There is something about history that triggers varied reactions in us. Some loathe it while some love everything about it. Be that as it may, one simply cannot ignore history. We have been taught history in school, we have witnessed history-in-the-making, we have read tomes on history. However, these 20 facts from history are not taught in schools. Neither are they readily available in our pocket guides. These intriguing facts from history will keep you riveted to your seat.
1. Ludi Meridiani or Midday spectacles (dramas) used condemned prisoners and prisoners of war for real executions within the play.
The Romans were notorious for their midday spectacles known as Ludi Meridiani. These performances enacted popular mythologies such as Hercules, Pasiphae and Orpheus. These shows were not just an enactment of the myth but also served as a platform for public execution of the condemned prisoners and prisoners of war.
For instance, in the enactment of Pasiphae, a woman prisoner would literally be smeared with the scent of a cow in season. A bull would then be let loose which would try and mount the weakened prisoner. If the woman survived the brutal ordeal, swipe of the sword would then end her life. Emperor Nero would clothe the Christians in animal skins before throwing them to vicious dogs as a means of degrading and humiliating them. The spectators who came from wealthy class appreciated these forms of execution as it enabled their sense of moral superiority over the convicted criminals.(source)
2. Sunandha Kumariratana, the Queen of Thailand, drowned while her subjects watched. They were forbidden to touch her.
19-year-old Sunanadha Kumariratana (10 November 1860 – 31 May 1880) was the daughter of King Mongkut and Princess Consort Piam. She was married to King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V). Queen Sunandha was the consort to the chief queen of King Rama V. She was one of the four queens of King Rama V (of Siam, present-day Thailand). The other two queens were her younger sisters, Queen Savang Vadhana and Queen Saovabha Bhongsi.
The queen and her daughter died a tragic death when the boat ferrying them to the Bang Pa-In palace (Summer Palace) capsized drowning them both. The incident was watched by a large number of people (common subjects). Unfortunately, none of them could help since a law forbade common people from touching a royalty at any time – not even if it was a matter of life or death. Any subject found breaking this law was given a death sentence. The grief-stricken King erected a memorial in memory of the queen and their unborn child in Bang Pa-In Palace.(source)
3. Albert Einstein married his first cousin. In fact, 80% of marriages in history were between second or closer cousins.
A union between two people with a common relative (grandparent or another recent ancestor) is known as cousin marriage. In fact, the Rothschilds, Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin married their first cousins. Charles Darwin was a grandchild of first cousins. Robin Fox of Rutgers University thinks that more than 80% of marriages in history might have been between second or closer cousins. Ancient times had less number of people dispersed over wide areas. Hence, inbreeding was the inevitable result of this situation. In the olden days, cousin marriage was considered ideal. But the recent medical discoveries unearthing links between inbreeding and neurological diseases led to a decline in the number of cousin marriages. Cousin marriages have come down in Brazil, US, Europe, and other western countries. However, cousin marriage numbers have not witnessed any change in the Middle East and few other Asian countries.(source 1, 2)
4. Skull-cups, made of human skulls, belonging to Cro-Magnon period found in Britain.
Three skull cups were unearthed from Gough’s cave in Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, UK. The three skull cups found are of 2 adults and a three-year old child. These cups were made from 14,700-year old skulls. The usage of skull-cups may sound macabre but the practice of using skull-cups was well-known worldwide. From Vikings to Scythians, all created and used skull-cups. Dr. Silvia Bello of Natural History Museum, London believes that the early humans were skilled anatomists who carefully cleaned the skull of the soft tissues before making the cuts and dents. As a final step, the cranial vaults are shaped into cups by retouching the broken or chipped bones. Dr. Silivio Bell suspects that the early humans might have been cannibals who consumed the soft flesh of the skull before turning it into a cup. However, he believes that the purpose of consumption may have been ritualistic rather than pure cannibalism.
The skull cups found in Gough’s cave belong to two adults and a 3-year old child from Cro-Magnon period. Two of the skull-cups were found in 1920 and another was found in 1987.(source)
5. The average life expectancy in ancient Rome was only 20 to 30 years.
The modern-day statisticians have conceded to the fact that the average life expectancy of ancient Romans hovered around the age of 25. This shocking figure is due to the high mortality rate of infants and children. As many as 50% of the children succumbed to death by the age of ten. Those who managed to survive plagues, dysentery and wars had life expectancy that ranged from 45-50 years.(source)
6. War of the Triple Alliance took lives of over 60% of Paraguay’s population leaving a woman to man ratio of 4:1.
The Triple Alliance or Paraguayan war commenced when Brazil helped the Colorado occupied Uruguay against its opposition bloc. Alarmed by what he considered to be an expansion agenda that threatened the local power, Francisco Solano Lopez, the dictator of Paraguay went to war against a bigger country – Brazil. Bartolome Mitre quickly seized the opportunity and cobbled an alliance with Brazil and Colorado controlled Uruguay, thus forming a triple alliance, declared war on Paraguay on May 1, 1865.
