10 Facts About Medieval Knights Proving They Were Jerks

A short while ago we published a list (and a video) about the oft-romanticized samurai of feudal Japan. It turns out, they were actually pretty awful. Today, we’re turning our attention to the samurai of the west: medieval knights. As you can probably guess from the title, once again the common perception of knights isn’t exactly accurate. Pop culture paints them as noble heroes, but the reality is significantly different. For example, did you know that…

10. They Barely Ever Had to Work

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For the most part, knights in feudal Europe were expected to swear their loyalty and their sword to a lord or king and become their vassal. In return the lord or king would give the knight several hundred acres of land to call his own. While knights often weren’t paid for their service, per se, this land often included serfs (who were basically slaves) to maintain it. This allowed a knight the opportunity to make himself extremely wealthy if he so desired.

So you’re probably thinking that in return for several hundred acres of land, a giant house, and slaves to do all the dirty work, knights would be expected to work pretty hard, right? As it turns out, knights were expected to work no more than 40 days per year. This “work” could consist of stuff as simple as escorting the lord and his rapidly swelling backside to and from a hunt. Of course, it could also include going to war. Even then, knights had it dramatically easier than 99%of the population, because…

9. During Battle, They Were Highly Unlikely to be Killed

Medieval knight on horse in battle

During the heyday of knights, warfare was a much different beast than it is now. The role of knights in battle was vastly different than what you’d probably expect. Though many knights were indeed highly skilled in the art of stabbing people in the kidney, their real value came in the fact that they rode horses. That’s something common foot soldiers were forbidden from doing, even though horses were the real MVPs of feudal battlefields.

The perceived value of knights was such that in battle, conscripted peasants and common foot soldiers could sometimes face severe repercussions for killing one. Even if the knight was fighting for the other side. And yes, even if he was being really meanThis is because captured knights could often be ransomed back to their lords. That became notably more difficult when the knight was dead or had a sword wound in his chest. Accordingly, knights who were captured were often given comfortable cells with ample food and wine while a ransom was being decided. This same courtesy was not granted to the common soldiers mentioned above. Many of those grunts would be slaughtered instantly if they were captured. Individually they had no real value, despite them often being the bulk of a given lord’s army.

It’s also worth noting that during combat, knights were honor bound to show respect to a fellow knight. They were expected to either yield to a superior foe, or give a bested knight a chance to yield before finishing him off (depending on how baller they were in a given confrontation). There was no such expectation for common soldiers, who could be indiscriminately killed or finished off by a knight without it being deemed unchivalrous. Because, as we’re about to explain…

8. Chivalry Only Applied When They Wanted It To

Leighton-God Speed!

Chivalry, along with being a thing guys in fedoras complain online about being dead, was a basic code of conduct knights were expected to live by. It espoused the tenets of basic respect and honor. Though the chivalric code is a thing that existed, few knights actually followed it. The reason we think that they did has largely been attributed to medieval romantic literature, which often portrayed knights as unwavering sentinels of justice. Over time, this idea became the norm. Today we commonly think of knights as honorable figures worthy of respect and admiration. Like Ned Stark, or Jon Snow’s abs. In reality, knights were more like Ser Gregor Clegane in that they did whatever they wanted, because they could. They only showed respect to those of a higher station.

During war, knights frequently looted, pillaged, and raped. They would raid villages for supplies, indiscriminately killing serfs’ farm animals, because screw them we guess. This practice was so widespread that many knights considered looting to be their right. Accepting the booty (both metaphorical and literal) they took for themselves was something they thought they were owedfor their service. Which makes it all the more annoying when you learn that…

7. Only Rich Kids Could Become Knights

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The route to becoming a knight was, like a cheap fishing rod, rigid and unyielding. It essentially limited knighthood to kids who today would have names like Quentin or Chet. While poor or common folk could become knights if they did something exceptionally badass during battle, or saved a lord’s life, they were equally likely to be killed for embarrassing someone who had the foresight to be born with money. Meaning, virtually all knights were nobles of some kind.

This kind of makes the fact knights could punch poor people in the head, or take their stuff, all the more jarring. By virtue of their birth, knights were almost always independently wealthy anyway. Like many rich people, knights also engaged in a number of hobbies that revolved around being as obnoxious as possible, like…

6. Gathering in Big Groups, Picking Fights, and Harassing Women

Knights-templar

As noted above, knights generally only followed the parts of the chivalric code they wanted. One part of that code states that a knight must always be ready to defend his honor if it’s challenged. To take advantage of this, it was commonplace in the 14th and 15th centuries for large groups of knights to gather at well-travelled areas, like bridges and rivers, just to pick fights with other passing knights trying to go about their business. Basically, they were those guys who go to bars wearing Tap Out shirts with the sole intention of sucker-punching the first person to look at them funny.

As you can imagine, peasants would often avoid these areas like the plague. Keep in mind, these people had the actual plague to worry about, too. Anyway, the risk of being attacked by a bored knight was extremely high. Likewise, any man attempting to pass with his wife would be expected to fight for her honor. Nothing says ‘chivalry’ like harassing a guy’s wife until he gets angry enough to punch you. If a woman had the audacity to attempt to pass by without a man, the knights would accost her until she handed over a piece of clothing. She’d then have to ask a knight to go get it back.

Learning this, it kind of makes sense that angry misogynists online really idealize the idea of chivalry. It gives you free reign to be a huge tool. Plus, there’s that smug, unearned air of satisfaction that you’re better than everyone else. Speaking of being better than everyone else…

5. Jousting Was Pay to Win

Few aspects of being a knight have been romanticized as much as the idea of jousting. You know, the sport involving two men in plate armor attempting to poke each other in the face with sticks from horseback. Initially it served as a way for two knights to test their skills against one another. Ultimately, it evolved into its own sport so far removed from actual combat that the armor worn by jousters was literally too heavy to wear normally.

Jousting armor, as it was known, often weighed in excess of 100 pounds. It was so heavy that the wearer could barely move. He was usually only being held in jousting position by the armor itself. While skill undeniably played a role in determining the winner of a joust, rich enough knights could simply buy armor so ridiculously heavy that it was nearly impossible to unhorse him. That made winning vastly easier. Poorer knights, meanwhile, had to make do with the same armor they used for battle, which was designed for movement as opposed to dominating face-poking tournaments.

4. Women Couldn’t Become Knights, but Were Expected to Do the Job of Their Dead Husbands

Like so many of the coolest jobs in history, being a knight was exclusively reserved for owners of a penis. Their wives were expected to sit at home, not learning to kill people with a broadsword, their bloodlust going offensively unsated. Unless their husband died like a moron, that is. In that case, women were expected to fulfil all of their husband’s knightly duties. This included protecting their lord and making sure his land didn’t fall into disrepair. Only women didn’t get any of the cool stuff that came with it, like respect or acknowledgement by history.

Unsurprisingly, the wives seldom waited for their husbands to get gored by a lance before getting all up in the business of running the show. This resulted in them being significantly more skilled and diplomatically inclined than their husbands. The duties generally expected of a knight’s wife included everything from organizing the defenses of their estate, to arranging marriages for their servants. This was on top of being at the beck and call of their husband 24 hours a day. Which probably explains why…

3. Knights Could Nearly be Killed Trying to Woo a Woman

Codex Manesse Ulrich von Liechtenstein

Women, as throughout most of recorded history, got a rough deal in the era of knights and chivalry. However, ladies of high enough standing did have some say when it came to being wooed. And boy, did they take advantage of that.

The most notable example of this is likely Ulrich von Lichtenstein (yes, the character from A Knight’s Tale was based on a real guy). He tried to woo a noblewoman in the 13th century, and nearly died in the process. The lady being wooed took particular exception to being courted by Lichtenstein, both due to his appearance (he had a harelip) and the fact he already had a wife. So, like her movie counterpart, she made Ulrich do a whole host of activities to prove his love. Totally innocent and sane things. You know, like cutting off his finger, competing in jousts wearing a dress instead of armor, and sleeping amongst a group of leprosy infected peasants. All things we’d be tempted to say he didn’t deserve, if it wasn’t for the fact that…

2. Knights Treated Serfs Just Terribly

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In feudal Europe, serfs were considered to be the lowest dregs of society. They were lower even than farm animals, because at least you could eat those. Essentially slaves, serfs had few rights and fewer reasons to smile. Though serfs were technically protected by the lords of the land they worked, lords and knights could freely beat them or demand their property. Serfs had to pay for anything they took from the land, since it belonged to their lord or his vassal. Taking it without his permission or due payment was a crime that often resulted in a severe beating. Though not severe enough that the serf couldn’t keep working, of course.

Serfs couldn’t marry or even travel without a lord or knight’s permission, meaning many serfs died without ever having travelled more than five miles from the place they were born. Since they were integral to the upkeep of a lord’s land, serfs were often the first target for knights. Some knights would intentionally not kill serfs, but instead severely wound them by hacking off a limb. That way, they’d be a drain on the landowner’s resources.

That fact made us unbelievably happy to learn that…

1. Becoming a Knight Used to Mean Being Slapped Across the Face

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As seen in movies, the process of knighting a person today usually involves lightly tapping the person being knighted on the shoulder with a sword. The exact origins of this tradition are unclear. It’s believed to originate from the idea that a young squire wasn’t ready to be a knight until he’d had a weapon buckled against his armor during battle. A squire couldn’t readily rely on this happening, so a symbolic gesture was created. One that involved hitting the squire across the face, and then on the shoulder with a sword.

How hard the squire was hit generally depended on how big a jerk the person knighting him was. You can probably imagine that many squires started their first day as a knight with a handprint on his face. Though it was customary to only “lightly” hit the squire, since it was the only hit in his entire life the squire was required not to return, some knights took advantage of the opportunity to be a tool without consequence. They’d give the squire a punishing, jaw bone shattering backhand to the face for absolutely no reason. Something we, for some mysterious reasons, feel absolutely fine about learning happened.


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10 Strange Aviation Mysteries

There have been many unexplained disappearances of aircrafts over the years. There’s no denying that the Bermuda Triangle is a hot spot for planes disappearing, but there are countless other locations around the world where airliners have seemingly vanished into thin air. Other times, aircrafts suddenly crashed with very little warning. And of those crashes, the wreckage discovered often leaves experts with more questions than answers. From the disappearance of Flight 19 over the Bermuda Triangle, to MH370 vanishing, to a hijacker that jumped out of a plane only to disappear without a trace, today we detail 10 of the most fascinating aviation mysteries of all-time.

10. Helios Airways Flight 522

In August 2005, Helios Airways Flight 522 was on its way from Cyprus to Greece when air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft. After losing contact with the plane, two Greek fighter jets went out searching for it and when it was located, they noticed the two pilots slumped over the controls. The fighter pilots then noticed a steward, who was holding an oxygen bottle, breaking into the locked cockpit and attempted to take control of the plane. Unfortunately, he was too late and the plane ran out of fuel, crashing into the hills near Grammatiko, killing all 121 people onboard.

After an investigation took place, it was announced that the cabin lost pressure which left the crew unconscious, although they had previously tried to pressurize the cabin but failed. While we know what happened to the aircraft, a big question still remains: is it in fact safer to lock the cockpit doors? After the terrible tragedies of September 11, 2001, locked cockpits were the normal procedure, but it makes it much more difficult for the flight and cabin crews to communicate. And had the crew of Helios Airways Flight 522 been able to enter the cockpit sooner, the crash may have potentially been avoided.

9. Flying Tiger Line Flight 739

In March 1962, during the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army Flying Tiger Flight 739 was carrying 96 soldiers and 11 crewmen from Guam to the Philippines when it vanished over the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. Crew members of a Standard Oil tanker reported seeing an explosion in the sky about an hour after the aircraft made its final communication, although no distress signals were made by the pilots.

Numerous aircraft and ships searched over 200,000 square miles for eight days looking for the missing plane, but no wreckage was ever found, sparking several rumors as to what really happened. One of those theories is that the U.S. government accidentally shot down the aircraft and tried to cover it up by saying the crash most likely happened due to engine and communication failure.

8. B-47 Stratojet

In March 1956, a Boeing B-47 Stratojet was flying from MacDill Air Force Base in Florida to Ben Guerir Air Base in Morocco when it disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea. After completing its first refuelling stop without any problems, it was time to refuel again, so the aircraft began to descend but didn’t make any contact with the tanker.

While an extensive search was conducted, no wreckage was ever found and the crew members were declared dead. The unarmed aircraft had two capsules of nuclear weapons material in carrying cases onboard, so the theory of a nuclear detonation wasn’t a possibility. And interestingly enough, the nuclear weapons were never found, either.

7. TWA Flight 800

In July 1996, Trans World Airlines Flight 800 was flying from New York City to Paris on an overnight trip when it suddenly exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 8 miles off the coast of Long Island, near East Moriches, New York, killing all 230 people onboard. The plane exploded just 12 minutes after takeoff, while it was at an altitude of around 13,700 feet. While the U.S. government said that a combination of fuel and air had ignited in the fuel tank, many others believe that it was hit by a missile.

The center part of the aircraft fell first, followed by the forward fuselage, the wings, and the remaining part of the fuselage. After working for over 10 months in water around 120 feet deep, divers were able to recover the remains of all 230 victims, as well as about 95% of the aircraft. Investigators said that the explosion was due to an electrical short circuit that affected the fuel gauge wiring in the tank. There was, however, explosive residue found inside of the cabin but they explained that by an explosive detection exercise that had taken place on the aircraft.

