10 Common Misconceptions About Cowboys

They’re the guys with the thousand yard stare. The one with six-shooters in their holsters, a broad-brim hat on their heads and enough jagged iron in their guts to break down even the toughest steak. They are the cowboys, and everyone knows they’re the coolest, calmest, most-heroic folk in America history.

Or are they? What if we were to tell you that the cowboys you think you know are nothing like the real ones? That your mental image of cowboys could do with slightly less stoicism and gunfights… and more camels, examples of poor personal hygiene, and venereal diseases. Here are 10 little-known, crazy facts about the men who really tamed America’s wild west.

10. Most Cowboys Didn’t Carry Guns

The gun-totin’ cowboy is the only cowboy most of us can picture. He’s Clint Eastwood on the way to a shootout. John Wayne blowing away bad guys. Yet take your Blu-Ray player back to the 19thcentury and show a genuine cowboy these films and he’d likely look at you askance. Why? Because real cowboys only rarely carried weapons.

Sure, you might need them when you were out on a cattle drive or whatever. But when you got to town? Check that baby at the door. Most towns in the wild west enacted strict gun control, just to make sure the sort of shootouts we see in movies didn’t happen on a daily basis. Even the infamous Tombstone didn’t let its cowboys walk round armed. The Gunfight at the OK Carrol only came about because Doc and Earp were trying to enforce gun laws.

The city wasn’t alone. Dodge City, Wichita, and others all stopped their visitors from packing heat. So how did cowboys solve problems without their pistols? We’re glad you asked…

9. They Almost Never Got in Fights

It’s said that “the true story of the American West is one of cooperation, not conflict.” Although 90 percent of westerns involve people getting shot, a barroom brawl, a violent posse riding into town, or (more likely) all three, the truth of the frontier was that acting tough was a good way to wind up dead. If you wanted to survive, you basically had to get on with your neighbors.

This meant no high noon showdowns, no thuggery, and no murders. Even in the roughest, toughest cattle towns, the murder rate was generally lower than that of most modern American cities. Bank robberies, too, were rare. In 2005, the University of Dayton calculated that there were more bank robberies in modern Dayton in a single year than there were across the entire Old West in a typical decade.

There were exceptions, of course. In the immediate post-Civil War period violence sporadically flared up, and Native American tribes often experienced the brutal side of the frontier. But these were the exceptions. Even notorious outlaws were less violent than their reputation suggests. Billy the Kid, for example, spent way more time rustling cattle than he ever did robbing banks or shooting people.

8. Many Were Ravaged by Venereal Diseases

If your mental image of a cowboy is John Wayne acting all moral and clean-cut, you might not want to read this entry. The reality of cowboy life was dirty from beginning to end. Cowpokes often went days on end without bathing. They were smelly. Often covered in grime and stale sweat. But dirtiest of all was what was happening inside their bodies. Y’see, it’s now thought that many citizens of the frontier were crawling with venereal diseases.

Depending on where you were in the Old West, between 50 to 90 percent of the local prostitutes were likely carrying STDs. And since many cowboys liked to, ahem, avail themselves of these ladies’ talents, that meant a whole bunch of cowboys were riding around with a growing bacterial menagerie between their legs.

Although precise figures are hard to come by today, we know that new recruits to the US Army between 1876 and 1896 were frequently diseased, suggesting many of the general population were, too. Some have even suggested that crazy behavior by guys such as the Wild Bill Hickokmight have been due to syphilis, making them act all eccentric.

7. Plenty Didn’t Do Any Riding Whatsoever

Close your eyes. Picture a cowboy. Got him? Right: What animal did he appear with?

Despite the name, almost none of you said ‘cow’. For a good reason. Cowboys in modern mythos are almost completely inseparable from their horses. The image of them riding across the high plains on a long cattle drive is one charged with romance and the spirit of adventure. For many cowboys, that was exactly what life was like.

But not for all of them. For a significant minority, their job description involved absolutely no riding whatsoever.

This was especially true at the end of the era, from about 1885 onwards. A dry summer and a terrible winter had convinced many ranchers to keep their cattle close to home. For a huge chunk of cowboys, that meant the romance of the plain was suddenly replaced with menial labor like mending fences and checking penned cows for disease. If they got to ride anything at all, it would likely be a haymow. Unsurprisingly, most hated such work.

6. Some That Did Ride Rode Camels

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Here’s a classic western scene. The sun stands at high noon, baking the lifeless city streets. A tumbleweed blows through the dust. A shadow appears on the horizon. It’s the cowboy. He emerges out of the heat haze, skin like cracked leather… and proceeds to ride into town on the back of his Arabian camel. Wait, what?

It’s true. In certain parts of the Old West, horses were as rare as they are in big cities today. Instead, ranchers had their cowboys ride on the backs of camels that had been imported in the 1850s, and accidentally released into the wild at the height of the Civil War.

Because of the harsh conditions on the frontier, it had been theorized camels would cope much better than horses with the heat. The US Government agreed. At great cost it imported hundreds of camels to Camp Verde, only for war to break out. When the Confederates seized the camp they released the camels. For the next few decades, enterprising ranchers occasionally caught a few, broke them in and gave them to their cowboys to work with.

5. ‘Brokeback’ Encounters Were Surprisingly Common

Remember 2005? That was the year Brokeback Mountain hit cinemas and Heath Ledger proved he didn’t have to be in clown makeup to provide a magnetic performance. The movie was also controversial among some who thought it was grafting our modern notions of sexuality onto a historic setting (in this case, the 1960s).

Interestingly, this is the one criticism that can easily be refuted. According to historian and author Patricia Nell Warren, gay encounters were way more common in the Old West than we ever realized.

A lot of this is thanks to the conditions cowboys had to endure. Long stretches of time away from women, surrounded by other men, led to occasional ‘one-off’ trysts simply as a way of relieving sexual tension. Within that mix, you had a handful of genuinely gay cowboys, who’d often fled out West as a way of achieving anonymity. Because manpower was scarce, it was impractical for landowners to refuse to hire them due to their sexuality.

As social historians John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman noted in their book Intimate Matters, there are even surviving love poems written from cowboys to one another. It might have been frowned upon by the rest of society, but on the Frontier, homosexuality was relatively open.

4. Black Cowboys Were Also Surprisingly Common

Nat Love a.k.a. Deadwood Dick

Nat Love a.k.a. Deadwood Dick

Quick: how many westerns can you name that feature black cowboys? Most of us can probably only get Django Unchained and Blazing Saddles. As a result, you might think African-American cowpokes were a rarity on the frontier. You’d be wrong. By some estimates, as many as one in four cowboys were black.

It makes sense when you think about it. Cowpunching, as it was often called, was a dirty, difficult, badly-paid, working class job. In the post-Civil War era, those were exactly the sort of jobs newly-emancipated slaves might be expected to do. And as we mentioned above, the Old West was one area where employers couldn’t afford to turn a good pair of hands away, no matter what the color of their skin was.

That’s not to say everything on the frontier was racial harmony. Way into the 20th century, black cowboys were expected to do the hardest, toughest jobs of all. They were the ones breaking in wild horses, doing all the cooking on wagon drives, and holding the cattle down at branding time. On the other hand, black cowboys often had a degree of autonomy and responsibility they would have lacked in other jobs. Perhaps that’s why so many ex-slaves chose to head out West.

3. Outlaws Were Shameless Self-Promoters

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When you hear that robbers today are live-Tweeting their own break-ins, it’s tempting to assume we’ve hit rock bottom as a culture. Such nonsense would never have happened in the stoic Old West, right? Kinda. Although photographs of Pat Garrett playing on his smartphone have yet to surface, outlaws of the cowboy era were just as narcissistic as today’s criminals. When conducting major crimes, they frequently handed out press releases.

Jesse James was notorious for this. When holding up a train, he’d pass witnesses a carefully-written note, boasting about his own exploits. He wasn’t the only one. Billy the Kid deliberately inflated his kill-count from 8 to 21, and boasted about his violent temper. In fact, the Kid almost never got involved with shooting, robbing or hold ups. The main reason the law went after him was because he kept rustling cattle.

On the other side, the good guys were equally image-conscious. Wild Bill’s nickname actually referred to his gigantic nose, similar in size to a duck’s bill. It was only by effort he made out it referred to his ‘wild’ and dangerous nature, thereby terrifying local criminals.

2. The Rest of the Country Considered Them Suspicious and Dirty

The cowboy is enshrined in legend as the epitome of American values. While other eras and professions have their draws, it’s impossible to think of a historic figure today more beloved by the entire nation. Which just goes to show how times change. In the early days of the Frontier, cowpunchers were regarded as ill-educated vagrants at best, and dangerous carriers of disease at worst.

Around the Deep South, cowboys were considered trespassers who used public land for their own gain. The North generally considered them illiterate (they usually were). Even along the Great Plains, there was much resentment. Cattle drives routinely trampled the crops of farmers and Native Americans, and it was the cowpunchers themselves who got the blame. Many people even feared they would spread dreaded ‘Texas Fever’ throughout the land. It’s safe to say that, during the golden age of the cowboy, most of America regarded them as a smelly nuisance.

It wasn’t really until the early 20th century that pulp novelists and early Hollywood began to transform these tough, dirty, uneducated men into folk heroes. Fast forward to today and that’s the image that remains.

1. Modern Germans Love Them

Owner of the bootmaking establishment, Alpine, Texas. He is a naturalized American from Germany.

Owner of the bootmaking establishment, Alpine, Texas. He is a naturalized American from Germany.

Of all the countries in the world, which do you think has fallen for the cowboy myth the hardest (aside from the good ol’ US-of-A, that is)? Nope, it’s not Canada. Not Australia. Not even Great Britain. The country most obsessed with the cowboy today? Germany.

For some reason, Germans go nuts over cowboy-related stuff. Hundreds of clubs exist across this mountainous European nation, where people go on weekends to dress as cowboys and pretend they’re living in 19th century Texas. It’s estimated that several tens of thousands of Germans do this every single week, with many, many thousands more holding a passing interest in such exploits.

Nor is this a completely modern thing. Back in the 1930s, the Nazis venerated cowboys almost as much as they did genocide. Hitler himself was known to be a huge fan of westerns, often reading cowboy books between bouts of conquest and megalomania. For some reason, this very un-German tradition has taken deep root in a country far more ordered and rule-abiding than the Old West ever was. Which just goes to show, we guess, that you never can tell what the future has in store.


10 Horrifying Facts About Aztec Warriors

The Aztec Empire started sometime around the mid-1350s in what is now Mexico. It was a three city-state which, at its height, had a population of 5 million people. Its capital city, Tenochtitlan (which is today Mexico City), had a population of 200,000. Their culture was complex and rich, with a strong economic system. They created the 365 day agriculture calendar. The Aztecs also had a fierce army that helped feed their bloodthirsty culture.

10. They Preferred to Capture, Not Kill

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Unlike many other ancient warriors, Aztecs didn’t want to kill their enemies on the battlefield. Instead, they wanted to capture them. Killing an enemy was actually considered to be clumsy and the Aztecs believed it took much more skill to capture an enemy alive and bring them back to the famed Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.

Since it was such a skilled task, it became a way to measure a man’s ability as a warrior. It was how he moved up in the ranks. For example, for an Aztec to become a Jaguar or Eagle, he needed to capture four enemies.

So why would they capture their enemies instead of killing them? Well, that was for…

9. They Practiced Human Sacrifice with Their Captives

The Aztecs had strong religious beliefs. They had hundreds, if not thousands of gods, and the gods were responsible for everything. They were the reason the sun rose, and the reason rain fell from the sky. Aztecs also thought that the gods needed to be nourished with blood. One way they fed the gods was through bloodletting, which involved an individual cutting themselves. People higher up in society were expected to give the most blood. Another way that the Aztecs fed their gods was by killing enemy warriors. This is why capturing enemies alive was so important. They were needed for sacrifices to the gods.

The practice of hunting and capturing enemy soldiers was called the terribly misleading War of the Flowers, or the Flowery Wars. It was a decree of constant war, because sacrifices were always needed. The War of the Flowers was waged on other city-states in Mesoamerica, but the Aztecs focused heavily on raiding the nearby city of Tlaxcala.

As for the rituals, most sacrifices were the same. One thing that did vary was how many people were sacrificed in one ceremony. It could range from one, to thousands. The sacrifices were taken to the top of a pyramid and placed face up on an altar. The priest would make an incision under the ribs, and then stick his hand in the wound, reach into the chest cavity, find the heart, and yank it out while it was still beating.

The victim likely would have felt all of this, by the way. Once the heart was out, it was thrown into a fire. The body was pushed down the steps of the pyramid. If the person who was sacrificed was noble, or held some importance, they were often carried down.

