Tag Archives: Europe

History of Mother’s Day – Part 1


By T. V. Antony Raj


The tradition of honouring Motherhood has its roots in antiquity.

Osiris was the lord of the dead in the ancient...

According to the primaeval Egyptian mythology, divine Osiris, the eldest son of the Earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut was the god of fertility, the afterlife, the underworld and the dead.

Osiris was a wise king who brought civilization. His siblings were Horus the Elder, Seth, Isis, and Nephthys. His younger brother Seth was the god of the desert, storms, darkness, and chaos. He was hostile and outright evil. Though they were brothers their diametric personalities made them adversaries.

Osiris was happily married to his sister, Isis while Seth married his other sister Nephthys.

Though Osiris and Seth were brothers, their diametric personalities made them adversaries.

Seth, the envious brother slew Osiris, dismembered him into 13 pieces and scattered the remains all over Egypt. He usurped the throne of his dead brother.


Isis collected the dismembered body of her brother-husband Osiris, reassembled the pieces. As the archetypal mummy, Osiris reigned over the after-world as a king among deserving spirits of the dead.

Isis used the embalmed corpse of Osiris to impregnate herself to conceive posthumously. She gave birth to Horus. She then hid her baby son amidst reeds lest Seth slaughtered him too. Horus grew up as a natural enemy of Seth, defeated him and became the first ruler of a unified Egypt. Isis thus earned her stature as the “Mother of the Pharaohs.

In ancient Egypt and Ethiopia, Isis was one of the four most widely venerated deities. The ancient Egyptians held an annual festival to honour the goddess Isis as the ideal mother and wife.

The worship of Isis spread throughout the Greco-Roman world as the patroness of nature and magic; friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, and the poor. The rich aristocrats, rulers and maidens prayed to the goddess who was also known as the goddess of children, and protector of the dead.

Despite being a foreign deity, the Romans venerated Isis and reserved a place for her in their temples. The Romans commemorated an important battle with a festival in her name that lasted for three days with female dancers, musicians and singers marking the beginning of winter.


Black Madonna


Societies around the world celebrated symbols of motherhood as mythological goddesses and not real human mothers except the Christian Church. The Mother and Son imagery of Isis and Horus, where Isis cradles and suckles her son, and that of the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus is astonishingly similar.


Celebrations in England and Europe

By the 16th century, due to the spread of Christianity, people in England and Europe moved away from the ancient roman religious and cultural traditions. Hilaria, the ancient Roman religious festival celebrated on the vernal equinox to honour Cybele gave way to Laetare Sunday – the fourth Sunday of Lent in the Christian liturgical calendar (the 40 days of fasting preceding Easter Sunday), once known as “the Sunday of the Five Loaves.” Christians in England used this Sunday, to honour the Mother of Christ and decorated the church in which they were baptized, which they knew as their “Mother Church” with flowers and offerings.

In the 17th century, a clerical decree in England referred to the Laetare Sunday as “Mothering Day.” The decree broadened the celebration, from one focused on the “Mother of Christ” and the “Mother Church,” to include real mothers. It became a compassionate holiday toward the working classes of England. During this Lenten Sunday, the masters allowed their servants and trade workers to travel back to their towns of origin to visit their families. Mothering Day also provided a reprieve from the fasting and penance of Lent. Across England family members, living far away came home to visit and enjoy a family feast. The children presented cakes and flowers to their mothers.


Celebrations in America

The first English settlers, the Pilgrims, who came to America discontinued the traditional Mothering Day. They fled from England to practice a more conservative Christianity without being persecuted. In the new land, they lived under harsh conditions and worked long hours to survive. Due to their devotion to God, they ignored secular holidays. For them, even holidays such as Christmas and Easter were sombre occasions that took place in a Church stripped of all extraneous ornamentation.


Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe conceptualized the first North American Mother’s Day with her “Mother’s Day Proclamation.”


Julia Ward Howe
Julia Ward Howe


Julia Ward (May 27, 1819 — October 17, 1910) born in New York City was a prominent American abolitionist, social activist, and poet. She wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after she and her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, visited Washington, D. C., and met President Abraham Lincoln at the White House in November 1861.


American Civil War soldiers


Twelve years later, distraught by the death and carnage of the Civil War, she called on mothers to protest what she saw as “the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers.” She wrote the following “Mother’s Day Proclamation” and called for an international Mother’s Day to celebrate peace and motherhood:

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated Earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonour, nor violence indicates possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And at the earliest period consistent with its objects, To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions,

The great and general interests of peace.

Julia Ward Howe even proposed converting July 4th into Mother’s Day, to dedicate the nation’s anniversary to peace, but June 2nd was designated for the celebration.

In 1873, women’s groups in 18 North American cities observed this new Mother’s Day. Initially, Julia funded many of these celebrations. Most of them died out when she stopped funding. Boston city, however, continued celebrating Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day for the next ten years.

Despite the failure of her Mother’s Day, Julia Ward had nevertheless planted the seed that blossomed into the modern Mother’s Day.


Next: → History of Mother’s Day – Part 2


A Plethora of Refugees in Europe


By T.V. Antony Raj.


Europe has a population of 740 million of which 500 million are in the European Union (EU). According to the European Union border agency the plethora of refugees entering Europe had increased over the past 10 months. More than 150,000 refugees entered the EU in August 2015 increasing the total influx of refugees to more than half a million for the year 2015.