Since 258 people who were interviewed by the FBI claimed to have seen a streak of light that approached the aircraft just before it crashed, many have speculated that it was instead shot down either by terrorists or by a mistake made by the U.S. military, leaving people with more questions than answers as to what really happened to TWA Flight 800.

6. EgyptAir Flight 990

In October 1999, EgyptAir Flight 990 flew from Los Angeles to New York City, where it made a stop before continuing on to Cairo, Egypt. Less than 25 minutes after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport, the aircraft crashed into the Atlantic Ocean around 60 miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, killing all 217 people on board. While the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board claimed that it was the actions of the co-pilot that caused the plane to crash, Egyptian authorities said it was because of mechanical failure.

The plane began to descend very fast (approaching the speed of sound) at a 40 degree steep angle before regaining altitude, then changing directions. It then lost its left engine before descending again and crashing into the ocean. Since a large group of passengers on the plane were military officers from Egypt, some have speculated that the flight had been targeted by the country’s enemies.

According to the cockpit voice recorder, the pilot went to the washroom, leaving the co-pilot alone. At that point, the autopilot was disconnected and the plane began its descent. When the pilot returned to the cockpit, he was heard asking the co-pilot what had happened, with the co-pilot answering “I rely on God.” Was it the co-pilot who caused the crash or was it mechanical failure? We may never know the answer.

5. Pan Am Flight 7

The Clipper Romance of the Skies – also known as Pan Am Flight 7 – was the most luxurious and biggest aircraft of its time. It was in the process of conducting a flight around the world with 36 passengers and eight crew members, departing from San Francisco with its first stop scheduled for Hawaii. That was, however, until it crashed in November 1957.

At 16:04 Pacific Standard Time on November 8, the pilot last reported his position, and that was the last time anyone aboard the plane was heard from. One week later, several of the victims’ bodies were recovered from the ocean. The most interesting fact is that their watches showed a time of 17:25 PST. So, what happened in the 81 minutes between the last communication from the aircraft and when it crashed?

While many theories have circulated on what actually happened, some people believe that a couple of bad men boarded the plane – one of which owed a pretty big debt and the other who was called a “psycho” by people in his hometown – and they may have brought the plane down. Another theory is that the propeller shattered mid-flight because the engines were so powerful. Some of the bodies recovered were wearing life vests, and a large amount of carbon monoxide was detected in several of the bodies. What exactly happened on that flight still remains a mystery.

4. Flight 19

In December 1945, six planes vanished in the Bermuda Triangle and have never been recovered. Five Avenger torpedo bombers (known as “Flight 19”) took off from their base located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for an exercise run. The pilots encountered problems with their compasses and lost communication with the ground crew, although the ground station was still able to hear the pilots talking to one another. The pilots appeared to have been confused as to their location and they all decided to crash-land their planes in the water once their fuel dropped below 10 gallons.

A huge search and rescue mission took place for five days that covered 700,000 square kilometers but no wreckage was ever found. In fact, another plane that had 13 people on board also disappeared and was never found. Apparently, an ocean-liner that was in the area reported seeing a huge fireball in the sky. But to this day, none of the six planes or the passengers have ever been recovered, which adds to the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.

3. Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart set many flying records during her life, including becoming the first woman to fly solo over 14,000 feet in 1922, and then in 1932 when she was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic. But tragedy stuck in July 1937 when she disappeared while flying around the world. Her twin-engine Lockheed Electra vanished close to the International Date Line in the central area of the Pacific Ocean. The only clues that were left behind by Earhart were a few unclear and garbled up radio transmissions.

There have been several theories as to what happened to her, such as the possibility she abandoned the airplane and died in the water. Other, stranger theories have surfaced, such as the idea she may have been stranded on an uninhabited island for several years all alone, or that she may have been captured and killed by the Japanese government. Some have even suggested that she just wanted to disappear from the public eye so she faked her death and lived in New Jersey under a different name.

Although the wreckage of her plane has never been found and she was declared lost at sea, what really happened to Amelia Earhart still remains one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.

2. D.B. Cooper

One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all-time doesn’t involve the disappearance or crash of an aircraft, but rather a man who hijacked a plane and seemingly vanished into thin air after jumping out with a large sum of money.

In November 1971, a commercial plane was traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, in a seemingly normal flight. A male passenger who was around his mid-40s and about 6-feet tall, and who said his name was Dan Cooper (or D.B. Cooper), handed a flight attendant a note that said he had a bomb in his briefcase. He then showed her the inside of his briefcase, which contained several wires, red sticks, and a battery. At that point, he asked for four parachutes and $200,000 in cash.

When he received the items in Seattle, he let all of the passengers leave the plane, except for a few crew members. Somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Nevada, Cooper lowered the rear steps and jumped out of the plane (with the money), never to be seen again. While countless searches were conducted to try and find him, it was as if he just completely disappeared. To this day, no one knows who D.B. Cooper actually was, or what became of him.

1. MH370

On March 8, 2014, the world was left shocked when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 seemed to disappear off the face of the Earth during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Extensive search efforts were conducted from the Indian Ocean west of Australia to Central Asia to try and located the 227 passengers and 12 crew members, but no bodies were ever recovered.

With no warning or explanation, the aircraft’s transponder was switched off shortly after communicating with air traffic controllers. The aircraft had then turned toward the west for no apparent reason, as it was completely off track from its initial destination. Since nobody knew for sure where their aircraft may have potentially gone down, several pings from a black box were heard around 1,200 miles northwest of Perth, Australia, but searchers were unable to determine the exact location of the box and it’s never been discovered.

Numerous theories have surfaced on what may have happened to MH370, such as mechanical failure, to hijacking, to even pilot suicide. Since July 2015, several pieces of debris have been recovered, but only a very few were confirmed to have come from MH370. Debris has been recovered from the French island of Réunion, as well as the shores of Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar, and Mauritius.

In July 2018, the Malaysian government issued a report claiming that mechanical malfunction was very unlikely, as the change in the flight path occurred from manual inputs. So, who caused the plane to disappear? Why did they do it? And most importantly, where is it?

10 Shocking Facts About “Freak” Shows

While it has been boasted that P.T. Barnum created the original freak show, the truth is that people have always been attracted to the odd and unusual. On the other hand, people born with disabilities, and who have been deemed unemployable by so-called normal people, have discovered that they can make a healthy living being on display in a sideshow. This was especially true in the late 1800s and early 1900s when freak show performers were earning far more money than the average citizen.

In fact, it is easy to say that most of what we do not know about freak shows, past and present, is rather shocking and goes against the harsh conditions portrayed in Hollywood movies and popular television shows.

10. The Tattooed Baby

Tattooed men and women were popular sights at freak shows because getting body tattoos was controversial, especially when women had it done. In 1884, however, one couple decided to take the controversy even further.

Laura Lavarime, a tattooed woman, gave birth to a 15-pound boy who, it was claimed, was covered in tattoos that were supposedly identical to his mother’s markings. According to one newspaper article, “the strangest part of the freak is that the colors of the India ink used to decorate the mother are exactly reproduced on the baby’s body except the face.” Easily duped, the public was far more fascinated by the oddity of a tattooed baby than to care about how the stunt was actually pulled off.

Not surprisingly, the infant’s father was a traveling showman who reportedly had a clubbed foot. He ran the living museum where his tattooed wife was on exhibit.

9. Midget Shows

Midgets shows were incredibly popular in the United States during the early half of the 1900s. One advertisement for a midget show at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 invited people to come visit the “Little Miracle Town” that had been built for 125 European midgets.

While little people were often a part of the ever common freak shows, if a show organizer was able to gather up two or more little people to perform for audiences, it was immediately labelled a midget show and visitors were charged a separate fee to witness the event.

The midget shows also joined up with the dog and pony shows, wild west shows, and various circuses worldwide. Those who participated in these shows were usually highly intelligent, well-educated people. For example, little person Vincent Tarabula was fluent in five different languages. He got his law degree in Budapest, but when he was offered a job with a thespian group of little people, he accepted the position. He then went on to travel the world and earn a good living while doing so.

8. Cigarette Fiends

Numerous strange characters made up the freak show exhibits. There was the ever popular sword swallower and the fat lady who, incidentally, earned more per week than her counterpart, the fat man. Snake handlers were also popular and there was often the wild man scene where an average citizen pretended to be a fierce man of the jungle.

In between all these characters was the man known as the cigarette fiend. Oftentimes, the cigarette fiend was also the skinny man or the skeleton man, and his exhibit usually consisted of him lounging on a sofa, inhaling cigarettes.

For the late 1800s and early 1900s, the scene was considered both bizarre and obscene. Cigarettes were an item of luxury, to be smoked during leisure time, but not all the time, one after the other.

In the 1930s, it was reported that the cigarette fiend earned $25 a week for his work in the freak shows. The income amounted to the average salary earned in 1935.

7. Bearded Ladies were Popular Women

Bearded ladies were naturally a very popular exhibit in the freak shows. Many old newspaper accounts describe these women as charming, handsome, and well-loved.

While it would be easy to think that these women led lonely lives, the reverse was actually true. Madam Meyer, said to have had a very attractive beard, had married and raised a large family. She was said to have been fond of domestic life and enjoyed her private time away from the sideshows.

Annie Jones, another bearded lady, was said to have been extremely charming. She earned a good living being the bearded lady and had married twice, both times to men who were in the circus business.

There was no shortage of men who were attracted to the unique features of these and other bearded ladies from history.

6. Mechanical Men

A quick way to earn some cash in the freak show was to get a man (or woman) to pretend to be a robot or “mechanical device” in the form of a human.

One popular act in the early 1900s was called “No Name.” Mr. No Name was described as an object of human form whose “arms and head and otherwise simulate[d] the actions of an everyday, well-dressed man.”

Electrical wires were attached to Mr. No Name and a woman, presumably the one who worked the machinery, accompanied him on the stage where he would walk and move, always bearing a plain expression. The show’s manager went as far as to offer up $100 to any young woman who could get the so called mechanical man to crack a smile.

In a publicity stunt, the mechanical man visited Washington, DC where he was invited to appear on the steps of the treasury building to help with the war saving stamp drive. He, or “it,” as the newspaper called him, intentionally fell down the steps and was miraculously unharmed. Viewers claimed “it” was a miraculous piece of machinery to not have been broken during the eye catching stunt.

5. She Made a Fortune

While many people might feel that freak shows took advantage of people born with disabilities, there was another side to the story that showed people using their disability to earn an otherwise unachievable income.

Take, for instance, Betty Lou Williams. She was born in Georgia, 1932, with a parasitic twin. The twin’s head was embedded in her abdomen and she bore the twin’s legs and partially developed arms.

Having been born into a poor farming family where she was the youngest of twelve children, it was little wonder that when one-year-old Betty Lou was discovered by a showman, her family agreed to allow her to be exhibited in a freak show. A year later, at the age of two, she was discovered by the infamous Ripley and her life, as well as the lives of her family, was changed forever.

As a child, Betty Lou earned $250 a week when most people earned about $30 a week. By the time she was a young adult, she was earning over $1000 a week.

Instead of wasting her income on frivolous things, she bought her parents a 260 acre ranch. She also paid for the college education of all eleven of her siblings.

4. Who Would Marry Her

Fanny Mills, born in England, was born with Milroy’s disease which caused her feet to swell to enormous proportions. While she was a baby, she and her father immigrated to the United States and her father became a farmer in Ohio.

When Fanny grew up, she realized she could bring in some money by exhibiting her large feet which were said to fit a size 30 shoe. In 1885, she was labelled the Ohio Big Foot Girl and people would pay to see her nineteen-inch long feet.

Playing on the pity of the crowd, showmen would announce that poor Fanny needed a husband to care for her. They claimed that Fanny’s father would pay an eligible bachelor $5,000 and a farm if he was brave enough to make her his wife. This simple announcement brought in the crowds, as men came to see if they could marry such a woman.

While there were, of course, many offers for marriage, what the crowds did not know was that Fanny’s father had passed away without ever having made such an offer and Fanny was already happily married.

3. Half Man and Half Frog

In 1902, there was a curious sighting of a frog man. According to witnesses, a strange creature came out of a South Carolina lake, made some odd sounds, and plopped back into the water. This was not the first time people have claimed to see a half man creature come out of the water, and the idea of a man-frog was a certain hit in the freak show circuit.

In the late 1800s, Juno the frog man was a popular act. Juno, whose real name was Campbell, dressed in a frog costume for his act. By 1903, Ferry the Human Frog was making his rounds dressed as a frog. He was a contortionist who performed stunts to an amazed crowd.

While some frog men acts were performed in suits, there were other frog men who capitalized on their disabilities. For example, there was the man-frog of France who was exhibited in 1866. This man was described as having a “stout illshapen body, covered with a skin like a leather bottle, and a face exactly like a frog’s [with] large eyes, an enormous mouth, and the skin clammy.”

Perhaps the most famous of all frog men was Otis Jordan. Otis was born in 1925 and had been ossified since birth. Despite having graduated from school, it was impossible for Otis to find work until a carnival arrived at his home town in 1963. He had learned how to roll and light a cigarette with his mouth and, after showing his trick to a sideshow manager, began his lifelong career in the freak show circuit.

