One of the things we loved most about performance artist Dorian Electra's recent music video was how quickly she took us through the history of the vibrator, from the very first model in the 1880s to the Hitachi Magic Wand's arrival in the 1970s. But at the same time, the video left us wanting more.
So, we decided to slow things down and take a closer look at each decade's interpretation of the vibrator, with Electra as our professor. In an exchange over email, we discussed the history of the vibrator, which Electra described in three words: "Medical. Secretive. Fortunate."
The first word refers to the vibrator's origins as a device intended to treat "hysteria" in women, because, as Electra told us, doctors's hands would get too tired treating it manually. It was only in the 1920s, when vibrators stopped being used as medical devices, that the public started viewing them as "obscene," Electra explained. And so began the era of the "personal massager," a rebranding that Electra describes as "a wink-wink from companies to consumers that continued for decades and decades before the idea of women pleasuring themselves started becoming less taboo." This, it's safe to say, was the vibrator's "secretive" phase.
Today, we find ourselves in the midst of the "fortunate" era of the vibrator. With countless varieties of sex toys to choose from, all we have to do is look forward to what the future holds. What does the vibrator of the future look like to Electra? "Maybe some kind of implanted device that you can control via Bluetooth using EEG signals (i.e., a brain-wave reader), so that you can basically control it WITH YOUR MIND."
Read on for Electra's take on some of history's most memorable vibrators.
Egyptian Coptic Bone Doll
The broad face shows a prominent nose and a slit mouth. The linearly rendered eyebrows and eyes with faint traces of pigment. The hair of the doll is piled up high and combed sideward. Pierced shoulders for fixation of separate arms. These figures are often classified as dolls and may have served as inexpensive toys. They were placed in graves and may have also served as votive gifts in the cult of local female deities.
Size: H. 12.3 cm Material: Bone Culture: Coptic Egyptian, Roman to Byzantine, 3rd-5th century AD Condition: Reconstituted from two pieces, old restoration with a small infill on the side. Mounted on an acrylic display stand.
Provenance: Ex US private collection M.A., acquired between the 1950s and 1980s. Thence art market California, February 2018 sale. Provenance data to the buyer.
Comes with a Certificate of Authenticity. Offered lots legally acquired, due diligence conducted to ensure the stated provenance. Related documents seen by Catawiki.
Worldwide shipping with registered priority mail.
Import taxes for buyers in the countries of the European Union – reduced customs duties of 5% in the United Kingdom – no fees in the United States and in Switzerland. Italia: Importazione soggetta all’IVA – sdoganamento molto lento – consegna postale lentissima.
Bilbo Catcher (Bilboquette) and Cup & Ball
Item Last Updated: Thursday, 31-Jan-2019 22:38:23 EST
These toys were quite popular in Europe with adults and children alike throughout the time of the settlement of the New World colonies and would have been favorites on the North American continent as well, where they continue to be greatly enjoyed to this day.
Bilbo Catcher (Bilboquette): The Bilbo Catcher has a solid wood spindle 4 7/8" long, with a solid wood ball. In the Bilbo Catcher one side of the spindle is a straightforward cup and ball game, while on the other side the player must catch the ball on the tip of the spindle by a hole drilled in the ball for that purpose. Each toy is packaged in a poly bag with a history and instruction sheet.
Cup and Ball, Large: The large cup and ball toy is a solid wood turning 10 5/8" in length, with the cup designed in line with the handle. The ball is solid wood 1" in diameter. Each toy is individually packaged in a poly bag with a history and instruction sheet.
Cup and Ball, Small: The small cup and ball toy is also solid wood turning 6" in length, with the cup designed in line with the handle. The ball is solid wood ." in diameter. It is available in either natural wood or with a painted (yellow cup and red ball). Each toy is individually packaged in a poly bag by Historical Folk Toys.
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For massaging women to orgasm, there is no evidence that ever happened in the doctor’s office – Hallie Lieberman
“For massaging women to orgasm, there is no evidence that ever happened in the doctor’s office,” says Lieberman.
There may well have been “sketchy doctors,” she adds, who essentially assaulted patients. But there’s no evidence that the use of vibrators for masturbation was ever a medically condoned treatment.
Lieberman’s paper is not the first to challenge Maines’ theory. Scholars including Helen King, a Classical historian at the Open University, London, have challenged Maines’ claims that this practice stretched back to the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.
“Maines wants a line of history going all the way back to the time of Hippocrates, so she was determined to find doctors massaging their female patients to orgasm in the earliest written sources,” says King.