8. The Dreaded Macuahuitl

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The most devastating weapon used by the Aztec warriors was the Macuahuitl, which means “Hungry Wood.” While the Aztecs were advanced in many ways, one technology they didn’t develop was forging, so they had no metal weapons. Instead, the Macuahuitl was a flat wooden paddle with razor sharp volcanic stones called Obsidian embedded in its side.

Apparently the weapon was powerful enough to decapitate a human. According to a report from invading Spaniards, an Aztec warrior even used a Macuahuitl to decapitate a horse in one blow. The story about the horse decapitation was tested on the television show The Deadliest Warrior. With a few whacks, the stand-in for the Aztec warrior was able to cut through a horse’s neck made of ballistic gel.

7. Their Version of the Afterlife was…Different

ipe Totec "Our flayed lord" wearing a human skin depicted in the Codex Borgia

ipe Totec “Our flayed lord” wearing a human skin depicted in the Codex Borgia

The afterlife of most religions usually rewards people for how they lived. It was a bit different in the Aztec religion, because how someone died was the deciding factor on which afterlife they went to. There were four different afterlifes. The warrior’s afterlife showed exactly how much the Aztecs loved war, because if someone died in battle or they were sacrificed, their souls would go to an afterlife which involved even more war. In that afterlife, which was in the west, they would help the god Huitzilopochtli fight against the darkness to ensure that the sun would rise. They stayed in this afterlife for four years before returning to Earth as a humming bird, or some other exotic bird.

As for the other afterlifes, the one in the east was for women who died during childbirth. They were treated similar to fallen soldiers and sacrifices, and they helped prepare the sun for its journey into the underworld. In the south was an afterlife for people who died because they were struck by lightning, drowned, or died from leprosy or another sickness. In that afterlife, there was plenty of food.

Finally, there was the afterlife in the north called Mictlan. It was for people who died ordinary deaths, like from old age. In that afterlife, souls had four years to pass through eight levels of challenges, which included climbing an obsidian mountain and passing through an area full of beasts that eat human hearts. The ninth level was where their soul finally found rest.

6. Every Male was Trained for War

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The Aztecs had no official standing army. Instead, every male in the culture was trained for battle. But their training would start rather late, compared to many other warrior cultures. Aztec boys would live with their families through adolescence, where they would provide manual labor around the home. They would also learn essential skills that would help them become good soldiers, like hunting. However, boys of noble birth probably started their training much earlier in life, sometimes as early as six-years-old.

When the boys had reached the age of 13, they were sent for their training in the capital, on a training ground called the Calmecac. There, they were taught to read and write. They were taught the calendar and studied astronomy, among other academic topics. They also learned practical skills that revolved around daily chores. When they were 15, the boys moved onto warrior training called the Telpochocalli, where veteran warriors taught the boys how to fight and instilled courage in the young men.

5. Levels of Aztec Warriors

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The Aztec army had three different levels, and the first level consisted of the Jaguars and Eagles. There wasn’t much difference between the two besides the outfits that they wore. The two ranks weren’t always separate either. For example, there are records of high-ranking warriors being called Eagle-Jaguar Warriors.

Above the Jaguar and Eagle Warriors were soldiers who were able to capture five or six enemies, and people who reached that rank were called Otomies. At this level, warriors would be given their own shield and Macuahuitl. Above that was the most elite fighting force in the Aztec army, the Shorn Ones. They gained that name because they shaved their head, but kept a long braid of hair on the left side of their head and wore a yellow uniform. To become a Shorn One, the warrior had to capture at least 20 men. The Shorn Ones also had to take a vow, and that was they were not allowed to take a step backwards during battles.

4. They Employed Psychological Warfare

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While Aztecs Jaguars and Eagles had similar roles in the Aztec army, they dressed completely different. As you can probably guess, they dressed like their namesakes. Eagles were adorned with feathers, and they wore wooden helmets that made it look like the warrior’s face was coming out of the mouth of the Eagle. The Jaguars, on the other hand, wore the skin of a jaguar, and their helmet looks like a jaguar.

It’s believed that the point of the uniforms was for psychological warfare. Surprise attacks from fast moving and agile animal-men were supposed to frighten their enemies. Besides their outfits, they also banged drums and made a lot of noise, adding even more pandemonium to the attack. This would cause their enemies to panic and possibly scatter, which would have made them easier to capture.

3. The God of Fire and Wisdom, Huehueteotl

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Human sacrifices were important to the Aztecs and most of the time the victims were sacrificed in the manner mentioned in entry six. However, that wasn’t the only sacrificial ceremony they did. One of the more notable sacrifices was to Huehueteotl, the god of fire and wisdom.

There were two different ways that the ceremony was done and both were horrifying. According to Time magazine, the first way is that victims would be thrown into a pit full of hot coals, while priests in black danced. Before the victim died, they were pulled up by hooks and placed on the altar. Then their blistered chest was cut open and the heart was removed.

In a variation of the ceremony, which happened every 52 years, after the heart was removed, the priest would try to start a fire in the chest. If the fire was successful, then the empire would stay alight for the next 52 years. However, if the fire didn’t start, that would be a sign that a monster called the Tzitzimime was coming and he would use the darkness to hunt and eat all of mankind.

2. Xipe Totec, and Still More Brutal Rituals

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The most disturbing ritual that Aztec warriors collected sacrifices for was the tribute to Xipe Totec, or “Our Lord the Flayed One.” That was the god of spring and agriculture, who helped the transition of boys into men.

Xipe Totec was celebrated every spring in March. There were three gruesome rituals that were performed in his honor. The first ritual involved the heart being removed as usual, but then the victim’s skin was flayed. The skin was dyed yellow, and priests wore the skin, which they called teocuitlaquemitl or in English “golden clothes,” for 20 days. Shedding the skin was symbolic of the Earth changing from winter to spring. The second way a victim was sacrificed was that they were tied to a frame and shot with arrows, slowly bleeding to death while attendees sang hymns.

The third, and perhaps oddest way to die during the rituals to Xipe Totec, was called Gladiatorial Sacrifice. Outside of the temple dedicated to Xipe Totec, a captured warrior could be tied to a big stone and he would be forced to drink Octli, which was an alcohol drink. They were given primitive weapons and barely any protection. The warrior then had to fend off four fully dressed and heavily armed Aztec warriors, two Jaguars and two Eagles.

If the Aztecs wounded the sacrifice, he was taken to the altar where he had his heart pulled out and possibly flayed. However, if the sacrifice fended off the two Eagles and two Jaguars, a left handed warrior would be added to the mix. The fight would go on until the warrior was injured, and then he’d be sacrificed.

1. The Downfall of the Aztecs

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All the way back in entry nine, we mentioned that many of the sacrifices came from the neighboring city of Tlaxcala. What’s interesting is that the Aztecs were an incredibly powerful civilization and could have very easily taken over Tlaxcala, but they didn’t. Instead, they more or less used the city as a “farm” for human sacrifices. For reasons that should be obvious, the people of Tlaxcala didn’t like being treated this way and this ultimately proved to be the Aztecs downfall.

When Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes and 400 soldiers marched into Mexico they were led to the Aztec capital, where Cortes was supposedly welcomed because he had light skin like the god Quetzalcoatl, who was prophesied to return to Earth. This allowed Cortes to get close to the Aztec leader, Montezuma II, and his inner circle. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the Spaniard’s weapons were much better than the Aztecs and they quickly took the upper echelon of the Aztec civilization hostage. The noblemen were executed during this time, and somehow Montezuma died as well.

Eventually, the Aztecs were able to chase the Spaniards out of the capital, but they wouldn’t stay away long. The Spaniards teamed up with the Tlaxcalans and by August 13, 1521, the Aztecs were defeated. It’s believed that almost a quarter of a million Aztecs were killed during the conquest. After slaughtering the people, Cortes had the city razed, and built Mexico City in its place.

10 Horrifying Facts About the Spartans

Sparta is one of the most extreme civilizations in Earth’s history. Relatively early in Greek history, even before the Classical World had begun, the Spartans drove through a radical social and political revolution. In effect, all Spartans are made to be equal. Really equal. And they developed key concepts we still use today, like the importance of self-sacrifice for the common good or the value of duties and of rights. In short, all Spartans aimed to be as perfectly human as humanly possible. Every single of our utopic ideas today, can draw their roots from the Spartan example.

The biggest problem about Sparta, from a historical point of view at least, is that they left very few written records, and didn’t build grand architecture that we could then analyze. However, Spartan women enjoyed a degree of freedom, education and equality unparalleled anywhere in the ancient world. Each member of society, man or woman, master or slave, had a precise role to play, and one can’t talk about Spartan soldiers without talking about Sparta itself. And this is because every Spartan citizen was specifically molded to be the perfect soldier from birth. This preparation was often-times brutal, and we’ll take a look just how extreme the Spartans were.

10. Spartan Children Were Bred for War

Almost every aspect of the Spartan way of life was governed by the state. This included its children. Each Spartan baby was brought before a council of inspectors, who examined him for physical defects. If anything seemed out of the ordinary, they would take the newborn and leave him to die of exposure somewhere on a hillside outside the city. In a few fortunate cases, these forsaken children would be rescued by foreigners passing by, or by the helots (Spartan slaves) working the fields. In their infancy, the babies who survived this first of many tests would be bathed in wine instead of water, as to strengthen their physical attributes. They would also be frequently ignored by their parents when they cried, as to make them accustomed to a “Spartan” way of life. These parenting techniques were so highly admired by foreigners that Spartan women were often sought as nurses or nannies.

Up until the age of seven, Spartan boys lived with their family, but then they were taken by the state to live in communal barracks and start their first training regimen, called “agoge”. This program aimed to mold the young Spartans to become perfect warriors. The training involved hard physical exercises, as well as learning stealth, extreme loyalty, military and combat training, pain-tolerance, hunting, survival skills, social communication, and morality. They were also taught reading, writing, rhetoric and poetry. However, at age 12 they were stripped of all clothing and possessions, save a red cloak. They were then instructed to sleep outside and make their own beds from reeds. They were also encouraged to scavenge or steal food, but if caught they were severely punished by flogging. Spartan girls continued to live with their families after the age of seven, but they too received the famous Spartan education, which involved dance, gymnastics, as well as javelin and discus throwing. These exercises were believed to make them ready for motherhood.

9. Hazing and Fighting Among Themselves

One way through which children were toughened up as a key element in their development as soldiers was to instigate fights among them. Older men and teachers would often start various arguments among their students and encouraged them on, leading the boys to start fighting with each other. Since the main purpose of the agoge was to make these trainees highly resistant to all sorts of hardships found during war, like cold, hunger or pain, those who showed signs of weakness, cowardice, or timidity were subject to harsh punishments and humiliation by peers and teachers alike. Imagine being bullied by someone in school, and then your teacher would come over and join in. To make things even worse, girls often sang choral songs in front of dignitaries during various religious or state ceremonies, sometimes singling out specific trainees for ridicule.

Not even grown-ups were spared humiliation. Spartans absolutely loathed people out of shape. This is one of the reasons why all Spartan citizens, the kings included, had their daily meals at syssitia, a military mess, where the food was bland and always insufficient. Together with daily physical exercises, Spartan men and women kept in shape throughout their entire lives. Those who didn’t, however, were exposed to public humiliation by everyone, and even risked being banished from the city if they didn’t fix the problem immediately.

8. The Contest of Endurance

An integral part of Ancient Sparta, and one of its most gruesome practices, was the so-called Contest of Endurance, or Diamastigosis. This tradition was said to commemorate an incident where people from neighboring settlements killed each other at the altar of Artemis. From that point on, human sacrifices were brought there annually. Since Lycurgus, however – a famous, semi-mythical Spartan lawgiver from the 7th century BC – the ceremony at the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia only involved the ephebes (adolescent boys undergoing the agoge) being flogged until they completely stained the stairs of the altar full of blood. During the event, the altar was covered with cheeses and the young boys would try to reach and take them. Older ones would wait for them with sticks in hand, flogging and beating them without mercy. This tradition was in fact an initiation ceremony where the ephebes were accepted as full Spartan warriors and citizens. The last boy standing would receive great honor for his bravery. Deaths were also not uncommon during this event.

During the Roman occupation of Sparta, the tradition of Diamastigosis endured, but lost much of its ceremonial importance. It instead became a favorite spectator sport. People from all over the empire would flock to Sparta and see how young men were being whipped in such a brutal fashion. By the 3rd century AD the sanctuary was enclosed by a theater where spectators could watch the floggings.

