Japan – The Origins and Evolution of the Samurai

Welcome back to the ABC world history series! For my contribution I have J for Japan, and obviously I was going to write something about warfare. The first thing to come to mind when considering Japanese warfare history would undoubtedly be the samurai. Of course we all know about their modern reputation as honourable masters of the katana, but this was not always their way, and misrepresents the majority of the role they played in Japanese society throughout time. As with most things in history I think it’s interesting to look back where things began, so today I’ll be taking a look at the origins of the samurai, and how they evolved through the centuries.

China has influenced Japan more than any other nation, and the relationship between the two has had a massive impact on history. In the mid-seventh century Japan widely adopted many Chinese-style institutions. The Taihō Codes of 702, a set of statutes written in Chinese and inspired by Chinese models, mandated a stable, centralized state in control of a reformed military system emphasizing peasant infantry. Things began to change break down eventually however, and thanks to a political vacuum created by an ineffective central government between 900 – 1100, local leaders were forced to arm themselves and take matters into their own hands against many rebellions. These warriors of the countryside soon banded together, linked by ties of dependence and based in private estates on land they had claimed themselves. Eventually they were wholly relied upon for control of rural Japan, and finally in 1185 Yoritomo seized leadership of this new class and established a feudal system which allotted land to them in exchange for their martial service. Hence those previously known as bushi (warrior) started to take on the name of samurai, literally meaning ‘servant’, although until the seventeenth century it may have been an insult to refer to these them as such.

Overall this story is the commonly accepted history of how the samurai came to prominence in Japan, however it does gloss over a lot of the details. So to find out more we need to go back to the time of the early Chinese-styled Japanese military. The Japanese imperial government was vigorous during the early Heian period. Emperor Kanmu’s avoidance of drastic reform decreased the intensity of political struggles, and he became recognized as one of Japan’s most forceful emperors. Imperial control was spreading across the majority of Japan by this time, and thrust north with an army based mainly on the Chinese heavy infantry model of the Tang dynasty. Eventually however, they came upon people known as the Emishi (shrimp barbarians), or Mojin (Hairy people) of north-eastern Honshu. This distinct group had developed horse archery tactics similar to those of the Huns and Mongols. Although archery had been a major martial skill in Japan since prehistory, and there had been some use of cavalry by those that could afford it, the two had never been combined in an effective fighting force by the Japanese before. The more static infantry of the Japanese struggled to deal with these highly mobile and effective fighters, so eventually their tactics were adopted and the Emishi were gradually assimilated after 801 when they had finally been subjugated. This resilient group had a profound impact on the formation of the first Samurai, and it has been said that the very core of the Japanese spirit is the ‘ghost of the Emishi’.

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Ireland and Imperators: Iron-Age Ireland and the Roman world next door.

While Britain, from AD 43 to the historic date of AD 410, had undergone a cultural and socio-political metamorphosis through its incorporation into the Roman world, the land of Hibernia (modern-day Ireland) remained outside the political sphere of the empire. However, this does not mean that Ireland and Rome remained complete aliens to each other – each being an unknown world to the other, as popular belief may tend to lean to. For this week, the focus will be on prehistoric Ireland up to, and including, its existence with the Roman Empire as it’s neighbour.

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The Holy See: 2000 Years of Tradition

Welcome back to the Nu History blog! My name is Analisa and although I’ve guested on the Nu History Podcast before, this is my first time writing for the blog. The subject is rather fitting as well! I’m continuing the countries of the world history series with the Holy See, or the Vatican. This is my favorite place in the world because of its rich history and tradition, fabulous architecture, and amazing museum complex! So, to learn more, keep on reading! 

St Peter’s Basilica, the center point of the Holy See, has existed in some form or another for the past 2000 years! It marks the spot where St. Peter, disciple of Jesus, was executed by crucifixion in the mid 60’s CE. Emperor Nero shifted the blame for the Great Fire of Rome to the Christian population and St. Peter, as the leader of the early Church, was a prime target. Archaeological evidence suggests that the site was a popular pilgrimage site fairly soon after St. Peter’s death. 

In 313 CE, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan. This was a huge event for the early Church. It legalized Christianity, pulling it out from the shadows and into the spotlight. (Note that Christianity was not made the state religion of the Roman Empire until 380 with the Edict of Thessalonica.) As the first Christian emperor, Constantine took it upon himself to build basilicas, churches, and holy sites throughout Rome, Constantinople, and the Holy Land. The Constantinian St. Peter’s Basilica stood for about a thousand years until it fell into disrepair. (More on this later!)

During the medieval period, Rome fell into disrepair. Plague, invasions, and poor Papal leadership all contributed to the city’s (and therefore the Vatican’s) fall. From 1309 to 1376, seven popes ruled from Avignon France under pressure from the French monarchy, starting with Phillip IV. This was extremely controversial, especially because it seemed to be taking power away from the Church. In fact, a rival faction of popes ruled from Rome. This was chaotic and led to different edicts being issued from two or more popes! It must have been quite confusing for the faithful!