But it was not common practice in the ancient world to let doctors anywhere near the women of the household, she says. Another problem was that Maines didn’t distinguish between satirical writing from this period and genuine medical literature.
“A Roman satire, describing ‘anointers’ at the baths who masturbate a woman to orgasm, is very different from saying doctors really did this,” says King. “It’s a satire – it’s supposed to be outrageous.”
In contrast, ancient medical texts that described doctors massaging the lower back, knees or head were misread by Maines as a rather different kind of massage, according to King. Maines got around the contrary evidence by cherry-picking phrases and sources deliberately, King says: “for example, by reading a description about what happens when the womb is rubbed during intercourse and making that into a passage about masturbation by a doctor.”
But if not doctors, then who actually invented the vibrator as a sex toy?
The answer goes back to some of the adverts that Maines found – even if some academics today find her interpretations of them to be specious.
When doctors began to realise around the early 20th Century that vibrators were in fact not the cure-alls they were taken to be, the manufacturers of these devices were left with a problem. There was a whole industry devoted to making these devices: there had been the hand-cranked version, which evolved into steam-powered models, which in turn evolved into electrically powered devices. But now, there were fewer doctors keen to buy them.
One company made a bold move in 1903, releasing an advert for the Hygeia sexual appliance for men and women.
“It kind of looked like this belt with electricity and vibration,” says Lieberman.
Surgical Instruments from Ancient Rome
NOTICE: All images in the exhibit are the property of Historical Collections & Services of the Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia. Please contact a member of Historical Collections for permission to reproduce in any fashion images from the exhibit or to make comments or suggestions.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under feet of ash and pumice. Objects under the volcanic material were found to be well preserved when they were excavated centuries later. Among the artifacts recovered were surgical instruments from multiple sites, the best known being Pompeii’s House of the Surgeon, so named because of the nature of the items recovered there. In 1947, reproductions of these instruments were presented to the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library by the University of Virginia’s 8th Evacuation Hospital after its service in Italy during World War II. The collection is one of the best surviving examples of the tools at a surgeon’s disposal in the first century CE. Since there was relatively little innovation in surgery and surgical tools from the time of Hippocrates (5th century BCE) and Galen (2nd century CE), this collection is typical of surgical practice for nearly a millennium and illuminates the practice of medicine in ancient Rome. In fact, the technology of some tools, such as the vaginal speculum, did not change significantly until the 20th century.
The following display presents images and summaries of the known uses of each instrument. The extant comments of medical writers from antiquity–including Oribasius, Galen, Soranus, Aetius, and the Hippocratic corpus–have provided scholars with some clues about the use of some instruments. Some instruments, such as mixing instruments and tweezers, probably had other household uses, such as the application of cosmetics and paints.
Greek: dioptra Latin: speculum magnum matricis (click image to enlarge)
One of the most spectacular, if fearsome looking, Roman medical instruments is the vaginal dilator or speculum (dioptra). It comprises a priapiscus with 2 (or sometimes 3 or 4) dovetailing valves which are opened and closed by a handle with a screw mechanism, an arrangement that was still to be found in the specula of 18th-century Europe. Soranus is the first author who makes mention of the speculum specially made for the vagina. Graeco-Roman writers on gynecology and obstetrics frequently recommend its use in the diagnosis and treatment of vaginal and uterine disorders, yet it is one of the rarest surviving medical instruments. Specula are large and readily recognizable and should not have suffered the same degree of destruction as thin instruments, such as probes, scalpels and needles. As a source of bronze, however, they may have been more subject to recycling than the smaller instruments.
Greek: hedrodiastoleus (click image to enlarge)
The earliest mention of the rectal speculum is to be found in the treatise on fistula by Hippocrates (iii.331): “…laying the patient on his back and examining the ulcerated part of the bowel by means of the rectal speculum …”
Greek: mochliskos (click image to enlarge)
From what Galen says, these instruments were used for levering fractured bones into position and may have been used for levering out teeth.
Greek: ostagra (click image to enlarge)
Soranus (lxiv) says that in case of impaction of the foetal cranium, the head may be opened with a sharp instrument and the pieces of the skull removed with bone forceps. Paul Aigenita (VI.xc) says that in a depressed fracture of the skull “fractured bone is to be removed in fragments, with the fingers if possible, if not, with a bone forceps.”
Cupping Vessels for Bloodletting
Greek: sikua Latin: cucurbitulae (click image to enlarge)
The larger cupping vesssel would have been used for larger areas on the body, such as the back or thighs. The smaller vessel would have been applied to the arms.