7. The Krypteia

When the ephebes reached the age of 20 or so, those who were marked out as potential future leaders were given the opportunity to take part in the Krypteia. This was a sort of secret police, or at least the closest Sparta got to one. It more closely resembled a guerrilla force since its main purpose was to stake out and terrorize the surrounding helot settlements. At its peak during the 5th century BC, Sparta had about 10,000 men able to bear arms, while the surrounding helot population outnumbered them 7 to 1. This was a double-edged sword for the Spartan citizens. On the one hand, the helots were providing the Spartans with all the food they would need, freeing them to become super-soldiers. On the other hand, the Spartans were constantly under threat from helot rebellions. This continuous risk of revolt was also the main reason why the Spartans developed such a highly militarized society in the first place, in which every Spartan man became a soldier by law.

Every fall these young soldiers got a chance to test out their skills, when the Spartan ephorsunofficially declared war on the helot population. At night the members of the Krypteia would be armed with knives and set loose onto the surrounding countryside. They were instructed to kill any helot they encountered, especially the strongest among them. This annual slaughter of the lowest class was to ensure the helots’ obedience, as well as to keep their population in check. Only the Spartans who took part in this gruesome event as young men could hope to one day achieve the highest ranks in the army and society. Throughout the rest of the year, this “secret police” would patrol the countryside looking for any signs of unrest. Any potentially troublesome helot would be summarily executed.

6. Compulsory Marriage

While this can’t be construed as particularly horrifying, compulsory marriage by the age of 30 is something that many today consider especially frightening. We don’t think the same rules apply in modern-day Sparta, but in the ancient times they certainly did. Up until the age of 30, all Spartan men lived their lives in communal barracks and made up the active military of the mighty city-state. They would then be relieved of duty, but would act as the reserve force until they turned 60. In any case, 30 was the age when all male citizens were more or less forced to tie the knot, if they hadn’t done so already.

And since Spartans saw marriage primarily, but not exclusively, as a means of conceiving new soldiers, girls usually married at around 19 (later than other Greek girls). Bachelors were encouraged to evaluate the health and fitness of their future mates. But even if the marriage arrangements were made between the husband and his future father-in-law, this doesn’t mean the girl didn’t have any say in the matter. After all, Spartan women were equal to their men, more so than in a lot of countries today.

In the event a Spartan soldier would get married before finishing his active service when turning 30, he would live separately from his wife until that time. Likewise, if a man remained a bachelor after entering the reserves, he was seen as neglecting his duties towards Sparta itself, and would be publicly mocked at every occasion; especially during official ceremonies. If by any chance a Spartan wasn’t able to bear children, he was expected to find a suitable other who could. There were even cases of a woman having several partners and their collective children belonging to all.

5. Spartan Weapons & Armor

The bulk of every Ancient Greek army, Sparta included, was the hoplite. These were heavily-armored soldiers, citizens of their respective city-states, with enough material means to equip and make themselves available to fight. But while other cities’ hoplites weren’t professional soldiers and often lacked sufficient military training, Sparta’s soldiers were bred solely for war, and did nothing else their entire lives. And while other Greek city-states built massive walls to defend themselves, Sparta famously had none, considering its hoplites as its defenses.

The principle weapon of every hoplite, regardless of origin, was the spear, or dory. These spears measured around 8 feet in length and were held one handed, either over or underhand. Its tip was made out of bronze or iron, and the shaft was made from cornel wood. This wood was especially sought after because of the density and strength it gave the spear. The wood is so dense it actually sinks in water. Then in their left hand, the hoplites held their iconic round shields, the hoplon. Weighing some 30 pounds, these were used primarily for defense, but were also used for bashing. These shields were made out of wood or leather with an outer layer of bronze. Spartans marked their shields with the letter lambda. This stood for Laconia, the name of the region of Sparta.

Now, if either their spears broke off or the battle became too overcrowded, the hoplites in the front row turned to their xiphos. This was a short sword, about 17 inches long, which was used for stabbing while behind the hoplon. Spartans, however, mostly preferred the kopis instead of the xiphos, because of the nasty wounds it inflicted. The kopis was used more as an axe in the form of a thick, curved iron sword, and Spartans were often depicted in Athenian art while holding one. For extra defense, they wore bronze helmets that protected the head, the back of the neck, and the face, as well as a breastplate (thorax) of bronze or leather. Bronze graves, knemides, to protect the shins, as well as arm-guards were also worn.

4. The Phalanx

One of the signs a civilization reaches a certain point in its development is the way its army wages war. Tribal societies, for example, usually fought in loose arrangements, each warrior waving his huge broadsword or axe over his head in intimidation, and looking for personal glory on the battlefield. But more advanced civilizations fought in compact formations, with each individual soldier having a precise role to play within a larger strategy. The Romans did this, and so did the Ancient Greeks. In fact, the famous Roman Legion formations were inspired by the Greek Phalanx.

Hoplites were organized into regiments, lokhoi, of several hundred individuals, and fought in 8 rows or more. This is what’s known as a Phalanx. The men stood shoulder to shoulder in a tight formation, with their shields covering their left half, as well as the right side of the soldier next to him. Above their shields and between their heads, there was a literal forest of spears protruding outwards. The Phalanx advanced at walking speed or slightly faster, usually accompanied by rhythmic music and war-cries; something which Spartans studied intensely during the agoge. As Greek cities often fought each other, Phalanx would usually meet another Phalanx in battle, in which case they would push and stab each other until one side emerged victorious. Think of it as a much bloodier version of a rugby scrum. Nevertheless, this formation was also successfully used against the Persians on numerous occasions.

Its biggest weakness, however, was its left flank. As the Phalanx advanced and each man sought to keep behind the shield of his neighbor, the formation had the tendency to shift right, leaving the left flank exposed. A good commander would therefore put his best warriors in his own right flank in order to take advantage of this possible situation and ultimately win the battle.

3. No Such Thing as Surrender

As part of their extreme-loyalty training, Spartans despised cowardice above all else, and soldiers were expected to fight without any sense of fear whatsoever. Even to the last man, if need be. In effect, the act of surrender was seen as the epitome of all cowardice. In the highly unlikely event of a Spartan hoplite doing such an unthinkable thing, it would most likely lead him to commit suicide. The ancient historian Herodotus makes mention of two Spartans who missed out on the famous Battle of Thermopylae and who later, in their utter shame, killed themselves. One by hanging himself, and the other by dying a redeeming death during a later conflict for Sparta.

Spartan mothers were famous for saying things like: “Return with your shield or on it” to their sons just before they left for battle, referring to them either returning victorious or dead. Sparta only considered its debt fully repaid when its citizens died doing their duty for her. Men by dying in battle, and Spartan women during childbirth. In fact, only these two groups of people were ever worthy enough to have their own names forever engraved on their tombstones.

2. The Thirty Tyrants

Sparta was known for wanting to spread its own utopian views upon its neighboring states. First were the Messenians to the west, which Sparta defeated during the 7th and 8th centuries BC, turning them into their subservient helots. They later began looking towards Athens itself. During the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), not only did the Spartans defeat them, but would also inherit their naval supremacy over the Aegean; something that Sparta never had. Refusing to raze Athens to the ground, as was suggested by the Thebans and Corinthians, the Spartans decided instead to shape the city in their own image.

To do so, they installed a pro-Spartan oligarchy in Athens, infamously known as the Thirty Tyrants. Their main purpose was to revise or in most cases, completely erase the fundamental Athenian laws for its own style of democracy. They reformed the power structure by first lowering most citizens’ rights, and installing 500 councilors to serve the judicial functions formerly belonging to all citizens. They also hand-picked 3,000 Athenian men to “to share in the government” who were allowed more privileges than the rest. During their 13-month-long regime, some 5 percent of all the Athenian population died or simply disappeared, a lot of property confiscated, and many pro-Athenian democrats were exiled.

A former student of Socrates himself, Critias, the leader of the Thirty, was considered cruel, imposing and downright inhumane, as a man who wanted to make Athens into a mirror image of Sparta whatever the cost. Similar to the Krypteia in Sparta, all people who were considered a threat to the new establishment were quickly executed. They also employed 300 “lash-bearers” to patrol the city, harassing and terrorizing the city’s population into submission. Around 1,500 of Athens’s most prominent figures not in favor of Spartan rule were forced to take poison hemlock.

Interestingly enough, the more violent the Tyrants were with the city’s population, the more opposition they faced. This poor state of affairs eventually resulted in a successful rebellion 13 months later, lead by Thrasybulus, one of the few who managed to escape into exile. With the Athenian restoration, the before-mentioned 3,000 were given amnesty, while the rest, the Thirty included, were executed. Critias died in the initial attack. Riddled with corruption, betrayals and violence, the Tyrants’ short rule ensured severe mistrust among the Athenians themselves in the years to come.

1. The Famous Battle of Thermopylae

Made popular today by the 1998 comic book series, and the 2006 movie 300, the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC was an epic engagement between the few Greeks under the Spartan King Leonidas I and the many Persians under King Xerxes. The whole conflict began even before these two became rulers, during the reign of Xerxes’ predecessor, Darius I. He already expanded his borders into mainland Europe and then set his sights on Greece itself. When Darius died and Xerxes took power in 486 BC, he immediately began preparations for an invasion; the biggest threat Greece had ever faced.

After much deliberation between the many Greek city-states, a combined force of around 7,000 hoplites was sent to defend the pass of Thermopylae against the advancing Persian army. (Somehow the graphic novel and movie failed to mention those other 6,700 warriors, including the legendary Athenian naval fleet.) Among that 7,000 were the famous 300 Spartans lead by King Leonidas himself. Xerxes amassed around 80,000 troops for the invasion, though the numbers vary a lot. The relatively small Greek force was due in part to their unwillingness to send troops so far north. The other reason was more religious, for it was the period of the sacred games at Olympia and the most important Spartan religious festival, the Karneia, during which no fighting was allowed. In any case, Leonidas realized the peril they were facing and chose 300 of his most loyal men, who all had male heirs.

Located some 95 miles north of Athens, Thermopylae was an excellent defensive position. Only at about 50 feet wide, and cramped between an almost vertical cliff-face and the sea itself, the Persians couldn’t effectively deploy their vastly superior numbers. This gave the Greeks a tremendous advantage, coupled with a defensive wall already built there. When Xerxes finally arrived, he waited four days in the hopes of the Greeks retreating, which didn’t happen. He then sent his envoys one last time, asking they lay down their arms, to which Leonidas replied “come and get them.” For the following two days the Greeks withstood the many Persian attacks, including those of the infamous Immortals. Betrayed by a local shepherd who told Xerxes about a hidden pass through the mountains, Leonidas would soon find himself surrounded.

Learning of this unfortunate turn of events, he dismissed most of the other hoplites under his command, and kept only his Spartans and a few others to make the last stand. When the final attack came, the mighty Leonidas, as well as his 300 Spartans fell, fulfilling their duty towards their people and to Sparta itself. Even to this day, there’s an inscription at Thermopylae which says: “Go tell the Spartans, you who read: We took their orders and here lie dead.” Now even if Leonidas didn’t win the battle, what he did manage to achieve reverberated through the following wars with the Persians, leading the Spartans to lead the resistance and defeat their overwhelming conquerors. This battle also ensured that Sparta will forever be remembered in history as one of the world’s most unique and powerful civilizations.

10 Horrifying Facts You Didn’t Know About Samurai

Pop culture would have you believe that the samurai were a noble bunch of honorable warriors who served and protected their communities. In reality though, samurai were jerks of the highest order, who abused the power they were given in ways that would make a bloodsucking parasite think they were overstepping boundaries. For example, consider…

10. They Tested Swords by Cutting People in Half

In Japanese, “Tameshigiri” quite literally translates to “test cut,” and although it wasn’t practiced exclusively by samurai, it was often done on their behalf. In a nutshell, tameshigiri involved testing the sharpness and quality of a newly forged blade on a straw mat, something you’ve no doubt seen replicated by innumerable overweight guys wearing fedoras on YouTube.

Sometimes, though, when the client purchasing the sword was particularly wealthy or of high enough social standing, the sword would be tested on a live, often-screaming, condemned criminal. Depending on the severity of the crime committed, the criminal could lose a limb or be cut completely in half, with the ease with which this was done being used as a selling point for the weapon.

But hey, sure this was cruel, but those criminals deserved it, right? We mean, it’s not like samurai ran around randomly murdering people for fun. Oh, wait, we know where this is going…

9. Samurai Randomly Murdered People for Fun

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During the tumultuous Sengoku period of Japanese history there was an informal practice amongst samurai known as “Tsujigiri,” which roughly translates to “crossroads killing” but could be more accurately translated as “being an unthinkable monster.”

