he rolls away, jumps to his feet, and grabs another sword. This sword bites, and the woman’s head flies from its neck-rings. Such sanguinary females were evidently common in Anglo-Scandinavian England. For instance, the author of Beowulf describes a queen named Modthryth who knifed lustful courtiers. Meanwhile, in "Judith," a much shorter poem written about the same time as Beowulf, the poet praises a God-fearing woman who gets a lustful feudal lord drunk then beheads him with his own sword. While unusual (medieval heroines were usually martyrs rather than killers), "Judith’s" author obviously knew something about beheadings, as Judith, a handsome Hebrew woman, required two mighty blows to sever the demonic lecher’s head from its neck-rings.


As Arab money and Islamic learning spreads through the Mediterranean world, Jews start writing their commentaries using Hebrew-scripted Arabic instead of Greek or Aramaic. The Torah, on the other hand, was still written in Hebrew. The reason was that vernacular translations rendered the scrolls unfit for ritual use.


Katana, or relatively short two-handed swords with curved blades, become popular in Japan. When making these weapons, the Japanese smiths followed the Chinese practice of applying clay to the steel during the quenching process. This caused the metal to cool at different rates, and caused the swords to end up with harder (i.e., sharper) edges and softer (i.e., stronger) spines than other swords of the day. Good smiths also pattern-welded their blades, meaning that they folded the metal over itself between eight to fifteen times, thus creating much stronger metal than was normally available. The Japanese pattern-welding differed from European pattern-welding because the Japanese did more hammering of the steel and used only one grade of iron rather than consciously mixing soft and hard steels.

Tenth century:

A Punjabi weaver called Goraksha (a title of initiation; the man’s actual name is unknown) renounces the world to become a Tantric mystic of the Natha sect. Goraksha is remembered as the creator of hatha-yoga, which means the "yoking (of the spirit) to the sun and the moon." Yoga describes a system of breathing techniques and calisthenics designed to teach practitioners how to control their personal and psychic energies. Indian wrestlers subsequently borrowed some of Goraksha’s conditioning drills. During the 1930s, yogic calisthenics and breathing methods were also introduced into the Japanese martial arts. Finally, in 1941, heavyweight boxer Lou Nova claimed that breathing techniques borrowed from yoga were going to help him beat Joe Louis. They didn’t, and Nova went down in six.

Chinese-style geomancy (feng shui) is introduced into Korea. This taught that the lie of the land affected one’s life, and, like Social Darwinism a thousand years later, was used by the mercantile and aristocratic classes to justify their economic exploitation of the peasants. Its researches are mentioned partly because Koryo dynasty geomancers were linked to the development of the Buddhist martial arts in twelfth-century Korea, and mainly because geomantic researches resulted in the development of navigational compasses.

Islamic merchants introduce rice into Madagascar.

About 900:

Slavic farmers introduce iron horseshoes into Germany. These protected their animals’ hooves from the boggy Central European soils, and made the animals as well suited for agricultural as military purposes. The original invention was probably Central Asian or Chinese.

The Byzantine Caesar Leo VI writes Tactica, an essay on military matters that teaches that war is a normal human activity and therefore beyond the province of morality. The date is tentative, as it is not entirely certain whether Leo wrote the text, or whether he based it on the writings of an iconoclastic eighth century predecessor, Leo the Issurian.

Islamic writers denounce "Indian hemp," or hashish, as a vile toxin. This hashish would have been eaten or drunk in teas, as it was not smoked until after the introduction of tobacco during the sixteenth century.

The people that Hopi call hisatsinom ("ancestors") and anthropologists call Anasazi (a Navajo word meaning "ancestors of the enemy") begin work on Pueblo Bonito in the Four Corners region of northwestern New Mexico. Gradually enlarged until it had over 650 rooms, Pueblo Bonito was the largest apartment complex in the world until the completion of New York City’s Spanish Flats in 1882. Traditionally, anthropologists have believed that the gradual abandonment of this structure circa 1150 was due to a combination of drought and attacks by Athabascan-speaking hunters that the pueblo-dwellers called apachu, or "enemies." Recently, however, to the disgust of most American Indians, physical anthropologist Christy Turner has claimed that the real reason was the mass terror resulting from the cannibalistic practices of the Mesoamerican nabahu, or "enemies of the cultivated fields." Recent computer models suggest that the truth may involve some combination of all these factors.

About 904:

A Chinese encyclopedist called Tung Siui describes feikho, firecrackers made from powder-filled paper bags, and khopao, or bamboo pipe-bombs. Tung’s noisemakers were used mainly to scare ghosts.

About 907:

Following the collapse of the once-mighty T’ang Dynasty, many Chinese refugees settle in Japan. The Togakure Ryu ninjutsu system claims these Chinese refugees as its founders.

About 910:

Monastic reforms begin in Western Europe, the goal of which was to make the Catholic Church subject to Roman popes instead of French and German princes.


During negotiations meant to keep the Vikings from conquering all of France, King Charles the Simple of France orders a Norwegian chieftain named Hrolf the Walker to kiss his foot. According to one version of the story, Hrolf responds by having one of his men throw Charles on his back and then kiss his foot while standing up, while according to another, Hrolf tells Charles to kiss another part of Hrolf's anatomy. Either way, this disrespect resulted in Charles appointing Hrolf the Duke of Normandy and ordering his daughter to marry the man. This in turn suggests that honor and reputation were not as important to tenth century men-at-arms as twelfth century poets would have you believe.

About 916:

After losing a ball game to an older boy, a six-year old Icelander named Egil drives a heavy ax into the older boy’s brain. This killing was not adjudged homicide because it was done in broad daylight before witnesses, and was deemed justifiable because the older boy had gloated over his victory in front of Egil. Egil’s mother expressed pride in her son for his actions, for she believed that it showed that he had the makings of a good Viking. Matronly delight in raising homicidal children recurred a thousand years later among New Guinea headhunters and the feather-awarding women of Edwardian Britain, and suggests that mothers play vital parts in creating and sustaining cultures in which men revere violence.


The Chinese start buying their war horses from the Jurchen, a Tungu-speaking tribe living in Manchuria. This trade is so profitable to the Jurchen that within 200 years it has converted them from a minor agricultural tribe into a militarily important nation.

About 925:

Polynesian fishermen appear in New Zealand. With lots of room and no enemies, they gradually spread throughout the islands. They were not yet Maori, however, as that culture does not appear on North Island for another 400 years or on South Island for 600. The Maori culture appears to have developed only after the New Zealanders’ economy shifted from bird hunting to farming. This suggests that the traditional view of hunters as homicidal savages and farmers as passive victims may require some adjustment.


The Andalucian emir ‘Abd ar-Rahman III establishes Córdoba, Spain, as the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate. The move reduces Baghdad to a secondary place in the Islamic world and brings Islamic paper-manufacturing and hemp production technologies into Western Europe. ‘Abd ar-Rahman was a bibliophile, and his library was said to include over 400,000 manuscripts. As tenth century Muslims saw no reason to keep women from reading or writing, most of the copyists were women.


The Islamic theologian al-Ash’ari dies. The Ash’arite school taught that God was eternal and formless, that the Qur’an was God’s word revealed to Muhammad in the Arabic language, and that men were free to choose their own religious beliefs. While the Ash’arite standards diverged from the doctrines espoused by the Abbasid caliphate, they ultimately became the Sunni standard.


The Khitans, who were originally from Siberia, become the first Chinese government to establish a political capital at Peking.


After freeing themselves from the Chinese, the northern Vietnamese state of Dai-Viet begins fighting the southern Vietnamese kingdom of Champa, the Cambodian Khmer Empire, and the Shan mountaineers of the Vietnamese highlands.

Abu’l Kasim Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, the Islamic saint known as the Twelfth Imam, goes into occultation (or is called to Allah, depending on your interpretation). At the end of the world, Shi’ite Muslims believe that the Imam will reappear and lead the Faithful to victory.

About 940:

Japanese war armor begins to feature lamellar metal cuirasses above skirts of connected iron strips. Fancy helmet crests also date to this period.

About 947:

Norman aristocrats, the most famous being Fulk Nerra, count of Anjou, start converting their earth-and-log houses into fortified stone castles. The reason was probably to make the houses (and their occupants) more resistant to nocturnal arson.


The Normans of Senlis, France use hunting crossbows to repel an attack by King Louis of Belgium. This represents the first known Western European use of crossbows for military purposes.

About 950:

Japanese martial philosophers describe kyuba no michi, the "Way of Bow and Horse." This discussed the Japanese warrior’s overriding concern for personal honor, and was the conceptual grandparent of the Tokugawa-era code known as bushido. (The contemporary pronunciation of the two Chinese characters meaning "warrior," though, was "mononofu," not "bushi.")

The Saga of Gisli provides a detailed description of Norse dueling rules. First, everyone involved would drink heavily. Then their seconds would mark the borders of the dueling ground with stones or strips of hide. The duelists would then square off and try to scare one another using curses, scurrilous verse, and shield-biting tricks. After that, if no one quit, the two men would run toward one another, throwing their spears as they went. As the spears generally missed their marks, the duelists would then take turns bashing away at the other’s shield until one or the other fled outside the stone-marked boundaries or agreed to pay everything at stake. While honorable men were not supposed to ignore the shield during their strikes, the Icelander Egil Skallagrimson ignored such niceties. Thus, his opponents were likely to lose their limbs to the sword Dragvendil ("Leg-Biter"), or be thrown to the ground, where they would be choked or bitten to death.

About 954:

The Syrian scholar Abul Hassan al-Uqlidisi ("Son of Euclid") introduces the practice of writing out mathematical calculations using pen-and-paper instead of finger-and-sand table. The reason was his desire to disassociate his elegant mathematical proofs from the Arab street astrology known in the West as geomancy, or divination by means of sand. Nevertheless, geomancy remained popular throughout the Arab world into the early twentieth century, and remains popular in sub-Saharan Africa into the present.


King Kwangjong of Koryo starts selecting his officials based on their ability to pass tests on Chinese literature and composition. Kwangjong’s goal was to replace his politically unreliable Korean barons with foreign mercenaries. His barons knew this, too, and the practice was immediately suspended following the reforming king’s death in 975.

About 960:

Indo-Iranian merchants settle along China’s southeast coast. This leads to the creation of an ethnic Chinese Muslim population known as the Hui. Chinese persecution occasionally led to Hui insurrections, and several modern wu shu spear forms are attributed to the fighting arts of nineteenth century Hui rebels.


The Seljuk Turks convert to Sunni Islam. The Seljuks’ fundamentalism inspired their capture of Baghdad in 1055 and their destruction of the Byzantine army at Manzikert in 1071. So the conversion is an important root of the Christian Crusades.

The Sung Dynasty is established in southern China. This dynasty is remembered for its many technological innovations, probably because it used scholars rather than warlords as its governors and generals. The transition was accomplished by the T’ai Tsu emperor inviting his senior military commanders to a banquet, then offering them the choice of paid retirements or immediate execution. While the T’ai Tsu emperor is also attributed with sponsoring a style of boxing known as "long boxing," the details of that style are unknown. Which is not too surprising, as most probably it was a name invented by Sung Dynasty storytellers. Sung storytelling was divided into eight categories. Topics included magical tales (yao-shu), sword stories (p’u-tao, or military tales) and cudgel stories (kan-pang; these are essentially detective stories and the allusion is to police using clubs rather than swords to apprehend and interrogate suspects). These categories were not too distinct, and were freely mixed in later works such as The Water Margin.


The pagan Prince Mieszko I of Poland is baptized a Roman Catholic, apparently as part of a marriage deal. (His bride was the daughter of the Bohemian Boleslav I.) Nevertheless, Thor and the Goddess continued to be popular in Prussia and Poland into the sixteenth century.

About 967:

Japanese officials begin describing their peers’ bodyguards as samurai, or "ones who serve," instead of "henchmen" or "minions." The change was due to outlaw bands having been legitimized through alliances with the provincial elite; contemporary evidence shows that Heian-era soldiers were not opposed to changing sides whenever it suited their purposes.


The Turkic transhumants known as the Pechenegs attack the Kievan state of Russia. This encourages closer alliances between the Kievan queens and the Byzantine patriarchs, and facilitates the spread of Orthodox Christianity through Russia.

About 970:

The creation of high-backed saddles fitted with iron stirrups allows Byzantine heavy cavalrymen (klibanophori, or "oven-suits") to carry their lances couched (that is, under their arms). The Normans of Sicily carried the innovation to France, and it became common across Western Europe by the end of the eleventh century. In 1962, the American scholar Lynn White claimed that the development was the most important military innovation of all time, but most subsequent historians have disputed that claim.

According to a twelfth century writer named Chang Pang-chi, Chinese palace dancers began binding their feet to make themselves more sexually attractive to men. The crippling practice was widespread in southern China by the fourteenth century, and throughout all of China by the seventeenth. Footbinding prevented well-bred Han females from effectively practicing boxing or swordsmanship until the twentieth century. (Some were noted archers, though, generally with crossbows.) Still, into the 1360s, Hung-fu, Hung-hsien, Thirteenth Sister, and other Chinese martial heroines (hsia) were sometimes portrayed by women on Chinese stages. There was also seventeenth-century reference to a fourteenth-century woman named Yang who was said to be peerless in the fighting art of "pear-blossom spear." Nonetheless, from the fourteenth to twentieth centuries specially trained men played female roles in the Chinese theater.

The English Bishop Ethelwold writes that his church has decided to follow French practice, and use stage plays to teach Bible stories to its illiterate parishioners. On Good Friday, for instance, a crucifix would be wrapped in cloths and placed into a special recess in the high altar, while on Easter, monks would draw it out with great passion. Within 200 years, these dramas become full-fledged stage productions known as mystery plays. Rape and torture scenes, including ones where women’s cardboard breasts were slowly sliced away, or male saints were skinned alive, were always popular. Special effects included gunpowder-smoking hells and souls being wrenched from bladders filled with animal blood. These dramatics were carefully rehearsed and choreographed, and people took great pride in performing the same roles year after year. The tailors of Dublin, for instance, always played the part of Adam and Eve, while the vintners played Bacchus and the smiths played Vulcan.


French clerics call for the exemption of the Roman Catholic clergy from military attack, and by 989, this has become a well-defined movement known as the Peace of God. The Peace of God originally threatened men who plundered churches or robbed clergymen with excommunication, and its protection was later extended to merchants, peasants, women, and people on their way to and from church, mills, orchards, and vineyards.

About 980:

The Sung Dynasty T’ai Tsung Emperor orders his army’s wooden shields replaced with lacquered cowhide shields. This change was based on experience gained fighting the Man hill people of southern China. The same emperor also ordered the establishment of national polo tournaments, partly because of experience gained fighting the Turks, and mainly because he enjoyed playing the game.

Pusa, the compassionate Bodhisattva, and Yan Luo, the king of hell, reveal the secrets of the afterlife to a Maitreya Buddhist monk, who in turn shares them with a wandering Taoist. These revelations were described in the Jade Record, and said that the souls of good people were allowed to return to life as male humans, while the souls of bad people were put into horses, dogs, fish, and creeping things. Bad things also happened to priests who took money for their services or used magic arts, businessmen who broke their word or cheated their customers, politicians who spread discord, and anyone who seduced the innocent or wished death to others.


The burghers of Verdun repel a German attack using crossbows. Early European crossbows consisted of a wooden bar fitted to a 3-foot wooden stock by a sinew bridle. A notch ran down the center of the stock; this was used to seat a thick, heavy arrow called a bolt or quarrel. Archers spanned the weapons by putting one or both feet on the bow, and then pulling up with both hands. Later crossbows were made from laminated baleen. As this whale product had tensile strength similar to spring steel, archers needed foot-stirrups and levers to span them. Fourteenth century siege crossbows weighed about 18 pounds, and shot their bolts about 450 yards. Field crossbows weighed about 16 pounds, and shot bolts about 380 yards. Lighter sporting models were popular with ladies and older men until well into the seventeenth century. Regardless of size, normal drop at 50 yards was the distance from forehead to chin.