2. Making a Mermaid

Mermaids were a popular sideshow feature. Showmen would advertise mermaids, collect their dimes, and then shuffle people past a “mummified” mermaid. If there were any complaints about the show not having a live mermaid, the showman would always be quick to point out that he would have had to charge more if the mermaid had been captured alive.

Making mermaids was a popular way to make money in the 1880s. According to several newspaper reports from that time period, the mermaids were made out of wire, paper, and rags. To give the mermaid mummies a feel of authenticity, dried codfish tails were used for the lower half of the body. Turkey bones were used to help shape the arms and dried turkey eyes were used for the mermaid’s eyes, although sometimes glass or paste was used when dried turkey eyes were unavailable.

1. Animal Freaks

People were not the only things on display at freak shows. In fact, some freak shows were entirely dedicated to animals. One of these animal freak shows was advertised in 1908 as having a total of 25 animal freaks on display.

Among the displays was a cow with two sets of udders, a bull with six legs, a duck with four legs, and a lamb with one head attached to two bodies.

Odd, or freak, animals born to farmers usually made the local news. From there, someone, usually a broker, would almost always approach the farmer to buy the strange animal. The animal was then sold to a show manager who generally kept excellent care of his investment.


10 Deadly University & College Professors

Professors fill a highly regarded role in society, being seen as trusted and learned professionals. They are also viewed as typically non-violent and progressive individuals, with high intellectual acumen, self control and integrity. Yet, stereotypes of occasional “mad professors” sometimes come true, in a far, far worse way than depicted in fiction. Here, we discover the worst professors, associate professors, or instructors who were crazy —  and/or angry — enough to become wanted killers or attempted murderers.

10. Amy Bishop

A motivated, intellectually gifted, yet anti-social and entitled woman, former University of Alabama at Huntsville associate professor of biology Amy Bishop violently slaughtered three fellow university professors and wounded another three in a faculty meeting after being denied tenure. On February 12, 2010, Amy Bishop killed biology department chairman Gopi Podila, associate professor of biology Maria Ragland Davis, and associate professor of biology Adriel D. Johnson, Sr. Of the three injured people, one later died of a heart attack. But this terrible finale was not the first sign of trouble with Amy Bishop. Part of the reason she was denied tenure was her strange and sometimes abusive behavior on campus. Apart from this, she had a rather startling history of violence in a variety of societal settings that had been swept under the rug.

Failure by family, administration, and law enforcement to punish her for previous misdeeds — including assault — may have assisted a monster in going unchecked until the point of multiple murder. After what has been considered by some to be a police cover-up, retroactive investigative action resulted in the conviction of Bishop for murder over the 1986 shooting of her 18-year-old brother Seth Bishop, which had been declared an accident. There was another incident where she assaulted a woman in a restaurant in a fit of rage and was charged but released without conviction. In recognition of her triple murder, infliction of injury and resultant threat to society, Bishop received no chance of parole as a condition of her life sentence.

9. Ted Kaczynski

The notorious “Unabomber” (university and airline bomber) was actually a former mathematics associate professor named Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski. He was not only a deranged ideologue and a perpetrator of terror who maimed and killed across the United States; prior to publishing his bizarre manifesto titled “Industrial Society and Its Future,” Kaczynski won a scholarship and went to Harvard at age 16, then taught as an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley starting in 1967 at just 25-years-old. He then mysteriously resigned in 1969, retiring to a cabin, where he became a hermit. The Unabomber mailed homemade but devastating bombs that killed three and wounded 23 more, targeting those he saw as people advancing industrial society. His hate of civilization saw him send bombs to technologists, computer store owners, and executives.

His targets ranged from an American Airlines flight to a geneticist as he attacked all facets of our modern civilized society, trying to force society to return to a primal state. The injuries involved were often horrific, including lost digits, serious burns, and loss of vision in an eye. Before the Unabomber was eventually brought to justice, the crazed former professor had killed, terrorized, and wounded Americans for 17 long years. Kaczynksi was eventually caught when his estranged brother recognized the language in his manifesto and tipped off law enforcement. The death penalty was sought, but not given — the result being four life sentences. The search for the Unabomber was the largest manhunt in the history of the FBI. It was also a hunt of extraordinary size, with 150 full-time staff involved in the search.

8. John White Webster

Spending well beyond ones’ budget can create stress, but one professor chose to kill the man to whom he owed money. John White Webster, a former medical doctor turned Harvard University professor of chemistry, had an eye for the expensive. He went so far splurging on an exceptional fossil and mineral collection that it required a mortgage to fund it, prompting a dispute when he killed his creditor, George Parkman, after promising the collection to another creditor.

Parkman (who had sought to establish a mental asylum but failed), remaining in the lending and real estate businesses, was well known to Webster and had done deals with him for years before the mounting pressures and difficulty in paying brought matters between the two men to an ugly head. In a dispute that ensued one night in November 23, 1849 when Parkman tried to collect unpaid debt from Webster, Webster lashed out, bludgeoning Parkman to death. Parkman did not return, which sparked the concern of his family. After killing Parkman, Webster “dissected” his body and hid the remains under his dwelling. After an amateur investigation by a janitor named Ephraim Littlefield led to the discovery of Parkman’s hacked up remains concealed in a drain pipe, Webster was arrested and hanged in 1850.

7. Cheung Kie-chung

“Mechanical engineering professor” and “murderer” might not come to mind in the same thought. But one such person, who was also a university council member, killed his wife, brazenly concealed her body on campus, and then played dumb by reporting her missing to police.University of Hong Kong associate professor of mechanical engineering Cheung Kie-chung was charged with the murder of his wife, caught after CCTV camera footage roused suspicion of his guilt. She was murdered in their on-campus suite, followed by the concealment of her body in-office on the university campus.

The deadly professor turned spousal killer not only hid her body, but procured a wooden box in which he stored it as a makeshift coffin. The details of the case become even creepier as one learns more. Not only did the professor fail to effectively conceal her body, he failed to consider the alignment between video surveillance and his story. After reporting her missing, video surveillance of their home never showed the professor’s wife leaving the property. Yet footage of a large wooden box being moved by the professor showed up on the tape. The box gave off a smell when it was found on campus, and blood was seeping out, as little care had been taken to seal it.

6. Shannon Lamb

Sometimes it seems that a crime may have some relevance to a mad academic’s area of expertise. In a most twisted and tragic killing, Delta State University assistant professor of history Ethan Schmidt was shot to death by a deranged Shannon Lamb, a geography instructor turned killer who ironically held expertise in the “geography of crime.” The killing remains a mystery despite a puzzling handwritten note left behind by Lamb. On September 13, 2015, an enraged Lamb, apparently experiencing significant mental disturbances, killed Schmidt. Lamb didn’t just have Schmidt on his target list; he also fatally shot his girlfriend before going on to commit suicide.

The bizarre killing spree that took Schmidt’s life was recalled when a sculpture in memory of Schmidt and his contributions was set up in the Delta State University sculpture garden, bearing the name “broken arrow.” Despite the conclusions to which one might jump, the girlfriend was not seeing Schmidt. Rather, a report stated that Lamb tried to commit suicide, apparently accidentally shot his girlfriend when she tried to intervene, and then decided to kill Schmidt, who he saw as an academic rival and career development barrier contributing to his lack of tenure securement.

5. Eric Clanton

“Professor” may seem like a profession that calls to the peaceful and learned, but the harsh reality of human conflict brings a new beast into both the mean streets and the legal arena: the rogue, violent philosophy faculty member. Previously a professor of philosophy at East Bay College in California, the now disgraced Eric Clanton took a plea deal resulting in three years of probation for his forceful actions on one fateful day in April 2017. He didn’t end up killing anyone, but the amount of injury he inflicted in a violent masked attack before his identity was revealed was extraordinary.

Clanton’s extracurricular interests included being involved in Antifa and anarchist causes, and he decided to translate his philosophical perspectives into a violent attack with a bike lock, smashing people in the head. The original charges he faced included four counts of felony assault with a deadly weapon, which was the massive bike lock. The attacks, ironically, took place during a free speech rally that was being held in Berkeley. No matter how distasteful the words of those disagreed with were, smashing bike locks on people’s heads is itself pretty repressive and is really not the best way to share one’s sentiments about fascism issues and free speech.

4. Ernesto A. Bustamante

Ernesto A. Bustamante stands out as one creepy dude in the history of academia. He was also one of the most violent when he could not get his way, exactly and with full victim compliance. The now notorious professor turned bloodthirsty killer and suicide statistic worked for the University of Idaho, where he was thriving in his career as a psychology professor. Known fondly by his students as “E,” Bustamante was known for going beyond just teaching students and getting involved in “helping” them with their personal lives.

This involvement soon went too far and too personal, with deadly results. Bustamante got involved romantically with a 22-year-old student, Kathryn Benoit, who not only chose him as her academic advisor, but slept with him and became upset in the relationship, stating she had been threatened at gunpoint and sexually harassed in a complaint she filed against professor. On the first day of classes in the fall semester, Bustamante pulled up Benoit’s house and shot her about 12 times. The professor then shot himself to death. The investigation turned up some chilling results, including no less than six guns, a printout of Benoit’s complaint against the professor, and four bottles of medication for various mental disorders.

3. Erich Muenter

Mad professor, bomber, and fanatic all in one? The oh-so-nutty Erich Muenter, the man who shot American tycoon J.P. Morgan (who survived the attack), was born in Germany but moved to America, where he taught German at the University of Kansas and Harvard University. He also unleashed a host of ills stemming from an academically inclined — but twisted — mind. The man was also a fanatical German nationalist, domestic murderer, active shooter, and criminal bomb planter. After his wife died of arsenic poisoning, he refused an autopsy and tried to have her buried in haste. He eventually allowed some of her remains to be examined, which revealed arsenic poisoning as the cause of death.

Charged with murder, he had already escaped. He created a new identity, with a new surname (Holt), under which he continued to teach German as a professor. In 1915, “Holt” began to gather notoriety for his speeches espousing German national interests and displaying his anger towards J.P. Morgan for financing World War I Allied forces efforts. In a manner reminiscent of an early era Unabomber — at least in modus operandi, if not ideology — the man planted bombs in the New York police headquarters, a US Capitol reception area, and the SS Minnehana. Two guns were used in an attack on J.P. Morgan, who despite gunshot wounds not only survived, but was able to catch and restrain “Holt,” who later claimed to be a pacifist — a statement unable to be reconciled with his violent actions, domestic and otherwise. Suicide in police custody eventually followed.

2. James St. James

A secret, sometimes shameful past is a staple of literary works. Sometimes, a new identity masks a past more disturbing and bizarre than what you’ll find even in works of horror. James St. James, a professor of psychology at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, was born James Wolcott in Texas, where he grew up only to murder his mother, father, and sister with a gun at the age of 15 in a fit of rage. Prior to the shooting, Wolcott had attended a concert and also sniffed glue. In the aftermath of the senseless murders, the young man was committed to a mental hospital until the age of 21.

Eventually, the killer received money, which he used to obtained post-secondary degrees, getting enough education to become a psychology professor. He concealed the murders in his past, took the professor job, and then managed to keep the gig once his history was revealed after 46 years of secrecy. Following the revelation of the professor’s terrifying secret past, reactions were mixed. The mayor of Decatur recommended the professor’s dismissal, but the campus stood behind the man they affirmed was a changed man and a skilled teacher of psychology, noting his achievements in career development.

1. George Zinkhan III

Killer professors are rare enough, but the specter of a mad professor willing to use deadly force in a busy public place takes surprise attack to a whole new level. On April 25, 2009, University of Georgia marketing professor George Zinkhan III shot his wife and two others right in public during the day, on a busy street beside the Athens Community Theater in Athens, Georgia. Two handguns were used to murder 47-year-old wife Marie Bruce, along with 40-year-old Tom Tanner and 63-year-old Ben Teague.  

The killer had his children in the car in which he had come to the crime scene, whom he is said to have dropped off before going on the run. He fled for awhile, with a team of FBI agents from no less than seven states in pursuit, but committed suicide following the murders. The taking of his own life was just as calculated as the murders Zinkhan committed. Not only did he shoot himself, but he first dug a shallow grave, in which he was found. Zinhkan’s body was mostly concealed, as he got into the grave, covered himself, and then fired his gun.


10 Totally Weird DNA Tests

Hey! Has anyone checked out your DNA? If so, we’re not surprised. Experts say that 1 in 25 adults in the USA have had their DNA tested.  There are 34 DNA popular testing companies out there , offering plenty of opportunities for you to see what your genes have to say about you. Some of these tests are admittedly, a bit stranger than others. Which is of course why we picked them out to show them to you!

Superhero DNA

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This DNA test shows your unique superhero traits such as strength, intelligence and speed. Now, we can see this DNA test appealing to anyone who’s ever wondered if they might have hoped to have been bitten by a radioactive spider (instead of just a normal one, the way most of us have been)! The test promises to help you “tap into your hidden superpower.” If you or someone you know is a huge superhero fan, then finding out you are really strong, truly brilliant or super fast is going to give you the confidence that you could hang out with AquamanBatman, Wonder Woman and Superman. Why, you could even have your own Batcave!