Invariably undertaken by samurai who’d recently purchased a new weapon or mastered a new technique for turning someone’s bowels inside out, Tsujigiri involved walking around at night and testing the new weapon/technique on the first person they found. While these wanton acts of night stabbing were “technically” illegal, few samurai were ever arrested for doing it because it’s really hard to arrest someone for a crime that involves killing the only witness, and then running away. And in the rare event that a samurai was caught cutting down an innocent civilian, they could always claim they were invoking their right to…

8. Murder People They Thought Insulted Them

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“Kiri-sute gomen” was a basic right afforded to samurai that allowed them to immediately kill anyone of a lower class (including other samurai) if they felt insulted, with a punishing sword-assisted backhand. The only conditions were that 1) they had to do so immediately after the perceived insult occurred, and 2) there had to be a witness. Luckily, a samurai could use his own servant as a witness, meaning it was possible for samurai to kill basically anyone he felt like, without reprieve, just because society said they were important enough to get away with it.

Because life is seldom fair, being able to indiscriminately murder members of the public wasn’t the only perk enjoyed by samurai due to their status as members of an elite class of sword-wielding buttnuggets, as they were also deemed so important that…

7. (Common) Women had to Pay to Marry Them

Marriage in the age of samurai was an unusual thing, because what exactly it entailed depended on the class of the woman a given samurai wanted to wed. Today we’re going to focus on what happened when women from the lower classes wanted to get themselves some of that sweet samurai loving, though, because it’s hilarious.

In short, common women wanting to marry samurai had to pay them for the privilege of becoming what amounted to a servant. That last part isn’t hyperbole, either. It’s noted that one of the most valued traits in samurai wives was “obedience,” and they were basically expected to do everythingfor their husband, including making themselves available for sex 24/7, which wouldn’t be as insulting for the woman if their husbands weren’t also allowed to have mistresses, if they wanted.

While spending quality time with samurai penis admittedly did have several benefits for common women, such as increased status, it did come with an undeniable downside in that…

6. Wives Were Expected to Kill Themselves if Their Husband Messed Up

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Seppuku, for the lucky few of you who’ve managed to make it this far on the internet without running into those people who are oddly obsessed with Japan, was a form of ritual suicide practiced by samurai when they really messed up. Usually, it was done as a way to rob an enemy of the satisfaction of killing them. Think of it as the most extreme version possible of saying, “You can’t fire me, I quit.”

To commit seppuku, a samurai would slice open his own stomach with a small blade, before his head was ceremonially cut off by a trusted associate (or sufficiently trained bear, we’re assuming) so as to minimize their suffering. Though this wasn’t the only way in which seppuku could be committed, it was by far the most common.

But here’s where things get, well, weird. You see, when a samurai screwed up so badly that he felt that he needed to commit seppuku to die with at least a shred of honor intact, his wife was expected to kill herself, too. You know, the same wife who was expected to be unquestionably obedient and had little to no agency in her life. While functionally similar to male seppuku, female seppuku (known as jigai) involved slicing the neck instead of the stomach, and the woman was expected to tie her legs together beforehand so that her body would be found in a “dignified pose.” After all, nothing says “dignity” like cutting off your own head because someone else told you to. Speaking of telling people to kills themselves for no reason at all, let’s talk about…

5. Bushido, and How it Killed Thousands During WW2

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Bushido is generally described as being a strict code followed by samurai that stressed the importance of honor, self-sacrifice, and not being a narc. In reality, though, Bushido was more of a nebulous group of rules that samurai kind of followed when they felt like it.

This didn’t stop the Japanese government reviving the idea of bushido at the turn of WW2, as a way of convincing conscripts that dying in the most explodey, “screw you” way possible was the best way to appease their samurai ancestors. While it’s not necessarily the fault of samurai that, years later, the government would use them as a shining example of why sometimes killing yourself could be awesome if you did it in a metal enough way, it is their fault for being so cool everyone was all like, “Yeah, I’ll crash a plane into a battleship if it’s what a samurai would have done.”

Which is kind of annoying when you take into consideration that samurai weren’t that cool, because “cool” isn’t a word we’d use, since…

4. They Used to Shoot Dogs with Arrows, for Sport

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Though samurai are synonymous with the katana, which as the film Samurai Cop has taught us means “Japanese Sword,” samurai placed a great deal of emphasis in learning how to properly use a bow. So much so (hey, that rhymes) that they developed a training exercise known as inuoumono, which quite literally consisted of chasing dogs on horseback and shooting at them with arrows.

Over time, the exercise became popular enough that samurai and Japanese nobles began doing it for fun, competing against one another to see who could pre-emptively annoy PETA the most. Just so this entry isn’t totally depressing, we should mentioned that the arrows used were sometimes padded so that the dog wasn’t killed, but this was less out of concern for the dogs’ well-being, and more so that the samurai shooting at them didn’t have to go out and buy more if they were really good at it.

If you’re largely indifferent to the idea of people murdering dogs for fun, maybe you’ll be more inclined to dislike samurai when you learn that…

3. They Used to Have Lots of Sex with Teenage Boys

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Given the numerous benefits we’ve already discussed, like being able to murder people you don’t like and having a semi-infinite number of dogs to shoot, it’s probably not going to surprise you that a lot of people wanted to be samurai. It may surprise you, however, to learn that becoming a samurai involved having a surprising amount of sex with an old, creepy man.

To explain, samurai training young boys in the ways of combat were allowed to take their apprentice as a lover until they became an adult, as part of a “brotherhood contract.” Though it’s noted that the samurai could only do this with the boy’s express permission, anyone with a basic understanding of how consent works should be able to see how gross this is. For anyone who doesn’t, feel free to go on Google image search and browse the many pieces of “artwork” depicting this practice until you, like us, agree that it’s “icky as all hell.”

And here’s the thing: even in the event samurai stopped being, well, samurai, they were still awful people because…

2. They Refused to Re-Intergrate into Society Because They Felt They Were Above Working

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The idea of ronin, masterless samurai who became wandering swords for hire, has become almost as romanticized as the idea of the samurai itself and, as such, we felt like we should call them out for being awful people, too. In short, if a samurai lost his master or otherwise dishonored himself, and decided that he didn’t want to tattoo his own intestines with a dagger, he’d become a ronin, which was roughly analogous with being a hobo.

Despite being considered one of the lowest rungs of society, ronin still mostly acted like samurai, in that they treated everyone like crap and refused to work like normal people, considering it to be “beneath” them. Due to this, many ronin become bodyguards, mercenaries, and criminals, and earned their keep killing or robbing people for money. That was apparently more honorable than just working on a farm or something.

But here’s the best part: there were a subset of ronin so ridiculous in the way they acted and behaved that they get their own entry on this list. We’re of course talking about…

1. The Kabukimono

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Like ronin, kabukimono were often masterless samurai who decided that being alive was a preferable alternative to letting someone cut their head off with a big sword. Unlike ronin, though, they celebrated their new lease on life by being utterly fabulous.

The kabukimono would dress in wildly flamboyant outfits, in the most garish colors possible. When such an outfit couldn’t be found, the kabukimono would settle for women’s clothing, accentuated with the most stupid looking haircut possible, making them similar to hipsters, only marginally less annoying.

Kabukimono, as samurai with no masters and thus, no responsibilities, spent most of their time actively making the world a worse place, engaging in activities that would make Master Bettyproud, like beating random people in the street or fleeing from restaurants without paying. Kabukimono would also murder people for fun and rove the streets looking for other kabukimono to beat up, in what must have been the most fabulously well coordinated fistfights this side of a Power Rangers crossover episode.

10 Horrifying Facts About Vikings

Present day researchers don’t think the Vikings, who were groups of unorganized clans living in the Nordic area of Europe, were the bloodthirsty savage giants that they are often made out to be. In fact, they were clean, average size men. They were incredible seafarers and prolific traders.

While they may not have been constantly at war, the Vikings were still violent and brutal warriors. They defeated nearly every foe they ever faced. Due to their dedication to the warrior lifestyle, violence and war were part of everyday life for them. These are some horrifying facts about their lives.

10. Magic Mushrooms

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The Vikings were the most dominant fighting force in Europe between the late 8th century and the mid-11th century. One huge advantage the Vikings had over the people they invaded was that when they went into a battle, they would enter into a trance-like state called “Berserker.” In this state, they would indiscriminately butcher anyone who got in their way.

One theory published as to how the Vikings entered these Berserker states is that they ate Psilocybin mushrooms. Better known as magic mushrooms. First reported in The American Journal of Psychiatrythe theory is that the mushrooms, which grew in the area where the Vikings lived, caused them to have hallucinations. It also increased their adrenaline levels, causing the Berserker state.

As advantageous as it may have been for the Vikings, slaughtering people while high on mushrooms couldn’t nearly be as fun as watching The Wizard of Oz while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, right?

9. Viking Soup

Since bloody and violent skirmishes were part of Viking life, Viking women became pretty knowledgeable about battle wounds. Specifically, Viking women had a way to gauge how bad a stab or slash wound was. They would feed the injured warrior a broth that had onions, leeks, and herbs.

After eating it, the women would smell the wound. If they smelled the broth they knew that the wound was too deep, and there was no way to fix it. With death coming soon, the women would do nothing to help heal the dying warrior. They would focus their time and use their remedies only on warriors that they could help.

8. Swords

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The Vikings used a number of different weapons, like long axes and spears. Even their shields were used as offensive weapons. However, their most prized weapons were their long swords. The Vikings would name their swords like “Widow-Maker” and “Corpse-Bramble,” and the swords would be passed down generation to generation. As Viking boys grew up, their fathers would talk about all the men who died by the sword. This helped pass along their family history and instill the idea of nobility in battle.

The swords were double edged and sharp enough to cut through a human skull, or cut off a limb with one slice. The men carried their swords at all times, usually on their back, and slept beside them. They needed to be armed all the time because of family disputes. Factions of Vikings were constantly at war, after all. Men were expected to be able to defend their homes, their families, and help defend their leaders and their leaders’ property.

7. Holmgang

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The Viking justice system is rather different than the laws of today. Notably, insulting someone of a higher class was off limits, but killing someone wasn’t always illegal. For example, if someone was murdered, then their family could kill the murderer. Of course, this led to long-lasting, back-and-forth blood feuds.

Another way of settling disputes was Holmgangs. No, a Holmgang wasn’t a band of ruffians who were big fans of actor Ian Holm. They were fights, sometimes to the death. It was essentially a duel, with one person challenging another he felt had wrong him. It was to be held within the week of the challenge and someone could volunteer to fight in place of the person who was challenged. At the beginning of the duel, the challenger would read the rules, which varied from region to region. Rules included things like what weapons were to be used, how many shields could be used, who could take the first strike, what would signify the winner, and what the compensation would be for the victor. Of course, sometimes the only way the Holmgang would come to an end was when one of the fighters died.

If the person who was challenged didn’t show up for the duel, they were automatically deemed guilty. If the charge was bad enough, then anyone, from any social class, would be legally able to kill that person. This meant that if the leader of the clan didn’t show up for a duel, a slave could kill him without any legal repercussions.

6. Games

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The Vikings loved violence, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that their games make UFC look like the ballet. In Viking games, death and serious injuries were common. The rule was that men could stop playing whenever they wanted. If they got killed, it was their own fault.

One game they played was a “swimming” competition, and we use that term very loosely. The point of the game was for the men to hold an opponent underwater for as long as he could. If the man couldn’t reach the surface, he drowned. Another game involved two teams and a ball, and it was essentially a game of full contact “keep away.” The game was rather violent and was only played once a year in the autumn. Wrestling was another major aspect of the Viking culture. It helped them stay fit and in fighting shape, even when they weren’t raiding villages.

If the games themselves weren’t dangerous enough, fights and brawls could erupt at any time. In one account, there was a game that was being played by a group of boys. A six-year-old boy drove an ax into the head of another boy because he was roughed up by the boy earlier in the game. If the fights didn’t end on the field, they could lead to blood feuds that could last for years.

For some perspective on how violent the games were, one warrior could still fight in battle, but the games were too intense and he could only watch.

5. Infanticide

Since the Vikings lived in the Nordic area of Europe, where conditions can be incredibly harsh and violence was a part of their everyday life, they wanted their children to be strong. In Viking culture, everyone, including children, were expected to work. As they got older, all males were expected to fight and all females were expected to work around the home, amongst other duties. If an infant was born with a deformity or something else was wrong, they were often placed outside and died from exposure.

Girls were more likely to be left to die than boys. While women enjoyed more rights in Viking society compared to other societies, girls were considered less valuable. Males could own land, riches, and be valued warriors. Whereas girls needed to be married off, and a dowry would need to be provided to the new family.