The Paraguayan 50,000-man army was considered to be the strongest in Latin America and the action by their leader Francisco was seen as an aggressive aggrandizement of self and nation. The war began with Paraguayan army making steady inroads into enemy territories. But logistical problems and the build-up of the Triple Alliance army soon halted the march of Paraguayan army. The tide turned against Paraguay in January 1868 when Brazilian armoured vessels broke through Paraguayan defences. The campaign of Lomas Valentinas in December saw the virtual annihilation of the Paraguayan army. The dictator of Paraguay, Francisco Solano Lopez, was killed in 1870. The population of Paraguay which was around 525,000 before the war began, came down to about 221,000 in 1871. Of this population, only about 28,000 were men.(source)
7. Cannibalism was revived during the 16th & 17th centuries owing to medical progress.
The Renaissance period is known for the revival of art and culture. Shockingly, this period was also known for reviving cannibalism for medicative purposes. Mummies and live flesh of humans were all treasured in the name of medicine. Consumption of these grisly potions was not limited to few select groups. Scientists, royalties, priests and common folks ingested human body parts whenever they could get their hands on them. The cannibalistic medicine followed the principle of ‘like cures the like’. Hence, the crushed and powdered skull was used to treat headaches, ingesting of fresh blood was thought to take care of blood ailments, fat from the dead bodies were said to cure gout or other external ailments. As a result, Mummies were routinely stolen from Egyptian museums, skulls were procured from Irish graves and gravediggers robbed body parts to sell.
The craze for ‘human medicine’ spawned several recipes involving human blood (marmalade) or the skull (The king’s drops). The toupee of moss covering the skull of the dead known as Usnea became a valuable additive. Its powder was said to cure nosebleeds and even epilepsy. Blood was a sought-after ‘medicine’ – fresher the better since it was thought to contain the vitality of the deceased. The poor who could not buy fresh blood would attend executions paying the executioner for a small amount of the blood to be taken from the body of the executed prisoner.(source)
8. Romans considered urine as ‘liquid gold’. Washed their mouths to fight bad breath and to whiten their teeth.
Urophagia or consuming urine was a normal routine in ancient Rome. Urine was considered ‘liquid gold’ by the Romans. The ancient Romans collected all the urine from public urinals and sold them in the market. Such was the profit margin that a law was later passed to collect ‘urine tax’ from the urine traders. Urine was used for numerous uses in the ancient days. They were used as softeners of leathers, to remove stains from the cloth, as a leavening. Urine had another very important use- It was used as a mouthwash by ancient Romans. They believed the ammonia present in the urine would wash away the stain and bad breath and it did!(source)
9. Genghis Khan ordered his army to eat every tenth man to overcome the shortage of food.
Genghis Khan was the founder of the Mongolian empire. The Mongolian empire controlled large parts of Central Asia and China. The successful invasions on other Kingdoms were due to Genghis Khan’s disciplined army. Genghis Khan after waging a successful war against the Jin Empire (North China), with the help of the Ongguts (Jin’s neighbors on the northern borders), had to retreat after getting wounded. The Jin empire grabbed the opportunity to recapture their lost lands and fortify their defences.
After 2 years in 1213, the Mongols came back to recapture Jin. Genghis Khan split the army into three divisions. He and his two sons lead the army into the attack that saw the defeat of the Jin empire. By 1214, most of the area north of Huang He (yellow river) was under the control of Genghis Khan except the city of Chungdu, the capital of Jin empire. The fortified city withstood the siege of the Mongols. The siege went on for a long time leading to a shortage of supplies in the Mongol camp. They were also ravaged by Plague. Genghis Khan was determined on continuing the siege ordered that every tenth man would be sacrificed to be fed to others. The prolonged Siege caused Genghis Khan to personally abandon the campaign leaving his general Mukalji in-charge. Chungdu city finally succumbed in 1215.(source)
10. Hungarian soldier shot in the frontal lobe during World War I made him go sleepless for the rest of his life.
Paul Kern, a Hungarian soldier who fought in World War I was shot in the head by a Russian soldier in 1915. The bullet was later removed his frontal lobe. Paul Kern woke up after the surgery in Lemberg Hospital and he never slept again. Apart from having occasional headaches, Kern did not suffer much because of his sleeplessness. His work at the Pensions department, Budapest showed no signs of deterioration.