About 984:

Norway’s Eirik the Red establishes two small settlements in southwest Greenland. (A typical real-estate promoter, Eirik named the ice-covered island "Greenland" in order to attract settlers.) Although temperatures were warmer during Eirik’s day than they were during the unusually cold fourteenth century, at which time both Greenland settlements failed, the Norse failure was due in part to the Scandinavians refusing to adopt Inuit seal hunting methods. In any event, the Greenland settlement represents Europe’s first colony west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.


To reduce the danger of peasant uprisings, Korea’s Koryo government prohibits peasants from owing iron tools. Resistance to this edict is commemorated in a modern Korean grappling art called sado mu soo, or "tribal martial arts."

About 988:

According to the Primary Chronicle, the Kievan Prince Vladimir converts to Greek Orthodox Christianity. The chroniclers said the conversion came because Vladimir wanted a more powerful god, but did not want to give up pork and wine, or become circumcised, while modern historians speculate that he wanted to add a Byzantine princess to his list of sexual conquests. Either way, the Orthodox Church subsequently claims 988 as the date of conversion for all Russia. That was, of course, a dream rather than historical fact. First, the Primary Chronicle, which provides the date and reasons for Vladimir’s conversion, was not written until the twelfth century. Therefore, it may not accurately describe the tenth century. Second, Slavic peasants worshipped the thunder-god Pyerun into the eighteenth century, and swore oaths on Moist Mother Earth into the twentieth.


According to the Primary Chronicle, a Kievan wrestler named Pereyaslavl defeats a Pecheneg champion in a wrestling match along the banks of the Trubezh River. Socially, it is probably worth noting that Pereyaslavl was a tanner rather than an aristocrat. (According to the testament of an eleventh century prince named Vladimir Monomakh, gentlemen amused themselves with wars and hunts rather than wrestling matches.) As a Slav, he was also likely to have been physically much larger than the Turk. The battle, if it occurred, was unusual, as the Turks normally did not send champions to decide their battles for them.


Toward securing better relations with the Anglo-Scandinavian King Æthelred II Unraed, the Norwegian King Olaf Tryggvason converts to Christianity, then uses his military muscle to enforce the conversion throughout his realm. Other Scandinavian Christians were equally redoubtable warriors, the Icelander Thangbrand, for instance, being remembered for wielding a steel crucifix instead of a shield during his duels with pagans. This tradition of violent Christianity raged through Europe until after the Thirty Years War. It returned with a vengeance during the twentieth century, a time when evangelists such as Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry described Jesus as having love in both fists and Salvation Army officers proclaimed themselves Christian soldiers, marching as to war.


A French astrologer, philosopher, and mathematician named Gerbert de Aurillac becomes Pope Sylvester II. While Gerbert’s cosmopolitan erudition did not bother most turn-of-the-millennium Roman Catholics, it outraged sixteenth century religious reformers who chose to believe that secular learning was superfluous in a world where the Gospels of Jesus Christ had already been revealed.

About 1000:

The first London Bridge is built on the Thames. The construction was intended mostly as a barrier to shipping, and its purpose was to force merchants to transship goods in the City.

Norman mercenaries introduce Byzantine kite-shaped shields, couched lances, and Greco-Roman military textbooks into France.

Troubadours introduce the Hispano-Arabic idea of romantic love into the court of Guilhem, count of Poitiers and duke of Aquitaine. During the late twelfth century, troubadours and minstrels paid by Guilhem’s granddaughter Eleanor spread these romances through England, Normandy, France, and Flanders. Theirs was hardly the pious, chaste love of Sir Walter Scott or Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Instead, it was pornographic and adulterous. According to a twelfth century romance called Aucassin et Nicolette, a hero threatened with the torments of Hell if he has sex with his sweetheart replies: "In Paradise are only people like this: old priests, old cripples, old maimed… They go to Paradise, and I want nothing to do with them. I want to go to Hell, for to Hell go the handsome clerks and knights who die in jousts and fine wars, and the good officers and noblemen: I want to go with them. And there go the beautiful and gracious ladies who have two or three friends besides their husbands, and there go the gold and silver and furs, and there go the harpers and tumblers and kings. With them I will go, so long as I have Nicolette, my so sweet friend, with me."

The Inupiat Eskimos of Alaska’s Thule Culture invent dog sleds, then, within a single generation, spread them from Siberia to Greenland. The speed of the transmission is not surprising. Given a flat surface with good traction, a team of 5-8 huskies could pull a hunter and his weapons for fifty miles a day, or haul a family and all its possessions for twenty. In open, treeless terrain, the rig was fan-rigged rather than line-rigged, as one sees today in Alaska. Additionally, the driver did not stand at the back cracking his whip; instead, he jogged ahead of the team, breaking trail and acting as lead dog. Dog sled technology did not noticeably change even after the development of snowmobiles and airplanes in the twentieth century.

Corn becomes a staple food in North America. Because women were responsible for growing the grain, while men were only responsible for defending it, the native societies often became strongly matristic.

The Muslim physician Abu Ali al-Hussein ibn Abdallah ibn Sina (Avicenna) describes bunc, or Ethiopian coffee. Coffeehouses start appearing in the Ottoman Empire during the early fifteenth century, in Europe during the mid-seventeenth century, and in Seattle in the late twentieth.


Fire arrows tipped with black-powder combustibles appear in Sung Dynasty China.


An Iranized Turk named Mahmud of Ghazna sends his cavalrymen rampaging south of the Ganges River. This causes great destruction to the Tantric temple art of North and Central India, and sends the Goddess-worshipping Gypsies of the Punjab packing northwest into Christian Europe. Mahmud is subsequently made an Afghan national hero, despite his contempt for native Afghans.


A Norwegian named Leif Eiriksson establishes the first European settlement in North America. Basque whalers followed in his wake, and soon established secret fisheries off the Saint Lawrence estuary.

About 1003:

An Icelandic Viking named Kjarten Olafson is killed because his sword keeps bending instead of cutting. Kjarten’s weapon was probably made in Germany using bellows-powered forges that gave its steel too high a carbon content for military purposes.

About 1005:

A Toltec king called Quetzalcóatl ("Plumed Serpent") establishes the Cocom Dynasty in Yucatan. Quetzalcóatl’s followers associated their king with the planet Venus, and legends concerning the fair-haired, bearded king’s return were one reason behind the indecisive Tenochitlan response to the Spanish invasion of the Mexican highlands in 1519. (The Spanish called the Tenochitlans "Aztecs," or "people from the fabled lands," but there is no evidence for this name being used before the Spanish Conquest.)


After devising a legal framework for peaceably settling feuds, the Icelandic Althing bans dueling. Icelandic court battles, though, remained confrontational. Therefore, they are perhaps best described as non-violent word duels. The parties drew up on two sides, hired reliable men of honor to state their cases, and tried to convince a neutral party (the judge) that the other side had no case. Recourse to extralegal violence and intimidation remained possible, but being caught could result in banishment from Iceland.


The Anglo-Scandinavian King Knut -- the one who reportedly got wet proving to sycophantic followers that even a king could not control the sea -- imposes game laws on East Anglia. Two years later, Knut also imposed England’s first land tax. The game laws were not rigidly enforced until the demand for firewood and farmland started denuding the royal forests during the fourteenth century. The tax laws, on the other hand, were always strictly enforced.

About 1020:

The Iranian poet Firdawsi describes polo as a favorite sport of Turkish aristocrats. According to the thirteenth century poet Nizami, aristocratic Turkish women also played polo, which was the Central Asian equivalent of jousting.


A Kievan prince named Mstislav leads a raid into the Caucasus. A Caucasian army under the command of a man named Rededya draws up to fight the Kievans. According to the Primary Chronicle, Rededya then goes to Mstislav and says, "Why should we destroy our forces by mutual warfare? Let us fight in single combat instead." "All right," replies Mstislav. Then Rededya, who was the bigger and stronger of the two, lets the other shoe fall: "But let’s not fight with weapons -- let’s wrestle!" After agreeing to these terms, Mstislav prays to the Virgin Mary for help, then throws Rededya to the ground and stabs him to death. For this, the Virgin Mary got a new church at Tmutorakan’, while Mstislav got the Caucasian’s wife, children, and property.


The Bishop of Vichy proposes a Truce of God, the goal of which was to stop fighting between Christians on Sundays. The peasants and townsmen liked the idea, and shouted "Peace, Peace, Peace!" The French kings weren’t opposed, either, and by 1069, the Church banned Christians from partaking in the pleasures of war and duels from sunset on Wednesday until sunrise on Monday, on saints’ days, and during Advent and Lent. Nevertheless, mimic battles and stick fights remained popular at fairs everywhere, so the threats of excommunication and eternal damnation must have been more theoretical than real.

About 1035:

Norman men-at-arms begin identifying themselves using the estate names of their employers. Originally, these surnames changed whenever they changed employers. Later, during the twelfth century, surnames become hereditary, probably as a way of excluding rich peasants and merchants from the aristocratic and military classes.


The Seljuk Turks invade Anatolia. By the 1080s, the Seljuks controlled most of Asia Minor. This in turn caused the Byzantines to ask the French and Italians for military assistance. In 1095, Pope Urban II responded with the First Crusade. Men-at-arms supported the First Crusade because primogeniture had condemned many of them, and their sons, to poverty. In addition, while Roman Catholic clerics opposed the armed robbery of Christians, they viewed the armed robbery of Muslims as an honorable, even blessed, calling.


The appointment of the Norman adventurer Rainulf as the Count of Aversa introduces French feudalism into southern Italy. The exchange was hardly one-sided, for the Muslim military technologies and tax-collecting bureaucracies found in southern Italy were subsequently introduced into France and Normandy. The reason the Normans trusted Muslims to be their tax collectors, engineers, and mercenaries more than Christians was because they were less susceptible to Papal manipulation. This is also why coins minted for the Sicilian King Roger II in 1138 have their dates stamped as AH (anno Hegira) 533. This is significant for two reasons. First, it meant that the urbane Roger measured time using a Muslim instead of a Christian calendar. (And well he should have, for the Islamic calendar was more accurate.) Second, it represents the first known use of Indo-Arabic numerals in Christian Europe.

About 1040:

Indian Buddhists fleeing the raids of the Muslim Mahmud of Ghazna reestablish Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. One of their earliest monasteries was the Shalu monastery at Shigatse. Its claim to fame was that it trained its monks to run for many days and nights without stopping. The basis for such tales is the khora, or pedestrian mandalas, run by Tibetan monks around sacred mountains. Buddhist monks ran clockwise, while Bon monks traveled counterclockwise. (This difference had to do with which direction the practitioner held to be the most important, the female-left or the male-right. The land-owning classes, which included priests and soldiers, generally preferred the right-hand path, while the mercantile classes, which included artisans, merchants, potters, burglars, hunters, and prostitutes, generally preferred the left-hand path.) Analogous dances appeared in Islam and Christianity about the same time. The Islamic and Christian dances represented the angels in heaven and the progression of the planets. Only men did such dancing, as women’s dances were considered lewd. Such dances also reinforced Hellenistic medical theories. That is, standing strengthened the spine, walking removed afflictions of the head and chest, and well-regulated breathing tempered the heat of the heart.


Warrior-monks establish a Western Saharan Islamic nomocracy known as the Almoravides (al-murabbitun -- "those who gather in the fortress to wage the holy war.") By the 1080s, these fundamentalists had conquered Morocco and invaded Iberia and Ghana. During their invasion of Iberia in 1082, the black African soldiers serving the Almoravides reportedly introduced African war drumming into Western Europe. In contrast to the Turks, who used drumming to control battlefield maneuver, the Almoravides used drumming mainly to inspire friends and demoralize enemies. This use was probably borrowed from West African military practice, where dancing, drumming, and occult magic invoked the assistance of the thunder god. Obviously, the Almoravide generals would not have approved of their men appealing to pagan thunder gods, but would not have minded if they were told that the appeals were Sufistic appeals to Allah or some saint.

About 1044:

A Chinese encyclopedia called the Wu Ching Tsung Yao, or "Essentials of the Military Classics," describes chemically powered war rockets. The maximum range of these weapons was about 1,500 yards, and their effect on men and horses was apparently terrific.


Duke William the Bastard agrees to apply the Truce of God throughout the Duchy of Normandy. The reason was to secure Papal support for the future Conqueror’s claim to the throne of England.


A female general named Akkadevi becomes a heroine of west-central Indian resistance to southern Indian aggression.


The Almoravides of Morocco attack the black African kingdoms of the southwestern Sahara. The reason was partly to spread fundamentalist Islam, and mainly to seize control of the southern end of the caravan routes that linked West Africa with the Mediterranean. In 1086, the Almoravides invaded Iberia at the request of the Emir of Seville, and by 1091, they had overrun the entire country. Rodrigo Díaz, El Cid, was the Christian hero of the Iberian defense. The fortified monasteries, cattle raids, and acts of sectarian violence were great on both sides. Islamic cattle thieves were known as ribato, while their Iberian equivalents were known as hermangildas. To gain divine assistance, both Roman Catholic and Muslim rustlers often took temporary vows of chastity and promised their elders that they would only rob and kill people following the other religion.


King Macbeth of Scotland dies in battle at Lumphanon, three years after the battle at Dunsinane depicted in Shakespeare’s famous play. (Shakespeare was writing a play, after all, and in a play, nothing so mundane as facts must ever stand in the way of a good story.)

The Tibeto-Mongol kingdom of Pagan conquers the Khmer-Mon kingdom of Thaton. This marks the establishment of modern Burmese culture.

About 1063:

Following his reported intervention during a battle in Sicily, Saint George becomes the patron saint of Norman warriors. Pious English soldiers continued seeking Saint George’s assistance well into the modern era, and he was reported to be personally supporting British forces as late as 1914. This semi-divine assistance is an example of the power of myth. The real Saint George was a fourth century Arian bishop (e.g., a heretic), while the story about the Angel of Mons was the creation of a British newspaperman. Newspaper readers enjoy such pious tales, and a similar appearance by a semi-legendary Serbian hero named Prince Marko was reported during a battle at Prilep, Macedonia, in 1912.

About 1065:

The Sung Dynasty Tsung Shen emperor starts requiring his generals to memorize Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. As a reward for their efforts, he also began giving them high-quality Japanese swords. This Chinese demand for museum quality swords helps explain why so many magnificent Japanese blades were made during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.


According to the Chronicle of Saint Martin of Tours, Geoffroi de Preuilli, the man "who invented tournaments," is killed during a tournament at Angers. The Germans reject this French primacy, citing as evidence similar equestrian games played by the retainers of Louis the German in 842 and King Henry the Fowler circa 930. So perhaps it is safer to say simply that equestrian games between teams of glory-hunting knights became popular in France and the Low Countries during the third quarter of the eleventh century.

The Saxon King Harold Godwinson takes an arrow through the eye at Hastings. About 1072, William of Poitiers said that the bow used was not a self-bow, as appear on the Bayeux Tapestry, but a crossbow. If true, then King Harold was singled out for assassination, as the bulk of the Norman archers were equipped with self-bows. The advantage of crossbows as assassination weapons is that they can be kept loaded for hours and shot almost soundlessly by men lying in ambush.


The king of Ghana is reported having an army of 200,000 men, a fifth of whom were archers. While the number is doubtless an exaggeration, the proportion probably is not.