4. Sexual Slavery

It’s believed the Viking Age started in 793 AD, when raiders, probably from Norway, attacked the Lindisfarne monastery off the coast of northeastern England. The Vikings continued to raid villages and monasteries along the European coast until 1066. However, researchers were never really sure why the Vikings began their raids.

One theory is that the Viking men may have wanted women because of an upset in the male to female ratio, thanks to gender selective infanticide. This has led some researchers to believe that the main reason Viking men started invading different areas in Europe wasn’t to pillage. Instead, they were focused on kidnapping women to be their wives.

Some genetic testing that was performed on modern Icelandic citizens backs up this theory. What they tested was the specific mitochondria that you get from your mother and your father. The Vikings colonized Iceland over a thousand years ago and since then, there has been relatively little migration to the country. So, researchers were able to formulate where the settlers of Iceland came from. Their testing found that about 80% of male settlers in Iceland came from Norway and 63% of the women settlers came from the British Isles. That would suggest there was large scale interbreeding between the Norwegian men and women from the areas where the Vikings invaded. It’s incredibly unlikely that the women would have immigrated to Iceland by themselves on their own free will.

3. Erik the Red Was Too Violent For the Vikings

The Vikings were fierce and dedicated warriors that were known for their brutality. And somehow, Erik Thorvaldsson was too violent for them. Better known as Erik the Red, he was born in Norway sometime around 950. When Erik was a child, his father was exiled over a murder, and his family moved to Iceland. This would become a theme for Erik.

Erik gained his famous nickname because of his red hair and the fact that he was a volatile and violent man. This temper would get him in trouble around 980. While living in Haukadale, Iceland, Erik’s servants triggered a landslide, destroying his neighbor’s house. A kinsmen of the man, Eyiolf the Foul, killed the servants in retaliation. Infuriated, Erik killed Eyiolf and an enforcer of his clan. The family of Eyiolf demanded justice, and Erik was banished.

Erik and his family moved north, but remained in Iceland. They set up a farm on the island of Oxney. Once settled there, a new neighbor named Hfran the Dueler, who was building his home, asked Erik if he could borrow some wooden beams that had special religious meaning. Erik agreed, but when he went to get them back, Hfran refused to return them. A brawl ensued and two of Hfran’s sons and a few of his friends were killed. Erik, once again, was banished.

Erik and his family settled in Greenland, becoming the first people to do so. After his banishment ended, he returned to Iceland and encouraged people to move to Greenland. Two colonies were established and Erik lived out the rest of his days with his family there. That family included his son, Leif Erikson, who was the first European to travel to North America and set up colonies, beating Christopher Columbus by almost 500 years.

2. Child Sacrifices

The younger and older children had been buried back to back CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL

The younger and older children had been buried back to back CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL

Due to Christian writings, there were rumors that Vikings committed human sacrifices. However, the monks responsible for those writings never saw the actual ceremony. The writings have been dismissed as propaganda.

On the other hand, there are writings from the Vikings that say that humans are the ultimate sacrifice and Odin supposedly demanded it. However, there was no concrete evidence that Vikings performed human sacrifices until 2011, when human bones, along with sacrificial jewelry and weapons, were found at a site known for religious rituals in a Viking settlement near Tissø, Denmark. This finding also helped substantiate an earlier theory regarding the discovery of children’s bones found in a well, along with sacrificial jewelry, near a Viking settlement in Trelleborg, Denmark.

The bones came from five children that were between the ages of four and seven. Wells were of significant importance to the Vikings. Notably, Odin gained his knowledge from drinking from a well, so sacrificial wells certainly would make sense in the Viking culture. It’s believed that children were sacrificed in extreme cases when the Vikings were hoping to reconnect with the gods.

1. Blood Eagle

Detail from Stora Hammars I shows a man lying on his belly with another man using a weapon on his back, a Valknut, and two birds, one of which is held by a man to the right.

Detail from Stora Hammars I shows a man lying on his belly with another man using a weapon on his back, a Valknut, and two birds, one of which is held by a man to the right.

The Vikings supposedly had a rather gruesome form of execution called the Blood Eagle, and it appears that it was reserved for royalty.

The Blood Eagle had multiple stages, starting with the victim being tied face down. Then the real fun began. The shape of an eagle with outstretched wings would be carved into the man’s back. Then the ribs would be hacked from the spine one by one with an ax. Once that was done, the bones and skin were pulled back to make the victim’s back look like wings. Supposedly, this was done while the victim was still alive, which was important for the next stage when salt was rubbed into the wounds on the back. To end it all, the lungs were pulled out through the back, spread over the wings made from the flesh and bone of the back. Witnesses could watch the lungs exhale their last breath, making it look like the wings were fluttering.

The Vikings depicted the execution in their artwork, and according to their writings it happened at least twice. However, modern day researchers are unsure if the Blood Eagle was actually performed, or if it was just a metaphor for what the executed went through.

10 Interesting Facts About Persian Immortals (If You Believe They Existed)

The Immortals were the heavy infantry unit of the Achaemenid Empire’s army. Also known as the first Persian Empire, the civilization was founded by Cyrus the Great in 550 B.C. in what is today Iran. The name ‘Immortals’ was coined by Greek historian Herodotus. What’s known about them mostly comes from his writing.

Of course, if you know your history, or have seen the movie 300, you probably know that the Greeks and the Persians weren’t exactly fans of each other. So unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure if anything that Herodotus wrote was true. It’s also possible that there were no Immortal units and Herodotus confused the word Anûšiya (“companions”) with Anauša (“Immortals”). With that in mind, these are his accounts of the Persian Immortals.

10. The Name

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According to Herodotus, the Immortals always had 10,000 men in their unit. No more, and no less. If one died, or got sick, or something else went wrong, he was immediately replaced by another soldier. This gave the impression that the unit was full of immortal beings, because their numbers never dwindled.

In order to become an Immortal, the warrior had to be Persian born and training started at an early age. When a space opened up in the Immortal unit, the leaders picked from the best soldiers from the lower groups of warriors, which were the Sparabara and the Takabara. Besides ranking below the Immortals, not much is known about either group.

9. Their Size of the Persian Army

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Compared to some of their enemies, like the Greeks, the Persians didn’t have the best weapons. While they did have scaled armor, they used shields made from wood and wicker, which wasn’t much help against something like the Spartans’ swords and spears. Instead of relying on the strength of their weapons, the Persians tried to intimidate their enemies with the sheer size of their army. Herodotus claimed that was 3 million strong under Xerxes.

However, modern day researchers do not think that figure is anywhere close to correct. It was actually probably more like 70,000 infantry and 9,000 horsemen, which is still a massive number of soldiers. Also travelling with the army were caravans with concubines and servants that the Immortals were allowed to bring along with them. That would have made the advancing armylook even bigger. Based on the size of their army alone, some cities surrendered upon seeing the Persian forces advance towards them.

8. Training

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The training of Persian Immortals was difficult and started early. From birth, boys were kept separate from their fathers until the age of five. Then they would be taken to start their warrior training. It involved a wide range of skill development, including archery, fighting, and how to live off the land. They practiced standing guard, they trained for arduous marches, and finally every Persian boy in training needed to know how to tame a wild horse. They would enter military service when they were 15-years-old and remain a soldier until the age of 50. Then they could finally retire, providing they lived that long.

Once they entered military service, they either became foot soldiers or cavalry. It wasn’t a permanent placement, as the most skilled veterans were able to serve in both units. The soldiers were also trained in both archery and hand-to-hand combat, which maximized the effectiveness of their already overwhelmingly massive army.

7. War Practice

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A big problem with the Persian army was the logistics of moving everyone. Sometimes that meant the soldiers had a lot of downtime. So what did they do to pass the time? How about hunt lions, panthers, and cheetahs? What’s interesting is that the Immortals were allowed to bring caravans with them on their travels. These caravans were full of food, so they didn’t hunt the big cats because they were hungry.

Instead, hunting the big cats was a form of practice that kept their battle skills sharp. They also would have used the skins to decorate their caravans and their uniforms. The skins would be a sign of the Immortal’s bravery and skill. Since these hunts were so dangerous, they were usually only performed by high ranking Immortals.

6. Cavalry

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While the Persians’ weapons didn’t help them win their wars against the Greeks and the Macedonians, one definite advantage the Immortals’ weapons had over enemy forces is that most of their weapons were versatile and could be used on horseback. This would make their light weapons incredibly dangerous. On horseback, it would allow them to get more force behind their blunt force weapons and their razor sharp spears.

Another innovative way that the Persians used their cavalry was scythed chariots. Scythed chariots were invented in the early days of the empire and was used all the way up until its downfall in 330 B.C. The scythed chariots were tall, so only a small part of the driver was exposed above the rim. Attached to each axle were two-foot-long iron blades that spun, cutting through an enemies’ legs. It wasn’t a clean cut, either. The blades churned and ground through the skin, muscle, nerves, and bones of the legs.

Besides chariots and men on horseback, the Persians used camel riders. In one battle, they brought 10 war elephants with them, but not much was written about their animal war unit. By the way, “Animal War Unit” sounds like either a great name for a metal band or a new hit procedural on CBS, doesn’t it?

5. The Apple Bearers

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The weapon predominantly used by the Immortals was their spears. They were often six feet long with a razor sharp bronze or iron broad leaf-style spearhead at one end, and a metal counterbalance at the other. This counter balance was also used as a blunt force weapon. Often these counter balances were in the shape of fruit and denoted rank. The most common was pomegranates.

However, the 1,000 most elite of the Immortals had an apple counterbalance. These “Apple Bearers” were the bodyguards of the Emperor. These soldiers were the best warriors, chosen from the most elite military unit, in the biggest army in Ancient history. They guarded the palace and their spears were much longer, about six-to-eight feet long. If the Emperor left the palace, they completely surrounded him. This made him nearly impossible to reach, thus guaranteeing his safety.

4. Armed to the Teeth

The Immortals: An elite army of the Persian Empire that never grew weak | Ancient Origins

The Immortals: An elite army of the Persian Empire that never grew weak | Ancient Origins

Most of the Immortals’ weapons were fairly lightweight, which did have its downside. But one major benefit is that it allowed them to carry multiple weapons at once. Foot soldiers carried at least a short sword, a spear, a quiver full of arrows, a bow, and a shield.

As for the horsemen, they carried a bronze shield, 120 arrows, an iron mace, and two iron spears. For protection, the Immortals and other soldiers wore scaled bronze and iron armor that would glitter in the sunlight. This would increase their visibility when advancing on cities.

3. Battle Tactics

Persian arrows where thin and only really effective within a 120 yard range. But again, this is where their numbers came in handy. The Immortals would launch wave after wave of thousands of arrows. According to one Greek soldier who survived a battle against the Persian army, their arrows “blacked out the sky.”

How the Achaemenid army was usually formed was archers at the front, and to their sides were the cavalry. The archers were supported by light and heavy infantry. The first wave of attacks bombarded the enemy with arrows and men with sling shots would fling rocks, and later pieces of lead, at the enemy’s frontline. This would frighten the enemy, and then they were simply overwhelmed by the sheer manpower of the Persian infantry units.

Due to the size of their army and military tactics, the Achaemenid Empire became the biggest empire of its time, spanning 3.4 million square miles. It extended from Anatolia and Egypt across western Asia, to northern India and Central Asia. In fact, it holds the record for highest percentage of the world population under its control. Out of the 112.4 million people alive in 480 B.C., 50 million, which is 44 percent of all humans on Earth, lived under the Achaemenid Empire.

2. The Sagaris

A favorite weapon of the Immortals was the Sagaris, which was a slender handled war ax. On the head of the ax, there was a traditional flat blade. But on the other side was a sharp point that could pierce iron and bronze armor. Since the ax was so light, it could be used with one hand, and it was usually swung overhand. Since it could be used one-handed it was popular for fighting in hand-to-hand combat, as well as on horseback.

In fact, a Sagaris almost killed Alexander the Great at the Battle of the Granicus in 334 BC, which was the first battle between the Persians and the Macedonians. During the battle, Spithridates, a Persian commander, and his brother happened upon Alexander, who was on horseback. A fight ensued and Spithridates hit Alexander in the head with the ax, and it cut all the way down to Alexander’s scalp. When Spithridates raised the Sagaris again to deliver the death blow, one of Alexander’s men drove a spear through Spithridates, killing him. Alexander would go on to conquer the entirety of the Achaemenid Empire within four years of nearly being killed by the Persian war ax.

1. Psychological Warfare

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While often referred to as barbarians by the Greeks, the Immortals were more interested in psychological warfare than winning through force and brutality. One of their more famous uses of this psychological warfare happened in 525 B.C. during the Battle of Pelusium, and it is believed that it all started over a woman.