Paul tried to sleep like the others but the hours of wakefulness spent lying on the bed exhausted him more than working.
The astonishing case of Paul Kern had got the specialists of Central Europe puzzled. The best brain and nerve specialists were not able to uncover any abnormalities. Dr. Frey, a noted university professor who treated the case for years admitted that he was baffled by Paul’s condition.(source)
11. Claudius, the fourth emperor of the Roman empire was not a homosexual. And that was considered weird since emperors were supposed to be homosexuals back then
Claudius the fourth emperor took only women as lovers. No, neither boys nor men. This was considered weird by the then Romans as homosexuality was considered the norm in those days.
For the upper-class Romans, sex with a woman was only for procreation. Sex with a man was common in those times. Sexuality during the Roman times was one of the two: either to dominate or to submit. The dominant was to gain the upper position in the sexual play and the submissive played the opposite role. Claudius favored none of the roleplays and chose only women. His choices made the people question his sanity.
Of the first 15 Roman emperors, Claudius was the only one who stayed straight and did not swing both ways.(source)
12. More than 100 people died of electrocution in France ringing Church bells during thunder and lighting.
In the middle ages, people believed that bells had supernatural powers. They believed that a bell would scatter lightning. Hence, bell ringers kept ringing the church bells to diffuse lightning. Due to this, a large number of bell ringers got electrocuted. In France, as many as 103 bell ringers died within 33 years out of electrocution as a result of holding on to wet bell ropes. This prompted the parliament of Paris to pass an edict in 1786 which prohibited ringing of the bells during thunder and lighting.(source)
13. Nuclear radiation caused few Hiroshima survivors to develop ‘Black fingernails’ with active blood vessels inside them. One of the bizarre aftermath of nuclear holocaust.
Next in the facts from history is that of the devastating nuclear holocaust in Hiroshima during World War II caused some of its survivors to develop ‘black fingernails’. These rod-shaped black fingernails grew due to their exposure to the high amount of radiation left by the nuclear explosion. Surprisingly, these nails had active blood vessels in them and bled when cut off. A new black nail would replace the broken nail. (source 1,2)
14. Genghis Khan killed about 40 million people. That meant the removal of 700 million tons of carbon from the earth’s atmosphere. Probably one of the first facts from history on environmental change.
Genghis Khan, one of the greatest invaders in world history acquired the largest contiguous land empire (about 22% of world’s total land area) in the 12th and 13th century. This helped remove almost 700 million tons of carbon from the earth’s atmosphere. Genghis Khan, along with his disciplined army, embarked on a murderous conquest that witnessed death of about 40 million people, destruction of villages and kingdoms. 40 million deaths meant a large scale depopulation. Such depopulated land gradually grew into forests. This reforestation helped remove about 700 million tons of carbon from the earth’s atmosphere. This could be the first successful man-made environmental change in world history.
Genghis Khan’s ‘contribution’ doesn’t end there. A group of geneticists studying Y chromosomes in the regions of former Mongol empire discovered that there could be 16 million descendants of Genghis khan living today. (source 1,2)
15. There is a 500-year old statue of a man stuffing baby in his mouth in Switzerland.
The child-eater fountain or Kindlifresserbrunnen in Bern, Switzerland was created by Hans Geing in 1545/46. The statue replaced an old wooden fountain. The statue shows a hatted man devouring a child with few more children next to him.
Theories are abound about the ‘child eater’ statue. One theory suggests that it is a warning about the Jews. The Kindlifresser statue wears a pointed hat that resembles the yellow pointed Judenhut that Jews were forced to wear during those days. The baby-eating might reflect ‘blood libel’ – a false allegation that Jews murdered and used the blood of Christians for their ritual purposes.
There is another speculation suggesting that the statute is of Cronus, the Greek Titan king eating away his offspring to keep the throne or that of Saturn consuming months. Another theory is that of Krampus – a beast-like creature from Alpine folklore. Another version indicates that it is about Cardinal Schiner who led the Swiss confederation into several defeats against Northern Italy. And another theory claims that it simply is a representation of a carnival figure intended to frighten disobedient children. And there are other claims that it warns kids of the danger of falling into bear pits in those days.(source 1,2)
16. Félix Faure, one of the French Presidents died while receiving oral sex from his mistress Mme. Marguerite Steinheil.
Felix Faure was the president of the French Republic from 1895 to 1899. Felix Faure’s tenure was dotted with frequent conflicts with England and having a harmonious relationship with Russia. He was also overseeing the Dreyfus affair. Despite all his achievements, Felix Faure became more famous for the manner in which he died.