Tubes to Prevent Contractions & Adhesions
Greek: motos molubous Latin: plumbea fistula (click image to enlarge)
After operations on the nose, rectum, vagina, etc., it was usual to insert a tube of lead or bronze to prevent contraction or adhesion and also to convey medicaments.
Greek: kauterion Latin: ferrum candens (click image to enlarge)
The cautery was employed to an almost incredible extent in ancient times, and surgeons expended much ingenuity in devising different forms of this instrument. The cautery was employed for almost every possible purpose: as a ‘counter-irritant’, as a haemostatic, as a bloodless knife, as a means of destroying tumours, etc.
Portable Probe Case
Greek: kauterion Latin: ferrum candens (click image to enlarge)
This plain cylindrical case was used to store and protect the thin probes and curettes used by physicians. Hippocrates mentions a portable equipment case for use on housecalls.
Clyster for Administering Enemas
Greek: metregchutes (click image to enlarge)
Obstetrical Hooks/Sharp Hooks
Greek: agkistron Latin: hamus, acutus (click image to enlarge)
Hooks, blunt and sharp, are frequently mentioned in both Greek and Latin literature, and served the same possible purposes we use them for: the blunt for dissecting and raising blood-vessels like the modern aneurism needle the sharp for seizing and raising small pieces of tissue for excision and for fixing and retracting the edges of wounds. In dissection, many of the manipulations which we perform with the dissecting forceps were performed by the ancients with sharp hooks.
Greek: tricholabis Latin: vulsella (click image to enlarge)
By far the largest number of forceps of this type are not surgical instruments, but household implements. Many were used for epilation (hair removal) or by artists.
Greek: staphylagra (click image to enlarge)
In Aetius (II.iv.2), there is an interesting description of the amputation of the uvula by first crushing it in a forceps so as to prevent haemorrhage and then cutting it off. Hippocrates (I.63) mentions the uvula crusher as one of the instruments necessary for the outfit of the physician.
Greek: psalis Latin: forfex (click image to enlarge)
The surgical author Oribasius treats the cutting of hair as a regular medical procedure in a special chapter of his work. Celsus also frequently refers to cutting the hair as a therapeutic measure. Possibly the ancients found difficulty in putting an edge sufficiently smooth for surgical purposes on their shears. We have few references to the use of the shears for cutting tissues.
Greek: spathumele (click image to enlarge)
Almost every medical writer mentions the spathomele. It consists of a long shaft with an olivary point at one end and a spatula at the other. It was a pharmaceutical rather than a strictly surgical instrument. The olive end was used for stirring medicaments, the spatula for spreading them on the affected part. The spathomele was used by painters for preparing and mixing their colors. The very large numbers in which they are found would indicate that their use was not confined to medical men.
Greek: cyathiscomele Latin: cyathiscomele (click image to enlarge)
The scope of the cyathiscomele in medical art is evidently, like the flat spathomele, to act occasionally as a sound, but mainly to mix, measure and apply medicaments. Some are adapted for use as curettes. The large numbers in which this instrument occurs would itself indicate that it was used for lay as well as medical purposes.
The Origin of the Flying Dutchman
The ghostly ship known as the Flying Dutchman has had sightings dating back to the late 1700’s. Seen as a warning sign, the ghostly vessel had been captured by the eyes of countless witnesses for the next 250 years.
Those unlucky enough to catch of glimpse of the frightening ghost ship saw it as a call to turn around and head back home as to not end up like the unfortunate real-life captain of the craft.
According to legend, the captain of the ship then known as simply the Dutchman was an incredibly headstrong individual who was known for pressing his luck against whatever treacherous seas were presented to him.
The actual real-life captain of the mysterious ship was Hendrick van der Decken, a spice, silk, and dye purveyor who would travel from his native Amsterdam to the Far East Indies for merchandise. He would use a well-known midpoint resting stop known as the Cape of Good Hope.
He had traveled from Amsterdam to the Far East Indies and then back again to sell in the large marketplaces of Holland countless times. However, on one trip in 1641, van der Decken would never make it past the Cape of Good Hope just south of South Africa. The waters were particularly treacherous on this trek, and despite the urgings of his crew to turn the ship back around to get back home to Amsterdam, Hendrick was dead set on completing his mission to Southeast Asia for supplies.
Van der Decken was an extremely proud man to a fault. There are several accounts that he was mad and would stop at nothing to reach his goals. Even though all signs pointed to turning back home towards safety, Hendrick forced his crew to push through the storm, and the vessel would be lost forever to the seas.
The ship would be removed from its physical form permanently, but it wouldn’t be the last time the cursed vessel would be seen by countless eye witnesses.