About 1068:

According to tradition, the first ninja clans are established at Iga-Ueno, in Mie Prefecture on the eastern side of Honshu’s Kii Peninsula. This said, Japanese chroniclers do not begin referring to the men of Iga as ninja, or "shadow men," until 1488. So the early "ninja" were more likely "rafter men," meaning mercenaries, or perhaps even magicians attached to traveling theatrical groups, than members of guilds of hereditary assassins. Furthermore, their evil reputation probably owed something to heterodox religious philosophies -- if their hand-signs are any indication, the ninja were heavily influenced by Tantric Buddhism. (Pure Land Buddhism was Central Honshu’s dominant philosophy between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries.) Of course, all this is conjectural since most records describing ninjas were (and apparently continue to be) written by puppet masters, playwrights, and novelists rather than government functionaries or practitioners. Even their modern popularity owes much to a 1967 James Bond movie called You Only Live Twice.


A Chinese study finds that first-rate archers could use compound bows having pulls of 160 pounds, second-rate archers could use compound bows having pulls of 100 pounds, and third-rate archers could use compound bows having pulls of 60 pounds. Mulberry and elm were among the best materials available for making these bows, while bamboo was among the worst. As for bowstrings, while rattan could be used, hemp was better. The ideal Chinese bow stood about 4-1/2 feet long and shot iron or bone-tipped sandalwood or bamboo arrows that were about 8 inches long. The same Chinese study also found that the shaft from a crossbow made of mulberry wood and brass could penetrate an elm tree from a distance of 140 yards. Such power impressed the Emperor, and he ordered his infantrymen to be equipped with powerful but slow-firing crossbows, and his elite cavalrymen to be equipped with the less-powerful, but faster-shooting compound bows.

About 1070:

A hero of the Anglo-Scandinavian resistance to the Norman Conquest named Hereward the Wake (meaning "Wary") exchanges buffets with a potter. The two men agreed to stand up to each other’s blows in turn, with the better man to be judged by the result. The blows seem to have been open-handed slaps to the side of the head rather than punches to the jaw, but in the parlance of the day, the game was known as boxing. In the nineteenth century, the story causes Sir Walter Scott to claim that Richard the Lionheart played similar boxing games.


Toward encouraging the enemies of their enemies, the Sung Dynasty rescinds its standing orders against the trading of iron tools and weapons to the Outer Barbarians. This rapidly increases the military power of the Siberian Tatars and the Mongols.

About 1075:

Norman clergy start dubbing Norman knights. The reason seems to have been that the clergy wanted to exert control over the men-at-arms by blessing pre-existing initiation rites. Rituals varied from place to place. The practice of "striking me kneeling, with a broadsword, and pouring ale upon my head" is associated with eighteenth-century journeyman initiations rather than medieval aristocratic practice. As for who these eleventh century knights were, the author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that cnihts were "boys who follow [ridere, "riders"] on foot." In other words, they were barely better off than peasants, and not nearly as comfortable as established artisans, clerics, or merchants.


William the Conqueror orders an existing earth-and-timber fortification outside London replaced with a state-of-the-art stone tower. The construction, known as the Tower of London, was 90 feet high. Its walls were 15 feet thick at the bottom, and 11 feet thick at the top. Its only entrance was on the south side, 15 feet from the ground. Access was controlled using a series of wooden steps. Walls, ditches, and mangonels (machines for hurling stones) were added in the 1190s, and the main keep became known as the White Tower after it was whitewashed in 1240. Porticullises and gates date to the 1320s.

The Sung Dynasty scholar Chao Yung dies. Ming Dynasty scholars subsequently attributed Chao and his students with creating Earthly Branch horary astrology. Earthly Branch astrology sought to locate auspicious moments by combining birth information, Indo-Iranian arithmetic puzzles, and the 64 trigrams of the I Ching. All this is important to the martial arts because Earthly Branch divination methods are commemorated by the names of several southern Shaolin ch’uan fa styles, various Okinawan karate kata, and the eight trigrams shown on the modern South Korean flag.


A Compendium of Important Military Techniques by the Chinese scholar Tseng Kung-liang refers to the use of iron filings for the purpose of determining south. Chinese journeys traditionally started facing south, probably because the doors to Chinese houses faced south to keep them from being jammed shut by wind-blown snowdrifts.


Muslim Valencia falls to the Christian armies of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, or El Cid. Since "the chief" was working for Muslims at the time, this victory was hardly part of the Reconquista. Nevertheless, it shows the rising power of the Christians in Iberia.

About 1086:

Believing it to be useful for teaching heiho, or the way of strategy, to soldiers, a Japanese prince named Otoku introduces the game of Go into Japanese military training. Most of his contemporaries continued to view the game as an entertainment rather than a practical martial art.


Koan are introduced into Zen Buddhism. The word means "public examples," and refers to paradoxical riddles used to introduce enlightenment. These were essentially riddles, the answers to which required people to go outside their traditional ways of thinking. The most famous individual koan is probably "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" (Possible answers, by the way, include a click of the fingers and a slap in the face.)


An imam named Hasan ibn al-Sabbah establishes the occult branch of Sevener Shiism known as the Nizaris in the mountains of Western Iran. The Seveners believed in a doctrine of seven sinless spiritual leaders who shared characteristics with God Himself. Because of this heresy, Sunni Muslims reviled Seveners and persecuted them accordingly. In response, Seveners frequently engaged in acts of political assassination. Due to hashish-laden drinks that Nizari leaders supposedly gave their followers before sending them out to commit assassinations, the Nizaris are better known by the Syrian name of hashshashin, or hashish-takers. The Nizaris are also remembered for providing Islamic literature with its stories about Aladdin, the daring young thief who could open magic caves (and women’s legs) simply by crying, "Open, sesame!" The Pakistani Agha Muhammad Khan (1917-1980) is probably the most famous contemporary Sevener.


Pope Urban II launches the First Crusade, Christian Europe’s first major attempt at colonizing Asia.


During England’s first important judicial duel, the Norman Count of Eu fights another Norman named Godefroy Baynard. The cause was a dispute over Godefroy’s relationship with the homosexual King William Rufus. The Count loses the duel, and is castrated and blinded for it. This is a reminder that many eleventh century chevaliers still made babies with women and found love with men. Although buggery and sodomy remained hanging offenses in the Royal Navy until 1861, landlubbing clerics usually viewed masturbation as more dangerous than homosexuality, one hopes because of masturbation’s associations with arsonists rather than their own taste for choirboys. The clerics also ignored female homosexuality altogether. Philology shows this more clearly than any long explanation. The German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined the word Homosexuell in 1869, and Havelock Ellis introduced its cognate into English during the 1880s. Meanwhile "lesbian" was a slang term as recently as the 1890s, and at the time referred mostly to prostitutes and actresses who simulated sex with other women. The word achieved its modern usage during the early 1900s, when it was associated with the "mannish" behavior of female athletes in the United States.

About 1097:

Visions of Jesus, Mary, and the Christian Apostles inspire the Crusaders en route to Jerusalem. Of course, this is hardly surprising. You wear an iron suit, an iron hat, and listen to eschatological sermons during a southwest Asian summer while being bled by leeches and fed opium-laden pharmaceuticals, and see if you don’t have hagiographic dreams, too.


Claiming that human flesh was manna, French peasants involved in the siege of Antioch devour the bodies of dead Muslims. That their betters did not join was partly due to the rich still having food (the example of Jesus with his loaves and fishes was widely ignored), but also to the peasants being fond of bad cuts poorly cooked. (They tended to eat hindquarters despite all the cannibal literature suggesting that the chest muscles have better flavor.) This is mentioned for several reasons. First, it serves as a reminder that moral and ethical codes are frequently flexible when outsiders or extreme privations are involved. Second, it is a reminder that the practice of European governments providing regular rations to their soldiers only dates to 1642. Nonetheless, the fear of being eaten does not explain why most warriors go to great lengths to recover their dead. Instead, this is due a belief that that one who fails to give the bodies proper rights shows disrespect to the dead. The pre-Christian Germans, for example, believed that the dead could not properly enter the hereafter unless the appropriate rituals took place, and the spread of Christianity did nothing to disabuse them of this notion.


Genoan infantry are reported using crossbows against the Muslims during the siege of Jerusalem. However, the practice does not become commonplace until the 1190s.

Twelfth century:

A Tamil martial art develops in southern India. In Travancore, it was known as varma ati ("hitting the vital spots") while in Kerala it was known as kalarippayattu ("gladiatorial training"). Although Buddhist monks may have been involved in spreading the knowledge, motivations behind its development include the chaos following dissolution of the Cera kingdom. The traditional training program included studies in war magic, mounted archery, fencing, and wrestling. Originally the preference was toward the war magic and the archery, as the wealthy young men sent to these schools tended to view training with swords and the bare hands as too plebeian to take seriously. The "vital spot" striking and resuscitation methods of this method are called marma-adi ("the secret teachings"), and are reportedly based on the teachings of a second century physician called Susruta. Yet, as second century physicians rarely touched patients, these teachings are more likely based on the knowledge of wrestling coaches and masseurs.

Horse-riding black African animists establish the Dagbon state in the savannas of Ghana, and Tuareg herders establish the town of Timbuktu on the Niger River in Mali. While the town’s original purpose was to house Tuareg women while Tuareg men herded animals, it became better known as a university town located at the southern nexus of a major trans-Saharan caravan route.

About 1100:

Mystery plays become popular throughout Europe. These presented the history of the world from Creation to the Last Judgment (the word "mystery" originally meant "to minister"), and taught Biblical stories to illiterate audiences during Carnival or other popular festivals. The plays’ scatological dialogue and use of partial nudity was sacrilegious and crude by modern standards. Nevertheless, their feats of choreographed sword-dancing and wrestling were impressive, and it was not for want of a better word that the twelfth century German theologian Hugh of St. Victor described games and amusements as "theatrics." Their stagecraft was also impressive, with instructions frequently requiring Satan to don armor before fighting with Jesus outside the smoking Gates of Hell.


William Tyrell kills the Anglo-Norman King William II with a crossbow bolt. Although judged a hunting accident, the killing may have been in revenge for King William’s ordering the rival Count of Eu castrated in 1096.


The Minamoto and Taira clans start an eighty-three year war to decide which will control Imperial Japanese succession. The resulting Genpei War, which resulted in a Minamoto victory, emphasized attack over victory and honor over life, attitudes that influenced Japanese military thinking into the twentieth century. The Genpei War also provided the impetus for developing the Japanese glaives known as naginata. The Japanese word means "long sword," and describes a curved steel blade clamped onto a seven or eight-foot oak shaft, and used by infantrymen to smash through mounted men’s armor or disembowel their horses. During the thirteenth century, massed pikes gradually supplanted these weapons. The reason was that phalanxes worked better against disciplined cavalry than flashy individual technique. Nevertheless, aristocratic women sometimes trained with naginata as physical exercise, and during the 1930s naginata-do was made a state exercise for Imperial Japanese schoolgirls.

About 1106:

Troubadours popularize pre-Christian legends about an Ulster hero called Cû Chulainn who was so much man that by the age of seven, he already required the sight of naked women to distract him from wanton killing. Further, as he got older, Cû Chulainn became notorious for conquering matristic societies by rape. Evidently Christian patrilinealism was being imposed on Ireland, and the victors were describing how it was being done, as in the earliest forms of the story, Cû Chulainn’s martial art instructors included a woman known as Scáthach, or "Shadowy." At any rate, the military training described included lessons in breath control, charioteering, chess, sword-dancing, tightrope walking, and wrestling. At advanced levels, the training also included fencing games where the goal was to chop off locks of hair without drawing blood, and dodging well-thrown rocks and spears.


The Anglo-Norman King Henry I purchases a Moroccan stallion in Spain, then has it shipped to England. Although this marks the beginnings of scientific horse breeding in England (one shudders to imagine Kirk Douglas in The Vikings astride a Shetland pony, but that image is more historically correct than Hollywood’s), all modern thoroughbreds trace their pedigrees not to this stallion, but to the Byerly Turk, imported in 1689, the Darley Arabian, imported in 1704, or the Godolphin Barb, imported in 1724.


The Iranian theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazali dies at Tus, in the Safavid state of Khurasan. Al-Ghazali believed that the ultimate source of knowledge was not human reason, as the Greeks said, but divine revelation. Accordingly, change was something to be avoided, for it implied moving away from the word of God revealed to Muhammad in the seventh century.


A Byzantine princess describes Byzantine armies marching in cadence to the music of fife-and-drum. The development may have been due to the Greeks’ observing their Turkish mercenaries maneuvering their horses to the sound of kettledrums and horns. Alternatively, it may have been an indigenous development, as vase paintings show flutists entertaining Spartan hoplites as early as the seventh century BCE.


After spending three years in Syria, Hugues de Payens, castellan of Martigny in Burgundy, appoints himself protector of pilgrims on the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem. What this meant was that he and seven other northern French knights swore themselves to poverty, chastity, and obedience, and then patrolled the road killing robbers. (Many Christians sent to the Holy Land to do penance for murder, robbery, and rape resumed their old habits in Outremer. Some Muslims also saw nothing wrong with robbing or enslaving the occasional merchant.) In appreciation for these efforts, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem gave the Poor Knights the mosque at al-Aqsa to use as a barracks. Because this mosque was believed to be part of the original Temple of Solomon, by 1123, these men were known as Knights Templar. Although Templars could not kiss women (even their mothers) or hunt with hawks, they drank wine with every meal and ate meat three times a week. They studied the Old Testament, especially Joshua and Maccabees, and trained for war. Monastic discipline was the key to Templar military success: unlike other Frankish knights, Templars could not attack or retreat, adjust equipment, or do anything else without the permission of their commander.

About 1120:

According to a seventeenth century Chinese encyclopedia, the Chinese invent playing cards to teach Buddhism to the Sung emperor’s concubines. For what it’s worth, the Indians dispute the claim of invention. However, while concubines clearly played cards (as late as the 1930s, a new wife of the Rajah of Patiala begged her husband not to send away his nine concubines, otherwise "with whom shall I play cards?"), the piety of their creation is debatable. When Italian merchants introduced playing cards into Europe during the 1360s, they were associated with war and the hunt. (Suit signs represented medieval society -- nobles, clergy, burghers, and peasants. The spade, for example, gets its name from a Spanish word for sword while diamonds take their name from a French word describing the tip of a crossbow bolt.) Due to the interests of soldiers, the games became associated with gambling, brawling, and whoring, and by 1420 an allegorical fresco created by Giacomo Jacquerio in Val d’Aosta, Italy showed eight soldiers and two women fighting over cards and drink. Fortune telling using Tarot cards dates to the sixteenth century, and develop from pre-Carnival processions in which Love triumphed over Man, Fame over Death, and so on. The idea that Tarot is Egyptian appeared in 1781. The story is attributed to a French count named de Gebelin, and spread by a fashionable hair stylist named Etteilla.


A Manichaean rebellion in Chekiang Province causes the deaths of several million people, and contributes to the Jurchen and Mongol successes along China’s northwestern frontiers. The staggering death toll apparently was due to the rebels’ belief that inasmuch as life was painful, to kill a man was to offer him release, and perhaps even salvation. Since this belief applied to everyone, true believers were known to dress their babies in their best clothes and then toss them over a cliff or into a river, saying, "We congratulate you because you will enter heaven before us."


A German court jester named Rahere establishes a priory and hospice at a stockyard outside London called Smithfield. To help Rahere’s Augustinian monks pay for their charities, King Henry I granted them the right to hold an annual fair in 1133. As Saint Bartholomew was the patron saint of butchers and shepherds, and his day is August 24, the fair was held each August. Rahere, who was Lord of the Fair for many years, was famous for his juggling tricks. Hence the Bartholomew’s Fair’s subsequent association with juggling, fire walking, and pugilism. Bartholomew’s fairs also took place in southern Germany, especially in Markgröningen, Rothenburg, and Urach.


