Category Archives: book promotion

The Ottoman Empire

Well, this stinks.

By the 1300-1400s ad the Ottoman Empire, starting in Turkey, conquered lands to their east and west. The Ottomans wanted to create an empire to spread the religion of Islam. They fought the Byzantine half of the Roman Empire and won. The capitol city Constantinople was renamed Istanbul. In ad 1453 the Ottomans stopped trade with the west and closed that section of the Silk Road. That put an end to Europe’s trade with China. The problem was people in Western Europe liked Chinese silks and spices—and they still wanted to buy them. But how to get to China if not by land?

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New, improved Marco Polo

Yeah, the sketch in my last post was kind of blah. Here he is with improvements: bigger, more active camel; Marco is bouncing around on the saddle. I think it’s better and a little funnier.

Marco Polo

Niccoló Polo begins to regret bringing his smart-alecky kid along on the big China trip.

Probably the Silk Road’s most famous traveler was Marco Polo (ad 1254-1324). Marco’s family were merchants from Venice, Italy. His dad and uncle had already traveled all the way to China and back. They decided to make a return trip and bring 15-year-old Marco this time. Marco Polo wrote all about his travels and his book became a bestseller (remember, this was before moveable type so books had to be hand-copied). He described the romantic places along the Silk Road (Samarkand, the Hindu Kush, Kashmir, Xanadu), the exotic goods that were traded, and the size and wealth of China. The Polos would not return to Venice for 24 years.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Marco-Polo
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Marco-Polo/Sojourn-in-China
http://www.silk-road.com/artl/marcopolo.shtml

The Silk Road

You can see it was no easy trip. When you weren’t sunburnt from shlepping across a desert you were frozen from climbing over the mountains.

I mentioned sometime back that a feature of civilization is that people like to buy and sell stuff. This is called commerce, where you trade something you have for something you want. The people of Western Europe traded with people of other civilizations—even as far away as China.

Trade goods were carried by merchants from Europe to China and back. They traveled along the Silk Road (actually several roads or routes) that crossed the whole continent of Asia. They’d take goods from Europe like horses, grapes, honey, gold & silver and trade them for Chinese goods like silk, tea, spices, rice, paper and gunpowder.

The Silk Road was originally set up by China’s Han Dynasty in 130 bc. Merchants didn’t necessarily travel its entire length—there were trading posts along the way. One section of the Silk Road was the Persian Royal Road. It was used as early as 500 bc to send messages across the MidEast. Messengers would stop at changing posts to hop on a fresh horse.

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https://www.ancient.eu/Silk_Road/

Meanwhile, in Persia—

With only a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thousands of calculations, Omar Khayyám works out a new calendar

ad1075. In Persia, using the Hindu-Arabic decimal system, Omar Khayyam introduced a new calendar. The length of the year was measured as 365.24219858156 days and is very accurate. It didn’t catch on in the West.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Omar-Khayyam-Persian-poet-and-astronomer

Omar Khayyam


https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/persian-calendar.html

Maimonides, Maimonides, there’s no one like Maimonides

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, or RAMBAM to his pals

Happy Hanukkah! It seems like a good time to post about Maimonides and Anno Mundi, or ‘in the year of the world’ in Latin.

Maimonides was a doctor, theologian, philosopher and legal scholar who studied the Hebrew Bible—what Christians call the Old Testament. He lived near Cairo, Egypt in the ad 1100s.

If you do any Bible study you’ll have realized that the Bible isn’t one book but a library of books. What makes Bible study challenging is trying to keep all the stories, laws, wisdom and poetry organized in your head.

Maimonides thought it would be a great idea to create a guide for studying the Bible. He focused on the 5 Books of Law, the Torah. These are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. As he wrote his guide, the Mishneh Torah, he found that he needed a chronology—a timeline of the events that happened in those books. Maimonides used the list of generations of people found in Genesis and Numbers to work backward to calculate when the world was created. That exact date of October 7, 3761 bc is now generally accepted in Judaism.

The Anno Mundi timeline is a theological one. You can’t count backwards from Year One because Time itself didn’t begin until that year. Today we’re in the year am 5780. Anno Mundi and the Hebrew calendar are used in synagogues and Jewish communities around the world.