Supposedly, Emperor Cambyses II of the Achaemenid Empire wanted to marry the daughter of Amasis, the Pharaoh of Egypt. Amasis was worried that his daughter could become his concubine instead of his wife and didn’t want to hand over his daughter. Instead, Amasis disguised the daughter of the previous ruler and sent her in place of his own daughter. When Cambyses discovered the fraud, he decided to take over Egypt.

Before attacking them, Cambyses hatched a plan based on the fact that he knew that the Egyptians worshiped cats, specifically they had a beloved cat goddess named Bastet. Cambyses ordered his men to paint cats on their shields. When they went into battle, they had herds of cats walk in front of them. Supposedly, some Egyptian soldiers refused to fight and were slaughtered. 50,000 Egyptians in all were killed in the battle, while the Persians only lost 7,000 men. It was a decisive victory for Cambyses and the Persians easily took over the city. Cambyses installed himself as Pharaoh.

10 Terrifying Facts About the Maori Warriors

The Maori people of New Zealand came from eastern Polynesia in waves of canoes sometime between 1250 and 1300 AD. Over the centuries, they developed a rich and complex society that included a fierce and terrifying warrior culture. Europeans described the Maori warriors as large men, although women could be warriors as well, who had extensive facial tattoos. While they looked fearsome, their intense physical appearance is only the start of what made these warriors so terrifying.

10. Their Tattoos Were Carved In

Tattoos held a special significance to the Maori people and both men and women would get them. The most common place to get them was the face, but some Maori people were known to get their necks, torsos, and arms tattooed as well. Most Maoris started getting their tattoosduring adolescence.

Each design was unique, but generally they were in the shape spirals. They were tattooed on during a ceremony, and each line showed the person’s bravery and strength. After all, these tattoos weren’t put on using a needle gun. Instead, they were carved into the skin using a mallet and a chisel that was made from a bone and the ink was made from ash and fat. This left the skin with grooves like a record, instead of being smooth like modern tattoos.

9. The War Dance

One of the most notable traditions used by the Maori warriors, and still used by many of their national sports teams today, is the traditional native dance called the Haka. During the dance, the participants say a chant, stamp their feet, stick out their tongues, and bulge out their eyes. While the dance was often performed to welcome special guests, it was actually developed for war.

The dance was used in two different ways. The first is that it was used to intimidate their opponents. The other way it was used was that it was performed before a battle during a ritual. If there was something wrong with the dance, then the elders were sure that it was a bad omen. This gave them the chance to either abandon or modify their plans.

8. The Mere Club Was Used to Crack Skulls

The mere club was the most common weapon used by Maori warriors. It was in the shape of a teardrop, and made from bone, jade, or stone. They were often decorated and considered heirlooms since it took so long to craft one.

They are a blunt force weapon and were used in close range fighting. Often, a Maori warrior would attack an opposing tribesman by swinging the mere club down on his shoulder. This would hopefully break the collar bone, or dislocate or break their shoulder. Then their opponent would be unable to defend himself against a blow to the head; often to the temple. Behind the temple is the Pterion, which is the weakest point of the skull. Since the skull is so thin there, it usually only took one blow to that area to kill an opposing warrior.

7. The Dead Were Buried and Dug Back up Again and Then Reburied

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The Maori had a very unusual method for burying their dead. Starting early in their culture, the Maori people began to bury people twice. First, after a week or two of mourning, the body was wrapped in mats and then would be buried and allowed to decompose. Then, a year later, the bodies were dug up and the bones were scraped to remove any remaining flesh.

The bones were then painted with red ochre, which is a natural pigment, and taken to different settlements, where they once again mourned the dead. Then there was another ceremony before they were buried again in a sacred place. Once this second burial was complete, the person’s soul would go on to their mysterious afterlife.

6. The War Strategy

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A war party, called a hapu, usually never consisted of more than 100 men, and in some cases women fought as well. Sometimes multiple hapus would join together, but with more warriors, they became less organized.

Warriors were also trained from a young age, and every male was trained as a warrior. One specific thing they worked on was wrist strength. This would make their weapons, like the mere, much more effective.

How the Maoris would attack other tribes is by travelling to enemy settlements quietly, or pretend they were just on a hunting expedition. Once they got close, they would attack, often at dawn. All the men were killed because this eliminated the chance that any tribesman could come back and seek revenge. The women were also taken as a prize of war.

5. Heads of the Killed Were Taken as Trophies

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Heads held a special significance to the Maori people, and they were known to take the heads of their fallen enemies. Once they had the head, they would remove the brain and the eyes. Next, all the orifices were sealed with flax fiber and gum. The head was boiled or steamed in an oven. Then, the heads were dried in the sun for several days and then treated with shark oil.

One reason why they kept the heads of their enemies was so they could mock it later. One missionary said he watched one chief say to the head of an enemy chieftain:

You wanted to run away didn’t you? But my greenstone club overtook you! And after you were cooked you were made food for me!

And where is your father? He is cooked.

And where is your brother? He is eaten.

And where is your wife? There she sits; a wife for me.

And where are your children? There they are, loads on their backs carrying food as my slaves.

If that wasn’t insulting enough, they also developed a bizarre game with the heads. They would pile them in a heap, and then they set the head of the principal chief on the top of the pile. Then, using stones or other heads, they took turns trying to knock off the head at the top of the pile.

4. Captain James Cook’s First Encounter Was Terrifying

The first encounter between Europeans and the Maori was in December 1646, when a Dutch ship made landfall near a Maori tribe. Both groups were standoffish and this led to a small fight that resulted in deaths on both sides. After the run in, the Dutch sailed off and Europeans would not go back until October 1767, when English navigator James Cook traveled there looking for the fabled fourth continent.

When Captain Cook first encountered the Maori, they sent out two war canoes to meet them. When the canoes approached, two fully grown Maori warriors, complete with face tattoos, stood up and held up the shrunken heads of their latest opponents, who were also covered with tattoos. Cook and his crew immediately noticed the detail on the faces and knew the heads were real.

Cook wanted to interact with the Maori’s peacefully, but there were some misunderstandings and the Maori acted aggressively. As a result, the Europeans were supposedly forced to kill a few Maori in self-defense; much to the dismay of Cook.

To convince them they had come in peace, Cook and his men ended up kidnapping some Maori warriors. They acted kindly to them, and then let them go. This led to a better relationship between the Maori and the Europeans, which would play an important role in the shaping of New Zealand.

3. Their Most Famous Warrior Hongi Hika

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It’s believed that the most famous Maori chief, Hongi Hika, was born in 1778. As a young man, he was a fierce and agile warrior who rose up through the ranks of his tribe, the Ngapuhi iwi. His chief got along with the Europeans and also saw the value of muskets in warfare. The chief managed to trade with the Europeans for several guns and ammo and in 1808, the tribe got into a war with another tribe, called the Ngati Whatua.

The Ngapuhi iwi fired off their first shots with the muskets, but the problem with muskets of the time is that it took at least 20 seconds to reload. The Ngati Whatua used this reloading time to attack. Many members of the Ngapuhi iwi tribe, including the chief, were slaughtered. Hongi Hika was one of the lucky few to get away.

With the chief dead, Hongi Hika was the most senior, so he took control of the tribe. The defeat could have very well discouraged Hongi Hika from using muskets. However, he had the foresight to see that muskets could be an incredibly important part of warfare. So he got closer to the Europeans, even visiting Australia and England, where he became a bit of a sensation because of his tattoos. He even converted to Christianity and set up the first Christian mission in New Zealand.

This relationship to the church gave Hongi Hika access to more rifles because he vowed to become a defender of the church. However, he wasn’t simply given all the guns, instead trading for them. As for what the Europeans wanted in exchange for the guns, well… that was shrunken heads. In fact, as the trade became more common, slaves and prisoners of war were brought to the Europeans and they chose which heads they wanted. The Maori then tattooed the chosen victim, and decapitated them. The market got to be so flooded with Maori heads that they were being sold for as little as £2, which was about a week’s wage in England for a working man.

Nevertheless, Hongi Hika was able to amass over 3,000 guns, and plenty of ammo and gunpowder in his 10-years as chief. Starting in 1818, his tribe slaughtered other tribes and took their women. Within a year, he had complete control over Northern New Zealand. However, other tribes soon followed in Hongi Hika’s footsteps and bought their own guns. Hongi Hika was killed when he took a bullet to the lung in 1828.

2. Infanticide

Like other warrior cultures, the Maoris committed infanticide. Females were more likely to be killed because tribes needed more males, since every male was a warrior and there needed to be a decent amount of warriors to ensure the security of the tribe. Also, males were more likely to be killed in battle, meaning that there would have been an upset in the sex ratios later on in life. Infanticide was also common if there was anything wrong with the baby.

Essentially, there were five ways that the infants were killed. Their skulls could be crushed, they could be drowned in a stone basin, strangulation, suffocation, and finally, the most disturbing way was that mothers would press against the soft spot on the skull and kill the baby instantly. Well, that’s cheery. Hey, can’t say we didn’t warn you. “Terrifying” is right there in the title.

1. They Performed Cannibalism

Whether the Maori warriors committed cannibalism or not is highly debated. Some historians believe that it was just Europeans trying to paint the Maoris as wild savages. However, besides witness accounts of cannibalism, tribal oral histories and archaeological evidence also strongly suggest that the Maori warriors indulged in cannibalizing vanquished enemies.

There are a few reasons that the Maori ate their opponents, and it wasn’t because they were hungry. One was to internalize their spirit, which they called mana. Another theory is that the cannibalism was part of their post battle rage. Another is that it would send a message to enemies. They thought that the greatest humiliation you could do to your enemy was to kill them, chop them up, eat them, and then excrete them out.

10 Surprising Facts About Pirates

Pirates have fascinated the masses for hundreds of years. Romanticized in fiction, the image of a pirate has crystallized into a bearded, peg-legged man, with a funny hat and possibly a parrot on his shoulder. The pirate was almost relegated to a quaint decades-old obsession until Disney revived the swashbucklers by rebooting a Disneyland ride into a multi-billion dollar movie franchise. The films star Johnny Depp, pretending to be Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, or as Roger Ebert once wrote, “channeling a drunken drag queen, with his eyeliner and the way he minces ashore and slurs his dialogue ever so insouciantly.”

So with that in mind, we will charge and plunder our way through 10 surprising pirate myths, facts, and misconceptions.

10. Pirates Were Part of the Normal Economy

In the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise, the pirates were literal immortal ghosts that had no need for the world of mankind. There is a myth that pirates were outcasts and pariahs but like any criminal now or in the past they needed to sell their booty. While pirates did get some gold and diamonds, that was far from their only plunder. Most of what pirates stole and looted was anything that ships had, like water, food, soap, timber, salted fish, and supplies for the New Worldcolonies. The most coveted of all prizes was medicine.

With all these goods pirates needed a place to sell them, and there were plenty of ports, pirate and otherwise that encouraged pirate trade. Often pirates were sanctioned by their home countries, like the English Privateer, and their “letter of marque” gave them the legal right to capture ships from enemy nations. With this they could legally sell their booty to their homeports. Privateering, which was similar to today’s version of military contractors, “spurred the growth of Atlantic cities from Charleston to Dunkirk.” Non-nation criminal pirates had no shortage of middlemen and smugglers who would take their tons of stolen salted fish off their hands and integrate it into the local economy.

9. Wore Jewelry to Improve Their Eyesight

Those brave souls who step off the sturdy earth onto a rickety boat to righteously sail the rough seas have always been a superstitious bunch. Bananas famously are taboo on the open sea and are thought to bring doom upon all those on the boat. Real sailors will quickly throw a banana overboard ASAP. Sailors are just as superstitious with their good luck talismans.

Famously bad luck on land, black cats are a seen as signs of good luck at sea with sailors having a black cat on board. There are even those who have their wives have a black cat at home to get a double dose of good fortune. Pirates were no exception to superstitions of the seas. According to the Journal of the American Optometric Association, pirates heavily pierced their ears in hopes that it would improve their eyesight.

8. Pirate Ships Were Democratic

Pirates in the movies are often portrayed as mafias with a head criminal ruling their ship with an iron fist. In real life, pirate ships had surprisingly democratic micro-societies. During the golden age of piracy, over 100 years before democracy took hold in America, sailors on legitimate sailing ships were little more than slaves. The captain controlled everything and in the British Navy, it was even worse. Sailors lived under terrible conditions; conditions so bad that the only way to get new crew members was to pressgang or kidnap innocent people from whatever harbor the ship entered.

This kind of life paled in comparison to pirate ships, where democracy thrived. Not only did pirates share the wealth of their plunder but they voted on everything. They held elections on where to sail, where to strike, what to do with prisoners, and even whether or not to impeach and replace their captain.