French castellans order their archers to shoot the horses out from under rebellious townsmen. This tactic will be perfected by the Anglo-Normans during their fourteenth century wars with the Scots.

Organized companies of mercenaries appear in Italy. Because the number twelve was the basic element of a German military measurement called "the great hundred," these companies generally consisted of about 120 men.

At Tinmal, in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, an Islamic puritan named Muhammad ibn Tumert establishes the fundamentalist nomocracy that would ultimately become known as the Almohad, or "Unitarian" state. A feature of this state was that its warriors were taught the verses of the Qur’an by giving them names from the Arabic scripture, then having them recite their names in order. The Almohads also tried to ban dancing, singing, and music. These latter bans were less successful, some said because of the regular arrival of new black African slaves.

About 1125:

European scholars start translating Arabic and Greek astrological treatises into Latin. These translations are responsible for the rebirth of interest in secular learning in the Christian West. In Middle Latin, that rebirth is known as the Renaissance.


King Henry I of England awards a coat-of-arms to a new son-in-law named Geoffrey Plantagenet. While European historians often claim this as the start of Western European heraldry, the practice is probably more universal. For example, the Byzantines painted regimental markings on their shields in the seventh century and the East African Masaai were painting age-set and geographical markings on their shields in the nineteenth. If African ethnographic information is transferable, then these coats-of-arms were probably painted on equipment used for dances and tournaments rather than equipment used during cattle raids and wars.

A Walloon knight named Herman challenges a Flemand knight named Guy to a duel over Guy’s role in the assassination of a Flemish prince called Charles the Good. The duel starts with Guy knocking Herman off his horse, which causes Herman to then attack and cripple Guy’s horse. This causes Guy to dismount and to fight Herman on foot until both men are too tired to hold up their shields and swords any more, at which point they decide to start wrestling instead. Guy wins the fall and begins beating Herman in the head with his mail gloves. However, Herman wins the match by reaching under Guy’s coat and yanking hard on his testicles. Such was the nature of twelfth century chivalry.

About 1130:

An Indian text describes the nature of wrestling patronage in the kingdom of Chaulukya. Wrestlers trained according to the most advanced medical procedures, and their matches symbolized the rajah’s political might. Individual wrestlers enjoyed less prestige than royal fencers, archers, or equestrians, probably because they came from lower social classes. Nevertheless, wrestlers often served as the rajah’s personal bodyguard. (Because they had no hope of becoming king themselves, they were considered more reliable than were higher-ranked men.)

The Southern Sung general Yüeh Fei introduces basic training into Chinese warfare. While Yüeh’s military training program consisted mostly of dismounted spear work, it also included training in a Mongol wrestling style called Eagle Claw. This program has been claimed as the source of inspiration for various seventeenth and eighteenth century martial arts, including White Crane and hsing-i. As these links are unsubstantiated, they are more likely philosophical than literal.

After the Mongolian Jurchen Dynasty forces the Korean Koryo Dynasty to pay tribute, respect for the central government declines and civil war becomes endemic throughout the Korean peninsula. Subsequent tradition holds that this unrest caused Korean monks to begin developing unarmed martial arts for the purpose of allowing themselves to safely travel about the countryside. While a Buddhist geomancer named Myoch’ong is known to have introduced Chinese sword and quarterstaff techniques into Korea during the mid-twelfth century, the Buddhist associations with boxing and wrestling are doubtful. Secular wrestling styles of the era include yu sool ("soft arts"), which taught government soldiers to close with armed enemies and if necessary choke or joint-lock them into submission, and ssirum, a form of belt wrestling similar to both sumo and Mongolian belt wrestling.

Mercantile guilds appear in London. The idea was probably Continental, as the earliest British guilds were associated with weaving and cloth -- a Flemish monopoly -- and called misteries, after an Italian word for trade. Regardless of where the idea originated, these guilds served various purposes, not the least of which were guaranteeing decent burial of dead members. Guilds were always monopolistic and closed to foreigners, and guild masters routinely used threats of violence to maintain or extend their power or reputations.


The Council of Clermont calls for the prohibition of "those detestable markets or fairs at which knights are accustomed to meet to show off their strength and their boldness." In other words, tournaments. The reason for the prohibition was the Christian belief that jousts ("close combats") distracted men-at-arms from persecuting heretics while simultaneously encouraging them to fall prey to the Seven Deadly Sins. Nevertheless, sponsoring tournaments reflected well on aristocrats who were more worried about their reputations than the Great Perhaps. So by the 1180s there was a tournament somewhere in France or Flanders almost every week.

About 1132:

A Chinese text describes a firearm made using bamboo tube reinforced on the inside with clay and on the outside with iron bands. The invention is attributed to a soldier named Gui Ch’en, the commander of a Southern Sung garrison in Hopei Province. Around the same time, a woman named Liang Hong-yu reportedly beat a drum during her husband’s campaign against the Jurchen invaders. At the time, the story was told to show a woman’s loyalty to her husband. However, during the twentieth century, Shanghai prostitutes were told that reporting what they learned through their work to intelligence operatives was akin to Liang Hong-yu’s drumming.


The Knights Templar make their first recorded loan to people needing money for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Templars also agreed to guard and transport money between the Holy Land and Europe, and by the early thirteenth century, their financial acumen caused the Poor Knights to become wealthier than the French king. Accordingly, around 1307, the French king accused Templar leaders of heresy, idolatry, and homosexuality, and had them tortured until they admitted their sins and forfeited their wealth.


A Welsh cleric named Geoffrey of Monmouth writes a Latin manuscript called Historia Regum Britanniae, or "The History of the Kings of Britain." In it, Geoffrey made Arthur a king nobler than Charlemagne, transformed Merlin from a slightly batty poet into a powerful warlock, and introduced the characters of Uther Pendragon, Gawain, Mordred, and Kay. In other words, he codified the entire Arthurian legend.


A Crusading order known as the Order of the Hospital of Saint John the Baptist takes charge of an important fortress at Beit Jibrin, on the road between Gaza and Hebron. As their name suggests, the Hospitallers were nurses in hospitals established along Arab lines. Medicine was profitable, and by 1187, the Hospitallers controlled twenty fortresses in Outremer. Hospitallers lived on bread and water. To prevent dueling, they were expelled from the order if they killed a Christian. On the other hand, they were merely reprimanded if they killed a Muslim servant, for their God did not live within Muslims. Psalm 26 was the Hospitallers’ favorite Biblical text: "Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life."


Reasoning that their use offended Christian morality, Pope Innocent II bans the use of crossbows and Greek fire during battles with Christians. As he did not ban crossbows from wars against Muslims, they were widely used during the Third Crusade of 1189-1192.

About 1140:

A bas-relief at Ankor Wat shows Thai mercenaries parading before King Suryavarman II. A Thai mercenary leader is shown carrying a bow and riding an elephant, while his troops carry spears. The Cambodian princes also ride elephants or horses. Unlike the Indian custom, where several archers and a lancer rode each elephant, in Cambodia only one warrior (a noble armed with spear and bow) rode on the platform behind the driver. This suggests that the nobles thus jousted among themselves in individual combat rather than working with their infantry and archers as part of a combined-arms team. Chinese texts describe the Cambodian infantry weapons as including shields, spears, halberds, bows and crossbows, and poisoned arrows. Aristocrats wore helmets and breastplates, both made of plaited cane, but infantry commonly wore nothing but a belt over a cutaway coat. During sieges, ballistae operated by Chinese mercenaries were also reported. Training was minimal, and for princes consisted mostly of mock duels fought between champions. Much attention was paid to proper battlefield selection, however (the Cambodians, quoting geomancy, said that site selection determined victory, which undoubtedly meant ambush was the order of the day) and various forms of war magic. The latter included having soldiers ingest human livers hacked from living prisoners.


Knights serving the rebellious Earl of Gloucester challenge the knights serving the English King Stephen to single combat outside a besieged castle at Lincoln. King Stephen’s men respond by charging Robert’s men en masse. This is mentioned as a reminder that outside tournaments, European men-at-arms frequently ignored chivalrous gestures.

About 1144:

Hugh, Bishop of Jabala, tells Pope Eugenius II about the victories of the Mongol prince Yeh-lu Ta-shih over the Seljuk Turks, who had recently captured Edessa from the Crusaders. While Yeh-lu Ta-shih was probably animist or Buddhist instead of Christian, his victory nevertheless led to the creation of stories about Presbyter John, the Christian king of Central Asia. Twenty years later, a Latin forgery (commissioned, scholars speculate, by the German prince Frederick Barbarossa, who wanted a Third Crusade) rekindled European interest in the Christian king of Asia. Unfortunately, no one could find Presbyter John in Asia, despite the best efforts of such determined travelers as Marco Polo and William of Rubruck. Therefore, during the 1330s, Italian cartographers moved Presbyter John’s kingdom to Christian Ethiopia, where it remains in the popular imagination to this day.

Robert of Chester produces the oldest known Latin translation of an Arabic alchemy text. The translation sparks immediate interest. Why? Because the translation provided the English with the information needed to make condensation stills, the kind use to make hard liquor.


Eleanor of Aquitaine, the self-willed 24-year old wife of Louis VII of France and future wife of Henry II of England, joins the Second Crusade dressed and riding astride like a man. While this was doubtless chic (Eleanor never actually entered battle with the Muslims), her disregard for propriety caused the Pope to forbid women from joining the Third Crusade of 1189. Like most laws, the ban was widely ignored. Whores, washerwomen, and similar camp followers aside, there are documented descriptions of European females fighting on horseback in the fourteenth century, wielding axes in defense of city walls in the fifteenth century, fighting sword duels during the seventeenth century, loading artillery pieces during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and flying fighter planes in the twentieth.

About 1150:

South German chronicles describe jousts between people who were not aristocrats as bohordicum, after a German word describing a fenced-off field. During these mock battles, the two sides lined up, and then charged one another on foot. Unsurprisingly, the casualty rates at these events were higher than rates at aristocratic tournaments, probably because the competitors could not afford good armor.

As cheap iron farm tools become more common, blacksmiths become a regular part of European village life. (Previously they had been found primarily in the larger towns and great estates. That is, places where soldiers were found.)


Frederick I Barbarossa is elected leader of some Austrian and German principalities, and almost immediately sends armies into Italy, Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary. Because he was a competent general, his armies usually won. Consequently, in 1157, he decided to call his new holdings the Holy Empire, after a name Charlemagne had used 250 years before. Following Frederick’s death in 1190, the Holy Empire lost control of its Italian possessions but to recall past glories the word "Roman" was added to the imperial title in 1254. While the Holy Roman Empire disappeared during the Reformation, the Austrians retained the title of Holy Roman Emperor until 1806, at which time Francis II revoked the title rather than let Napoleon have it. Thus, while it is anachronistic to call Frederick the first Holy Roman Emperor, or to speak of a thousand-year Reich stretching from Charlemagne to Francis II, that is exactly what Bismarck did in 1871 and Hitler did in 1933.


An Anglo-Norman scholar named Robert Wace dedicates a French poem named Brut to Eleanor of Aquitane. Brut told the story of Britain’s Trojan founder (a myth borrowed from Virgil) and introduced Round Tables and other Celtic myths into the Arthurian legend.

The world’s oldest surviving map is made in China.

About 1157:

The Japanese Lord Kiyomori resumes governmental patronage of sumo. The matches took place at Heiankyo, as Kyoto was then known, and due to wars, such patronage had been minimal for the previous century.

About 1160:

Southern Chinese engineers are reported using black powder during their military mining operations. By 1206, their northern opponents had learned to counter this innovation by having blind people use earthenware pots as geophones, thus letting them hear the miners approaching their city walls.

Southern Chinese philosophers (including the Neo-Confucianist scholar Chu Hsi) begin arguing that the elixir of life is not found through magic spells or elixirs, but in directed meditation. The same sources also introduced the Greco-Indian concepts of the Three Treasures into Chinese exercise routines. The Three Treasures were ching (semen in men, and life energy in the universe), ch’i (breath in people and cosmic energies in the universe), and shen (consciousness in people and the Tao in the universe). Semen expenditure was based on age. At age 20, a man was enjoined to discharge no more than once every four days, a period that doubled every ten years until he turned 60, when he was encouraged to avoid discharge altogether. Contrast this view with that of the medieval Jewish philosopher Eliezer the Great, who believed that the duty of marriage was sex every day for those who were unoccupied, and once every six months for sailors.


The Normans of Sicily lose Tunisia to the Almohads of Morocco. This causes fundamentalist Islam to become the dominant foreign culture in northwest Africa.


The Nahuatl society that the Spanish called the Aztecs begins establishing itself in Central Mexico. Their progenitors were Uto-Aztecan mercenaries serving in Toltec armies, and they called themselves the Tenocha, or "the descendants of the northern tribes."


When a French count offers to join an outnumbered Flemish jousting squadron to make the odds against them more even, the Flemands immediately drew up for war, as they believed that the French noble was slighting their valor and worth. This is a reminder that sport and fair play are mid-Victorian rather than medieval concepts.

About 1170:

Toward making French men-at-arms more amenable to doing what they were told, Christian churchmen start outlining soldiers’ duties and responsibilities in French instead of Latin.

According to tradition, a Welsh prince named Madoc sails the uncharted Western Seas to discover the Americas. The English created the story during the sixteenth century to give them precedence over the Spanish. However, it found its greatest support among the Welsh during the 1790s, when it was used to encourage Welsh emigration to the United States.


Tametomo, a minor retainer associated with the Minamoto clan, becomes the first Japanese samurai to become famous for slitting his belly open with his dagger rather than surrender. (Before that, Japanese warriors had often changed sides if it seemed expedient, but the Minamoto stressed loyalty more than had their predecessors.)

About 1175:

Western European crusaders take chivalric tournaments east of the Rhine. According to the surviving accounts, the Germans generally fought as individuals instead of as team-members. This probably represents the German nobility’s tendency to use tournaments as entertainment rather than sources of income. On the other hand, the French, Flemish, and English chevaliers, who usually fought for financial gain rather than amusement, almost always fought in two to four-man teams known as lances. Either way, tournaments were associated with festivals, coronations, and fairs, and were designed to flaunt the wealth and power of their aristocratic patrons rather than the prowess of the individual players.


The Anglo-Angevin King Henry II reorganizes his military. Part of Henry’s reorganization included listing the equipment soldiers must bring to war. Knights, for instance, were told to provide hauberks, helmets, shields, and lances, while burghers were told to bring helmets, padded coats, and lances. As a hauberk cost as much as five horses or ten cows, the catalog gives an indication of the relative wealth of the two groups.


Minamoto soldiers kill a Taira general named Yoshinaka and his wife. Subsequent Japanese accounts portray the woman, Tomoe Gozen, as a mighty warrior.


Work begins on an earth-and-timber fort at Moscow. Two hundred years later, its walls are rebuilt in white stone, set with nine watch towers, and named the Kremlin.


Merchants from Bremen and Lübeck establish a hospital near Acre, and call it the Hospital of Saint Mary of the Germans. In 1198, some German nobles convert this hospital into a military order called the Teutonic Knights of Saint Mary’s Hospital of Jerusalem. Brother-knights had to be of noble birth and German blood, while sergeants could be commoners or non-Germans. To avoid conflicts with the Templars and Hospitallers over loot, the Teutonic Knights went to Armenia, where they were almost wiped out in 1210. In 1211, King Andrew II of Hungary invited the survivors to fight the Turks in Transylvania. The Teutonic Knights proved more successful there, and German settlers were soon pouring into Rumania and Hungary.

