History’s Unknown, Part V: Ancient Colors

Raven has been missing!! Sorry guys been busy enjoying my post-Associate’s Degree life. For the past few weeks I been strategizing how best to build up my platform, and the answer that always arrives to me is…WRITE. Just write anything, and post it. So that is my plan, and I begin by continuing my History’s Unknown series.

Yesterday I was speaking with my American history professor (I have now begun my journey for a Bachelor’s degree) about Hernan Cortez’s arrival and eventual conquest of the Aztec Empire, he brought to my attention an Unknown History, the Cochineal Red. It is not mentioned in many history books, and you guys know how much I venerate about the unknown history topics. Usually the discovery of new knowledge leads me. So here we go, with the history of Colors lol 

Beginning with Cochineal insect found near the Colorado River resting on cactus pads. This beetle produces a rare form of red known to us. For thousands of year the old cultures of the New World harvested the Cochineal red. The Aztec warriors painted it on their, their kings accepted large bags of the red dye as tribute from lesser kings. When Cortes visited Tenochtitlan (Mexico) he observed the rich quality of the Cochineal red dye, which was brighter than the European red. 

The red dye used by Europeans prior to their arrival to the New World was dull and faded. Cortes brought the red dye to Spain, and soon the product was in high demand beating. It was worth more than gold and silver. Cochineal red was expensive, and like ancient silk it was reserved for the elite classes. Money and power. The red robes worn by Catholic cardinals and red coats worn by British troops in the American Revolution were made from Cochineal. It also became a common food dye for cakes, pies, ice cream, and cosmetic materials. 

Another rare and rich colorful dye was Tyrian Purple, not to be confused with Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones. Produced by the Phoenicians who extracted the dye from the mucus of Murexes, a type of snail found in Tyre. Commonly associated with royalty purple became standard fashion for Rome’s great families and its emperors, and adopted by its successor state the Byzantine Empire. 

Tales from Phoenician mythology state the God Melqart discovered the value of this substance when his dog Tyros returned home with a purple stained tongue from biting Murexes. 

Blonde, still on the topic of colors but on this one I’m including a little information about hair too. Two Norse goddesses, Sif and Freyja were blonde. Freyja is associated with love, beauty, and fertility hence the common association of blonde and beauty. Other European myths speak of fairies with blonde hair. Fairies would steal any human blonde babies from their cribs and switched them with changelings. 

Natural blonde hair is caused by eumelanin, a pigment deficiency. Low levels of sunlight in parts of the world account for the creation of blonde hair. We know loss of sunlight results in loss of Vitamin D, which can not only turn the skin lighter but hair too. Northern Europe is one example of this, where blonde hair is common. 80% of the Scandinavian population is blonde haired. 

Pink, this is my baby sister’s favorite color! So Keely this is for you. We you here pink you think sweetness and romance. Innocence and tenderness. But eroticism and seduction make up the common inception of this color. The term, pink was not used until the 17th century. Pink was not as fashionable as purple was in the Middle Ages. But there was a rise of this color in 13th and 14th century art. And pink was not always a girly color, it was originally referred to boys and blue went to girls. Considered as a masculine color. They say it was stronger, and passionate, and given that pink is a very light red it was a perfect fit for boys.

Black, this my other sister’s favorite color. So this one for Julia. And as a professor of mines said once “girls who wear black are cooler” a true statement. But both my sister’s cool as ice though. The darkest color, its use goes back to the Neolithic cave paintings. Perhaps the oldest color in human history. By the late Middle Ages royals, nobles, clergy, and other officials adopted the use of black in their wardrobes. Two famous historical figures to do this was Edward the Black Prince and my ancestor, Cesare Borgia, but some historians argue it was due to syphilis. Benedictine monks wore black as a meaning of humility and penitence. The reason for black ink was due to the fact it provided the greatest contrast with white paper, hence the reason why black is so formidable to our literature. 

The reason aristocrats and lawmakers adopted black in the 14th century was to show how serious they took their jobs. Furthermore, a series of laws were passed around Europe reserving only the nobility the right to wear exotic colors. The merchant bankers of Italy retaliated by changing to black robes. It was then picked up by the nobility beginning with the Dukes of Milan and Savoy. Seen as a color of power, dignity, humility, and temperance. 