DNA test for cats

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basepaws is “the” DNA test for cats. So if you want proof positive that your cat has certain traits, like the stealthiness to sneak into a room and knock things off a table, this is the test that will tell you all about your feline. Then again, if it IS in your cat’s DNA, you can’t scold them for it anymore! basepaws shares information about 32 diseases too, so you learn lots of health information. If your cat is a purebred or just an adorable kitty you got at the shelter, basepaws looks at 32 cat breeds and 14 wild cats, to see exactly the origins of your cat’s specific DNA. You get wellness tips & the ability to send the report directly to your cat’s vet, so they can be in the loop about your cat’s genes. This is a vast-reaching test, telling you all about your feline from the tip of their tail to their whiskers!

DNA Test for Personality Traits

Karmagenes is the test to take if you want to learn everything there is to know about your personality or make someone you know take so you can learn everything about them and what makes them tick! Now, don’t go sneaking DNA samples from people you’re curious about – just so you can finally figure them out!

This test covers what they define as “the Big 5” aspects of your personality: DNA & Friendship, DNA & Dating, DNA & Parenting, DNA & Entrepreneurship, DNA & Gambling and DNA & Finance. Getting to know your DNA can help to improve your relationships and make you aware of how well you’ll do at work. Karmagenes states that friends “are genetically linked” to each other. It’s the exact same thing with dating: you’re going to pair up with someone who has DNA that compliments yours. Karmagenes calls their test a “tailored psychological assessment tool.” This is a very unique way to get to know yourself – instead of reading stacks of self-help books or spending your time on a psychiatrist’s couch talking about the goofy dream you had last night!

DNA Testing for Romance and Online Dating

DNARomance.com – Now, if you’re already jumping aboard the “DNA test train” this is truly going to excite you. Because DNARomance.com is online dating & a DNA test combined! If you want, you can use one of the popular DNA tests (23andme, AncestryDNA, etc.) that are out there, to sign up with their dating site, or simply order their own DNA test to sign up to date members. The site offers what they call “scientific matchmaking,” which probably has a better track record than my dear, sweet intentioned Aunt and the goofy blind dates she’s sent me on! In 30 minutes of adding your information, you receive matches that you are compatible with, so there is no waiting around for your soulmate.

There have been many methods to match singles, such as astrology, taking personality tests, going to a matchmaker or attending a speed dating event. With the recent popularity of DNA tests, it does not surprise us in the least that people are trying to see if it is successful with dating. If you prefer dating apps and want to “swipe right” to pick your guy or gal, take a look at Pheramor. That’s a DNA dating app that includes a DNA test. No, we don’t think you can take the DNA test via your cellphone, but we bet you’ll figure something out!

DNA Test for Twins

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Well, once you’ve dated & found that perfect mate and had that terrific wedding – you could have had a set of twins together. That’s right! Wowza, twins! So you’ll need this DNA test, the Identical Twin Zygosity Test, which will tell you for 100% sure if your twins are fraternal or identical. Avoid the arguments at the family dinner table over the holidays and know, for once and for all, for sure exactly what you have. Results are delivered in 24 hours, so this cuts down on excited, brand-new Grandparents calling you to ask for the final news on what type of twins you’ve had.

DNA Testing for Food Sensitivity

Now, we’ve been a bit silly about some of the DNA test so far, but this is one we think is really going to catch your eye, because it is impressive. Food Sensitivity+ by Everly Well will share with you lots of information about any food sensitivities that you might have. So if your body does not like to digest certain foods – you’ll get proof positive when you take this test. It can help you decide exactly which foods to eat and others that you need to avoid. No, it probably doesn’t test specifically for your Mother-in-Law’s cooking, but you can tell her that you can’t eat broccoli or a few other things and just take it from there. Better yet, bring your own meal over to her house and tell her all about this DNA test you took!

DNA Test to Help with Weight Loss

Lose It! is a DNA test we know will raise some eyebrows. They say they can look at your DNA and help you understand the best way to lose weight. Personally, I think even my DNA needs to drop a few pounds, but that’s me! Now, they’ve helped millions of people lose more than 70 million pounds with their DNA test. The DNA test also comes with an app, so you can track your food choices and be more successful with weight loss. With a customized, personalized weight lossplan, how can you not succeed? After all, it’s in your DNA! So you’ll know if you should do low-carb, Atkins, Paleo or some other type of weight loss diet.

Destiny DNA Test

The Destiny DNA Test is one we can see appealing to many, both young and those who are young-at-heart. Why? Because they say they can help narrow down exactly what type of career will be 100% perfect for you – based on your DNA (of course!). ViaMedex states their test is so helpful because many things can get in the way of a successful career choice, such as economic factors, motivation, education and even just pure luck for that matter. But what if you knew that your DNA was telling you, right now, that you were meant to do something totally amazing? Like that you really could be an astronaut if you just tried? Wouldn’t you stop playing Candy Crush for hours? We think so! Then again, maybe you’d play a couple of games once you were in outer space!

Endurance DNA Testing

Whether you are a pro athlete or just a weekend jock, EnduranceDNA is a test you’ll probably be curious about. Like seeing a great physical trainer, this DNA test says it will show you how to train in the best way, what to eat to stay fit and strong, and also how to easily avoid injury. Many of us who’ve played sports or just taken classes at the gym have gotten great advice on how to get better. But with this DNA test, it’s 100% customized to exactly who you are and what will work for you. So you actually can “be the best you can be” in every way as an athlete!

DNA Testing to Quit Smoking

Trying to quit smoking? If you’re having a really tough time at it, this might actually be your DNA. Yes folks, there is a Smoking Behavior DNA Test that will show how challenging it will be for you to give up smoking. Smoking is undoubtedly a tough habit to quit, it’s extremely addictive. Many people have to make repeated attempts before they quit for good. If you found out your DNA made it a bit hard to quit, that might give you some reassurance as you were going through quitting smoking! So instead of criticizing yourself for not having fantastic willpower, you would know that it was in your genes. Yes, you could still keep at your efforts of quitting smoking – but what a relief to do it, without beating yourself up about not doing it as quickly as your Uncle Larry did, right on the first try. For you, it might take 3 tries, just see what the DNA says.

So get out there and take a swim in your gene pool! Get your DNA (or your pet’s) tested, to find out everything there is to know about you. Because we bet some (or all!) of these tests are going to have some surprises in store for you!

10 of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements

The history of civilization is replete with examples of humanity improving the world in which it lives. Through ingenuity, imagination, and hard work, humanity has spanned rivers, built roads, erected cities, and created the infrastructure to connect them. Some projects took centuries to complete; others were finished with alacrity, driven by immediate needs. Many were treated with derision by contemporaries who considered the vision of their proponents’ to be delusional. Some — the Panama Canal being one example of many — were completed only after a spectacular and expensive failure during earlier attempts. Still others were spurred by the competition between nations and empires.

Spectacular feats of engineering preceded the term engineer. The master builders and visionaries evolved over the centuries from mathematicians (spontaneously, it would seem) across the globe. The Great Wall in China, the pyramids of the Maya and Aztec cultures, the cities of the ancient world all were accomplished by engineering, though the builders and designers were unaware that they were engineers. Over the centuries, engineering accomplishments were directed at the worship of gods and heroes, the improvement of societal life, and to simply celebrate the spirit of humanity. Here are 10 of the greatest engineering achievements in history.

10. The Roman water distribution system

Three centuries before the beginning of the Common Era the Roman Republic, later the Empire, distributed water throughout its dominions using a system of canals, pipes, reservoirs, standing tanks, and aqueducts. Entirely through the use of gravity the Romans distributed fresh water to cities and towns, as well as to mines and farms. Some of the aqueducts still stand, architectural marvels built by laborers under the supervision of surveyors and master builders. By the end of the third century the city of Rome was serviced by eleven separate water conduits distributing water throughout the city, and in the case of the wealthier citizens directly into their homes. Poorer residents resorted to public wells and baths.

The empire was serviced with water systems as well, operated by both local governments and the state. Natural springs were the preferred sources of water. Easements were established by law on either side of the conduit’s pathway. The waterways were liberally supplied with inspection points – which would today be called manholes – and the water was routinely inspected for purity. Lead pipes were used in some sections, though the use of ceramic piping was preferred, and sections of the aqueducts which were of concrete were lined with brick, to prevent erosion and to help filter the water. The system was so well designed and built that there are sections still in use for the distribution of fresh water nearly 20 centuries after they were built.

9. The Cathedral of Hagia Sophia

Built as a Christian church and later converted to an Islamic mosque, the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia is today a museum, and an iconic image of Turkey. Originally constructed in the sixth century it has survived rioting, looting by conquerors, earthquakes, fires, and the ravages of time. Built chiefly of masonry, it is easily recognized by its corner minarets and its massive dome. Built and rebuilt many times over the years, it remains a symbol of Byzantine architecture, and for over 1,000 years Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world. Its design was revolutionary in its day.

The huge dome is set upon a square base, supported by four triangle shaped pendentives in the square’s corners. The pendentives carry the weight of the dome and direct it downwards, rather than outwards as the shape of the dome would otherwise dictate. Though the dome collapsed on more than one occasion, and was modified during rebuilding to include ribs which help distribute its weight to the supporting walls, each rebuilding strengthened it and improved the overall structure of the building. Hagia Sophia is a museum of both the Christian and Islamic faiths, as well as the Byzantine Empire and the Crusades. It remains one of the largest masonry buildings in the world in the 21st century.

8. The Leshan Buddha

Carved from a single stone and completed in the early ninth century, the Great Buddha of Leshanstands over 230 feet tall, with a breadth across the shoulders of 92 feet. It is the tallest statue of Buddha to be found in the world, carved from the sandstone of a cliff overlooking the junction of the Min and Dadu Rivers in Sichuan. Ordinarily sandstone would be easily eroded by the rainwater which has fallen on the statue over the centuries. That it hasn’t is a tribute to the ingenious engineering which controls the flow of water through and behind the statue, which has served to protect it since its completion circa 803 CE.

The Leshan Buddha includes over 1,000 coiled hair buns, of stone, which are placed on the statue’s head. They were designed to collect rainwater, and to route it to a system of drains and drainpipes which allow the water to flow through the statue’s head and arms, draining out the back, behind the stone clothes and away from the statue, protecting it from the effects of erosion. The system was installed as part of the original carving. Originally protected by a wooden shelter which was destroyed by the Mongols, the statue has stood exposed to the elements for seven centuries, with its drainage system protecting it from erosion. Today the greatest threat to the statue is the heavily polluted air of the region, a factor its designers could not have anticipated.

7. The Erie Canal

Between the Hudson River and Lake Erie land elevation increases by about 600 feet. Canal locks of the day (1800) could raise or lower boats about 12 feet, which meant that at least 50 locks would be required to build a canal which linked the Hudson with the Great Lakes. President Thomas Jefferson called the project “…little short of madness.” New York’s governor, Dewitt Clinton, disagreed and supported the project, which led to its detractors calling the canal “Dewitt’s Ditch” and other, less mild pejoratives. Clinton pursued the project fervently, overseeing the creation of a 360 mile long waterway across upstate New York, which linked the upper Midwest to New York City. The cities of Buffalo, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio, thrived once the canal was completed, in 1825.

The engineering demands of the canal included the removal of earth using animal power, water power (using aqueducts to redirect water flow), and gunpowder to blast through limestone. None of the canal’s planners and builders were professional engineers, instead they were mathematics instructors, judges, and amateur surveyors who learned as they went. Labor was provided by increased immigration, mostly from Ireland and the German provinces. When it was completed in 1825 the canal was considered an engineering masterpiece, one of the longest canals in the world. The Erie Canal’s heyday was relatively short, due to the development of the railroads, but it led to the growth of the port of New York, and spurred the building of competing canals in other Eastern states.

6. The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge was originally envisioned by John Roebling, who had built suspension bridges of shorter spans across the Ohio River and at other locations. The project in Brooklyn and Manhattan led to an accident which cost Roebling his life, and the engineering challenges passed to his son, Washington Roebling. Washington was stricken with the bends early in the construction, and was forced to supervise the project from his Manhattan apartment. The engineering challenges were difficult; wooden caissons were sunk to the bottom of the East River, with men inside them to excavate the river bottom until the caissons reached bedrock. In the case of the east tower supporting the bridge, they never did. The tower rests on sand to this day.

It took 14 years to complete the project, from 1869 -1883. Often described as a suspension bridge, the structure is in reality a hybrid suspension/cable stayed bridge, with the load of the span transferred by wire cables to the towers, and thence to the bedrock on the Brooklyn side, and the sand over the bedrock on the Manhattan side. In the 21st century it carries six lanes of traffic as well as bicycles and pedestrians, though it no longer accommodates rail traffic, nor commercial vehicles. It was considered the engineering masterpiece of the world at the time of its completion, spanning nearly six thousand feet, and linking the formerly separate cities of Brooklyn and New York.

5. The Eiffel Tower

Gustave Eiffel built the iconic symbol of Paris – indeed of all of France – to serve as the gateway to the 1889 World’s Fair. Contrary to popular belief, Eiffel did not design the tower, instead purchasing the patent rights to the design from engineers within his employ. He then signed a contract for the construction of the tower acting as himself, rather than as his company, and later set up another company to handle the management of the tower and the income derived from it. The design of the tower was controversial from the outset, with artists and engineers complaining of its lack of esthetic value. It was said that French writer Guy de Maupassant ate at the restaurant in the tower after its completion because it was the only place in Paris from which the tower could not be seen.