When the Papacy finally made its way back to Rome, the popes knew they had to fix things. It was time to restore the grand and powerful image of the Church. It was during the Renaissance and Baroque periods that many of the buildings and works of art we associated with the Papacy were made. However, this growing power (and abuses of it) led to some major events! The first occurred in 1517 with the Protestant Reformation. When Martin Luther displayed his ninety five theses, it rocked the Church to its core and would have lasting effects that still resonate today. A mere ten years later in 1527, the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, sacked the city. The pope was held captive and the world realized that the Church was not as powerful as it seemed. To help regain some of it back, the Papacy launched the Counter Reformation. 

The pope served as the head of the Papal States for the next couple of centuries. But in 1850, Victor Emmanuel II became King of Italy. His main goal was to unify the multiple city states of Italy under a single government. On September 20, 1870, the king’s army forcibly occupied Rome. Pope Pius IX refused to reach an agreement with Victor Emmanuel II because he felt it was taking away too much of the Church’s power. So, Pius IX and his successors locked themselves within the walls of the Vatican for the next 59 years! 

In 1929, Benito Mussolini approached Pope Pius XI. He offered to create a Vatican city state within the city of Rome. Knowing that many Italians, and Catholics, wished to see a truce, the Pope signed the Lateran Treaty on February 11. This gave the Pope power over the Vatican land and a couple of churches within Rome. 

Today, Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. It is only about 0.49 square kilometers (0.19 square miles)! There are about 600 citizens, though the majority of them live abroad for ecclesiastical purposes. The museums, gardens, and St. Peter’s Basilica makes the city a popular pilgrimage and tourist destination. And how could it not be? With 2000 years of history and tradition, there’s a lot to see! 

Guyana: The Country of the Golden myth

Guyana lies in the North West of South America, with the Atlantic Ocean to the North and Brazil to the South. The name Guyana derives from in indigenous language known as Amerindian and translates to the land of many waters. Currently, there are numerous indigenous tribes still inhabiting Guyana, thought the historical lens tends to focus on the Lokono and Kalina tribes which maintained a hegemony over the region, though to be replaced by the European powers following the (re-)discovery of the Americas. It is the discovery and the resultant colonial expansions that I wish to focus on in the blog as it was a defining moment in Guyana’s history as it was when Guyana actually entered history – at least the European-centric global history we often refer to. The arrival of Europe to America irreversibly transformed Guyana – as indeed it did for all of the Americas.

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Nu History Podcast – 10 – Baroque

Lilly and Alex are joined once again by Analisa from Accessible Art History to talk about Baroque art, sculpture and architechture!

Find more from Analisa at:

accessiblearthistory.com

youtube.com/AccessibleArtHistory

instagram.com/accessible.art.history/

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Fiji: Trade & Colonialism

Hello again dear readers! After a few days on holiday, we are back with the ABC of World History. Today I take you yet to another set of islands in the southern hemisphere: Fiji. I really wanted to bring more attention overall to the area of Oceania as part of this tour of the world moving away from eurocentrism and acknowledging the colonialist issues caused by many European powers throughout history which are in large still palpable today. So, Fiji sort of helped kill 2 birds with one stone. I don’t have enough time or space her today to tell you a lot about the history of this wonderful place, but I hope this will inspire more people to do research regarding these parts of the world as there are not a lot of accessible works out there in English for the public to read.

Quickly and for context: Fiji is in the south Pacific and the archipelago itself has 330 islands and 500 islets. Fiji used to be part of the British Empire and was a colony until 1970 when it gained its independence. But today we will be talking about the changes that happen to Fiji once proper contact with the Western powers is established in the 19th century and why this happened.

‘They Came for Sandalwood’: Western Trade & Fiji

Fiji was first visited in the 17th century by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. However, it wasn’t until 1804 that the first proper maintained contact between westerners and Fijians took place. The first people that showed a interest in the lands of Fiji were traders, and they went there for a very precious resource in ever growing demand: sandalwood.

Sandalwood is one of the worlds most expensive types of wood. It is yellowy, has a fine grain and it is an aromatic wood. Even amongst aromatic woods, sandalwood is particularly prominent as its smell can keep for years on end. This fragrance has been valued for centuries, and it was often consumed in the shape of sandalwood oil extract. The type of sandalwood that grows in Fiji is called Santalum Sayi which also appears in Tonga, and the oil extract is often for fragrances and cosmetics. Another cultural aspect to consider about sandalwood overall is that it plays an integral for Hinduism and Jainism practices and considering that part of Fiji’s population comes from the Indian subcontinent, I am sure you can all see why traders would want a piece of Fiji.

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Ethiopia in Prehistory and Antiquity

Ethiopia lies in horn of Africa and is the largest and most populated country within the horn. It is also one of oldest countries in the world, and has been universally known and engaged with since ancient times. It is the early days of Ethiopia – its prehistory and ancient history – that I want to focus on in this blog.