About 1188:

A Norman chronicler named Giraldus Cambrensis describes the powerful elm self-bows used by Welsh foresters. These could bury arrows the depth of a hand in an oak door, or pin an armored man’s leg to his horse. By the fifteenth century, by which time the weapons were usually made from Portuguese yew rather than English elm, the five-foot tall bows were known as "longbows." Their first known military use came in 1171, when 300 Welsh archers joined 90 Norman knights for the conquest of Ireland, but they did not become common English weapons until after the battle of Falkirk in 1298. Arrows were supposed to be half the length of a bowstring, or just under half the height of the shooter. They were made of elm or ash, and fletched with three feathers. While goose feathers were supposed to be best, peacock feathers were the most fashionable. Manufacture took about an hour apiece. Arrowheads were usually cast iron. Hunters shot broad heads while soldiers shot square-tipped spikes. (The former caused more damage to flesh, while the latter did a better job of penetrating armor.) Special arrows were also made for long-range shooting, signaling, and incendiary purposes.


According to tradition, the Crusaders begin painting or sewing different colored crosses on their armor or clothing so that allied archers would not shoot them by mistake. While the causality seems likely, the precise campaign is not entirely certain. Edward Longshanks, the thirteenth century Hammer of the Scots, was the first English king known to require his soldiers to wear the cross of Saint George on their tunics. (Longshanks and a thousand men spent the summer of 1271 crusading around Nazareth. While the English campaign had little impact on the Muslim re-conquest of the Crusader kingdoms, Edward and his officers learned a good deal about warfare, knowledge they then put to good use in Wales.)


Christian Europe’s first paper mill is built at Herault, France.

About 1190:

The Burgundian poet Robert de Borron introduces the Holy Grail, the chalice from which Christ supposedly drank during the Last Supper, into the Arthurian legend. Besides amusing his aristocratic patrons, Borron’s goal included combining Frankish and Celtic drinking traditions with contemporary religious debates about whether it was Christ’s blood or wine that one drank during Communion.

Non-aristocratic Japanese soldiers are described as bushi, meaning "warrior-scholars," or ashigaru, meaning "light feet." These names are analogous to the French titles of "Chevalier" and "Serjeant," and distinguished retainers who could afford horses from those who could not.

"During the holydays in the summer," writes the English traveler William Fitzstephen, "the young men [of London] exercise themselves in the sports of leaping, archery, wrestling, stone throwing, slinging javelins beyond a mark, and also fighting with bucklers." The London butts were at Finsbury, and so crowded on Sundays that shooters were advised to loose no more than one shaft for fear of losing it. (The safety precautions are unknown.) Up to 140 yards, targets were usually white disks placed against grassy mounds of earth. Beyond that distance, targets were called "clouts." These were straw-stuffed disks about 18 inches in diameter. Betting on how many times an archer would hit his target was popular. For their part, Englishwomen did tricks including balancing themselves on their hands on swords and walking about on stilts while carrying babies in their arms or balancing water jugs on their heads.


Korean Buddhists introduce Chinese tea-drinking ceremonies and Zen paradoxes into Japan. Both were meant to make people wake up to the fact that reality was independent of their own interpretations.

Chinese mathematicians start experimenting with the Indo-Arabic numeral "zero." The transmitters were probably Indo-Iranian merchants, as if Zennists had transmitted the knowledge to China from India, then Chinese mathematicians would have started experimenting with the "gap," as they called the digit, 300 years earlier than they did.


Lord Yoritomo, military dictator of Japan, appoints himself the Seii Taishogun, or "Barbarian-Quelling Supreme General."

The last important Buddhist government in India surrenders to the mounted archers of Muhammad of Ghor. This opens India north of Delhi to Islamic expansion. Unlike Krishnaism, Shaivism, Tantrism, and Vishnaivism, Indian Buddhism fails to survive this setback. (The first four religions are usually lumped together and called Hinduism. Yet, "Hindu" is only a Farsi word meaning "Indian." Therefore, terms that are more precise are desirable.) The reason was that Indian Buddhism had catered mainly to princes and priests, and had fallen out of touch with the spiritual needs of farmers and artisans.


Crests appear on European war helmets. The development was probably the result of new designs that used face shields to provide wearers with greater protection from arrows.

To raise the money required to ransom himself from the grasp of Duke Leopold of Austria, the Anglo-Angevin King Richard the Lionheart legalizes tournament fighting in England. Three years later, Richard also sold the Thames River to the City of London for 1,500 marks, a deed that the Londoners retained until 1857.


According to tradition, the patronage of the retired emperor Go-Toba turns sword-manufacture into a Japanese art form. As the retired emperor was interested in politics, his real motivation was probably the development of better weapons.

About 1200:

As the Earth enters a little Ice Age, the Northern Hemisphere begins experiencing colder winters and wetter summers. According to some modern climatologists, this caused Central Asia to become inhospitable. If true, then may have been an incentive for the subsequent Mongol invasions of China, Eastern Europe, and Iraq. On the other hand, Genghis Khan could just as easily have thought up the idea of world conquest himself.

A Woodland Indian people living near Cahokia, Illinois, build Monks Mound, an earthen structure over 650,000 yards in volume and fifteen acres in area. It was part of a city complex housing as many as 40,000 people. Early settlers did not believe that Indians could have built it, so, depending on their religious and political biases, they instead attributed its construction instead to Welshmen, Vikings, or the Lost Tribe of Israel.

Thirteenth century:

Tahitian priests introduce the huna religion into Hawaii. The martial art associated with this religion was known as lua, a word meaning "to pit [in battle]" or "two" (e.g., duality; the idea was to balance healing and hurting, good and evil.) The methods developed from both military hand-to-hand combat and the ritual killings that were part of the huna religion, and its practitioners were divided into those who used their skills to heal and those who used their skills to harm. Skill in lua involved setting or dislocating bones at the joints, inflicting or stopping pain using finger strikes to nerve centers, and knowing how to use herbal medicines and sympathetic magic. Working-class Hawaiians, both men and women, also boxed and wrestled. There were no set rules in these latter games, which were known collectively as mokomoko. Accordingly, players slapped palms upon agreeing to terms or to signify a draw.

According to tradition, a text called Malla Purana (literally, "Old Story of the Caste of Wrestlers from Modhera") appears in India. While the exact date is uncertain -- the oldest surviving copy of the text only dates to 1674-1675 -- the Malla Purana is clearly one of the oldest surviving Indian wrestling manuals. It describes in detail how the Jains and Krishnaivites of Gujarat selected and trained their professional wrestlers, and prepared their dirt pits. Besides practice in wrestling, the Gujarati training program included calisthenics, strengthening exercises (including thousands of squats and dipping push-ups, or dandas), swimming, walking, massage, and discussing, planning, and thinking about wrestling. The Gujarati gurus recognized that wrestling was not for everyone, and people who had nasal problems, persistent coughs, head or eye diseases, or sexual problems were discouraged from participating. The Gujarati gurus also recognized that not everyone could be a champion. Therefore, they included recreational training programs, too. For those who wanted to gain reputation through wrestling, their number one recommendation was that the falling drops of perspiration should drench the ground on which the wrestler stood.

The game of checkers, or draughts, originates along the Franco-Spanish border, probably as the result of backgammon pieces being put onto a chessboard and moved after the fashion of an earlier board game known as alquerque.


Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa publishes Liber Abaci ("Book of Calculations"), which introduces the numeral zero into Christian Europe. Fibonacci learned the idea while studying in Algeria, and viewed it as being useful mostly for surveyors. Mathematicians at Liège, Belgium, were the first Europeans to actually calculate using zero and other Arabic (as opposed to Roman) numerals. The same mathematicians apparently contributed to the popularity of mathematical wargames such as rithmomachy, which was waged with square, triangular, and round pieces on two abutting chessboards using a variety of arithmetic and geometric progressions. Obviously, rithromachy was a game for clerics rather than common soldiers, and by the seventeenth century it was rarely played or discussed.


Albrecht, Bishop of Riga, establishes a crusading order known as the Brethren of the Sword. While their stated purpose was the defense of German settlements along the Baltic Sea, their real purpose was holy war against the non-Roman Catholic communities in Latvia, Estonia, and Prussia. Knights were aristocrats, while sergeants were commoners. Their chaplains could be from either class. Knights could not wear their own family insignia, but had to wear the black cross of the order. Personal possessions were limited to sword, armor, and a habit. Fur coats were limited to goat or sheepskin rather than the mink or ermine preferred by merchants and kings. The Bible was read at all meals; meat was foregone at Lent; and self-flagellation took place on Friday. (If in the field, then chain armor was worn next to the skin.) Of course, that was theory rather than practice, and within a few decades, the Pope would be regularly bothered with complaints about Brethren living in luxury, engaging in sodomy, and practicing sorcery. Hunting aurochs and wolves on horseback was the main recreation of these men.


Peter the Saracen becomes England’s first recorded crossbow manufacturer. This was probably due to his popularizing Islamic composite bow manufacturing technology, and applying it to crossbows. To span the new, vastly more powerful bows, dismounted archers attached claws to their belts and stirrups to the bottom of their stocks. Since the method was difficult from horseback, mounted archers continued using the older, less-powerful wooden crossbows until goat’s-foot levers appeared during the mid-fourteenth century.


An Iranized Afghan named Qutb-ud-din Aibak establishes Central India’s first permanent Islamic government. The magnificent Qutb Minar complex seven miles south of Delhi is built on the site of a Rajput citadel that Qutb-ud-din captured in 1193.


King Pedro II of Aragon sponsors the first European tournament known to have honored a woman. (His mistress, of course, as Iberian nobles married for land and children rather than love.) The construction of prepared stands soon followed, as the lady and her servants could not be expected to stand in the mud like ordinary people.


King Philip II Augustus of France extends Parisian political control into southern France and the Pyrenees. To obtain Papal support, Philip calls the action a crusade and promises to deliver the people living there from their heresy and homosexuality. Unsurprisingly the French invasion met resistance. Abbot Arnold-Aimery summed up French clerical policy toward this resistance when he said, in July 1209: "Cathar or Catholic, kill them all… God will recognize his own."


Britain’s first known bull-baiting event takes place at Stamford, Lincolnshire. While the practice was associated with butchers, who traditionally used dogs to tenderize beef, bull-baiting involved wagering on how many bulldogs a particular animal would kill or maim before dying. By the sixteenth century, horse- and bear baiting were also popular spectator sports.


Under the leadership of a shepherd named Stephen of Vendoma, Alsatian and French peasants march on Rome to protest the failure of the Catholic Church failure to practice ecclesiastical poverty. (The Catholic Church was easily the largest landowner in Europe, and its bishops lived better than did some kings.) But, by calling Stephen and his adult protestors "puer" (a Latin word meaning "boys") and changing the villains from Alsatian peasants into Italian merchants, French propagandists were soon able to convert the protests into a politically safer Children’s Crusade.


During the plotting that proceeded the signing of the Magna Charta, the English barons frequently used tournaments to get together. This encourages subsequent English governments to view tournaments as prejudicial to good order and discipline.

Temujin sends his hordes into China. As most of the soldiers employed by the Great Leader (Genghis [chinngis] Khan) were ethnically Turkish, the term "Mongol" must be used carefully whenever discussing this invasion.

The Fourth Lateran Council resolves the issue of whether it was blood or wine that was taken during communion by announcing that bread and wine were transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ during a Roman Catholic communion. The Fourth Lateran Council also authorized indulgences and other privileges for people who persecuted heretics.

According to tradition, Swiss mountaineers develop Schwingen ("swinging") wrestling at Unspunnen (near Interlaken) to honor their Duke Bechtold von Zaringenn. While thirteenth century Swiss mountaineers clearly used wrestling matches to resolve or minimize intracommunity conflicts, the earliest verifiable Schwingen matches took place in 1593. The sport became popular following the introduction of Swedish and Prussian gymnastics into Switzerland during the 1830s. For equipment, Schwingen requires no more equipment than a sawdust pit or meadow, two pair of tight fitting canvas shorts, and two players. For technique, it mainly requires the players to grip each other at the small of the back with their right hands and the right trouser legs with their left hands. After that, the players struggle to throw one another to the ground without losing their grips or having their own shoulders touch the ground. Historically, matches lasted to the second or third fall, but in modern times, they have a regulated maximum duration of eight minutes.


Jacques de Vitry, the Bishop of Acre, writes: "An iron needle, touched by the lodestone, always turns toward the North Star, which stands motionless while the rest of the heavens revolve around it." (While astronomers knew that the pole star revolved diurnally, this was irrelevant to navigators who relied more on rule of thumb than prepared charts.) The bishop added that this knowledge should be useful for mariners.

About 1220:

The English describe short stabbing knives held blade downward as "daggers." These were reportedly popular with footpads and assassins, as they could be used to kill men by penetrating the chinks in their armor. Nevertheless, heavy-bladed butcher knives remained more popular with Englishmen, who continued using knives more for chopping kindling and holding their meat over the fire than for killing. (Not only was fighting with knives relatively rare, but the ransom value of a man who could afford a good suit of armor was more than the salvage value of his armor.)


A Taoist sage called Ch’un Ch’ang is brought to Genghis Khan’s court in Afghanistan. The reason was that the Great Khan wanted to know if the Taoists had any medicines that would ensure eternal life. To this question, the sage wisely replied that while there were means for preserving life, there were as yet no medicines that would provide immortality.


The men of London are reported traveling to Westminster to attend an annual wrestling match. The venue was probably Saint Edward’s Fair, and the audience included the Lord Mayor of London and his aldermen. The winners received a ram, while runners-up received cocks, bulls, and items of apparel. These prizes may explain why so many stories about wrestling are cock-and-bull stories.


Round Tables, or chivalric tournaments fought in Arthurian guise, become popular in Europe. The date used here is that of the first known Round Table, which took place on Crusader-held Cyprus before a crowd of female admirers. Romances aside, the side that fought as a team instead of the side that featured the boldest champions generally won the day, and noblemen vied for the loyalty of the best teams. This was generally achieved by paying their leaders hundreds of pounds sterling (millions of dollars in modern money) or promising them their own duchies.


The hordes of Genghis Khan smash the armies of Christian Kiev, then loot the Caucasus. According to tradition, this catastrophe causes the Ukrainians to start describing the Mongols as "Tartars," or "emanations from Hell." (The name is also a pun based on "Tatar," the name of a West Siberian Turkish tribe subordinate to the Mongols.)

About 1225:

Italian aristocrats begin participating in the chivalric tournaments introduced to their country by Norman and German men-at-arms.


King Henry III grants the citizens of London the right to hunt in Epping Forest on Easter Monday. By citizens, King Henry meant the Lord Mayor, his aldermen, and their friends. Eventually everybody wanted into the act, and in 1882, the Lord Mayor banned hunting altogether and declared the remaining 3,000 acres of forest a city park.


Korean monks introduce the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism into Japan. This helps popularize sitting meditation in that country.


A woman challenges a man to a judicial duel at the lists in Bern, Switzerland, and wins. Such challenges were common in Germany and Switzerland during the thirteenth century, particularly during rape cases. To even the odds, such judicial duels were arranged by placing the man in a pit dug as deep as his navel while allowing the woman free movement around that pit. The usual weapons included leather belts, singlesticks, and fist-sized rocks wrapped in cloth. During these duels, if a participant’s weapon or hand touched the ground three times, he or she was declared defeated. Male losers were beheaded, while female losers lost their right hands.


The Inquisition of Toulouse bans lay members from reading the Bible. The reason was French clergy’s desire to keep the bourgeoisie from using Latin words for magical or nefarious purposes.

About 1230:

Chinese engineers employed by Mongol khans introduce saltpeter-based combustibles into southwest Asia.