The ironwork was delivered to the site with holes for connecting bolts predrilled, and as they were installed the tower was brought into proper alignment through the use of hydraulic jacks installed near the four feet of the structure. Creeper cranes climbed the legs of the tower to erect each succeeding level. The tower was declared complete in March 1889, at the time the tallest manmade structure in the world. It reached the height of 1,063 feet and remains the tallest structure in Paris. The tower was to have been dismantled in 1909, under the terms of the original contract, but its usefulness as a radio transmitter gained it a longer lease on life. By the end of the twentieth century the idea of dismantling the tower was unthinkable.

4. The Panama Canal

The 51-mile long cut across the Isthmus of Panama was a dream for many decades prior to the French beginning its construction in 1881. During the building of America’s Transcontinental Railroad, equipment for use in the Sierras was shipped from the east coast of the United States to Panama, transferred across the Isthmus, and then shipped to California. Engineers for years studied the building of a canal before the French attempted to complete one, but the engineering difficulties combined with the climate and politics to thwart their efforts after more than two decades. The United States stepped in where the French failed, and completed the canal in 1914, after another ten years of work.

The canal is actually two canals, connected on either end with an artificial lake, Lake Gatun, located 85 feet above sea level. Locks on the two canals raise or lower ships to or from the level of the lake, allowing them to traverse from Atlantic to Pacific, or vice versa. The canal allows ships to transfer from one ocean to the other in just under twelve hours. It was the engineering decision to abandon the sea level canal design favored by the French and instead create Lake Gatun through the building of Gatun Dam (then the largest dam in the world) and install locks to raise and lower ships which allowed the Americans to succeed in completing the dam, which changed shipping lanes and inter-ocean traffic forever.

3. The Channel Tunnel

For centuries the British Isles remained unconnected to the European continent, a situation which many Britons favored as critical to their national security. Numerous proposals for a tunnel beneath the channel were put forth, but opposition within England and France prevented any serious efforts. Attempts to build tunnels for automobile traffic were started and stopped in the mid-to-late 20th century. Finally, in the late 1980s, after the usual political and professional maneuvering among governments, businesses, and financiers, work on the tunnels for high speed rail trains got underway, already bearing the nickname by which it is best known today, the Chunnel.

The tunnel was built from both sides, using massive tunnel boring machines – TBMS – to approach each other. The machines bore through what is mostly chalk, though the varying geology of the French shore created some difficulties. Both the French and English used the removed spoil for land reclamation projects. The tunnels were lined with both cast iron and reinforced concrete. When completed, the tunnel provided electrical power to the trains running through it via overhead lines. The tunnel opened in 1994, and today allows for a trip from London to Paris in just over two hours. The tunnel also allows for freight traffic delivering goods manufactured throughout Europe to be imported to Britain, and British goods to find markets on the continent.

2. Burj Khalifa

The world’s tallest structure as of 2019, Burj Khalifa is a mixed use skyscraper in Dubai, which was completed in 2009. The building was designed by the same Chicago firm which designed the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in that city, and uses the same engineering principle of bundled tubes at its core to support the building’s weight. The tubular design allowed for substantially less steel to be used in construction, with most of the building being reinforced concrete. Its spire alone, which is mostly decorative, would qualify it as the 11th tallest structure in Europe were it erected on the continent.

The building has an outdoor swimming pool located on the 76th floor, with another on the 43rdfloor. A 300 room hotel is located within the building, as well as corporate offices and private apartments. For those of a hardy constitution, 2,909 steps connect the ground floor with the 160th. The observation deck is located on the 124th floor. The surrounding park, known as Burj Khalifa Park, is landscaped with desert plants which are kept hydrated using water collected by the building’s cooling system, which itself relies on the cooler air of the upper portion of the building to decrease the temperatures of the lower portion of the structure.

1. The Apollo Space Program

It remains one of the signature engineering achievements in the history of the human race. No other program has delivered human beings to an environment other than their home planet and returned them safely to earth. Americans not only walked on the surface of the moon, they drove on it, using a battery driven vehicle designed for the purpose, capable of carrying two astronauts and greatly increasing the area which the lunar explorers could cover. It was carried to the moon within the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and used for the final three moon missions in the early 1970s. In 2003, the National Academy of Engineers called the program the “…greatest engineering team effort in American history.”

The Apollo program led to significant advances in the development of integrated circuitry, contributed to the growing cause of environmentalism, and over 20% of the world’s population watched on television when astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first human footprints on the lunar surface. NASA claimed spin-offs from the space program in the areas of freeze-dried foods, emergency reflective blankets, hand-held portable vacuum cleaners, and more than 2,000 other areas. LASIK surgery is a direct descendant of the technology developed to dock with vehicles in space, first performed as part of the Gemini program, in which astronauts learned the techniques required of Apollo.

10 of Britain’s Greatest Eccentrics (or Weirdos, if You Were Poor)

Eccentricity is one of the great British pastimes. History is full of figures who displayed peculiar quirks or held strange beliefs, but these people managed to take it to new heights.

10. Henry Paget

Henry Paget did not look like your typical English Lord. Londoners of the late 19th century could have seen him parade through the city center wearing lavish colorful gowns and robes, donning jewel-encrusted tiaras, and carrying a pink-ribbon poodle under his arm. Or perhaps they would have noticed him on the road, driving cars which had been modified to emit perfume out of the exhaust pipe.

Henry Cyril Paget was a man who loved attention and he was known to perform sensual dances for his audiences. He converted the family chapel into the Gaiety Theater where he staged free performances. Eventually, in 1901 he decided to go “pro” and hired an actual theater troupe. They would tour with Paget and put on whatever plays struck his fancy in exchange for exorbitant salaries.

Paget became Marquess of Anglesey in 1898. With his title also came a large estate and family fortune. In 1904, he was forced to declare bankruptcy. Paget had completely squandered his money on his expensive habits and left his family in crippling debt. Everything he ever owned was sold to help pay off his creditors, including his pet parrot.

The auction was a notable event in of itself. People knew from the papers that Paget had spent his fortune on an extravagant wardrobe, but it was quite a different sight to see hundreds after hundreds of items made from the finest silks and augmented with the prettiest jewels paraded before them.

9. Caroline Prodgers

Staying in late 19th century London, we look at the woman who struck fear into the hearts of the city’s cabmen. Her name was Caroline Giacometti Prodgers and she was what we would call today a “vexatious litigant.” She was in the habit of taking cabbies to court for driving her past her specified destination.

Back then, horse-drawn carriages did not have meters. There were standard fares from one predetermined location to another such as train stations, hotels, and theaters. If a person traveled a long distance, multiple fares would be added one onto another. There were also charts that displayed the charges and Mrs. Prodgers learned them by heart. She knew exactly where to stop before the cabman could start taxing for the next stage of the fare. On occasion, cabbies would drive a bit further and attempt to charge extra. Mrs. Prodgers refused and took them to court.

She managed to bring over 50 such cases to court, although it is unknown how many she won. This annoyed the magistrates who suggested that the lady had the means to buy her own carriage.

Cries of “Mother Prodgers” could be heard at London cabstands to warn drivers that Caroline Prodgers was coming. By 1875, her actions earned enough scorn that one cabbie even burned an effigy of her on bonfire night.

8. John Overs

According to legend, a long time ago, before there was a crossing over the River Thames where London Bridge now lies, there was a ferry run by John Overs. His successful business made him very rich but, despite his wealth, Overs was an unbelievable miser. One day, he came up with a plan to save a few coins – if he faked his own death, his family and servants would fast that day out of respect. This would allow him to save on provisions.

In reality, the opposite happened. When the servants heard Overs had died, they started celebrating with all the good food and wine. Shocked by this, the old man came out of hiding to confront them and scared one of the servants who thought he was a ghost. In response, the attendant picked up an oar and smashed Overs’ head with it, this time killing him for real.

His money went to his daughter, Mary Overie. Her fiancée also died soon after this event. Distraught, she used her inheritance to start a nunnery which, eventually, turned into Southwark Cathedral which still stands today.

7. J. Thomas Looney

John Thomas Looney was a late 19th century English teacher who became known for, first, being a huge fan of Shakespeare and, later, doing everything he could to discredit him. Looney came up with the Oxfordian theory, an idea that said that the man known as William Shakespeare was not actually the author of his plays. Instead, the true writer was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

This goes to show that conspiracy theories are not a new phenomenon. The earliest written record questioning the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays dates to the mid 19th century courtesy of American writer Delia Bacon. She asserted that the works were written by a group of people chiefly led by Sir Francis Bacon.

The people who doubted Shakespeare became known as anti-Stratfordians. In 1920, Looney published a book which put forward the Earl of Oxford as the main authorship candidate. His ideas became popular in anti-Stratfordian circles and experience a resurgence every now and then. Of course, there is no actual evidence to support them. Believers tend to gloss over the fact that Shakespeare kept writing plays for over a decade after Edward de Vere died and they don’t explain why the rightful author would allow a fraud to claim ownership of his work.

Curiously, Looney was a huge fan of Shakespeare initially. He was part of the Church of Humanity, a positivist group inspired by the works of Auguste Comte. They literally named a month in honor of Shakespeare in the positivist calendar.

6. William Buckland

The scientific credentials of William Buckland speak for themselves. He was a 19th century geologist and a pioneering paleontologist who wrote the first full account of a dinosaur which he named “Megalosaurus.” He had his quirks such as giving lectures on horseback. However, his most notable oddity was his fascination with animals – specifically, with eating them.

Buckland was a practitioner of zoophagy and, if it were up to him, he would feast on every type of creature on Earth. He often hosted dinner parties where the menus consisted of mice, panthers, elephants, porpoises, and crocodile. Bluebottle flies were his least favorite food, although they still went down with a bit of butter. His passion worked splendidly with his post at the Society for the Acclimatization of Animals. He could import all sorts of creatures to eat under the pretense of testing to see if they could viably be introduced to England as a new food source.

The most bizarre, possibly apocryphal story involving Buckland’s penchant for unusual edibles says that the scientist once visited the Nuneham Courtenay where he was showed an organ preserved in a silver casket, reputed to be the heart of King Louis XVI. Unable to resist thetemptation of such a unique dining experience, Buckland snatched the heart and gobbled it up before anyone could stop him.

5. Thomas Phillipps

Sir Thomas Phillipps, 1st Baronet, had a condition he termed “vello-mania.” Today, we would use the term “bibliomania” – an obsession with the collection of books.

His dedication went far beyond that of the common hoarder. His biographer claimed that Phillipps amassed the largest private collection of books and manuscripts – around 100,000 at the time of his death in 1872.

Everything was secondary to his books. Most of the rooms in his mansion dubbed Middle Hill House were used as space for his precious tomes. His wives and daughters had the duty of looking after the collection.

Phillipps wasted all of his fortune on books. He would buy entire bookstores at a time, even after he ran out of money. Antiquarians, servants, builders, and store owners were all left unpaid.

The baronet’s eldest daughter fell for a man named James Halliwell. He was an antiquarian, but was once accused of stealing manuscripts from Trinity College and selling them. A book thief was something Sir Thomas could not abide so he denied Halliwell permission to marry his daughter. They did it anyway.

Phillipps hated the idea that Halliwell might inherit Middle Hill House. Therefore, he had all the copses cut down and sold the lumber. With the money, he bought another mansion called Thirlestaine House and used over a hundred wagons to relocated his book collection. He then purposely let Middle Hill House fall into ruin.

Despite his efforts, the baronet’s treasured items eventually ended up in his family’s possession after his death. It took over a century to sell all of the books and the last items went at auction in 2006.

4. John Elwes

Another notorious British cheapskate was John Elwes. He became so renowned for his penny-pinching ways that he is credited as the inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carolby Charles Dickens.

Born John Meggot in 1714, Elwes might have inherited his thriftiness from his mother. Despite being extremely wealthy, she supposedly starved herself to death because she spent so little money on food.

Frugality seemed to run in the family. Elwes’ uncle was Sir Hervey Elwes, 2nd Baronet. Despite being even richer, he was also more ascetic. In fact, John Meggot was said to be somewhat of a profligate in his youth, but learned financial abstinence in order to impress his childless uncle and become his heir. He even changed his name to Elwes to appease him.

The plan worked and Elwes inherited his uncle’s fortune. If anything, having more money made him even more miserly. He would spend the nights in darkness to save on candles. He wore a single suit for months at a time, even in bed. He would eat moldy food which he served in the kitchen to avoid making a fire in a second room. He would walk in the rain rather than pay for a coach. On one occasion, he allegedly wore an old wig he found discarded in a bush for weeks.

Curiously, even though Elwes saved his money, he enjoyed watching his peers spend theirs. He often visited London’s gambling houses and had no qualms about lending large sums of money. He didn’t even pester his borrowers for repayment because he deemed the behavior ungentlemanly.

3. John Napier

John Napier was a 16th century scientist who also served as the 8th Laird of Merchiston. His greatest accomplishments occurred in the field of mathematics where he discovered logarithms, popularized the use of the decimal point, and invented a calculating device dubbed “Napier’s bones.”

Although he was an accomplished mathematician, Napier also had more outlandish interests. He was particularly keen on theology, specifically the Book of Revelation. He studied it and predicted the Apocalypse to occur sometime between 1688 and 1700. It didn’t, as you may recall.