The First Written Account of the Flying Dutchman
Writers, witnesses, and sea goers firmly believed that the ship known as the Flying Dutchman would be forever cursed as a penalty for disobeying the sea’s orders to turn back around.
Visions and sightings of the ghastly craft would come to be taken as a warning sign for all future ship captains to turn their ships around to avoid becoming members of the eternal crew of the Flying Dutchman.
The very first public account of the vessel that was previously believed to never be seen again, would take place in 1790.
Writer John McDonald would go on to reference this lost ship in his particularly long titled book, “Travels, in various part of Europe, Asia and Africa, during a series of thirty years and upward.”
“The weather was so stormy that the sailors said they saw the Flying Dutchman. The common story is that this Dutchman came to the Cape in distress of weather and wanted to get into harbour but could not get a pilot to conduct her and was lost and that ever since in very bad weather her vision appears.” McDonald wrote.
Other Flying Dutchman References
McDonald’s account would be the first of many public descriptions that would go on to increase in numbers throughout the years and would reach its most notable head in the form of the 1843 opera appropriately titled, “The Flying Dutchman.”
The highly successful opera would go on to burn this ghoulish image of an ethereal ship filled with a ghost crew and a captain that would be forever condemned to the seas in the minds of everyone that saw the piece.
With each and every written account thereafter, the legitimacy of the ship would only continue to grow.
In 1881, future king of the United Kingdom, George V, would be aboard a vessel with a crew member that saw the apparition right in the approximate location of where the Flying Dutchman was last seen. This witness would go on to fall to his death from atop the bird’s nest of the topmost. This entire event would spark belief in the future king who would go on to write his account of the ghost ship.
Sightings and accounts would go on to die down until World War II, when British, German, and American soldiers would begin to see the ship in the same location as the other sightings, fully bringing the lore back to life.
With so many notable accounts from countless individuals, the question asked by those who were skeptical was how something like this could be possible.
Ghosts can’t possibly exist in our world, so what was causing so many people to see the Flying Dutchman over a 250-year period?
The Most Logical Reason for the Flying Dutchman
The most common and reasonable explanation is based on a natural phenomenon known as Fata Morgana. This phenomenon is a type of mirage that is created by the bending of beams of light through varying levels of differing temperatures. Also known as a superior mirage, Fata Morgana can be seen when the air underneath the visible line of sight is much cooler than the warm air above it.
Any source of light that enters this perfect ingredient list for distortion will create an image. The Cape of Good Hope offers all of the ingredients necessary to create this other worldly image.
This image could have been seen as just about anything, but due to hundreds of years of accounts of a ghost ship at this exact location, anyone that would go on to see anything would immediately label it as the Flying Dutchman. Unfortunately, for those unlucky enough to see the spirit ship, the fact that the trading path is used by countless others is another big reason that people swear that they see the Flying Dutchman.
The light will bend around the curve of the Earth and illuminate ships that are actually over the horizon and out of the natural viewing range.
This projection effect will make a ghost ship appear, but by the time the sighting vessel makes it to the location of the appearance, the apparition disappears because it is no longer in optimal position to see a distorted image. The power of suggestion is an incredibly strong thing.
Coupling the natural phenomenon of bending light at the Cape with the history of the ghostly vessel made for a perfect storm of details leading to countless individuals truly believing that they indeed saw the Flying Dutchman.
Another very unfortunate phenomena that only heightens the levels of eeriness and occurs in areas like the Cape of Good Hope is known as looming. This separate refraction of light makes the object being observed appear as if it is floating in midair.
The projections established by Fata Morgana create the image that originates outside of the natural field of view, and the looming effect raises the projected image above the horizon line. This makes for a ghost ship that appears to be floating through the air.
The "Trojan War Cycle" is based on a story from the legendary period of ancient Greece, a time when it was common to trace lineage to the gods. Helen is said to have been a daughter of the king of the gods, Zeus. Her mother was generally considered to have been Leda, the mortal wife of the king of Sparta, Tyndareus, but in some versions, the goddess of divine retribution Nemesis, in bird form, is named as Helen's mother, and the Helen-egg was then given to Leda to raise. Clytemnestra was the sister of Helen, but her father wasn't Zeus, but rather Tyndareus. Helen had two (twin) brothers, Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces). Pollux shared a father with Helen and Castor with Clytemnestra. There were various stories about this helpful pair of brothers, including one about how they saved the Romans at the Battle of Regillus.