Twenty knights and 200 sergeants under the command of the Teutonic Knight Hermann Balke cross the Vistula, and hang a Prussian rival from his own sacred oak tree. (To the disgust of the Roman Catholic Germans, the Prussians and Lithuanians still worshipped the thunder god and the moon goddess.) Balke’s white-robed Brethren of the Sword wore white cloaks, which served as practical camouflage. (Many of their attacks took place in December and January, when the ice was thick enough to carry the weight of armored men and their horses. During the summer, the same ground was marshy, requiring travel by water. While maritime travel was possible, it required more planning. Since planning was not the strong point of thirteenth century knights, large-scale summer operations did not become common until the Prussian state was bureaucratized in the fourteenth century.) When the Prussians retreated to bailey-and-motte fortresses, the Brethren brought up ballistae designed to penetrate Islamic castles. Still, what slaughtered iron-age tribes did not work so well against Mongols: in 1241, 20,000 Mongols under Kaidu Khan slaughtered 30-40,000 Germans, including many Brethren of the Sword, near Liegnitz, Poland. Besides converting pagans and opening lands for German settlement, the German crusaders’ objectives included gaining control over the Baltic amber trade. (Amber is the fossilized resin of pine trees, and because of its alleged magical properties, it was widely used in the manufacture of rosaries.)


In order to gain a free hand in Italy, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II cedes control of Germany to its various dukes and princes. Despite their linguistic and cultural affinities, these Germanic duchies were not reunited for over 600 years.


Sinicized Manchurian soldiers of the Jurchen Ch’in Dynasty use gunpowder weapons (including firelances and rockets) against the Mongols during their defense of the Chinese city of Kaifeng. These technologically advanced weapons proved no more effective at stopping Mongol cavalry than the German ME-262s of World War II proved at stopping American B-17s. So the first successful defensive use of powder-based combustibles came during 1249, when the Egyptians used trebuchets and mangonels to hurl powder-filled clay pots against the Crusaders of the French King Louis IX. (Despite what some British archaeologists would like to believe, the stone projectiles found at Bedford, England, and associated with the siege of 1224-1225, were thrown by trebuchets instead of gunpowder artillery.)


Near the town of Bamako, an exiled Mandinké prince called Sundiata establishes the Mali Empire. Sundiata was among the first sub-Saharan African kings to become a Muslim. Due to a famous journey to Mecca, reports of his wealth caused his empire to become the first sub-Saharan African kingdom to appear on a European map.


Crossbows enter common use with Swiss hunters, and in 1307, an Altdorf farmer called Wilhelm Tell reportedly uses one to shoot an apple from atop his son’s head. While the veracity of the latter tale is questionable (it did not appear in print until 1470), it has become an important part of modern Swiss nationalism.


Genghis Khan sends ten Mongol hordes (about 50,000 armed men, an equal number of women and children, and perhaps a quarter million animals) against Russia. The Russian princes were not united, and the Mongols, with their Chinese artillery and Turkish horses, easily defeated the Russians at every turn.


After taking care of the Russians, the Mongols ravage Poland, Lithuania, and Prussia before swinging south into Hungary and Transylvania. While the death of Ögödei Khan in December 1241 saved all these countries from total subjugation, the depopulation caused by the Mongol wars encouraged many Germans to emigrate east of the Elbe River. As for the Mongol victories, they were owed partly to the Mongols’ superior horsemanship, archery, and scouting (no Mongol army was ever successfully ambushed), and mainly to the inability of the Eastern European princes to quit feuding long enough to present a united defense.


Political rivals hack the saga writer Snorri Sturluson to death outside his home in Iceland. Sturluson’s death is a reminder that the years of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror depicted in Sturluson’s sagas is not a bad depiction of the human condition.


Aided by rebellious Prussian tribes, the Lithuanians attack German settlements throughout the Eastern Baltic. The Germans respond by cutting the Lithuanians off from the sea and exterminating the Prussians. The Teutonic Knights (the Brethren of the Sword had recently merged with the Teutonic Knights) justified their extermination of the Prussians by noting that their leaders still worshipped fire, water, and hare gods rather than Jesus Christ. For inspiration, the Teutonic Knights followed the guidance of the Old Testament battles in Midian and Canaan. In other words, they killed the adults and sold the children into slavery. Accordingly, Slavs hated them, and when the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Brethren pushed into Russia, Novgorod’s Prince Aleksandr Yaroslavovich responded by slaughtering the Brethren and their allies on the ice of the frozen Lake Peipus. This battle (won, the chronicles say, by the grace of Saint Sophia and the holy martyrs Boris and Gleb) was commemorated during the powerful final scenes of the Sergey Eisenstein film Alexander Nevsky. (Nevsky is an honorific referring to Alexandr’s similar victory over the Swedes in 1240.) Note, however, that the German use of coalscuttle helmets in the Soviet movie was an anachronism designed to please Stalinist censors: coalscuttle helmets, originally called sallets, were an Italian invention of the early fifteenth century, and only became popular in Germany during the 1460s.


In Berkshire, England, Ivo Haldeyn, serjeant of Ralph of Leichester, wrestles with John Bernard in the Bradfield cemetery. Ivo throws John to the ground and falls on him hard. Three days later, John died of injuries. Rather than face charges of manslaughter, Ivo admitted guilt by fleeing. Although nothing more is known of the case, this may have been an early case of police brutality. A serjeant was a kind of policeman, and medieval Englishmen were usually acquitted of sport-related homicides unless they were obviously done with malice.

About 1250:

Chivalric codes are codified throughout France. These required knights to fight duels with rebated weapons, to do whatever it took to protect their honor and reputation, and to avoid engaging in sexual acts with the wives and children of fellow knights. Knights were also expected to protect their communities from outsiders, to avoid making unreasonable demands on their own communities, and to attend Mass regularly. While such codes sound high-principled (especially when presented by Romantic authors such as Sir Walter Scott and Alfred, Lord Tennyson), they were little different from the codes promulgated by the street gangs of twentieth century Los Angeles or Chicago. To carry the analogy further, medieval warriors liked making up extemporaneous poetry as much as any twentieth century rapper. See, for example, the skaldic verse of the tenth century Viking Egil Skallagrimson, the battlefield poetry of the twelfth-century Almohad prince Yusuf ibn Tashfin, or the senryu (comic haiku) of the sixteenth century Japanese samurai.


The English King Henry III directs that all freemen controlling property valued at 40 to 100 shillings must provide a sword, a bow and arrows, and a dagger at their own expense whenever ordered to report for military service.

Pope Innocent IV authorizes the use of torture to obtain confessions from heretics.


The Roman Catholic Church adopts the doctrine of Purgatory. This was a place in the hereafter where the crimes of all but the worst sinners were burned away, thus allowing virtually everyone to eventually achieve salvation. The doctrine explained how ghosts could walk the earth, and offered the hope of eternal life to pre-Christian Jews, Greeks, and Romans, reformed heretics, and unbaptized babies. Unfortunately, it was also a way for unscrupulous clerics to sell indulgences, pardons said to save souls from torments in the hereafter. This latter practice, known as simony, was one of the leading causes of unrest underlying the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.


The Franciscan monks Bartholomew of Cremona and William of Rubruck travel from France to Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol world empire between 1229 and 1259, for the purpose of ministering to some German prisoners of the Mongols. Brother William’s descriptions provided Europe with its first meaningful descriptions of Buddhism.

About 1255:

Rolls of arms (Glover’s Roll in England and the Bigod Roll in France) appear in Western Europe. In theory, these showed the names and shield designs of the people expected to participate in tournaments. Yet in practice, the rolls were used mainly as lists of names of men who would be allowed to win grand prizes at tournaments, while the shield designs were used mainly as decorations for walls and tombs.


English clergymen tell their parishioners that they should not engage in violent wrestling (axlartok), ring-dancing, or dishonest games on church holidays. (During a study of thirteenth-century English sports and pastimes, historian John Marshall Carter discovered that drinking in taverns was the medieval Englishman’s favorite entertainment. After that, he liked boating, fishing, wrestling, ball games, and equestrian sports. In other words, he liked pretty much the same things as his descendants.) The clergy had no prohibitions, however, against friendly wrestling. The Breton wrestling game was standing jacket wrestling. The rules allowed no leg-holds, trips, or handholds below the waist. Devon and Cornwall wrestlers had a similar style. According to a flag carried at Agincourt, Devon wrestlers wore jackets, shin-guards, and clogs. Norfolk wrestling on the other hand, done in bare feet.

About 1260:

According to twentieth century Japanese historians, shipwrecked Japanese sailors introduce iron weapons into the Hawaiian Islands. If true, then the influence of these Japanese weapons was minimal, because during the 1780s, Hawaiian royal bodyguards were still carrying weapons made of baleen or wood. Anyway, in 1940 the Hawaiian sport historian Charles Kenn speculated that the similarities between the Hawaiian martial art of lua and the Japanese martial art of jujutsu were due to the same shipwrecked Japanese sailors. That Kenn had a Japanese grandfather and was friends with Danzan Ryu practitioners is a more likely source of that particular story, and by the 1960s Kenn had learned enough about the subject to doubt the correlation himself.

To see if the "effects commonly thought to be brought about by evil magic can be imitated by experimentation," the English alchemist Roger Bacon begins experimenting with fire and brimstone. This in turn led Bacon to develop black powder. (His mixture was seven parts saltpeter, five parts charcoal, and five parts sulfur.) That said, Bacon’s discovery was more important to the Edwardian English than European history, as Bacon was afraid of what he had invented, and described his discoveries using a cipher that was not decoded for another 650 years.

In his "Rules on Conduct in Life," the Iranian poet Sa’di of Shiraz wrote, "A wise man sees an Indian teaching others to make fireworks and says, ‘This is not fit play for you who live in a house of reeds.’" In another series of parables called "On the Morals of Kings," Sa’di described a wrestler who "had arrived at the head of his profession in the art of wrestling. He knew 360 capital sleights, and every day exhibited something new. But having a sincere regard for a beautiful youth, he taught him 359 sleights, reserving however one sleight to himself. The youth excelled so much in skill and strength that no one was able to cope with him. He at length boasted, before the Sultan, that the superiority which he allowed his master to maintain over him was out of respect for his years, and the consideration of having been his instructor; for otherwise he was not inferior in strength, and was his equal in point of skill. The king did not approve of this disrespectful conduct, and commanded that there should be a trial of skill. An extensive spot was appointed for the occasion. The ministers of state, and other grandees of the court, were in attendance. The youth, like a lustful elephant, entered with a percussion that would have removed from its base a mountain of iron. The master, being sensible that the youth was his superior in strength, attacked with the sleight which he had kept for himself. The youth was not able to repel it... [The youth complained], ‘O king, my master did not gain the victory over me through strength or skill, but there remained a small part of the art of wrestling which he had withheld from me, and by that small feint he got the better of me.’ The master observed, ‘I reserved it for such an occasion as the present.’" The custom that young wrestlers should not challenge old champions survived in India into the twentieth century. There is a story that the ustad, or trainer, of Gama the Great once asked Gama to go fetch his pipe. This was right after Gama had won an important championship, and was done in front of a large crowd of people. Gama immediately stood up to fetch the pipe, at which point the trainer said, "Sit down. I just wanted to see whether the championship had gone to your head." The dark side of this, of course, was that the tradition of the master not teaching everything to his pupil also survived into the twentieth century. Zulfiquar Ali Khan, for example, told historian Charles Allen that his grandfather, the Nawab of Rampur, employed 90 to 100 excellent cooks. "The unfortunate thing is that they never taught their sons. They taught them 80 per cent but never 100 per cent of what they knew, because they were afraid if they did so they would be sacked and their sons would be cooks in their place."


Near the Syrian town of ‘Ayn Jalut, the Mamluks of Egypt beat the Mongols. Reasons for the Mamluk victory included the superb training of the Mamluk forces, the absence of forage for Mongol horses, and most of Hülegü Khan’s hordes departing Syria due to the need to elect a new Great Khan. (Since the Great Khan controlled the distribution of booty, the question of who was in charge was more important to the average Mongol than was the maintenance of a minor campaign in Syria.)

Raniero Fasani, the Hermit of Umbria, tells Italians that the Roman Catholic God liked blood sacrifices given through self-flagellation.

About 1261:

English minstrels create stories about a landless outlaw of the Sherwood Forest called Robin Hood. Vernacular stories begin expanding Robin’s legend about 1377. These latter stories are responsible for introducing Robin to Friar Tuck around 1417 and Little John about 1432. Maid Marian joins the gang between 1450 and 1500, after the English begin using actors dressed as Robin and his Merry Men to collect money for charitable purposes. (Robin and Marion were the May King and Queen at Reading in 1502, at Kingston-on-Thames in 1506, in London in 1559, and Abingdon in 1566.) Robin’s arrow-splitting feats appear to combine folklore – heroes are always supermen – and gambling games with old men’s memories of days gone by. (In real life, a truly exceptional archer would be lucky to split his shafts more than once every few dozen shots.)

About 1265:

Middle-class tourneying societies appear in Switzerland. By 1361, similar societies also appear in Germany. As in Asia, these tourneying societies frequently had active political agendas.


The French savant Pelerin de Maricourt describes a magnetized needle thrust through a pivoted axis and placed in a box with a transparent cover and a pair of sights. In other words, a compass. Early compasses were divided by the eight directions of the Italian winds, then subdivided into quarters. Therefore movement was by quarters or eighths, and described as "north by northwest" (or whatever) until World War II, when the 360-degree compasses preferred by aviators took precedence. Nautical pilot books were another thirteenth century innovation, and the famous stories about sailors fearing falling off the edge of the world are based in part on navigators’ understandable reluctance to sail beyond the edges of their charts.

About 1270:

Iranian alchemists invent a way of distilling cane sugar into a drink they called sugar wine and we call rum. This in turn led to the establishment of slave-labor sugar plantations, first in the eastern Mediterranean and later in the Americas.

About 1272:

Kublai Khan becomes the first person to rule a unified Chinese state from a court located at Peking.

The Mongols use explosive grenades to break down besieged cities’ walls. The designers of these weapons, which were hurled using trebuchets and mangonels, were probably Iranians or Afghans.

After considering Christianity and Judaism, the leaders of the Golden Horde convert from shamanism to Islam. Motivations included a desire to reduce drunkenness among their sons -- of all the great religions, only Islam prohibited alcohol.


Round Tables are introduced into Spain. Nevertheless, Round Tables never become popular in Iberia. The main reason was that they were both aristocratic and foreign, so had less appeal to common folk than bullfights.


After the Count of Chalons grabs the English King to avoid being unhorsed during a tournament, a fight breaks out between the two men’s retainers. To similar disturbances in the future, tournament rules prohibit participants from wrestling, and limit the number of squires and footmen that competitors could bring to an event.


As part of his process of isolating southern China’s Southern Sung Dynasty, Kublai Khan orders his puppet government in Korea to mount an invasion of Japan. The resultant invasion force is destroyed by a typhoon. Seven years later, Kublai Khan tries again, and again the Korean-Mongol forces are destroyed by storms. Japanese historians subsequently exaggerate the importance of these defeats by downplaying the importance of contemporary (and analogous) Mongol defeats in Burma, Java, Syria, and Vietnam.