There were also rumors that Napier dabbled with the occult. These suspicions likely stemmed from some of the scientist’s eccentricities. He typically dressed in black with a long flowing cloak. Allegedly, he had a habit of carrying around with him a black spider in a box. He also kept a black rooster as a pet which some people feared was actually his familiar.

There is a story of how Napier used his reputation to catch a thieving servant. He made all his house attendants go inside a dark room, one by one, and pet his rooster because the bird had the power of telling who was guilty. What really happened was that Napier covered the rooster in soot. All the innocent servants stroked the animal and came out with dirty hands while the guilty one only pretended to pet it and his hands were clean.  

2. Joanna Southcott

Joanna Southcott was an 18th century woman who started a religious movement based on her prophecies. At the height of its popularity, there were over 100,000 “Southcottians” in the world.

When she was in her 60s, Southcott claimed to have become pregnant with the new Messiah. Of course, the baby failed to present itself and the prophetess claimed that it was immediately called up to Heaven after birth. Southcott died in 1814, just a few months after this alleged birth.

Joanna Southcott’s legacy became even stranger after her death. She left behind a box and in this box were the things that will fix the problems of the world. However, she also left specific instructions that said that the box should only be opened in a time of national crisis and in the presence of 24 bishops with the Church of England.  

In 1927, psychic researcher Harry Price had the box in his possession. He x-rayed the Southcott box and found it to be filled with random everyday items such as books, a dice box, a night cap, a horse pistol, and a lottery ticket.

This angered Southcottians who claimed that Price orchestrated a hoax and that only they knew where the true box lies. Even decades later, they rented billboards to warn that “war, disease, crime and banditry, distress of nations and perplexity will increase until the Bishops open Joanna Southcott’s box.”

1. Francis Dashwood

Dance-Holland, Nathaniel; Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron Le Despencer; National Portrait Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/francis-dashwood-11th-baron-le-despencer-155453

By the end of his career, Sir Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron le Despencer, had held multiple prestigious positions such as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Postmaster General. In his younger days, however, he seemed more concerned with having a good time.

When he was a young adult, Dashwood went on a Grand Tour of Europe, as did many wealthy men of his age. He got into trouble while visiting the Russian Court because he thought it would be funny to dress up as Charles XII, King of Sweden and enemy of Russia. Furthermore, it is alleged that he also tried to seduce Tsarina Anna.

Back in England, Dashwood helped found a club called the Society of Dilettanti in the early 1730s. Officially, it was a gathering of aristocrats who wanted to share their love of Roman art. However, copious amounts of alcohol were usually involved at these meetings. Horace Walpole once accompanied Dashwood and other members to Florence. He later wrote that there seemed to be two qualifications needed for membership: to travel to Italy and to be drunk.

Dashwood’s main claim to fame was founding the Order of Friars of St Francis of Wycombe, better known as the Hellfire Club. It wasn’t the first secret society with that name, but it was the most notorious. Their motto was “Fais ce que tu voudrais” (Do as you will). In their case, it involved plenty of drunken debauchery and mock religious ceremonies. Many prominent British figures of the time were members and even Benjamin Franklin was alleged to have attended several meetings during his time in England.

10 Brutal Realities of Life in Mao’s China

Mao Zedong, who you may also know as Chairman Mao, is one of those rare people whose actions have affected the lives of countless millions. He ushered his own brand of communism in China, and held the massive country in an iron grip for decades. But what was life like under this initially benevolent-seeming leader who gradually shifted into a ruthless dictator? Let’s find out…

10. The civil war between Mao’s communists and the ruling National Party

Mao seized power in 1949, but it was by no means an easy task. The power shift came in the form of a ruthless conflict that started at the heels of the second Sino-Japanese war in 1945, and raged on for years. The war with Japan and the emergence of communism had divided China in three factions: The regions controlled by Japan, the ones controlled by Mao’s communists, and the Kuomingtang nationalists fighting under Chiang Kai-Shek. Japan’s WWII defeat took them out of the equation, and the clash between the remaining two became known as the Chinese Civil War.

The Nationalist government troops were much larger and they were initially the stronger side, but as the battles progressed, it became evident that the communists were the cool new kid on the block. As communism spread throughout Asia, they gained both momentum and ground, and mediation attempts by the U.S. completely failed to defuse the situation. By 1949, the underpowered but far more driven communists of the People’s Liberation Army had secured China from their enemies … and the country was declared the People’s Republic of China.  

9. The Great Leap Forward

One of Mao’s most ambitious goals was to change China from an agrarian farming society to a modern, industrial megapower. Unfortunately, he thought that this massive change could be achieved in just a few years, and without any notion as to what his subjects wanted. Even more unfortunately, he decided to focus on labor-intensive industrialism instead of the sort that required machines and investments, which meant he needed lots and lots of people moved to new, unfamiliar industrial tasks at newformed communes. If you think that this sounds a lot like he was sentencing a huge chunk of his population to work camps, well, there have been worse analogies.

The result of Mao’s ambitions was the Great Leap Forward, a two-year game of population chess that has been called the greatest mass murder in history. From 1958 to early 1960, the Chairman and his cohorts reverted millions and millions of people who had previously worked in agriculture to communes where they were harnessed in various small-scale industry activities. In the process, many agricultural implements were destroyed and farm animals were killed, and the removal of the workforce from food production first resulted in crops rotting in the fields, and then very little crops at all. When frightful leaders of the ineffective communes lied about the size of their crops to make themselves look better, the bureaucrats nodded … and carried away all the “surplus” food they didn’t actually have, leaving the workers to starve.

At this point, even Soviet Union took one look at what China was doing and withdrew its support. Add in a few natural disasters and unfortunate weather conditions, and a large-scale disaster was ready. Before the Great Leap Forward was called off, it caused massive environmental damage throughout China and killed a literally immeasurable number of people. No one knows the precise amounts of victims — though China insists the “official” death toll was 14 million people, experts have estimated the real number somewhere between 20 and 48 million.  

8. The atrocities of the 1966 Cultural Revolution

In 1966, Mao launched his (in)famous Cultural Revolution that was officially meant to revive the country’s communist cultural strivings and reach it to new, glorious heights. While he hoped that the plan would help China become the ultimate socialist country and rise himself into the position of “the man who leads Planet Earth into socialism,” it was also a handy plot for the now elderly Chairman to get rid of the people plotting against him. As a result, the whole endeavor was a ploy that Mao used to “strengthen communist ideology,” and it just so happened that the best way to do that was to cull the people who opposed him.

Mao let the party faithfuls loose on his enemies, and had the official media slander them. Gangs of the party’s Red Guards and students attacked people who they thought were wearing “bourgeois” clothing, signs interpreted as “imperialist” were torn down and non-conforming party members were either murdered or driven to suicide. The brutalities were so complicated and widespread that historians are still trying to make sense of it all, but it’s generally agreed that up to two million people lost their lives and the country’s economy was thoroughly crippled. In the end, the only goal the Revolution reached was plunging China into a decade of turmoil, hunger and mindless violence. The Cultural Revolution also managed to destroy much of China’s cultural heritage.

7. Mao’s cult of personality

A key part of Mao’s rule was the cult of personality centered around him. The “Cult of Mao” depicted the Chairman as a benevolent leader and infallible ideological visionary who loomed over everyone else, both metaphorically and as a literal giant watching over the people in propaganda posters. To keep up with this image, the mistakes and failures of his regime were routinely either downplayed or blamed on other, lesser Party members.

This hero worship was a far cry from Marxist ideals, which despised the cult of an individual person, but he sold it to the party as a necessity to boost morale: After all, thousands of years of emperor worship couldn’t just vanish overnight, and the people would need something to fill the void. This certainly worked for Mao’s purposes. In time, his public image became that of an unchallengeable, iconic figure that was all but impervious to criticism. His shadow is felt though the man himself is long gonel, and elements of his borderline messianic status in parts of China have carried over to the new millennium.

6. Labor camps

In 1949, the Chinese communists set up a system of Laogai camps, which were a network of labor camps modeled after the Soviet gulags. Laogai camps were technically just for work and re-education — “re-education through labor,” if you will — and there were rules that prevented the camp officials from torturing and abusing the prisoners. However, the ruleset was purely technical, and creative camp leaders were able to torture prisoners who didn’t fill their daily work quota with tricks like tying them to bamboo poles and exposing them to mosquitoes and elements, without ever actually hitting them.

As the Atlantic reported in 2013, the Laogai camp system didn’t exactly go away with Mao. It survived to modern times, providing handy workforce with minimal costs. The camps often have two names to mask their real nature: a “secret” administrative name, and a public name that made it seem like a legitimate business. For instance, one camp was publicly known as ‘Yunnan Province Jinma Diesel Engine Plant,’ but its true, administrative name is listed as ‘Yunnan Province Prison No. 1.’

5. Brutal executions

Brutal executions were a tragic consequence of Mao’s ruthless rule. Between 1947 and 1957 alone, the communist regime killed an estimated five million civilians, and a good chunk of this was premeditated. Mao’s early regime used violence and scare tactics to silence the opposition and to dirty the hands of ordinary people to make them accomplices. Mao’s idea was to turn people against each other so “they had their hands bloodied in the pact sealed in blood between the party and the people.” When everyone was dirty, no one could go back and the only way was forward … namely, Mao’s forward.

As a result, villagers had to bloody their hands by denouncing and killing “landlords,” who were largely just ordinary farmers. They were buried alive, or tied up and dismembered while they were helpless. Even their children weren’t always safe, and some particularly zealous people killed them for being “little landlords.” Meanwhile, the regime often staged public executions on stadiums, where hundreds of people witnessed the deaths.  

4. The anarchy of 1967

One particular unforeseen side effect of Mao’s cultural revolution was the anarchy of 1967. Removing various party power players from under Mao had created a power vacuum, and multiple factions of the Red Guard were trying to get as large a slice of the pie as possible, which led to battles that sent many cities on the brink of full anarchy.  

Lin Biao, Mao’s designated successor, was ordered to restore order by sending army troops to various cities. This went roughly as well as sending the military to urban areas tends to go: Although the military managed to push the Red Guards of the problem areas to more rural areas and stop their conflict, the chaos in the cities sent the country’s economy in free fall.

3. The Great Famine

Mao’s Great Leap Forward may have been the largest mass murder in history, but the Great Famine is what did the most of the actual dirty work. Thanks to the communist regime’s actions toward forcefully shifting the country’s production wheels toward industrialization, tens of millions of people starved. The Great Famine was easily the world’s largest famine, and between 1959 and 1961 an estimated 30 million people starved to death. What’s more, a similar amount of life was lost over that time due to lost or postponed births.

China is still hesitant to make a detailed look into the Great Famine, but voices such as journalist Yan Jisheng have written extensively about the tragedy. Jisheng describes the events from the viewpoint of an otherwise unremarkable Henan province city, where one in eight people were wiped out by starvation and starvation-induced brutality in just three years. Officials tried to commandeer more grain than farmers actually have. In a single commune, 12,000 people died over the span of just nine months. Children begging for food from the officials were dragged deep into the mountains and left to die. There are terrifying true stories of cannibalism and entire villages slowly dying, the last remaining inhabitant finally going insane.

2. Mango worship

If you want an example of just how crazy things could get under Chairman Mao, look no further than China’s cult of the mango. Mao once received a crate of mangoes as a present from the Prime Minister of Pakistan, but evidently didn’t much care for the fruit since he immediately re-gifted the crate to a group of peasants occupying a university. Overwhelmed by the fruit basket from their noble leader, the workers decided to send one of the mangoes to each of the most important factories in Beijing.

The people immediately started associating the fruit with Mao, and since the man’s cult of personality was already in full flow, things got a little… weird. The People’s Daily newspaper published poems about the mango. Factory workers held huge ceremonies around the fruit, preserving it in wax, placing it in altars and bowing to it. One tool factory decided to send their mango to a sister factory in Shanghai, and chartered an entire plane for its transport. People started making fake plastic and wax mangoes to worship, and mango-themed merchandise started popping up. Mango-brand cigarettes were a huge hit and the 1968 National Day parade featured mango-themed floats. You could even get killed over a mango; When a dentist in a small village compared a touring mango (yes, there were touring mangoes) to a sweet potato, he was put on trial for slander and promptly executed.

The reason for the mango craze was ultimately simple: Apart from being associated with Mao, the fruit was virtually unknown in China, so it was like the Chairman had suddenly given them the communist version of the Forbidden Fruit. Ultimately, the mango cult turned out to be little more than a particularly weird (and occasionally homicidal) meme. The craze lasted for 18 months before people came to their senses and moved on.

1. Mao’s final days and the power vacuum he left

Chairman Mao, the “Great Helmsman,” died in 1976 after assorted issues with his lungs and heart, and as his body was (against his living wishes) embalmed for future display in a darkly comedic, bumbling process that may or may not have involved his head swelling up like a football, the country was a mess. Mao’s final year was marked by disaster and setback, and one of the most devastating earthquakes in China’s history had struck only a few months earlier, causing many of the more traditional Chinese to lose faith in the leadership.