Jeffrey Dahmer's Childhood: A Pail of Animal Bones Was His Toy Rattle
August 1982 mugshot of Jeffrey Dahmer . Photo: Bureau of Prisons/Getty Images
Jeffrey Dahmer's Childhood: A Pail of Animal Bones Was His Toy Rattle
Jeffrey Dahmer's Childhood: A Pail of Animal Bones Was His Toy Rattle
The following content contains disturbing accounts of violence. Discretion is advised.
When two Milwaukee police officers were flagged down in the late-night hours of July 22, 1991 by a man already in handcuffs claiming he𠆝 narrowly escaped murder, they knew they were in for an unusual shift.
But nothing could have prepared them for what awaited at the perpetrator’s house: a second-story apartment on North 25 th Street.
The home of 31-year-old killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer.
Inside, they uncovered a grisly scene: seven skulls and four decapitated heads stuffed into a refrigerator photographs of murder victims, in various states of dismemberment and a 57-gallon barrel, containing multiple headless torsos and other body parts, decomposing with the assistance of corrosive chemicals.
He was bleaching the flesh off the bone. Just like he𠆝 learned as a young child from his dad.
That’s according to Carl Wahlstrom, a forensic psychiatrist who interviewed and evaluated Dahmer and served as an expert witness in his trial.
“He and his dad, as a father-son activity𠉫leached the connective tissue and the hair” off rodents’ corpses when they found animals who𠆝 died under their house, says Wahlstrom.
Eventually, only a pail full of bones would remain. “It was like a personalized rattle,” says Wahlstrom. “The family would call them his fiddlesticks.”
But, at the time, the unusual hobby wasn’t about a love for gore—it was practiced out of an interest in science. Dahmer’s father, Lionel Dahmer, was a research chemist. The bone bleaching was an extension of professional expertise.
After his arrest, Jeffrey Dahmer confessed to 17 murders (of which he was convicted for 16), admitting to authorities that he ate his victims’ organs and had sex with their corpses.
But killers like Dahmer don’t just emerge fully formed from one day to the next. They grow up and into their murderous roles.
Dahmer’s childhood was not without problems. His mother, Joyce Dahmer, suffered from depression and attempted suicide. His father, preoccupied with his doctoral work, was largely absent. David Dahmer—Jeffrey’s brotherme along when Jeffrey was 5 years old throughout childhood, Jeffrey resented him as a competitor for their parents’ scant attention. Between the time Jeffrey was 6 and 8 years old, his family moved frequently before finally settling in Bath, Ohio, where Jeffrey lived until he graduated ਏrom high school.
Over those early years, Joyce and David fought with regularity. Their relationship ended in a messy divorce, rife with allegations of 𠇎xtreme cruelty and gross neglect of duty.”
According to Louis Schlesinger, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an expert on serial sexual murder, none of that information correlates to Dahmer’s killing spree.
“Lots of people have conflicts with their brothers and sisters,” says Schlesinger. “Having your mother attempt suicide and become hospitalized is not a pleasant event, but it doesn’t make you become a serial killer.”
That said, Schlesinger acknowledges that there are childhood and adolescent behaviors that do correlate with the development of a serial sexual murder—starting with a preoccupying sadistic fantasy, and a compulsion to act on it.
“When you do something like Dahmer did, you don’t just one day do it,” explains Schlesinger. “It begins in the mind.”
Wahlstrom says that, as an early adolescent, Dahmer had an “off the charts” libido, and constant fantasies about doing harm—more specifically, killing men and having sex with their corpses.
“It took up about two-thirds of his day,” Wahlstrom says Dahmer told him. At age 13, Dahmer tried to actualize what was in his imagination: He𠆝 become overcome with lust for a male jogger in his hometown of Bath, Ohio, and so one day hid with a baseball bat near that jogger’s route, hoping to make his first kill. But Dahmer told Wahlstrom the man didn’t go jogging that day and so he moved on.
“He was a very disturbed kid and adolescent,” Wahlstrom says. “He was very isolated from the people around him.”
Another strong correlate to serial sexual murder is animal cruelty. “That’s clear in his case,” Schlesinger says, noting that as a teenager Dahmer had impaled a dog’s head on a stick in the forest behind his house.
But for Wahlstrom, the most striking anecdote Dahmer shared about animal cruelty dates from grade school.
“He𠆝 gotten this tadpole, and brought it in to his teacher𠉪nd the teacher ended up giving it away to another kid,” says Wahlstrom.
Dahmer, incensed by the perceived slight, went to that student’s house and found the tadpole in an aquarium, where he exacted his revenge.