About 1275:

A mathematical text called Continuation of Ancient Mathematical Methods for Elucidating the Strange Properties of Numbers introduces magic squares into China. Magic squares arrange numbers in such a way that the numerals along any row or diagonal always add up the same. Sample magic squares include:










The first combination of numerals is a solar pattern whose root is 5. Everything adds up to 15, and the total of all the numbers is 45. This pattern shows the full development of the five natural energies (earth, wind, fire, water, and metal), and establishes a fundament from which everything else can proceed. The second combination is a north lunar pattern whose root is the numeral 8. The columns add up to 36, and the total of all the numbers is 108. It symbolizes leadership potential and good fortune. In China, intellectuals such as Huang Kung-chin and Chiang Shu-yü created "star-walks," or rhythmic moving meditations, based upon these patterns. Different planets and constellations (and hence energies) were evoked using different patterns, and the star-walks were used both for private meditation and public exorcism. Demon-slaying weapons included mallets and cleavers (butchers were often in need of exorcisms), staffs (a quarterstaff was yang, while a singlestick was ying), and sword-hands (two rigid fingers raised toward the sky). If the star-walker pointed his weapon toward heaven, the gods bowed. If the star-walker pointed his weapon toward the earth, the earth welcomed him. Finally, if he pointed the weapon at demons, they fled. Because of the quasi-theatrical nature of exorcisms, some star-walks contained flashy movement and fire-and-brimstone dialogue. Acrobatic movements and cartwheels, for instance, were used to show the perils of the priest’s descent into Hell, while vigorous staff and hand movements represented fights with the demons that he found there. Spins, meanwhile, accumulated the rotational energy of the Big Dipper while 90 degree turns cleansed the Five Directions. (In an article published in Black Belt in 1964, William C.C. Hu speculated that the association of kung fu, a phrase meaning "hard work," with Chinese boxing was a corruption of kang fu, a Taoist phrase meaning "Big Dipper Talisman." While an appealing theory, there is, unfortunately no way of proving or disproving the connection.) On yin days priests began their movements facing north, while on yang days, they began facing south. Spirit possession was an ever-present danger. When it happened, the movements became extremely vigorous, or even violent. Of course, violence was rarely the stated end-state objective. After all, the priest was supposed to prefer internal cleansing to external spectacle. However, people being what they are, violence was an acknowledged risk, especially for people who were not used to handling their newly discovered occult powers.


The Dominican friar Albertus Magnus develops Europe’s first skyrockets. The popularity of Saint Albert’s Roman candles combines with Albert’s saintly reputation to help dispel Christian Europeans’ fear of black powder and its demonic ingredients. (Sulfur, for instance, was historically associated with various Goddess religions, while the willow wood said to make the best charcoal also was believed to make the best witches’ wands.)


In Ireland, the Anglo-Normans put taxes on uisce beathadh, which at the time would have been applejack rather than whiskey, as the technology for distilling alcohol in copper vats had yet to be invented. Note the spelling, too -- the modern Irish spirit is whiskey with an "e", and it is made by triple-distilling in closed vats. The Scottish spirit, on the other hand, is whisky without an "e", and it is made by double-distilling in open vats over peat fires.

Londoners are reported traveling to Bermondsey Abbey for wrestling matches. The occasion probably was the annual Feast of the Trinity fair. During some riots that followed the games, Richard of Borham is killed and many others are injured. As Bermondsey Abbey’s monks were mostly French -- its first English abbot was Richard Dunton, appointed by Edward III in 1373 -- the violence was probably sectarian rather than hooliganism.


During a century distinguished by famines, floods, bubonic plague, and Turkish and Mongol invasions, millenarians overrun China. (Millenarianism describes both the belief that the world is about to end and the belief that the Kingdom of Heaven is forthcoming.) The tales these Chinese millenarians spread are responsible for the subsequent stories about the Eight Immortals, whose activities continue to be presented as true tales of the martial arts into the present.


A Genoan ship carries Mediterranean grain to the Baltic, and returns with a load of amber. This marks the beginning of the European triangular trade and rejuvenates the Iberian and Baltic shipbuilding industries.

About 1280:

German laws start prohibiting Jews and commoners from entering aristocratic tournaments.


The Venetian merchant Marco Polo describes a Mongol princess named Ai-yaruk, or "Bright Moon," who refused to get married until she met a man that could throw her. The story was not written until around 1295, and the writer, Rustichello of Pisa, was never one to let facts stand in the way of a good story. Nevertheless, it is likely that during his travels Polo really did see some Mongol women wrestling. Mongol wrestling is jacket wrestling. The contestants wear boots, trousers, and short embroidered jackets. While there are some leg-throws, the style emphasizes upper body strength more than technique, and the ideal stance is one where the wrestler holds his body like a lion and his arms like an eagle’s wings. While the immediate purpose of the bout is to force the other player to kneel or to touch the ground with his buttocks or elbows, the ulterior motive is to gain reputation and/or property. (Princess Ai-yaruk, for instance, reportedly won thousands of horses during her bouts with luckless suitors.) Some wrestlers were poor losers, and matches sometimes degenerated into drunken brawls, with the two sides fighting using milk beaters and other improvised weapons. Other martial sports practiced by the Mongols included horse racing and archery. Because size and weight mattered greatly during long-distance horse races, the winning jockeys were generally children, some aged as young as four years. People of all ages and both genders competed in the archery events, which featured shooting at rodents’ heads from marks set at 180 and 300 yards.

About 1281:

The Italians use black powder to propel arrows from metal tubes.

Islam appears in Malaya and Sumatra. The teachers were merchants hailing from Gujarat, India.

White Lotus sectarians are reported fighting against the Mongols in Kiangsu Province. These battles were probably in response to government efforts aimed at taxing retirement homes and youth hostels, as White Lotus philosophy encouraged full-time vegetarianism, lay reading of Buddhist scriptures, and financial assistance for the poor and the elderly rather than anti-government violence.


An Icelandic law states, "Whosoever participates in a contest of friendly wrestling or hide-tugging does so on his own responsibility." In those days, there were two kinds of Icelandic wrestling. The essentially Celtic wrestling combined back-hold and collar-and-elbow wrestling. It was called fang, or "catching [the body under the arms]." When done to hurt someone, as in a duel, then it was done "in earnest," and when done for amusement it was called leikfang, or "joy catching". Depending on the weather and agreements, the wrestlers could be naked or dressed in ordinary clothing. Again, depending upon agreements, the players might lock hands behind the other’s back, or instead take the other’s collar and elbow. Either way, the goal was to unbalance the other using hip throws and back-heel trips. While the goal was to stay standing while throwing the other, when both wrestlers did go down, then the first to stand up was the winner. Unless the wrestlers were actually fighting, it was bad form to bite, land with the knees in the other’s belly, or bash the other’s head or spine into a rock. The essentially Norse wrestling was known as glima, or "game of gladness." This game was especially popular before and after church. During the winter, glima was also done in front of the women’s platform in communal mead halls. As the wooden floors were bare, the players wore shoes. No hand tricks were allowed, and the wrestlers could only take hold of the other’s waistband or trouser leg. (Special wrestling belts were only introduced between 1905 and 1909.) The players started with their right foot in front, and then had to keep slowly circling right for the rest of the match. The chief techniques were hip throws, clicks, and trips.


Edward Longshanks organizes a Round Table at Nefyn to celebrate the conclusion of England’s initial conquest of Wales.


The City of London bans fencing within its boundaries on pain of 40 days imprisonment. The idea was to limit what the good citizens considered to be a lewd working class entertainment rather than a noble martial art. (During fencing matches, girls and women danced and men drank and shouted; this of course caused the pious to fear worse practices indoors.) The bans were widely ignored. (The English continued trying to control the movement of "vagabonds," a term that included fencers, bear-baiters, minstrels, jugglers, peddlers, and tinkers, into the sixteenth century.) Thirteenth century English fencing masters were called escrimeurs, after a French word meaning "fencers." Their training grounds included the courtyards of taverns and inns, and their methods included wrestling tricks, disarms, throws, and enthusiastic sword-and-buckler play.

In the same set of acts, the aldermen of London also divide the City into 200 precincts. Each precinct was authorized one constable, street sweeper, and usher. The wealthiest men in the city were required to take turns providing these city servants on pain of fine or imprisonment. (As the City only covered about 600 acres, the area to patrol per man was not too great.) When curfew was rung, the constables donned leather body-armor, armed themselves with swords, halberds, and longbows, and then guarded the gates and the Thames shoreline until daybreak.

A Chinese actor introduces Chinese military dances into Vietnam. These dances were a possible source of inspiration for the Vietnamese court dances known as vo vu. The latter in turn were in turn a source of inspiration for the eighteenth century Vietnamese stick-fighting art known as Vo Tay San ("Tay San fighting") and Binh Dinh Vo ("Binh Dinh fighting").

About 1287:

Mongol khans living in China order the construction of some small bronze cannons. Their interest in the weapons was probably associated with the weapons’ ability to simulate the voice of the thunder god, whom the Mongols respected greatly. (Plus the noise scared horses.)


A Turkish Christian named Rabban Sauma travels from Peking to Rome, and then writes of his adventures upon his return home. Han Chinese did not begin making the same trip until the seventeenth century. This was due to their belief that people who left their homelands were rejecting their own country and its values.

About 1288:

Milan becomes Western Europe’s leading arms producer. (The other major arms manufacturing centers were Bordeaux and Cologne; Britain, Iberia, and Scandinavia were still entirely peripheral.)


A Turkish adventurer named Othman Khan establishes Europe’s oldest extant military band. The Ottoman musicians were Sudanese percussionists obtained from the Mamluks of Egypt, and their instruments included bass drums, cymbals, kettledrums, triangles, tambourines, and cross-staved metal poles festooned with jangling ornaments. During the 1720s, the Prussians and Austrians started emulating the Ottomans’ "Janissary" music. Following Ottoman practice, the Germans preferred black musicians, and one reason that Hessian troops were so hated in the American South during the Revolutionary War was that the Hessians promised to emancipate any blacks who drummed for them. (British forces did not introduce bands more sophisticated than fife-and-drum until the 1790s.) The drum style preferred in the German "Janissary" bands was modern cross-handed drumming, and the cadenced marches and fancy baton twirls reflected traditional African martial values.

Kublai Khan issues orders prohibiting Chinese peasants from possessing swords, spears, and crossbows. Although these bans are popularly believed to have inspired the development of the modern Chinese martial arts, that causality is uncertain, as reliable descriptions of the Chinese unarmed martial arts do not become common until the 1560s.


Acre, the last important Crusader fortress in southwest Asia, falls to the Mamluks. Said the Arab chronicler al-Abidwardi of the aftermath, "the Sultan set the women and children apart and decapitated all the men, of whom there was a great number." The wonder was not that the Crusader stronghold fell, but that it survived so long.

The Turko-Egyptian writer Hasan al-Ramah describes the role that saltpeter-based combustibles played during the Muslim victory over the Crusaders at Acre. First, Iraqi engineers attacked infantry by filling fused clay pots with powder and launching them from trebuchets. Second, they used firecrackers and fire-arrows to frighten the enemy’s horses. Finally, they slung grenades below kites, and then sailed them into enemy ships or castles. This said, the average Mamluk soldier did not like the noisy, smelly weapons. Reasons including the weapons allowing peasants to be as deadly as superbly trained horsemen, frightening animals, and burning holes in clothes.


Northern Italian towns start holding pugil-stick fights, bare-knuckle boxing matches, and cudgeling tournaments. Legend attributes the creation to the Sienese monk Saint Bernard, who taught that fists were better than swords or sticks for deciding arguments. Illustrations show slapping games in which players sat cross-legged on benches, and then took turns slapping one another until somebody fell off the bench. Another game involved slapping buttocks; this was often played between men and women. Mock equestrian battles were fought in which a girl sat on a boy’s shoulders, and the pairs then undertook to knock over the other. Preparations began shortly after New Years, and celebrations were in full swing by Lent. (Essentially a time of institutionalized disorder, Carnival always placed enormous emphasis on food, sex, and violent stage plays and games.) Where Carnival was not held then the Feast of the Innocents and May Day served as substitutes.

Fencing instruction is taxed in Paris.


Some Italian brothers called Del Serpente publish a swordsmanship manual in Milan.


Near Dundee, a Scottish army led by William Wallace shows the English what happens to armored forces who leave their infantry behind: they get stuck in the mud, dragged from their mounts, and beaten to death by the unarmored rabble they have been sent to oppress. However, it takes an even greater Scottish victory at Bannockburn in 1314 to start the English to thinking about using Welsh archers to shoot down the unchivalrous Scottish spearmen from 300 yards away. This tactic was first employed at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, and was perfected during the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. Perfection, in this case, involved requiring the archers to shoot in volley toward a given range instead of allowing them to pick their targets at will. (Without such training, there is a tendency for soldiers to shoot at the nearest target rather than the targets within their zones, which both wastes ammunition and leaves holes in area defense.)

Fourteenth century:

Indian philosophers describe the path leading to yogic enlightenment as consisting of the right mixture of diet and posture, breath and semen control, and meditation. Of course, gifts for the guru were useful, too.

Chinese sources describe methods for attacking the 108 vital points of the human body. The precise number of points was probably figurative rather than literal. (For Buddhists, the numeral 108 refers to a place in hell where souls receive their next assignments, while for Hindus, the numeral refers to Rudra, patron of storms and archers, drunken rages and self-knowledge. Asian astrologers also use the numeral when casting horoscopes for people who do not know their exact birth dates.) Furthermore, there are at most thirty spots on the body to which a single empty-handed strike is likely to quickly incapacitate the victim, and of these only a couple are truly lethal. For example, Phillip Zarrilli notes that Indians skilled in striking vital points (marma ati) privately admit that attacks with bare hands to vital points are more likely to cause numbness, unconsciousness, or vomiting than death. Moreover, with prompt medical attention, almost everyone eventually recovers. Still, finger strikes to these points constitute the basis for tien hsueh ("cavity striking"), which in turn forms the root for the fabled death touches of the stage and screen.

About 1300:

Chan Chan becomes the largest city in pre-Columbian America. Located in northern Peru, its construction began during the 850s, and by the 1300s, was home to about 50,000 artisans and priests. (Neither farmers nor fishermen were allowed to live inside the city itself.) Its Chimú culture had developed from the older Moche culture. Its administration was centralized and secular. Maritime themes are popular in Chimú art. The Incas destroyed the city and subjugated the culture during the 1460s. While the destruction may have had a religious basis (the Incas worshipped the sun and the earth, while the Chimú worshipped the moon and the sea), it could as easily have been over control of the local coca fields.

The Tayrona Indians build a large city of stone and wood along the southern slopes of Columbia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Little else is currently known about this city, as it was abandoned during the sixteenth century and only rediscovered in 1975.

A secretary to the Bishop of Wurzburg produces an illustrated manuscript depicting unarmored German fighters. Known today as Manuscript I.33 (pronounced one, thirty-three), the text is in Latin while the technical terms are in German. Most of the work, however, involved a series of watercolor drawings showing students, monks, and even a woman training in a variety of sword-and-buckler techniques. The pictures show straight thrusts, lunges, and other techniques that many previously believed were first developed in Italy during the mid-sixteenth century. The inclusion of a female in one picture also suggests training for judicial duels.


To prevent noblemen whose property he was trying to seize through courtroom shenanigans from challenging him to trial by battle, King Philip the Fair of France restricts trial by battle to cases involving rape, treason, and morals charges.

About 1306:

Back-curved single-edged swords known as pouluar are described in Iranian documents. While most useful for cavalry pursuing panicked rabble on foot, pouluar (or talwar, as they became known in India) were also used during gladiatorial combats and duels. When using these swords during duels, the fencer thrust his weapon past its target, then pulled backward with a ripping motion. While this maximized the mechanical advantage of the curve, considerable training was required. The Mughuls spread talwar fencing through India during the sixteenth century. Fencing akhara were usually built in quiet, well-watered groves, as this combined the metaphysical and geomantic qualities of earth, wood, air, and water with the fire of the swordsmen. The fencing master was called khalifa, after an Arabic word meaning "successor." Muscular teachers stressed the lesser jihad, meaning the war against infidels while intellectual teachers stressed the greater jihad, meaning war against internal demons. During their course of instruction, students were armed with leather-wrapped sticks and bucklers. Footwork was highly athletic, and included much leaping and darting. Following the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the British suppressed talwar fencing. Consequently, although some kalaripayattu schools teach talwar fencing in southern India, there are few akhara in northern India. Since sword-and-buckler fighting was not that common in southern India before the sixteenth century, this suggests that southern Indian martial arts may have more Mughul influence than their practitioners want to admit.