There was no clear idea of who would assume control after Mao. The most likely successor —  a virtual unknown called Hua Guofeng — took steps to cement his power by arresting his opponents and becoming the new Chairman, but in the end his only claim to power was a personal link to Mao, who wasn’t exactly around to watch his back. When Hua’s hastily formed, 10-year “four modernizations” policy to improve China’s economy was such a disaster that the country shook its head and abandoned it in less than a year, a challenger emerged in the form of Deng Xiaoping. Deng was a twice-purged and twice rehabilitated, resilient veteran of the communist leadership, who was less about ideology and more about pragmatic “if it works, it works” attitude. In fact, the main reason for his second purge was his famous saying that he “did not care whether a cat was black or white as long as it caught mice.”

10 Disturbing Facts About the Manson Family

In August 1969, the followers of Charles Manson committed some of the most horrific murders in American history. The series of crimes, collectively known as the Tate-LaBianca Murders, provided a wide-ranging aura of intrigue that involved psychedelic drugs, sex orgies, ritualistic killings, celebrities — and all centered around a diminutive, failed musician named “Charlie.”

The cult consisted primarily of young, disaffected women, who inexplicably fell under Manson’s hypnotic spell. He then convinced his charges to believe that The Beatles song “Helter Skelter” contained a coded message to unleash a violent race war (the name actually refers to an amusement ride in England). Nonetheless, the vehement racist hoped to instigate an impending social apocalypse by framing the Black Panthers for his own misdeeds. Afterward, Manson envisioned ushering his brethren into an idyllic New World order as the messianic figurehead — in other words, Intro To Cult 101.

The 5-foot-2 habitual criminal would spend most of his adult life in prison before dying in 2017 at the Corcoran maximum security prison. It’s imperative, however, to note the vilified felon didn’t actually commit any of the notorious homicides forever tied to his name. Instead, he convinced members of his ‘Family‘ to carry out the massacre, producing a haunting legacy which still lingers 50 years later.

10. Summer of Blood

On a typical warm, summer evening in Southern California, actress Sharon Tate (Valley of the Dolls, The Beverly Hillbillies), who was eight months and a half pregnant, rested at her Beverly Hills home along with friends Abigail Folger (heiress to the Folger coffee fortune), her boyfriend Wojciech Frykowski, and hair-stylist-to-the-stars, Jay Sebring. Tate’s husband, acclaimed directorRoman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown) was away on business, preparing for his next project, a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But over 5,000 miles away, a much more sinister, blood-soaked tragedy was unfolding that would soon make headlines worldwide.

Shortly after midnight, “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian descended upon on the gated property at 10500 Cielo Drive in an exclusive Benedict Canyon enclave. The French-Normandy style mansion was believed to be the home of music producer, Terry Melcher (son of Doris Day), who Manson believed had snubbed him regarding a fizzled record deal.

To prevent any outside intervention, Watson scaled a nearby telephone pole, cutting the wires to the house. Stephen Parent, an 18-year-old friend of the house caretaker, became the night’s first victim after encountering the intruders while exiting the grounds in his car. Watson shot the teenager dead with a .22 revolver, then led the group towards the house for more carnage.

Meanwhile, Kasabian kept a lookout at the bottom of the driveway as Watson, Krenwinkel, and Atkins quickly dispatched the occupants in the house. Tate had desperately pleaded for the life of her unborn child, to which Atkins responded, “Look, bitch, I have no mercy for you. You’re going to die, and you’d better get used to it.” The cold-blooded assassin, also known as “Sexy Sadie” used Tate’s blood to write the word “pig” on the front door, heeding Manson’s instructions to leave behind “something witchy.”

The next day, an expanded Manson-led posse broke into a house near Hollywood, where supermarket owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were brutally killed. In a span of fewer than 24 hours, the killers inflicted 169 stab wounds and seven gunshot wounds while leaving behind more blood-stained messages.

9. Circus Trial

The People v. Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten began on July 24, 1970, in downtown Los Angeles (Tex” Watson, conspicuously absent from the proceedings, had fled back to Texas but would be eventually arrested, tried and convicted).

Right from the start, the case produced a chaotic scene in and out of the courtroom as an army of reporters clamored to cover the dramatic spectacle. Always the showman, Manson carved an “X” into his forehead (he eventually turned it into a swastika) to symbolize having been being X-ed out of society. Fellow defendants Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten followed suit, burning the same mark with heated bobby pins; they soon generated headlines of their own by acting out in the courtroom, laughing and chanting in Latin while the prosecutors presented the gruesome evidence.

Linda Kasabian chose to cut a deal and became the prosecution’s star witness in exchange for immunity. She also incurred the wrath of the main attraction, who made a throat-cutting gesture towards her. Other highlights included witness tampering by various Family members, the disappearance of Van Houten’s lawyer (authorities later him found dead) and an acrobatic Manson jumping over the defense table towards Judge Charles Older, and shouting, “In the name of Christian justice, someone should cut your head off.” At the risk of nitpicking, Charlie also threatened to kill his lawyer, Irv Kanarek.

The excruciatingly long trial took over six months to complete, aided by the relentless stonewalling of Kanarek, who registered nine objections in the opening statement alone (there were 200 objections by Day 3 when the press stopped counting). Finally, on January 25, 1971, the jury found the defendants guilty of murder. All four received the death sentence but eventually reduced to life terms after the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972.

At her sentencing, the highly-spirited Atkins expressed her remorselessness by screaming, “You’d best lock your doors… and watch your own kids.”

Lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi wrote about the trial in his the best-selling book Helter Skelter. “I couldn’t conceive of the jury coming back with a not-guilty verdict,” Bugliosi said. “But I did fear a hung jury. One juror, out of fear—because they all knew the Manson Family was still on the streets—could have balked. When the jury came in, I watched Manson. His hands were trembling. He’d convinced the Family members that death was beautiful. But that was all BS.”

8. Charles in Charge

In the months leading up to the deadly summer of ’69, the Family found refuge at Spahn Ranch, a derelict property northwest of L.A. named after the 80-year-old, half-blind owner.  The sprawling 55-acre compound had been used as a TV and movie set for a number of shows, including Zorro, The Lone Ranger, and Bonanza. And it was there that Manson took center stage as director and star in his own bizarre production that could have only happened in the shadows of a city where the angels left a long time ago.

All the inhabitants squatting at the ranch were required to follow a strict set of rules —  a rigid system that gave Manson complete control over his subjects. Items such as reading glasses, books, calendars, and clocks had been forbidden as part of an effort to build an insular bubble devoid of time or reality. Female members were instructed to maintain a slim figure by restricting their food intake, but were given a steady diet of alcohol and LSD; they were also coerced into having group sex and provide domestic chores for the men. For an unknown troubadour, Manson relished his exalted status; at the very least, he personified the life of a bona fide rock star, replete with long, shaggy hair and groovy buckskin threads.

The commune dwellers routinely listened to his rambling, incoherent sermons — made more palatable while under the influence of strong drink and hallucinogenics. The warped lessons stemmed from Manson’s hodgepodge philosophical views, ranging from Dale Carnegie to Adolf Hitler with a dose of the Biblical fire and brimstone for good measure. Additionally, the man who claimed to be both Jesus and Satan had spent 150 hours in a course on Scientology but reportedly deemed the teachings as “too crazy” even for him.

7. Creepy Crawling

Organized excursion raids dubbed “creepy crawling” served as a prelude to far more terrifying mayhem. The Family randomly infiltrated Los Angeles area neighborhoods, breaking into private homes while the occupants slept. Once inside, they engaged in mischievous shenanigans such as re-arranging the furniture and petty theft.   

As a skilled manipulator, Manson used the exercises as a means of gradually normalizing home invasion. Moreover, the practice gave his loyal minions new found confidence to overcome any fears or apprehension towards future diabolical actions. Wearing all black clothing and hoods, the intruders saw the adventures as a lark — while unwittingly being groomed and conditioned for what Bugliosi referred to as “dress rehearsals for murder.”

For most rational people, it’s difficult to understand how anyone could be so easily hoodwinked by an unscrupulous con man. However, his rise and fall reflect a common fate experienced by other charlatans throughout history, in which a well-timed confluence of factors can provide fertile conditions for dissent to grow.

6. Dennis the Menace

It’s not surprising that Beach Boys’ drummer and established hellion, Dennis Wilson, would pick up a pair of young female hitchhikers and take them to his Sunset Boulevard abode. However, when the girls turned out to be Manson acolytes Ella Jo Bailey and Patricia Krenwinkel, it was only a matter of time before the Good Vibrations ran out once their master showed up in the flesh.

Manson, along with 17 others of his congregation, soon moved into the posh Pacific Palisades party pad — setting the scene for Caligula-esque debauchery, featuring non-stop orgies and drug-fueled revelry. Expectedly, the neighbors were none too pleased.

Wilson, the time-keeper for the popular band known for posing with surfboards instead of riding them, provided his new acquaintance with coveted music industry connections such as The Byrds producer, Terry Melcher. In an interview with the Record Mirror in 1968, Wilson candidly expressed: “I told them [the girls] about our involvement with the Maharishi and they told me they too had a guru, a guy named Charlie who’d recently come out of jail after 12 years. He drifted into crime, but when I met him I found he had great musical ideas. We’re writing together now.”

Wilson even enlisted the help of his older brothers Brian and Carl to finance and produce a recording session with the charismatic singer/songwriter. One of those songs, the eerily-named “Cease To Exist,” was later re-titled “Never Learn Not To Love” and released on the Beach Boys 20/20 album in February 1969 — less than six months before the grisly atrocities.

Ultimately, success as a musician eluded Manson. He experienced a heated fallout with Wilson, who claimed the ex-con owed him over $100,000 (and the expense of multiple doctor visits to treat his raging gonorrhea); for his troubles, the drummer took sole credit as the song’s composer, leaving the pint-sized prophet to seek fame elsewhere.

5. Hollywood Hunting Season

Manson became increasingly obsessed with the power of celebrity and hellbent on becoming famous himself. In spite of all his ranting about spiritual freedom and love, he frequently boasted that someday his own star would eclipse that of The Beatles. To be fair, a lack of talent isn’t always a disqualifying strike in the fame game, but fate clearly had other plans for the aspiring performer.

At some point in his quest for adoration, the unsigned crooner figured if he couldn’t achieve stardom, he would kill those who had. According to Susan Atkins, the Family created a select hit list of prominent figures in the world of entertainment, including Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Tom Jones, and Steve McQueen.

The attention-grabbing scheme also fed Manson’s delusional desires to further incite racial tensions and create a modern-day Armageddon. Fortunately, the plan failed to materialize — and none of the targeted celebs were ever harmed. However, McQueen, a friend of both Tate and Sebring, began carrying a gun full-time following their deaths. He wasn’t alone. Most Angelenos, whether famous or not, shared a common anxiety-driven fear, blanketing the city like its infamous brown smog.

4. Body Count

The well-documented Tate-LaBianca incidents produced a total of eight deaths (including Tate’s unborn child), but some reports suggest the Manson clan committed as many as 35 fatalities spanning several years. But after the lengthy, emotionally exhausting litigation concluded and the main perpetrators were punished, public outcry and demand for justice had waned.

However, one particularly lurid case that tends to be overlooked involved the torture and murder of a music teacher named Gary Hinman in July of 1969. Moreover, the event may very well have triggered the bloody rampage that soon shocked the nation. As the murky story goes (there are two conflicting versions), Manson sent Bobby Beausoleil, a talented young actor/musician, along with Family members Susan Atkins and Mary Bruner to Hinman’s home in Topanga Canyon. The alleged motive was said to be money Hinman had stashed at the house. Another version asserts that Hinman had produced a bad batch of LSD which Beausoleil subsequently sold to a gang of pissed off bikers who demanded a refund.

At some point, (there’s actually a consensus here) Manson arrived on the scene wielding a sword; he then slashed Hinman’s face and hacked off part of his ear because apparently, that’s how swashbuckling cult leaders take care of business. A few days later, as Hinman repeated Buddhist mantras, Beausoleil stabbed him to death and used the victim’s blood to smear “political piggy” on the wall along with a panther paw, a Black Panther symbol. The 21-year-old guitarist would be caught shortly afterward in Hinman’s car — two days before the Cielo Drive bloodbath.

3. Squeaky

Among Manson’s many loyal devotees, Lynnette Fromme earned the distinction of being the only Family member (and first female in U.S. history) to attempt the assassination of a sitting President. Fortunately, her .45 caliber pistol misfired while taking aim at Gerald Ford in September 1975, an outlandish escapade that served as just one of many in the life of a woman best known as “Squeaky.”   

“She was the main gal in the Family,” said Vincent Bugliosi. “Once Manson left the ranch, if he was anywhere else, she was in charge.”

Fromme grew up in Southern California and performed in a popular youth dance troupe, appearing at Disneyland, The Lawrence Welk Show and (coincidentally) the White House. She eventually drifted away from the trappings of middle-class suburbia and found herself homeless in Venice Beach where she first met Manson. The runaway soon joined his flock at Spahn Ranch, taking care of octogenarian, George Spahn, who nicknamed her because of the sound she made when he touched her.

An arrest for shoplifting kept her in jail during the summer of 1969, but she would prove her unwavering support to the Family for decades. She frequently moved from town to town to be near wherever her beloved Charlie had been locked up. Along the way, she got herself mixed up with the Aryan Brotherhood, some of whom were later convicted for killing a former combat Marine and his wife.