7. Pirate Health Insurance

Sailing hundreds of years ago was tough. Piracy, which involved violent resistance and sparse prey, was even tougher. If they weren’t dealing with malnutrition or scurvy pirates had to deal with the normal hazards of the seven seas like storms and new tropical diseases. As outlaws, they also didn’t have a military organization or state to fall back on. Since the pirates were in it together they also banded together forming collectives with health care. If there was an injury on board a ship or while seizing a vessel pirates could depend on each other for monetary support.

In the Caribbean, a pirate group operated that called themselves The Brethren or Brethren of the Coast (they appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean series). One of the most famous pirate captains of this group was Henry Morgan. Morgan offered the following compensation for injury: a right arm was worth 600 pieces of eight, a left arm 500, a right leg 500, a left leg 400, and an eye 100 pieces of eight. In 1600 one piece of eight was about a modern £50 note, so the pay out for a right arm was 600 pieces of eight, the equivalent of £30,000. Even crazed scourge of the sea Blackbeard cared enough for his crew to seize three French surgeons to provide medical care.

6. Pirates Raided Only Ships… Or Not

Merriam-Webster says the definition of a pirate is someone who engages in piracy, or an act of robbery on the high seas. Water thefts, according to the dictionary. But the true mavericks they were, pirates didn’t limit themselves to just looting and pillaging on the high seas. No, when they had the means pirates would attack targets on land, too.

There have been a number of invasions by pirates. One pirate warlord, Edward Mansvelt, controlled a 1,000-men strong pirate army that landed and attacked the Spanish in what became known as the Sack of Campeche in 1663 (now a city in Mexico). Pirate Lord Henry Morgan led another Pirate army 50 miles inland to attack Puerto Principe (now Camagüey in central Cuba). If the prize was high enough pirates had no problem leaving their ships to pillage the land lubbers.

5. Pirates Are Not Forever

The pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean were doomed to an immortal purgatory sailing the seven seas forever, but real pirates had a less permanent legacy. Piracy was often seen as a way to increase their standing in mainstream society. Spend a few years in a high-risk occupation and then take your plunder and improve you and your family’s position in life.

That was certainly the case with Woodes Rogers (he’s the dapper gent on the right in the above painting). He sailed around the world, paid for from all the ships he plundered along the way. He even had enough time to rescue Alexander Selkirk, the Scottish sailor that Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is based on. After he came back home he hung up his pirate standard and became the Governor of the Bahamas. His past didn’t stop him from trying to stamp out local pirates. Not all pirates became politicians, but many parlayed their ill-gotten gains into an easy life back in normal society.

4. Pirate Tropes

Our word for pirate didn’t have a standardized spelling until well into the 18th century. In historical archives ocean raiders, or what we call pirates, were spelled as “pirrot,” “pyrate,” or “pyrat,” which is probably where parrots became an associated pirate trope. Other fictional tropes were that pirates buried treasure, a fiction created by Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel Treasure Island.

The 1950s Disney movie of the same name also created what we now know as pirate talk. For the film, Robert Newton, the pirate star of Treasure Island used an exaggerated version of his southwestern England hometown West Country dialect. Pirates also didn’t have peg legs, and the skull and crossbones flag was just one of many pirate flags used in pirate history.

3. Cannonballs are Spheres of Death

In the age of sail, the preferred means of attack was the cannon. Modern pirate movies have their share of implausible Michael Bay explosions. They also show how each cannon hit causes thousands of serrated pieces of wood to fly into the fleshy, exposed skin of sailors and pirates alike. Yet compared to their fictional Hollywood movie stars, the pirates of old had one less thing to worry about.

As proven by Mythbusters the wooden shrapnel didn’t have enough velocity to penetrate the exposed skin, or for their test, dead pigs. They did discover, however, the gunpowder explosion of a cannon gave the metal cannonballs enough force to rip through the bodies of at least four people, as demonstrated by the unfortunate pigs that took their place.

2. Pirates Aren’t a Relatively Recent, Caribbean Thing

For as long as there has been wealth there have been people that will take that wealth. Robbery and banditry have to be one of the oldest jobs in history, although not the oldest job. That would be ladies of the night. In the same vein of thought, as long as there have been ships there have been people who are willing to take whatever is on that ship. Starting 1200 BC the Egyptians feared a mysterious group of people only known as the “Sea Peoples” that swept over the known world like black death, destroying everything they touched.

Later, in 75 BC, Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates while traveling to Rhodes. Upon hearing their ransom demand, Caesar got insulted and told them to double the asking price for his life. The pirates got their money but after he was released Caesar returned with a fleet of ships and captured and crucified every one of his pirate captors. In the Mediterranean, during the 15th and 16th centuries, there were two groups of pirates that were mirror images of each. The Barbary corsairs were Muslims who raided Christian commerce while the Knights of Saint John were Christian pirates who raided Islamic ships, “mirror image[s] of maritime predation, two businesslike fleets of plunderers set against each other.” The official hymn of the United States Marine Corps even has a line, “to the shores of Tripoli” that’s about the Battle of Derna in 1805, where US Marines attacked a pirate stronghold during the First Barbary War. While the west is more familiar with the Pirates of the New World, Pirates are found throughout history and all over the world.

1. Pirates Still Exist

Pirate movies inevitably always focus on pirates with swords and sailing ships, but pirates still exist today. We don’t just mean the infamous Somali pirates that plagued the Horn of Africa a decade ago (although there was recently an attack after five years of no incidents). Pirates on the other side of the Atlantic have stepped up their attacks in places like Nigeria. Even outside of Africa there is piracy; or rather, piracy never went away. In the early 19th century famous Pirate Queen Madame Ching, or Ching Shih, ruled the waves with hundreds of ships, crewed by thousands of pirates. Not far from Madame Ching’s haunt is one of the busiest shipping straits in the world, the Strait of Malacca. Through this 550 mile-long sea lane, thousands of ships travel and are easy targets for modern day pirates.

Dozens of attacks and hijacking take place every year, although coordinated patrols by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore are trying to put a stop to it. Hitting a little closer to home is piracy on Falcon Lake, which straddles the American and Mexican border. The lake is a result of Falcon Dam on the Rio Grande which was built in the ’50s. After the Mexican side descended into the anarchy of the drug wars small boats full of pirates would prey on fishermen and pleasure boats, as well use the boats to smuggle drugs into the US. Piracy is not something that was stamped out hundreds of years ago. It still exists, to this day, even in America’s backyard.

10 Fascinating Facts About Kamikaze Attacks

As World War II was coming to an end, American Naval forces were quickly approaching Japan and unless something radical happened, Japan would be defeated. Their answer to turn the tides of war was a unique Navy unit called Tokubetsu Kogekitai, which means “Special Attack Unit.” But they were better known as kamikazes, which means “divine wind.” The division consisted of volunteers who would purposely crash into American warships. Here are 10 interesting facts about those men.

10. The Battle of the Philippine Sea

One of the major naval engagements of World War II was the Battle of the Philippine Sea, which took place on June 19 and 20, 1944. The victor was the American Navy, which pretty much wiped out much of the Japanese fleet without losing too many of its own vessels.

The Japanese’ problem was that their planes were the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, also called Zekes, and they were completely ineffective against the powerful American Navy. Mainly, they had a tendency to burst into flames when they were hit by machine gun bullets. After the battle, the Japanese lost 480 Zekes, which was 75 percent of their fleet.

As the American forces neared the Philippines, which was occupied by Japan, the Japanese Navy knew that they needed to do something drastic. At a meeting with the top brass of the Navy, Naval Captain Motoharu Okamura said:

In our present situation I firmly believe that the only way to swing the war in our favor is to resort to crash-dive attacks with our planes. There is no other way. There will be more than enough volunteers for this chance to save our country, and I would like to command such an operation. Provide me with 300 planes and I will turn the tide of war.

Amazingly, they agreed to his plan and gave him the planes he requested. Okamura retrofitted the planes to make them lighter by removing their machine guns, armor, and radios. They were also given bigger gas tanks and loaded with 550 pound bomb explosives. Now all Okamura needed was some pilots.

9. They Shamed People into Being Kamikaze Pilots

The biggest question surrounding kamikaze pilots is: how did they get people to do it? Well, they simply asked men to volunteer.

As for why someone would choose to die like this comes down to the culture of Japan. In Japan, shame is an important aspect of their society. So if a pilot was asked by a superior to volunteer and the pilot said, “No, I don’t want to die for my country,” it wouldn’t just bring shame to him, but to his entire family. Also, if someone did volunteer and he died, he would be promoted up two ranks.

So while kamikaze pilots were ‘volunteers’ they weren’t exactly given much of a choice. They could stay alive and shame themselves and their families in a prideful society, or die and be hailed as a hero who died for his country.

8. They Used Their Best Pilot For the First Run

When the Japanese Navy decided to form a kamikaze squadron, the first person they chose to be a part of it was one of their best young lieutenants, Yukio Seki, a newlywed 23-year-old. When they told him about the plan in September 1944, he supposedly said, “you absolutely must let me do this.” However, he supposedly told a reporter later that he thought it was a waste of his talents.

Over the next month, 23 other volunteers were gathered and trained. On October 20, 1944, Admiral Takijiro Onishi said:

Japan is in grave danger. The salvation of our country is now beyond the power of the ministers of the state, the General Staff, and lowly commanders like myself. It can come only from spirited young men such as you. Thus, on behalf of your hundred million countrymen, I ask of you this sacrifice and pray for your success.

You are already gods, without earthly desires. But one thing you want to know is that your own crash-dive is not in vain. Regrettably, we will not be able to tell you the results. But I shall watch your efforts to the end and report your deeds to the Throne. You may all rest assured on this point.

I ask you all to do your best.

Then the 24 pilots got into their aircraft and flew off to die. However, they didn’t encounter any American ships until their fifth day of flying. That’s when they finally came across American naval ships near Leyte, which is an island of the Philippines.

They surprised the Americans by flying directly into their ships and managed to sink one of the Navy’s most important vessels, an air craft carrier. After a plane hit the deck of the USS St. Lo it caused a series of internal explosions and it sank. The air craft carrier was carrying 889 men and out of them, 143 were killed or missing.

Besides sinking the mighty air craft carrier, the kamikaze pilots also managed to damage three other ships. The Japanese took this as a sign of success and decided to expand the kamikaze program.

7. The Japanese Designed a Plane Specifically for Kamikaze Missions

As we mentioned before, the Japanese’s Zeke planes weren’t really effective war planes. They didn’t exactly make the best flying bombs, either. Another problem was that you needed to train pilots to fly the Zekes and they had to be good enough pilots to even get close enough to a warship. Instead of just scraping the whole kamikaze program, the Japanese Navy decided to develop a plane that was specifically made for kamikaze missions called the Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka, or “Cherry Blossom.”

The Ohka was essentially a drivable missile; it was about 20 feet long with short wings. A problem with the Ohka was that it could only glide up to a distance of 20 miles. So each one needed to be carried by a Mitsubishi G4M bomber. Then once they were near their targets the Ohka would be released. Once the pilot got close to his target, he would start the three rocket boosters, and this allowed the planes to fly fast enough to avoid enemy fire and penetrate the armor of the ships.

Besides being a better flying bombs, the Ohkas were easier to pilot than Zeke planes. Pilots didn’t have to learn how to take off and land, they simply learned how to control the direction of the plane and once they got close, they would push the rocket boosters, so they didn’t have to learn how to maneuver.

The Ohka also had something that no other cockpit has ever had. That was a place behind the pilot’s head to place a samurai sword.

6. It Was Supposed to be Psychological Warfare

Clearly, the most important task of kamikaze pilots was to sink warships. However, there was an added benefit that they thought would help them on the battlefield, and that was that it would give them a psychological edge. The Japanese wanted to come across as fierce warriors who had no limits and would rather die than surrender.

Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t that effective. Not only did the American Navy clobber the Japanese Navy, but when the Japanese unleashed the Ohkas, the Americans nicknamed them “Baka” or “Baka Bomb,” which is Japanese for “fool” or “idiot.”

5. Torpedo Kamikaze Pilots

The Japanese fully embraced the kamikaze attacks and they didn’t just limit them to the sky. They also manufactured drivable torpedoes called kaiten.

How they worked is that the pilot would find a ship in his periscope. Then, using a stop watch and a compass, he basically had to blindly drive into the enemy ship. As you probably guessed, this wasn’t very easy to do and it took months to train pilots.

Another problem was that they were large and couldn’t be driven over long distances, so they had to be transported using a larger submarine. The “mother ship” would have to transport six or eight kaitens to the battles where they were needed.