“He poured some gasoline on it and set it on fire,” says Wahlstrom. “He said to me, ‘If you want to call that torturing animals, I tortured animals.&apos”
But while animal cruelty is often a component of serial sexual murder, the strongest correlate, says Schlesinger, is the murderer himself having been a victim of childhood abuse. That’s a point, Wahlstrom says, that Dahmer emphatically denied.
“He said he had very loving parents,” says Wahlstrom. “[And] that blaming [his] parents for these issues was completely off the mark.”
Wahlstrom, who also interviewed Dahmer’s friends and family members for the killer’s psychiatric evaluation (which he provided to the defense), said he didn’t hear or observe anything to contradict the claim of a relatively peaceful family home.
Although his mother suffered with mental-health issues, Wahlstrom says he thinks she was a loving mother. “She had the one-year baby book, with locks of his hair and lots of pictures,” says Wahlstrom. “His parents seemed in the broad range of normal.”
If we view ourselves from a great height, it is frightening to realize how little we know about our species, our purpose and our end.
Sebald was talking about flying over densely settled areas, but to read the compressed chronicle of a thousand year empire is also to view our species from a great height, and the experience offers just as frightening a vantage. From the heights of historical survey, from the distance of many centuries, the professed, the “higher” motivations and justifications ba If we view ourselves from a great height, it is frightening to realize how little we know about our species, our purpose and our end.
Sebald was talking about flying over densely settled areas, but to read the compressed chronicle of a thousand year empire is also to view our species from a great height, and the experience offers just as frightening a vantage. From the heights of historical survey, from the distance of many centuries, the professed, the “higher” motivations and justifications barely reach our ears. “Christendom” as a united bloc of believers seems a fantasy or a joke, an easy irony as “democracy” will one day be and all we can see are the compulsive collisions of states the borders receding, the borders advancing the cities built by some, and torn down by others the usurpers and regicides ascending supposedly sacred thrones (each Byzantine emperor was acclaimed “equal to the Apostles”) the political entities in their periods of strength exploiting and devouring, in their periods of weakness exploited and devoured by others the universal wolf. (Sir Philip Sidney said a great conqueror is but the momentary “cock of this world’s dunghill.”) Just as we fly over cities knowing that human beings are guiding those toy cars and emitting that industrial smoke, so also do we scan each war-filled page knowing that thousands of people, way, way down there – slightly clouded over by “battle was joined” or “the looting lasted three days” – are being raped and robbed and murdered or are raping and robbing and murdering.
And that last ditch narrative, of “Decadence,” is story we Band-Aid over our confusion, a story that does not clarify our situation – does not point a direction or describe a momentum. Norwich’s remark that the pivotal catastrophe of Byzantium - defeat by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert in 1071 - occurred three centuries before the Emperor became a vassal of a different Turkic state, the Ottomans (by which time the Seljuk order had been shattered in its turn by Tamburlaine’s Mongols), and four centuries before the Empire finally, cinematically “fell” (Constantine XI, last emperor and namesake of the millennium-distant founder, when he saw the Turks had breached Constantinople's land walls cast off his purple robes and led a last desperate charge, his body never to be identified or recovered*), made me pull down my copy of Richard Gilman’s Decadence: The Strange Life of a Epithet, in which I saw that I had once underlined this:
* He was long thought to slumber in a cave, awaiting the hour when he would reconquer Constantinople/Istanbul for Christianity. What is it with Eastern Orthodoxy and agelessly slumbering heroes? The 18th century Russian field marshal and scourge of the Ottomans Aleksandr Suvuorov was also believed to sleep deeply within a mountain, to awake in the Motherland's hour of greatest peril. This belief was so durable and widespread that during WWII Red Army soldiers were propagandistically conflated with Suvorov's shade:
This is history the way you always wished it could be but never is. It is a scarcely-believable catalogue of violent deaths (try being pierced at close range by hundreds of arrows until you bleed slowly to death), sexual intrigues (one Empress had specially-trained geese to peck corn from her nether regions), and religious oddities (men who live their whole lives on top of a column, for instance).
With barbarian hordes, crusading knights, treasures and quests, the whole thing is like Tolkien got This is history the way you always wished it could be but never is. It is a scarcely-believable catalogue of violent deaths (try being pierced at close range by hundreds of arrows until you bleed slowly to death), sexual intrigues (one Empress had specially-trained geese to peck corn from her nether regions), and religious oddities (men who live their whole lives on top of a column, for instance).
With barbarian hordes, crusading knights, treasures and quests, the whole thing is like Tolkien got together with David Lynch to invent something that you could never get away with if it were fiction.