The president died while receiving oral sex from his mistress. On February 16th, 1899, Faure summoned Mme. Marguerite Steinheil over the phone to the presidential palace. She was asked to come at noon. Shortly after her arrival, servants were rung for. They discovered Felix Faure lying unconscious on the sofa while Mme. Marguerite Steinheil was hastily rearranging her disordered clothing. It was believed that Felix Faure had a fit when his mistress was performing oral sex on him and he died with his hands entangled in her hair.(source 1,2)
17. ‘Rampjaar’ year or the Disaster year witnessed a shocking spectacle of Dutch citizens attacking and eating their own Prime Minister.
In the year 1672, following the outbreak of Franco-Dutch war and the third Anglo-Dutch war, the Dutch republic faced direct and simultaneous attack from the French, English, the Prince-Bishops Bernhard von Galen, bishop of Munster and Maximilian Henry of Bavaria, the archbishop of Cologne. The invading forces quickly subdued a large part of the Dutch republic resulting in mass panic in the coastal areas of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht. The Orangists grabbed this opportunity to seize control of these provinces. They quickly installed William as the Stadtholder forcing Johan de Witt to resign from his post of the Grand Pensionary.
William’s first act after becoming stadtholder was to imprison Cornelius De Witt, the head of police and brother of Johan De Witt on charges of treason. On hearing the news of Cornelius’ arrest, Johan went to see his brother in the prison. Soon, a mob gathered outside the prison demanding arrest and imprisonment of Johan. The small contingent of soldiers guarding the post was called away on the pretext of subduing a rampaging mob. The mob promptly set upon the two brothers. The mob viciously attacked them and in their frenzy, some of them even ate parts of the bodies of two brothers. Another violent story in facts from history (source 1,2)
18. Excavators discover giant stone penises and brothels in the ancient city of Pompeii.
Excavators digging through the layers of ash discovered that the ancient city of Pompeii boasted a robust sexual scene during their heyday. They uncovered a large number of erotic frescoes and graffiti painted on the walls of buildings that contained numerous rooms with stone beds. There are giant stone penises carved into the pavement pointing the way to the brothels.
Lupenare or wolf’s den is one of the famous brothels of Pompeii. The two-storey structure built just before the destruction of Pompeii is believed to be the only building that specialized in providing brothel services. The Lupenare had ten rooms and each room had a stone bed with a mattress where a prostitute could provide an uninterrupted service to her client. The brothel also had a lavatory under the stairs. Another noteworthy aspect about Lupenare was its erotic wall painting. None of the paintings were similar and they showed different positions for copulation. The excavators believed that these paintings served as a brochure broadcasting the services offered by the brothel.(source)
19. Four out of six girlfriends of Adolf Hitler attempted suicide.
Adolf Hitler’s relationship with women have long fascinated historians. Though known as a man fanatically committed to Germany, his name has been linked with a number of women. Few of Hitler’s women committed suicide and one survived a suicide attempt. Hitler was deeply devoted to Geli Rauber, his half-niece who was nineteen years younger to him. The affair ended when Geli Raubel shot herself with Hiter’s gun in his Munich apartment. Maria Reiter was Adolf Hitler’s love interest in his younger days. She tried to hang herself when Hitler categorically refused to marry Reiter citing his political career.
Unity Mitford was a British citizen who was loyal to Hitler and actively worked for the Nazi’s. Distraught over the war between the countries she loved (Britain and Germany), Unity shot herself with a small gun. The bullet lodged in her brain and could not be removed. She died nine years later from the complications related to her failed suicide attempt. Renate Mueller, whom Hitler likened to the ideal Aryan woman fell to her death from grace within the inner circle of the Nazi party. Some modern-day historians speculate that she was murdered by the Gestapo but there is no conclusive evidence to prove it. Eva Braun was deeply loyal and fanatically devoted to Hitler. Unhappy about her love life, Eva once shot herself to end her misery but was saved. She became Hitler’s long-term companion and eventually died along with him in a suicide pact. (source 1,2)
20. Merkin, a pubic wig was worn by women in 1450s.
The origin of merkin can be traced back to 1450s. Women those days would don the merkin also known as the pubic wig for personal hygiene and to tackle the pubic lice infestations. However, prostitutes wore it for a different reason. They would cover their pubic area with the merkin to cover up symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases especially that of syphilis.
It is also rumoured that male actors playing the part of females used merkins to cover their nether region while doing nude scenes in a play on stage.(source)