A list of the expenses for an English Whitsuntide feast (the seventh Sunday after Easter, so sometime in May or June) show payment to some 200 minstrels. These players traveled from fair to fair and manor to manor. Besides scatological humor filled with sexual and political innuendo, their acts also featured sword dances and singlestick fights.


A seafaring Turk named Suleyman Pasha leads forty Muslim holy warriors on a raid into Byzantium. Two of Suleyman’s men were mighty wrestlers. (The other 38 were evidently smaller, bow-legged Central Asian archers rather than mighty wrestlers.) According to legend, these two men were so evenly matched that they reportedly died wrestling each other during a match near Hadrianopolis (modern Edirne). Suleyman Pasha (by then the Ottoman Emperor Orkhan I) organized an annual wrestling tournament in 1342 near Edirne. Known as the Kirkpinar tournament, it soon became a national festival. Reputations were made and lost at Kirkpinar, and by the fifteenth century, wrestling schools (tekke) appeared which provided training to serious competitors. To protect the honor of these schools, wrestlers required the permission of their masters to wrestle publicly. The Turkish wrestling techniques were essentially those of modern freestyle. Favorite techniques included the sarma ("grapevine") and kunde ("hobble"). The wrestlers slathered themselves in olive oil, wore only leather breeches, and wrestled to music. This music was used mostly to keep the crowd entertained, as championship matches lasted all day, one 1969 national championship bout lasted for 14 hours, 35 minutes.

About 1310:

Mandinké sailors discover the currents that carry sailing vessels from Africa toward northeast Brazil and the Caribbean. That the discovery was recorded implies that the Muslim sailors knew how to ride those currents back, which further suggests the possibility of small West African trade colonies throughout pre-Columbian America. Much speculation, little proof, but all worth considering.


An Angevin prince named Charles introduces French tournaments and jousting into Hungary. Nine years later, Charles, by then known as King Charles I, also establishes an early secular chivalric order, namely the Order of Saint George.

About 1313:

A Franciscan monk named Konstanin Anklitzen of Freiberg reportedly discovers the explosive properties of black powder after sticking a covered copper pot containing a mixture of sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal on a fire. While this exact attribution is doubtful -- it did not appear in print until nearly a century later -- it may nevertheless explain how European alchemists discovered the projectile-hurling capabilities of black powder, which was then known as Chinese snow.


Özbeg Khan of the Golden Horde converts to Sunni Islam. Özbeg is the eponymous founder of modern Uzbekistan, and his conversion (which was not universal) is mentioned as a reminder that new names on the map are often no more than reincarnations of old names.

Dance schools appear in Spain. As many early dance teachers were Jews or Moriscos, the development may reflect Sufistic influences. At any rate, Spanish teachers gradually spread stylized dancing throughout Western Europe. In the process, they squelched spontaneity and made courtly dancing quite separate from folk dancing. European dancing of the period included the danse macabre and ecstatic trance dancing. Trance dancing was very popular in Spain and Germany during the fourteenth century. Dancers visualized themselves wading through streams of blood. Some leapt in the air to escape the blood, while others flogged themselves with whips to create more of it. Elaborate choreographic theories influenced courtly theories concerning swordsmanship while sanguinary trance dancing may have influenced the development of blood sports such as boxing and bullfighting.


To celebrate the Scottish victory over the English at Bannockburn, the people of Fife, Scotland organize the Ceres Highland Games. Events included wrestling, stone lifting, caber throwing, and horseracing. The venue was the archery ground. The Scots claim the Ceres games as the oldest annual sporting contests in Western Europe.


To protect spectators from falling horses and riders, Venetian officials put rope barriers around their tournament grounds. In the 1420s, Spanish tournament officials took the concept a step further, and began using ropes to keep the competitors’ horses from accidentally colliding. The English word "tilt" comes from the Spanish word for the gaily-colored cloths used to decorate these jousting barriers.


The black African knights of Mansa Musa, King of Mali, are described as receiving pairs of new trousers whenever they honored themselves in battle. The greater their exploits, the baggier their pants.


A Florentine ordinance provides an early reference to metal firearms. The weapons described were powder-filled metal grenades. As they were too big to throw, they must been useful mainly for scaring men and horses with their sound and stink.


King Edward II holds England’s last feudal levy. Due to a lack of support, subsequent English soldiers are contracted, and paid using taxes levied on goods and services.


After marrying a Turkish princess and bribing the Muslim Özbeg Khan of the Golden Horde, the Prince of Moscow, Ivan I Kalita, receives the title of the Grand Duke of All Russia. Ivan’s grandiose posturing represents the beginnings of Muscovite imperial ambition.

About 1330:

To remind scholars and night watchmen of the regular progression of the sun and the stars, Roman Catholic clergy begin ringing church bells every hour on the hour. After the Black Death of the 1350s, church bells also rang to dispel evil spirits, thunderstorms, and witches.


The 18-year old King Alfonso XI of Castile and Léon establishes the Order of the Banda, which was Western Europe’s first royal tourneying society. But, as the Order of the Banda died with Alfonso in 1350, the oldest surviving tourneying society is Britain’s Order of the Garter, which was conceived in 1344 and established in 1350. As a tourneying team usually consisted of twelve men and a leader, and as both King Edward and his son, the Black Prince, wanted to field equal teams, the Order of the Garter originally had 26 places. In 1921, the English anthropologist Margaret Murray claimed great numerological significance for these numbers, and then assigned them religious significance that they probably never had.

To celebrate the birth of the future Black Prince, King Edward I hosts a tournament at West Cheap, London’s main market district. (Chepe is an Old English word meaning market.) Sand was placed over the cobblestones so "that the horses might not slide when they strongly set their feet to the ground."


The defenders of Muslim Granada use "iron balls propelled by fire" against the Christians of Alicante and Orihuela. While sometimes claimed as early cannon balls, these were more likely powder-filled clay pots hurled by trebuchets. Meanwhile, two German knights report seeing firearms used during the siege of Cividale in Italy. Overall, contemporary trebuchets were vastly more powerful than firearms and safer to use. On the other hand, firearms were more portable, had a higher rate of fire, and made a much more satisfying roar.


The world’s oldest surviving bronze cannon is cast in China, probably for the Mongols. The English word "cannon" comes from an Italian word meaning "big tube," and these Sino-Mongol cannon were just that, big bronze tubes having a small touch hole at the breech and a much larger exit hole at the muzzle. They were fired by placing a hot ember or wire into a small pile of priming powder, which in turn ignited a larger charge of about 140 grains (about one-third of an ounce) of poorly granulated black powder. The weapons misfired at least half the time, required two people to fire (one to insert the match and one to hold and point the weapon), and took several minutes to swab and reload. Effective range was about 200 yards. Projectiles included iron arrows, small stones, and cast lead balls. Lead was used partly because it was cheap, and mainly because it had magical associations with various death gods. Attributing magical powers to bullets was common throughout the world. The Pathans of India’s Northwest Frontier, for instance, liked to make bullets of almandite garnet, probably due to the popular association of the red stones with uterine bleeding. Silver was also used for projectiles designed to repel evil spirits. Nevertheless, despite the Lone Ranger stories, silver bullets were rare, in part because the metal is so soft that it deforms in flight rather than traveling true.

The world’s oldest surviving fife-and-drum guild is established at Basle, Switzerland. Because its members often accompanied Swiss mercenary companies into battle, during the fifteenth century fife-and-drum commands became associated with European infantry maneuver.

About 1335:

Bertrand du Guesclin, the eldest son of a minor Breton knight, is caught competing in Sunday wrestling matches instead of going to church. For this, his aunt reproaches him. The sin was not skipping church, but competing publicly with merchants’ sons. In Breton wrestling -- known as Ar Gouren in France and Cornwall wrestling in England -- the wrestlers can change their grip on the opponent’s jacket as they please, but cannot attack the legs with their hands.

Illustrations made for the Luttrell Psalter show Anglo-Norman aristocrats wrestling, riding, and hawking for entertainment. If their ancestors were from France, they probably practiced a form of Breton wrestling. On the other hand, if their ancestors were from Denmark or Norway, then they more likely practiced a Norse style called Lausetok, or "loosehold." In loosehold, the idea was to dodge an opponent’s sword blow, then trap his arm and throw him to the ground.

A Genoan merchant named Lanzaroto Malocello establishes a sugar plantation on the Canary Islands, which he had accidentally discovered during a voyage 20 years earlier. While this settlement represents the first European sugar-and-slave colony in the Atlantic, the Canary Islanders didn’t much like being plantation slaves, and they killed Malocello a few years later.


A "handgone" is taken on board the English flagship Christophe de la Tour. While the etymology is uncertain, the name may derive from Gunhilda, a feminine name often given to medieval siege weapons.

About 1340:

The Sung Dynasty Chinese attach rockets to arrows, then launch them in volley from specially modified wheelbarrows. While wildly inaccurate, the rocket-propelled arrows were useful for frightening horses and demoralizing enemy soldiers.

The French and Italians develop square-tipped crossbow bolts ("quarrels") for the purpose of penetrating flat plate armor. Not to be outdone, by the 1370s armor-makers respond with angular steel breastplates. (Sloping armor at an angle of 60 degrees effectively doubles the thickness of armor that must be penetrated by a frontal attack, and also makes it likely that glancing blows will ricochet or fracture rather than penetrate.)

To describe the nine centuries between the fall of Rome and the present day, the Italian writer called Petrarch invents the term "Dark Ages." While historians joke that this was because Petrarch was in the dark about the past, the reason was partly to deny any historical legitimacy to the Austro-German Holy Roman Emperors who laid claim to fourteenth century Italy, and mainly to make his own erudition appear greater than it was.


The Teutonic Knights install small cannons on the walls of their domus conventualis, or fortified monasteries. The transport of these guns was generally riverine, as the Polish ground was usually too marshy for traverse by heavy wagons. Because the Knights were invariably at war with the Lithuanians, wealthy German merchants traveled armed. The merchants preferred crossbows and hand cannons to lances and swords. To ensure that they hit what they aimed at, they organized a Schützenfest at Marienburg in 1351.


During a war with Scotland, England’s King Edward III discourages jousting and tournaments, and orders that freemen should spend every Sunday and holiday practicing "the noble recreation of archery and not in useless sports." (The word "sport" comes from Old French. It originally meant "diversion, recreation, pastime, or amusement," and did not take its modern meaning until the 1850s.) The reason was mostly economic, as both jousting and archery cost a great deal of money. The price of a longbow in 1341, for instance, was one shilling six pence if painted and one shilling if unpainted. Twenty-four arrows meanwhile cost another one shilling six pence. An archer also needed a leather bracer to protect his left forearm, a leather glove for his right hand, a dagger with which to eat, a maul with which to drive in defensive stakes, a sword or ax with which to chop firewood, a metal cap, and a leather jerkin. Total cost of personal equipment could therefore equal several weeks’ wages for an artisan, and several months’ wages for an unskilled laborer.

About 1345:

The Koryo King Chong Mok orders Korean civilians to quit practicing a hand-slapping game called subak, or "striking hand." The ban appears related to a desire to prohibit high-stakes gambling. While no details of fourteenth century subak are available, the nineteenth century of the same name involved two players standing opposite one another, then moving their hands in prearranged patterns until one of them missed. These patterns, which were East Asian variations of a game that the English call "patty-cakes," were repeated three times, each time going faster than before. Such play was often accompanied by music and hand clapping, and was popular with both children and adults. Given this, modern attempts to link subak with taekwondo and other modern Korean boxing arts appear anachronistic.

The fourteenth century Koreans also wrestled. The Korean wrestling, called ssireum, was similar to Mongolian wrestling, except that rope belts knotted on the right were used to show government-awarded grades. The chief Korean martial art tournament took place annually at Kaesong on the fifth hour of the fifth day of the fifth month. Since this was according to a lunar calendar, that meant around the beginning of June. From an astrological standpoint, the timing was propitious. After all, the competitors’ yang (male) energy was at its peak with so much Horse energy in the air. (In East Asian astrology, five is a powerful male number, and the horse is a major symbol of male energy. Meanwhile, in Confucianism, relationships between people, nature, etc., are usually arranged in quintuples.) On the other hand, from a political standpoint, the ability to host a peaceful national tournament reflected well on the central government’s credibility and power.


According to the memoirs of a Genoan slave trader living in the Crimea, the Kipchak Khanate starts the Black Death by slinging the bodies of its plague victims into the besieged Black Sea port of Kaffa. In modern times, this Turkish bombardment is often described as the first known use of biological warfare. This is wrong. For one thing, Kitazato Shibasaburo and Alexandre Yersin did not discover bacillus pestis until 1894, and its method of transmittal was not known until the early 1900s. Instead, during the fourteenth century, most people believed that bad air or God’s will caused plagues. Moreover, it was common for medieval princes to fling offal and body parts into besieged cities. (Fling, not catapult: the weapons used were trebuchets rather than ballistae.) The Lithuanian prince Coribut, for instance, flung 2,000 loads of manure into a besieged fortress at Carolstein in 1422. Finally, biological weapons such as punji stakes and poisoned arrows are much older than the fourteenth century. Therefore, this story is simply medieval Muslim-bashing, and needs to be put to rest.


The slaughter of thousands of French men-at-arms outside Crécy is attributed to the ability of Welsh longbows to outrange Italian crossbows. This is an exaggeration. While the Welsh longbows outranged the Genoan crossbows, neither weapon was much use against armored men except at pointblank range, say 30-40 yards. Therefore, the Welsh archers were mostly used to goad the French into making foolish attacks on prepared positions. As for the Genoan crossbowmen, they were made the scapegoats for their aristocratic employers’ incompetence. This said, the French were heartless toward any Welsh bowmen they could capture, frequently amputating the right hands of captured archers. These amputations supposedly caused the creation of the British army’s rude "V" salute, as proof that its archers could still nock their arrows. (English churchmen had prohibitions against upraised middle fingers and out-thrust tongues, probably from their unsavory associations with paganism.) That causality is uncertain, as other traditions hold that it was the Scots after Bannockburn who started the medieval practice of lopping off captured enemy archers’ fingers. On more certain ground, the French defeat at Crécy did cause the Italians to create arbalests. Arbalests were enormously powerful, weather-resistant, steel crossbows spanned using cranks, ratchets, and windlasses. They entered service around 1370, weighed 15-16 pounds each, and threw a three-ounce yew quarrel accurately to 200 yards. (Maximum range was about 400 yards.) While expensive and much slower to reload (about one shot per minute as opposed to about six shots per minute), arbalests could be pre-loaded and kept that way for several hours. Further, they did not require much headroom, or years of practice to master. Finally, they consistently outranged longbows. Consequently, they were very popular during naval battles and sieges. They were also equipped with sights, and are the direct ancestor of most shoulder-fired firearms.


According to tradition, Saint Barbara becomes the patron saint of English gunners. The inspiration was reportedly a naval bombardment of Calais that coincided with a thunderstorm. However, these English efforts at using gunpowder artillery proved more a fizzle than a bang. Furthermore, Saint Barbara was originally a pagan fairy-queen instead of a Christian martyr. Finally, the British soldiers were notorious for their lack of piety. (The French name for British soldiers was "Goddams," after their favorite oath.) So if the attribution is true, then it suggests that the early British "gunners" may have been miners hired to dig tunnels under castle walls and then blow them up using powder. After all, Barbara was the patron saint of miners before she was the patron saint of gunners. Still, prayers might have been in order, even for the impious, as firing an early firearm was a decidedly risky business.


After the Black Death kills one out of every three Europeans, European governments start instituting increasingly draconian laws designed to force laborers to stay at home rather than moving about in search of better pay or working conditions.

kronos 2005