Although Fromme’s bungled Coup d’etat resulted in a life sentence, she refused to let a minor setback like federal prison deter her lofty ambitions. Furthermore, the feisty redhead deserves credit for an accurate throwing arm, firing an apple at the lead prosecutor’s head and knocking off his glasses at her trial.

Unbelievably, there’s more: On December 23, 1987, she escaped from the pokey in West Virginia, attempting to see Manson, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Law enforcement officials found her two days later and added another 15 years to her sentence. In 2009, at age 60, she obtained parole and now lives quietly (for her anyway) in upstate New York.  

2. Still Locked Up… For Now

In her book, The White Album, author Joan Didion wrote about how the Tate-LaBianca Murders closed out the turbulent decade and left many people feeling a pang of collective guilt from “too much sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Although Manson would die in prison, several of his most notorious accomplices have remained behind bars despite repeated legal maneuverings to let bygones be bygones. But that could soon change as Bobby Beausoleil and Leslie Van Houtenwere both recently recommended for early release by the California parole board.

According to the Department of Corrections, newly-elected Governor Gavin Newsom holds five options: uphold, reverse, modify or send it back for a full board review; he can also choose to take no action at all, resulting in Beausoleil and Van Houten gaining their freedom.

A former high school cheerleader, Van Houten was only a teenager when she took part in the butchering of the LaBiancas, using an ivory-handled carving fork and a steak knife. The assailants then scrawled “Rise,” “Death to Pigs” and “Healter (sic) Skelter” with the ample supply of fresh blood.

Attorneys for Van Houten, now 69, have attempted to re-brand their client as a model inmate, who earned college correspondence degrees while running self-help groups for other incarcerated women. Oddly, there’s been no mention of do-it-yourself cutlery seminars.

Beausoleil, 71, had been previously denied parole 18 times and currently resides in the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco.

His attorney, Jason Campbell, believes his client has paid his debt to society in full and deserves to be freed. “As far as I’m concerned, he should have been recommended for parole decades ago,” Campbell said. “Under California standards, all that matters is whether they are currently dangerous. I don’t think that by any definition I can imagine, that he is currently dangerous.”

Not everyone agrees — especially Sharon Tate’s sister, Debra. She’s been a staunch opponent in both cases as well as a vocal critic of the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film about Manson, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The movie’s release is scheduled to coincide with the date of Tate’s murder, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

1. Family Affair

When you’re the head honcho of a free-love, hippie commune in the swinging 60s, chances are your dance card stayed full 24/7. Although accurate Family birth records are a bit spotty, it’s a fair assumption that Manson spread his seed far and wide. But here’s what we do know:

In 1955, Manson married his first wife, Rosalie Willis, who bore him a son, Charles Manson, Jr. The boy later changed his name to Charles Jay White, but could never escape the haunting link to his biological father and committed suicide in 1993. Next, Charlie’s second wife, a prostitute named Leona Stevens (aka “Candy”) spawned Charles Luther Manson. That offspring managed to disconnect completely from his deadbeat dad and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Mary Brunner, an actual Family member, gave birth to Manson’s third son, Valentine Michael Manson. Like his step-brother, he too dropped the cursed surname and opted for a life of anonymity.

Inevitably, countless alleged relatives have claimed to be kin of Papa/Uncle/Cousin Charlie; however, a recent stranger-than-fiction court case awarded a man named Jason Freeman as the legal beneficiary of Manson’s dead corpse (it had been stored on ice in a Bakersfield morgue) after proving to be the outlaw’s grandson and the legitimate heir to the bones. In a win-win result, the Kern County Coroner’s Office were relieved because other stiffs were “piling up” from the local methamphetamine and opioid epidemic.


10 Incredible Facts About the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire has been represented in cultural contributions as diverse as the 1959 American film Ben Hur and the 1979 British film Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The Romans are the villains of the Christians’ New Testament. Yet they are also the people who gave contemporary civilization some of its most practical architectural innovations. Anyone who benefits from a public sewer system should thank the Romans. In history, the Romans were both winners and losers. Their revered empire collapsed. Perhaps it does not deserve to be unquestioningly revered. Below are 10 reasons the Roman Empire does deserve to be thoughtfully examined.

10. The Romans worshipped many deities (many borrowed from the Greeks)

The Romans were polytheists, meaning they worshipped more than one god. One minor god was Nemesis, the god of revenge. From his name comes the English word, “nemesis,” meaning “a rival against whom one seeks revenge.” The primary 12 gods and goddesses, called the di consentes,meaning “associated with the gods” in Latin, were taken from the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses. Of those 12, the three most important ones were Jupiter, protector of the state (the Greeks’ Zeus), Juno, protector of women (the Greeks’ Hera), and Minerva, goddess of craft and wisdom (the Greeks’ Athena).

The Romans sometimes changed Greek myths so that their morals promoted the values of Roman civilization. While the Greek gods and goddesses were anthropomorphized, the Roman gods and goddesses seldom visited earth. Their power symbolized the hierarchical power of the state.

9. The Romans adopted the practices of the civilizations they conquered

Early in its expansion, the Roman Empire was influenced by the cultures of the Greeks and the Etruscans. The decline of Greece began when the Roman emperor Maximus took the Greek city of Corinth in 146 BCE, though the Greeks retained land in present day Italy. The Etruscans ruled Rome for roughly 100 years before the Romans deposed them. Many of Rome’s architectural innovations were introduced by the Etruscans, including the sewer system, called the Cloaca Maxima; the Temple of Jupiter, on the Capitaline Hill; Rome’s race track; the Circus Maximus; and the Servian Wall (a wall surrounding Rome).

The Romans adopted the Greeks’ religious structure and theatrical genres, though Roman plays are more likely to include stock characters. The Romans’ adoption of some practices of the cultures they conquered was more indicative of practicality than cultural tolerance. They adopted practices that were beneficial to them, regardless of who initiated those practices. In the case of the Britons and other subjects of the empire west of Rome, productive relationships were promoted based on subjects’ willingness to adopt Roman practices.

8. The Roman Empire was actually two empires

By 286 CE, The Roman Empire stretched from present day Britain to the present day Persian Gulf. Invaders regularly threatened the empire, so Emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE) divided it so it could be more easily defended. Maximian ruled the Western Roman Empire from Milan (and led the necessary battles against invaders), while Diocletian ruled the Eastern Roman Empire from near western Anatolia. When Diocletian reorganized territory, he also streamlined authority. Under his rule, both sections of the Roman Empire were theocratic absolute monarchies.

Diocletian consolidated the earlier practices of separating military careers from civil careers and decreasing the authority of the Senate. The Western Roman Empire eventually became the lesserof the two empires. During the rule of Emperor Theodosius I (379-395 CE), Theodosius’ zealous promotion of Christianity, invasions by Germanic tribes, and scarcity of resources all weakened the Western Roman Empire.

7. Roman emperors spread Christianity more systematically than they condemned it

Though Christians were publicly sacrificed during certain periods of the Roman Empire’s history, they were never killed specifically because of their religious beliefs. Nero used Christians as scapegoats in an attempt to discredit the rumor that he himself had started the Great Fire (64 CE). In 250 CE and 303 CE, Decius and Diocletian, respectively, passed edicts requiring Roman citizens to make public sacrifices in front of Roman officials. Though Christians were sometimes offered as sacrifices, they were not specifically targeted in either edict. In both cases, the emperors wanted to quell civil unrest by strengthening their authoritarian governments.

In 313 CE, the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity himself (though perhaps not wholeheartedly). That year, he issued the Edict of Milan, promising tolerance to Christians. Perhaps, as he claimed, Constantine did see a vision of a flaming cross in the sky on the eve of a battle. Perhaps Constantine’s conversion was another example of a Roman adopting a beneficial practice from another culture. Christianity is a monotheistic religion. There is one god who,Constantine claimed, chose the emperor as his divine representative on Earth. Divine rule could have been a strong justification for consolidating one man’s political power. Constantine’s successor, the Emperor Theodosius, persecuted non-Christians.

6. Roman society was openly classist

Roman society was hierarchically structured. However, unlike in a contemporary democracy containing hierarchical power structures, Roman society provided few opportunities for social mobility. There were three classes in Roman society: the patricians, who, according to the Roman author Livy were descendants of the 100 men Romulus chose to form the first Senate; the plebeians, who were the citizenry; and the slaves. After the Conflict of the Orders (500-287 BCE), the process of transitioning between the patrician and plebeian classes become much more fluid. During the Conflict of the Orders, the plebeians asserted their civic authority by seceding from the Roman Empire during wars, which eventually earned them the right to intermarry with members of the patrician class, and assuming roles in governmental organizations such as the consul and the priesthood. In 287 BCE, Hortensian Law ended the Conflict of the Orders by making resolutions passed by the Plebeian Consul binding for all Roman citizens.

Unlike plebeians, slaves had no rights under Roman law. The Romans valued dignity and restraint, but of course those are defined based upon one’s own sociocultural norms. Raping slaves was an accepted practice. For the Romans, the acceptability of a sexual pairing was determined by the status and positioning of the partners, not by their sex or gender. Penetrating a male slave was perfectly acceptable, because the partner of lower social status should always be the one getting penetrated. Beating a slave with a stick was dignified, because the owner was not using his hands. The father of the physician, Galen, reportedly urged his friends not to punch their servants’ mouths, because the owners might injure their own hands.

5. Divorce was not maligned in the Roman Empire

Whether chosen or arranged, a contemporary marriage is considered a personal event. For the Romans, however, marriage was a civic duty. A marriage could create mutually beneficial sociocultural and sociopolitical connections between families. As the head of the family, a father had the authority to promote a marriage that would benefit his household. A divorce, however, was considered a personal matter between the members of a couple, partially because breaking one alliance to form another, more desireable one was a socially accepted practice.

Since wives were the property of their husbands, no divorce required a division of goods, though a man was required to return a woman’s dowry to her family if he divorced her. Men were permitted to divorce their wives without citing a reason, though common reasons included adultery, infertility, consuming wine excessively, and making copies of the household keys. The Justinian Code of 449 CE allowed women to divorce men under certain circumstances. It was not the first such law, but it was the first that did not impose penalties on the woman if her divorce was denied.

4. The Pax Romana lasted 200 years

In 27 BCE Augustus Caesar, nephew of Julius Caesar, became the emperor of the Roman Empire. His reign marked the beginning of the Pax Romana, a Latin phrase meaning “Roman peace.” Augustus’ reforms provided the Pax Romana’s stability. He decreased imperial expansion (admittedly only after gaining land in what are now Spain, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Egypt by defeating Mark Antony). He ordered the building of roads and aqueducts, using concrete made from ash. He decreased the size of the military. He protected sea trade, ordering the navy to capture pirates. He promoted the arts. Horace, Virgil, Ovid, and Livy are all writers whose careers flourished during the Pax Romana.

Though Augustus’ rule, exemplifies the best of the Pax Romana, it outlasted his reign. Incompetent emperors and invasions from Germanic tribes combined to end the Pax Romana in 180 CE.

3. Scholars disagree about why the Roman Empire fell

More accurately, no one can isolate the single most significant factor that led to the Western Roman Empire’s collapse in 476 CE. The Eastern Roman Empire, also called the Byzantine Empire, lasted until the 1400s, when it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The division of the Roman Empire into two halves was one factor in its decline. Both halves did not thrive equally, and each half developed distinct sociocultural values.

Other factors: The empire was too large to rule uniformly, and it was vulnerable to invaders, particularly Huns and Germanic tribes. After the third century, some of the Western Roman Empire’s emperors weren’t of Roman descent, and that threatened civic unity. Increasing reliance on mercenaries led to military defeats, and a lack of successful conquests decreased the availability of the slave labor on which the farmers depended. Historian Guy Halsell writes, “The Roman Empire was not murdered […] nor did it die a natural death. It accidentally committed suicide.”

2. English words are inspired by Roman culture

Latin words are still used in the medical and legal professions. However, some English words also come from Roman culture. The Senate was the Romans’ term for their lawmaking body, and a senator was a person who served there. Auditorium is Latin for, “a place for listening.” For the Romans, a circus was any place of entertainment designed in a circle, racetracks included. “Civilized” comes from the Romans’ “civitas” meaning “citizen.”

The Romans contributed the words “emperor” and “gladiator” to the English language. In military academies, a first year cadet is called a “plebe.” This is a shortened form of “plebeian,” the Romans’ term for a lower class citizen.

1. The Romans influenced contemporary governments

Any democracy owes a debt to the Greeks. The concept of democracy, a political system wherein each person receives one vote when legislative governmental matters are being determined, originated in Athens. In Athens, as in any other place democracy is instituted, how personhood was defined determined who actually had the right to vote. The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words, “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power). However, the structure of a contemporary democracy, or any form of government that includes an elected lawmaking body, owes a debt to the Romans. Contemporary democracies are representative democracies.

Like the Romans, voters elect officials, who then vote on policies on behalf of their constituents. The Patrician and Plebeian Consuls were comprised of citizenry from both of the Roman Empire’s social classes. The Senate functioned more like a parliament in a constutional monarchy, insofar as the extent of its powers was largely determined by the ruling emperor. However, members of the Roman Senate were appointed. The Roman Empire’s government was primarily authoritarian, since the emperor created and enforced policy. However, the governmental structures the Romans modeled have inspired other types of governments.