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History’s Unknown, Part IV: Pot-Smoking Assassins

There is a story about an Old Man in the mountain who trained other men to kill false worshippers. He founded an Islamic sect headquartered at Alamut castle. The Old Man’s name was Hasan, and he was so shrewd that he was able to steal possession of the castle from its original owner all without a single drop of blood. 

This sect of Islamic fundamentalists supplied themselves with a very potent type of marijuana known as Hashish. This group of Muslims known to history as the Hashshashin Assassins, was an elite secret society of highly trained warriors who occupied the castle of Alamut. This palace was buried deep in what is now the Qazvin Province of Iran.

(Photo of the infamous hide-and-conceal daggers used by Assassins)

The Assassins (unrelated to the classic videogame) were a terrifying, clever, and zealous group of Islamic warriors. Operating in absolute stealth, none of their victims ever saw them coming. The Assassins themselves feared nothing, not even death, in fact they embraced it.

Like a pack of wolves preying in the woods, fear of the Assassins could be felt by all souls in the Islamic world from sultans and princes, to Christian kings and their knights, and the Pope and his Crusaders. The Christians received the stealth brutality of the Assassins, but the organization itself did not discourage from Killing Muslims either.

(Pictures of the Assassins victims)

Their victims numbered in the thousands, all while they smoked hash on a daily basis receiving hallucinations. Pictured at the top left is their first victim, Nizam al-Mulk. On the right is King Conrad of Jerusalem, whose belly was sliced open by the Assassins as he strolled down the city streets of his kingdom despite having an armed escort of guards. Yeah that’s exactly how good they were. 

Pictured at the bottom right is the first European to feel the poison daggers of the Assassins, Raymond II of Tripoli (Syria). Last, on the bottom left is the attempted assassination of King Edward I of England.

Back at Alamut castle, its grandmaster Hasan, his soldiers, and servants were getting their smoke on, delving deep into the aurora of hallucinations. Hasan would use hash to recruit young boys off the streets. Furthermore, the effects of the drug gave Hasan the power he needed to hypnotize and brainwash these young cadets, binding them to his will and bidding. The term Assassin originated from the term Hashshashin. 

Marco Polo had this to say about the young killers of Hashshashin “when these young men woke, and found themselves in the garden with all these marvelous things, they truly believed themselves to be in paradise. And these damsels were always with them in songs and great entertainments.” 

The garden Marco speaks of possesses rivers filled with honey and wine. Exotic plants like palm trees, and much more. The recruits first consumption of hash caused them to fall in a deep sleep for three days, and once under the Old Man’s spell after entering this “garden” they were promised a place in heaven. 

History’s Unknown, Part III: Ancient Graffiti

Recall how I began this series with a discussion on ancient emojis, well my third entry in the Unknown series follows along the same lines. Communication is the heart, but the smiley faces and taco symbols have been replaced with graffiti!

Graffiti is spontaneous! Unlike inscriptions made by stone, which last centuries graffiti can fade easily. Graffiti has been around forever; from ancient caves to carved mountainsides, to city murals. 

Graffiti is a work of art thrown or carved onto any kind of surface. Beyond that graffiti is a tool of many human expressions ranging from political uprising to advertising.

Pompeii, this ruined city houses the oldest known graffiti. Pictured above, the message reads “Gaius Pumidius Diphilus was here.” Dated October 3, 78. B.C.

Looking at the graffiti running along the walls and old town markets of Pompeii you’ll find messages and drawings references jokes, undying romance, insults, and even memorials for fallen loved ones. 

Thankfully, these ancient inscriptions survived the destruction of Pompeii. A volcanic explosion left Pompeii in an eternal coat of ash, but the graffiti left behind by its residents tells a story that recreates the city entirely. As you walk along the streets of this ruin reading the various messages written on the walls you begin to hear voices of the past.

The city continues to be one huge notebook, call it a writer’s paradise. It makes you wonder did people go around leaving messages on walls for their friends saying “let’s meet up, come by the market.” Very intriguing, as it can be considered the first text messages. 

The origin of social media lay here. Pompeii was a nexus city filled with informative inscriptions detailing merchant transactions to the birth of donkeys. I mean hell you could discover information about anywhere, anybody, and anything!!!!