There are times, especially near the beginning and end, where you can tell that this has been abridged from the three-volume edition (which doesn't seem to be easily available any more). But on the whole it's a very enjoyable and fascinating canter through a period of history which is still not well known, and which is the link from the classical world to the mediaeval world. Great fun. . more
Hey now, this was one long "short" history. 431 pages of murder, usurption, blinding (lots of blinding), mutilation, and just plain history. I&aposm exhausted. I also couldn&apost stop reading.
Being thoroughly confused about the Eastern Roman Empire and wanting to learn more about the great Justinian, I added this volume to my collection with the view that I would just leaf through for a bit and then put it in the queue for a future reading. Wrong! I became enslaved to every new emperor and shook my hea Hey now, this was one long "short" history. 431 pages of murder, usurption, blinding (lots of blinding), mutilation, and just plain history. I'm exhausted. I also couldn't stop reading.
Being thoroughly confused about the Eastern Roman Empire and wanting to learn more about the great Justinian, I added this volume to my collection with the view that I would just leaf through for a bit and then put it in the queue for a future reading. Wrong! I became enslaved to every new emperor and shook my head at the sacking of Constantinople by the whacked-out western Crusaders. I wanted to be there when the Byzantine Empire was at its height, before sloth and the good life weakened future rulers.
I've stayed away from John Julius Norwich because one of his books entrapped me in a library once and I didn't want that to happen again. But he is splendid at writing history and illuminating lost civilizations. Beginning with Constantine the Great, Norwich takes the reader through a rollercoaster of an empire, one that just didn't seem to realize its time would eventually come to an end. The Roman Empire didn't stop with the fall of Rome, but the eastern portion certainly took a different path. If you want to learn more about the Byzantines, without reading the original three volumes by Norwich, then this is certainly an excellent way to get it done.
"One of the extraordinary phenomena in all history is the way suddenly, from one moment to the next, one city or small country is touched by the angel's wing. And then just as suddenly, it's gone."
Book Season = Spring (no delusions, no mercy) . more
This is an incredible, epic, history. I knew very little about the Eastern Roman Empire when I decided to read it, and consequently this book was rather like drinking from a firehose. 1100 years of some of the most staggering and implausible history you&aposve ever read condensed into 383 pages, finishing off with a heroic last stand and the legends it inspired.
I don&apost mean this to be the end of my acquaintance with Byzantium, but it was an electrifying introduction. This is an incredible, epic, history. I knew very little about the Eastern Roman Empire when I decided to read it, and consequently this book was rather like drinking from a firehose. 1100 years of some of the most staggering and implausible history you've ever read condensed into 383 pages, finishing off with a heroic last stand and the legends it inspired.
I don't mean this to be the end of my acquaintance with Byzantium, but it was an electrifying introduction. . more
Norwich compresses three volumes into one in his Short History covering the 1100 years and 88 emperors of Byzantium. As you turn the pages, the centuries roll by quickly. It soon becomes hard to remember exactly who did what to whom and when. Although some figures stand out such as Constantine I, Justinian I and Basil II. There is an upside to this compacted presentation. One gets a feel for the sweep of history. It is easier to see what changes and what stays the same over the centuries. Below Norwich compresses three volumes into one in his Short History covering the 1100 years and 88 emperors of Byzantium. As you turn the pages, the centuries roll by quickly. It soon becomes hard to remember exactly who did what to whom and when. Although some figures stand out such as Constantine I, Justinian I and Basil II. There is an upside to this compacted presentation. One gets a feel for the sweep of history. It is easier to see what changes and what stays the same over the centuries. Below are some notes on a few things that caught my attention.
First there was the extreme brutality practiced routinely by the Byzantines and every tribe or state they encountered. Poisoning, stabbing, hacking to death, raping, blinding, castrating, nose slitting, cutting out tongues and off ears, hands and feet were all just part of a day’s work. Such measures were imposed on foreign enemies and competing family members alike. Second was the constant war and infighting. Palace intrigues and coups were constant. There was always a war underway or in preparation be it with the Goths, Vandals, Huns, Persians, Franks, Bulgars, Normans, Turks, Arabs, whoever. Of course these groups were also constantly engaged in infighting and wars with their neighbors. In violence at all levels there seemed to be little difference between any century or people.
Third were the unbelievably arcane religious disputes within Christianity that had significant geopolitical consequences. Particularly intense were the disputes over the nature of Jesus which created deep divisions and tensions. The predominant Christian view was adopted by the Council of Ephesus in 431. It held that Jesus was of one substance with the father and was Devine and human united in one individual existence (one being with a dual nature). Arianism was adopted by some Roman emperors and Goths, Vandals and Lombards. It held that Jesus was created by the Father and subordinate to Him (in essence more human than God). Monophytism was popular in the early Christian Middle Eastern churches. It held that Jesus had one nature, Devine (more God than human). Also popular in early Eastern Christian churches was Nestorianism which held that Jesus had two loosely united natures, human and Devine (essentially occupying two separate existences, one God and one human).