On November 20, 1944, five kaitens were launched at the USS Mississinewa, which was an oiler. One of them struck it and the explosion was massive, as you can see in the video above. Since the explosion was so big, the Japanese thought they had sunk five ships instead of just one. As a result, the Navy considered the attack as a success and ramped up production of the kaiten.

4. The Nazi Suicide Squad

The Japanese weren’t the only members of the Axis who were desperate to turn to suicide bombers as a way to turn the war around. Near the end of the war, Germany also formed its own suicide squad, called the Leonidas Squadron. The squadron was suggested by Hannah Reitsch, a Nazi test pilot. Reitsch was twice awarded the Iron Cross and she came closer than any other German woman to seeing combat.

In 1944, while Reitsch was getting her second Iron Cross, she pitched the idea to Adolf Hitler. She wanted to put pilots into modified V-1 rockets loaded with explosives and use them as weapons. At first, Hitler didn’t like the idea, but later changed his mind because he liked Reitsch’s commitment to the idea, so he agreed to have planes designed for suicide missions. The aircraft was the Fieseler Fi 103R, which had the code name Reichenberg, and they V1 rockets loaded with 2,000 pound bombs.

Ristsch was assigned to the Leonidas Squadron and she was the first to swear its oath, which read, “I hereby voluntarily apply to be enrolled in the suicide group as a pilot of a human glider-bomb. I fully understand that employment in this capacity will entail my own death.”

Altogether, the squadron had about 70 volunteers, but in the end the program was scraped before any of the Reichenbergs were used.

As for Reitsch, she survived the war. Afterwards, she published her autobiography, and she was the director of the national school of gliding in Ghana. She died at the age of 65 in 1979 from a heart attack.

3. The Pilots Might Have Been High on Meth

Methamphetamine was actually invented in Japan in 1893. However, it didn’t become widely used until World War II by at least two members of the Axis. German forces used a form of meth called Pervitin and the Japanese used a drug called Philopon.

During the war, the Japanese stockpiled Philopon and gave them to their soldiers when they got too tired or hungry. However, the drug became particularly useful for kamikaze pilots. They needed to be sharp and alert while facing certain death. So before the pilots were sealed into their flying bombs and flown several hours to their death, the pilots were given high doses of Philopon. This would have kept them focused until they were needed. Also, meth has a tendency to raise aggression levels.

While this is one of the worst problems when dealing with addicts, this side effect would have been particularly useful in suicide bombers who had to fly through gunfire before hitting their targets and killing themselves.

2. The Last Kamikaze Pilot

After the creation of the kamikaze unit, Admiral Matome Ugaki was put in command of it. Months later, on August 15, 1945, the Emperor of Japan announced Japan’s surrender over the radio, and Ugaki decided he wanted to die the same way as his men – in a kamikaze mission.

Before Ugaki flew out, he posed for the above picture, and then climbed into the plane. The problem was that Ugaki didn’t know how to fly, so another pilot had to volunteer for the mission.

En route to his death, Ugaki relayed the following message over the radio:

I alone am to blame for our failure to defend the homeland and destroy the arrogant enemy. The valiant efforts of all officers and men of my command during the past six months have been greatly appreciated.

I am going to make an attack at Okinawa where my men have fallen like cherry blossoms. There I will crash into and destroy the conceited enemy in the true spirit of Bushido, with firm conviction and faith in the eternity of Imperial Japan.

I trust that the members of all units under my command will understand my motives, will overcome all hardships of the future, and will strive for the reconstruction of our great homeland that it may survive forever.

Long live His Imperial Majesty the Emperor!

Unfortunately for Ugaki, his mission was not successful and his plane was probably intercepted before it could reach its target.

1. It Wasn’t Very Effective

Clearly, the Japanese thought that kamikaze pilots were a good idea. However, in hindsight it was a pretty ineffective way to take on the strongest naval force of World War II.

In total, kamikaze pilots were only able to sink 51 ships and just one of those was an aircraft carrier, which was the first major battleship to be sunk by a kamikaze attack, the USS St. Lo. Kamikaze pilots were also responsible for the deaths of 3,000 American and British men. However, when you compare that to the Japanese’s losses, it’s hard to believe that Japan was doing offensive tactics. In total, 1,321 Japanese planes and submarines crashed into American naval ships and over 5,000 pilots were killed in attempts.

Eventually, the American Navy simply overwhelmed the Japanese Navy because they had more men and superior planes and ships. Today, the kamikaze project is considered one of the biggest blunders of World War II.

10 Brutal Facts About the Roman Legions

For nearly one thousand years, the world quaked at their footsteps, and the very sound of their name: The Legions. The elite troops of Rome’s formidable army, which would carve up an empire that stretched from the Highlands of Scotland to the scorching deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. They would kill and enslave millions, pillage and raze cities to the ground, and transform the mighty Mediterranean Sea into the Empire’s own private lake. The only time in human history when the whole of the Mediterranean would be under one single government was under Roman rule. The Roman Legions were such a mighty force in the world, even their own Emperors were afraid of them.

10. Their Military Training

Training in the amphitheatre at Caerleon. The Army Camp

Training in the amphitheatre at Caerleon. The Army Camp

The Roman Legions had come a long way since around 700 BC, when Rome itself was nothing more than a small gathering of hovels atop the Palatine Hill, to 117 AD when it became the largest Empire of the ancient world, making up 20% of the world’s population. Back to around Rome’s beginnings, its army was only comprised of local farmers, who would be hurriedly called into action, fighting skirmishes with neighboring settlements. And only the men who owned property were called into battle, as they were the only ones trusted to defend Rome, or fight on its behalf.

All of this would change in 390 BC however, when an army of Gauls utterly defeated the Romans, and then descended upon the city itself. They continued sacking and pillaging Rome for the next 6 months until finally they were paid off to leave. The Romans got a wake-up call which would change their destiny forever. They then spent the following centuries perfecting their Legions by systematically training and organizing a professional military machine like nobody had ever seen before.

There were endless drills, and marches to the point of exhaustion. Roman soldiers were attending weapons training every morning and practiced melee combat with wooden swords, spears and shields, twice as heavy as their real counterparts, to build up strength. Part of their daily training also involved a 19 mile-long march to be completed in five hours, while carrying a full pack of weapons, shield, food rations, cooking supplies, and a short spade, along with their own personal kit. Besides these extraneous exercises, soldiers would also familiarize themselves with the highly organized battle tactics and formations, which in the early days of the Republic, at least, were based on those of the Greeks. No other army in the world at the time would receive such a rigorous training, which gave the Roman Legions a tremendous advantage in waging war.

9. Discipline Through Fear

After hard training and everyday military drill, Roman legionaries were able to march 37.5 kilometers a day with the baggage weighing even 36 kilograms.

After hard training and everyday military drill, Roman legionaries were able to march 37.5 kilometers a day with the baggage weighing even 36 kilograms.

Following orders to the letter and not questioning one’s superiors is something which most don’t naturally have built into their consciousness. So, another integral part of their training was the sense of discipline and obedience, instilled through fear. Severe punishments for even the slightest of offenses was something common within any Roman Legion. Soldiers would often times be stoned to death by their comrades for cowardice in battle or even for falling asleep at their posts while on sentry duty.

Minor offenses were handled by the Centurions (military officers), who always carried vine branches in order to strike at their Legionnaires. And since these officers were held directly responsible for the behavior of the men serving under them, whippings were commonplace in a Roman military camp. In The Annals, Tacitus talks about one such Centurion, Lucilius, who acquired the name “Cedo Alteram,” which loosely translates to “bring me another.” Lucilius was notorious for the frequent and violent beatings he inflicted on his men, breaking one vine on their backs after another, and then calling out for more. Tacitus also mentions that this particular Centurion was killed during a mutiny.

In any case, this ruthless treatment nevertheless proved useful time and time again, as the men became more reliant and trusting of each other for their very survival in the extremely harsh conditions they endured at the fringes of the empire. In short, this discipline instilled through fear gave Roman soldiers a far better chance at survival if they blindly obeyed their superiors, than if they did not.

8. The Decimation

Decimation. Etching by William Hogarth in Beaver's Roman Military Punishments (1725)

Decimation. Etching by William Hogarth in Beaver’s Roman Military Punishments (1725)

One particularly brutal punishment for any Legion was the Decimation, which was as bad as it actually sounds. The word itself comes from this Roman military disciplinary measure, used on large groups of soldiers guilty of capital offenses like mutiny, treason, or desertion. Decimation is derived from Latin meaning “removal of a tenth.”

The way they went about it was to have the guilty men divided into groups of ten, and to have them draw straws. The soldier who drew the short straw was to be killed by the other nine, by clubbing him to death. That’s some messed up psychological conditioning right there. And since the decision of who will die was left to chance, all soldiers were liable for execution, regardless of their level of involvement, rank, or distinction. But because killing off ten percent of the army is almost never a good idea, the Decimation never became common practice.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus called it “an ancestral punishment,” and it was most prevalent during the 5th century BC, but even then there are only a few known cases. The Roman commander and future triumvirCrassus, is said to have revived it when fighting Spartacus in 71 BC. The last recorded case of Decimation was during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284–305 AD), but with the emergence of Christianity, this punishment disappeared completely under its influence.

7. Weapons and Armor

Image result for did roman soldiers wear

In the beginnings of the Roman army, only the wealthy could afford to own a sword, a shield, and probably a helmet. They became the officers of the early Legion, while the commoners, who could only afford slings and stones, became the foot soldiers. But as Rome expanded its borders, so did the army become more standardized, with the equipment being provided by the state. Their first line of defense was the chainmail shirt. The Romans may have borrowed this technology from the Gauls during the 3rd century BC. The main advantages of the chainmail (Lorica hamata in Latin) were its light weight, and that it offered good protection against slashing swords. During the 1stcentury AD however, the chainmail was partially replaced by segmented plate armor, Lorica segmentata. Though heavier and with a higher maintenance, plate armor offered a great deal more protection against piercing attacks.

The Roman helmet was redesigned and improved over the centuries, having Etruscan, Greek and predominantly Gallic influences. It was fashioned in such a way as to offer maximum protection, but without blocking the senses. It had large cheek pieces as to protect the side of the face, but not to cover the ears, so the soldiers could hear the commands given by the Centurions. The crests, often times made out of horsehair or sometimes feathers, had the purpose of making the wearer appear larger and fiercer, as well as to distinguish between the ranks. Centurions wore the crest across the helmet, so as to be easily distinguished in the heat of battle.

Further protection came from the Roman shield. Smaller and rounder in earlier times, the Scutum developed later into a rectangular one. It was made of layers of wood glued together and covered with leather and metal. The shield was also curved, thus offering more protection to the sides. Due to its size, the shield was also used as an offensive weapon, and worked perfectly in combination with the Gladius; the Roman short sword. While in close combat, a broadsword would become more of a hindrance since there wasn’t enough room to move it around. And when the barbarians were waving them over their heads in a sign of defiance, a Roman soldier would just stab him in the gut with his short Gladius.

6. Battle Tactics and Formations

The testudo formation in a Roman military reenactment.

The testudo formation in a Roman military reenactment.

What truly made the Roman Legions the best fighting force throughout the ancient world, were the structured nature of the army, and the formations they used in battle. A Legion was comprised of 4,800 men, divided into 10 Cohorts of 480, which in turn contained 6 Centuries of 80 soldiers, each commanded by a Centurion. This highly structured form offered the army both unity among the ranks, as well as a great deal of coordination on the battlefield. Most of the barbarians the Romans were in conflict with fought in loose arrangements and each warrior sought individual glory. But every one of the 4,800 soldiers in a Roman Legion had a precise role to play in a master strategy.

A typical assault would begin at long range, using catapults to shower the enemies with boulders and iron bolts. Next the Legionnaires would launch their javelins. Made of a wooden handle and a long iron head, the Pilum, as it was called by the Romans, would bend on impact, preventing the enemy from throwing it back. Then the soldiers would stand shoulder to shoulder, swords out, and begin their advance as a moving wall of death and destruction. With the shield extending from their chins almost down to their ankles, there wasn’t much a group of disorganized tribesmen could do.

In case of volley fire, or when advancing towards an enemy fortress, the Romans would quickly deploy their famous Tortoise (Testudo) formation. The soldiers in front and on the sides would interlock their shields, while those in the center raised them over their heads. This way they would minimize the damage done by any projectile weapon thrown against them. Another good offensive tactic was the Wedge. Here the Legionnaires formed up a triangle, and with their swords out, they would charge at the enemy, in an effort to break up their lines and divide them up. Even if the Gauls, the many Germanic tribes, or the Dacians were able warriors in their own right, none of these peoples were prepared to face such a well-coordinated, highly militarized and devastating force bent solely on domination.