Maimonides was one of those great thinkers whose influence extended far beyond his own time and place. You can’t believe the amount of stuff he wrote. I’ve given you a mere glimpse of him, but you can read more about Maimonides here.

https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2019/06/10/the-torah-and-linear-time/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_calendar

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/75991/jewish/Maimonides-His-Life-and-Works.htm

UPDATE: The current year has been changed to am 5780. Thanks, Jeffrey!

Postcards!

postcard.shot

I got postcards! They have my weird hand-lettering and a lovely astrolabe on the front. The back tells how to find The Western Civ User’s Guide on the internet. I’ll be sending these out to promote my blog and this history I’m writing. The plan is to eventually turn it into a printed book.

If you’d like me to send you a postcard, shoot me an email at john@johnmanders.com.

I do appreciate you guys who read my posts. Thanks for spreading the word.

By the way, these were printed at Best Printing in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Nice job, Licia!

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Hypatia, the lady philosopher/mathematician/astronomer

Sometimes writing about history is hard. At the beginning of this project, I’d envisioned a fun and slightly wacky tour through Western Civilization presented by a fun and slightly wacky uncle. The story of human beings is often violent and cruel, though. Human beings are flawed creatures. There are parts of civilization’s history that make me heartsick.

I want to tell you about a glorious and brilliant woman who lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the 4th century ad. Her name is Hypatia. She was the daughter of a philosopher and mathematician, and she became a philosopher and mathematician herself. Hypatia was lovely to look at, but her intellect was what made her irresistible. I became interested in her when I read that if she hadn’t outright invented the astrolabe, at the least she played an big part in developing it.

Hypatia helped her dad expand Ptolemy’s work on astronomy. She eventually did her own scholarly work on the stars and the geocentric model of the universe. It might have been she who came up with the idea of ‘flattening’ the spheres to create the star-map that is central to the astrolabe’s design (this is my own conjecture).

Hypatia was also a philosopher. Her philosophy was Neo-Platonism, which adapts Plato’s ideas about what makes the world tick. Hypatia was a gifted teacher. She often gave lectures in the agora (Greek for public square) about philosophy, astronomy, and her many intellectual interests. At that time Alexandria was boiling with religious trouble. Christians and Jews battled with each other and with philosophers who rejected a belief in God. The Roman Empire was in its last days, about to split into East and West. Politics absolutely played a part in the violent clashes between religion and philosophy.

I’m sorry and ashamed to tell you that a mob of Christians ambushed Hypatia, and murdered her. It’s nearly impossible for me to believe that these were followers of Jesus. But it happened. They behaved as a mob—the very opposite of civilization—and murdered a woman for promoting a philosophy that rejects Christianity.

You can read more about Hypatia here and here. There’s a movie about her, too.  Here’s a review—caution: some violence.  (I have a quibble with History Buff’s conclusion that, because of Christianity, scholarship was discouraged in the Dark Ages. Beginning with Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire fostered a culture of learning that was encouraged in the monasteries. Monks copied books by hand—the books from the Greek philosophers that had been translated into Arabic, which the monks then translated into Latin. See How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill.)

Title type for my groundbreaking soon-to-be bestseller

Fooling around with lettering. It needs a little tweaking. Some strokes ought to be heavier, maybe. I’m trying to hold onto the energy of my sketch. I’m not sure if I like this yet. Let it sit for a while.

And it doesn’t need batteries

If you read my last astrolabe post and swung by one of the links you can find there, you’ll have seen that these astrolabes work like a charm. As well as telling time, an astrolabe can be used for surveying and navigation. Of course, it wouldn’t work at all without Ptolemy’s accurate mapping of the sky.

The astrolabe was used for centuries before clocks came along. Even after clocks it was used for predicting when sunup or sundown would occur. This was important in the Muslim world, where the faithful need to pray at exact times, like sunup. The Koran says that it’s sunup when it’s light enough to tell the difference between a black thread and a white thread, but an astrolabe tells you when sunup will happen beforehand—by looking at the stars.

Notice that around the rim of the astrolabe the circle is divided into 24 hours of the day. Each hour takes up 15 degrees of the 360-degree circle. If you’ve been following this blog for the past year, you’ll remember the Sumerians came up with that idea—a 360-degree circle uses the Base 60 system of counting. This is an example of using distance to calculate time. In this instance, not miles traveled but degrees around a circle. The hours are distributed equally along the circle of Earth’s horizon.

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