If heresy over the dual nature of Christ didn’t make your blood boil (perhaps literally for those caught in the wrong place and time), then there was the equally unfathomable Filioque controversy which engendered intense animosity between Orthodox and Roman Christianity. The Latin Church believed as in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit processes from the Father and the Son. The Orthodox Church believed that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father. This dispute had important consequences since the Popes used this controversy to portray the Orthodox “schismatics” as evil as the infidels. Thus Western European states were often encouraged to not only deny Byzantium support against the Turks but to attack it for its heresy. When Byzantine emperors desperate for Western support tried to compromise by saying the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father through the Son, they were ostracized by both churches.
The Byzantine Empire was founded by Constantine the Great in 330. This Eastern Roman Empire would survive a thousand years past the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century. The last truly Roman Emperor of Byzantium was Justinian I in the in the sixth century. It was during Justinian’s reign that the empire reached its greatest extent encompassing most of the Mediterranean coast, North Africa, Italy, the Balkans and the Arab Middle East. The last Emperor who ascribed to Roman traditions was Heraclius in the seventh century. Afterwards Greek titles would be used and the Greek language become official as it had been in the Eastern Church.
In the seventh century the rise of the Muslim world changed the usual mix of wars Byzantium fought with the Persians and the barbarian tribes (Goths, Vandals, Bulgars, Huns). The Muslims were soon laying siege to Constantinople. The author contends that “Had the Saracens captured Constantinople in the seventh century rather than the fifteenth, all Europe - and America - might be Muslim today.” The Byzantine Empire was one of ceaseless power battles and cruelty. While the Byzantines had a much higher literacy rate than the barbarians, the savagery was equally distributed.
The Empire diminished following Justinian. The 8th century found it caught up in a passionate internal religious dispute that would last 100 years. Iconoclasm held that sacred images should not be allowed, similar to Islamic beliefs. As the movement gathered steam, a vast amount of fine Byzantine art was destroyed. Byzantium regained its mojo in the late ninth, tenth early eleventh century under the Macedonian Dynasties with Constantinople becoming the wealthiest city in Europe. The Empire reached its apogee under Basil II in the early eleventh century. From that point on it would decline. In 1054 the Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic churches permanently split, something that had been a long time in coming.
In 1203 Byzantium was sacked by the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade. The Crusade had started out as a Western Christian effort to recapture Jerusalem which had earlier fallen to Saladin. However the Doge of Venice, the eighty year old blind Enrico Dandolo, wanted to take down Byzantium. With the promise of the plunder of the richest city in the world he got the crusaders to forget Jerusalem much to the consternation of the Pope. Instead the crusading Franks and Germans joined the Venetians to conquer and ravage Constantinople. The mass murder, rape, pillaging and destruction devastated Byzantium. Permanently weakened it would never again be able to adequately defend itself and would ultimately fall to the Ottomans. Ironically men fighting under the cross did what the Saracens never could. Without a viable Byzantium the rest of Christendom was left vulnerable to Muslim attack.
The Latins ruled Constantinople for 57 years. The Greek Orthodox tradition was carried on in small states in Anatolia and the Adriatic Coast. The Mongols occupied the attention of the Bulgars and Turks while the Franks and Venetians in Constantinople grew weaker. Finally a deal with Genoa returned Constantinople to Orthodox leadership. But the theological split between the Western and Eastern Church had turned to one of bitter hate for what the Latins did to Constantinople, now a ruined city never to regain its splendor. Byzantium lingered on for two more centuries despite constant threats from its numerous enemies and devastating bouts of plague. By the time it fell in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks, it was a shell of its former self consisting only of Constantinople and an impoverished small populace.
I have mixed feelings about this book. As a learning experience it was time well spent. Norwich delivers an authoritative overview of Byzantium and lets us see Western Europe and the Middle East through the eyes of the Byzantines. I appreciated this different perspective. However a huge amount of history was condensed into just 400 pages. Trying to save time by selecting Norwich’s abridged version I probably shortchanged myself. I suspect his full length history is much more enjoyable. For in the intervals where Norwich isn’t just reciting facts, I can see he is an engaging writer. When my interest again returns to the Middle Ages I’ll definitely check out the three volume set. . more