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Djibuoti: Punt & Macrobians

We are back one again for the ABC of World history. We have now landed on D and a dice roll determined today I would talk to you about Djibouti which for those of you unaware of its location, it is a country in the Horn of Africa and bordered by Somaliland (that part of Somalia that is desperately trying to be acknowledged a its own state), Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Djibouti has had many names throughout history, been part of many states and nations, and governed by different groups, whether it was the local Somali and Afar peoples, the Islamic empires that took over the north of Africa, or the French colonists in its most recent history. However, officially as the Republic of Djibouti, it has existed since its independence granted by French authorities in 1977. It has a long history as anthologist and archaeologist agree that its strategic location would have been key for the crossing of the early homonym groups, and there is consensus that it has been consistently occupied since at least the Neolithic. I must confess that I was incredibly tempted to start talking about the wonderful archaeological remain that are found around this area or the incredible painting of giraffes in Balho, but today I decided to talk about the uncertain history of Djibouti. Because, you see, its geographical location, means that it is a perfect breeding ground for all those potential places of antiquity we are not entirely sure where they exactly were. So today I will briefly cover the potential role of Djibouti as the land of Punt and Macrobians.

The Land of Punt

The majority of the information we have regarding the so-called Land of Punt comes from the perspective of the ancient Egyptians who left records of their mysterious trading partner in this land of Punt. Where was Punt exactly? Well, its difficult to say, and the lack of consensus means that we are currently working with the space between Egypt and the red Sea all the way down to the Horn of Africa, so, you know just a few places…So where do the records come from? The Egyptians started mentioning gold coming form Punt since the Fourth Dynasty, and the first official expedition to this region was organised in the Fifth dynasty by Pharaoh Sahure (around 25th century BC). But it wasn’t until the reign of Hatshepsut that the most famous expedition is organised and from, we get most of the information we have to date about Punt. Her chroniclers describe the land at length even describing it as a rich area with anything imaginable littering the land, a place worthy of Gods. The descriptions of the trade good that came to the Egyptians through Punt, suggest that the Puntites were well established as a mercantile nation, as they also traded with goods from adjacent areas, suggesting they had developed a solid network. Reliefs of these trading missions by ship can still be found in Hatshepsut’s temple at Dayr al-Bahri. We even have mentions of the Puntite rulers of this time: King Parahu and Queen Ati. However after the reign of Ramses III, it seems the majority of narratives about the land of Punt become so unreal that perhaps indicate a certain level of mythification and legendary romanticism which makes us questioned what happened between these two nations or if previous records had also been exaggerated.

Macrobians

The Macrobian are a people that we have record of thank to Herodotus (c. 484 – 425 BC) the Greek writer and geographer. But, we need to take all we know about Macrobians with a pinch of salt as Herodotus is our main source and from the accounts themselves, these come across as sort of mythological people living in the extremities of the world known to the Greeks. He describes the Macrobians as living somewhere south of Ethiopia, which could fit with the current location of Djibouti. He presents them as tall and handsome people, excellent seafarers and living in a prosperous land, which sort of matches the imagery developed earlier by the Egyptian Pharaoes. Herodotus description of diet (milk and meat), remarks on stature and prowess resonates with the pastoral Somali tribes of the area so, it is likely that if Macrobians was a real place it could be aligned with Djibouti. Another reason to believe this is the same area than Punt and perhaps even the same people is the remark on their wealth and gold, to the point that, probably exaggerating, Herodotus remarks that even their slaves were chained in this metal. The biggest issue that we have with Herodotus Macrobians accounts is that later authors of Greece, refer back to these same people (allegedly the same Macrobians) but then placing them in further remote areas corresponding to locations in India, but this again comes mostly from one source written by Pliny the Elder.

As you can see there is a lot of uncertainty around these areas, and I wish I Could clarify these things a little more for you, however the research on these areas is pretty lacking. In fact there aren’t many sources available in English that talk a bit more in depth about the history of Djibouti and the states prior to its formation that make this such a rich historical land. As usual, eurocentric historical ideas take us away from reachign a better udnerstanding of the world as a whole. So I really hope if nothing else, that this series of ABC World History inspires some of you to go look further south than Gibraltar.

Nu History Podcast – Episode 9: Law and Emotion in Late Medieval England

Today’s podcast features Dr. Gordon McKelvie, Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at The University of Winchester. He’s here to talk to us about some of his recent research in Late Medieval legal records, as well as a look into the role of emotions in the decisions and events of the Wars of the Roses!

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Cabo Verde: A Slavery Hub

Continuing with our ABC of world history, today as part of our third entry in this yearlong enterprise we invite you to come with us to the beautiful archipelago of Cabo Verde. If you’re an Anglophone, I must warn you that you may still be referring to this country by Cape Verde, and if that’s the case, you really should stop, as the government officially changed the name for all purposes as of 2013. (It seems there was a need there to reflect the Portuguese inheritance of the country and the common use of the English terms in a global sphere didn’t really stick). The name Cape Verde came from Cap-Vert which was the closest landmass to the archipelago: a peninsula on the western coast of Senegal. At this stage, you may be wondering exactly where this place is I am talking about and what I will be discussing today. Well, let’s not rush things but, here is the deal.

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