Although this amount of refugees is not large enough to construe it as an invasion or being over-run when compared to the population of Europe, the European leaders were slow to respond. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner has called it “the worst refugee crisis facing Europe since World War II.


Europes refugee crisis (Source: uk.businessinsider.com)
Europes refugee crisis (Source: uk.businessinsider.com)


For many refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and the abominable ISIS, the Greek islands have been the gateway to enter the European Union.  This year alone, more than 259,000 refugees entered Greece by boat via Turkey. The arrival of about 88,000 refugees in the Greek islands in August 2015 was the largest so far, an eleven-fold increase compared to the same month a year ago.  Almost 75% percent of the refugees seeking asylum were Syrians.

The Schengen Area

Six founding members: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany created the European Economic Community (EEC) by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. This regional organization aimed to bring about economic integration between its member states, including a common market and customs union.

When the ten member states of the then EEC were not able to reach a consensus on the abolition of border controls, five of its members signed The Schengen Agreement on June 14, 1985, paving the way to the creation of Europe’s borderless Schengen Area. The treaty signed near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg was not implemented in full until 1995.

The Schengen Agreement proposed the gradual abolition of border checks and allow vehicles to cross the common borders of the signatories of the treaty without stopping. It permitted residents in the border areas to cross the borders away from fixed checkpoints.

In 1990, the Schengen Convention supplemented the Schengen Agreement by proposing the abolition of internal border controls and a common visa policy. For most purposes, the Schengen Area with a common visa policy functions as a single country for international travel purposes. The Schengen Agreement and the rules adopted under it were quite separate from the EU structures.

Map of Schengen Area (Source: wikipedia.org)
Map of Schengen Area (Source: wikipedia.org)


The Schengen Area now comprises 26 European countries. These member states have strengthened their external border controls with non-Schengen states. Out of the current 28 European Union member states, 22 are participants in the Schengen Area.

Countries comprising The Schengen Area
State Area (km²) Population
Austria 83,871 8,414,638
Belgium 30,528 11,007,020
Czech Republic 78,866 10,535,811
Denmark (excluding Greenland
and the Faroe Islands)
43,094 5,564,219
Estonia 45,338 1,340,194
Finland (Including Åland Islands) 338,145 5,391,700
France (mainland and Corsica only) 551,695 63,929,000
Germany 357,050 81,799,600
Greece 131,990 10,815,197
Hungary 93,030 9,979,000
Iceland 103,000 318,452
Italy 301,318 60,681,514
Latvia 64,589 2,245,357
Liechtenstein 160 36,010
Lithuania 65,300 3,207,060
Luxembourg 2,586 511,840
Malta 316 417,608
Netherlands (excluding Aruba,
Curaçao,  Sint Maarten
and the Caribbean Netherlands)



Norway (excluding Svalbard) 385,155 5,063,709
Poland 312,683 38,186,860
Portugal (Including Madeira and Azores) 92,391 10,647,763
Slovakia 49,037 5,440,078
Slovenia 20,273 2,048,951
Spain (with special provisions for
Ceuta and Melilla)
506,030 46,030,109
Sweden 449,964 9,415,570
 Switzerland 41,285 7,866,500
Schengen Area 4,189,111 417,597,460

Source: en.wikipedia.org


Currently, the Schengen Area has an area of 1,617,4245 square miles (4,189,111 square kilometers) and a population of over 400 million people.

Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania are four of the six EU members that do not form part of the Schengen Area, are legally obliged and wish to join the Area. The other two, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, maintain opt-outs.

Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland have signed the Schengen Agreement even though they are member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and are not in the EU.

The three European microstates, the Vatican, Monaco, and San Marino do not have border controls with the Schengen countries that surround them. Though considered as de facto within the Schengen Area they have not officially signed documents that make them part of the Schengen Area.

The influx of refugees


Since many Eastern European countries are guarding their borders in the face of the influx of refugees, the distribution of refugees among the 28-member EU is somewhat skewed. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), EU countries received more than 437,000 asylum applications from January 2015 to July 2015. Germany received the most applications, followed by Hungary, Sweden, Italy and France.

The migrants from African countries enter the EU through Italy and Spain. Many of those who enter Italy apply for asylum on landing there. Some try to cross into France.


A group of migrants gathering near a line of trucks on the motorway that leads to the Channel Tunnel terminal in Calais, northern France. (Source: uk.businessinsider.com)
A group of migrants gathering near a line of trucks on the motorway that leads to the Channel Tunnel terminal in Calais, northern France. (Source: uk.businessinsider.com)


From France, a few try to enter the United Kingdom by perilous means such as getting smuggled in containers through the Eurotunnel from Calais, northern France.

Many Syrians try to reach Italy from Greece while others head to Austria via Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia.

Most refugees try to reach the Schengen Area. From there, they move into Hungary through Macedonia and Serbia. Also, some refugees from Turkey reach Hungary via Bulgaria and Romania. The popular route to enter the Schengen zone is through Norway, by way of Russia and Lebanon.

From Hungary, most refugees continue their journey to richer countries such as Germany and Sweden that have liberal immigration policies.



And, They Call Themselves Muslims…


By T.V. Antony Raj


Click this line or the  image below to view the video

Kuwaiti Official, Fahad Al Shalami
Kuwaiti Official, Fahad Al Shalami


Yes. They call themselves Muslims, adherents of Islam wherein religious concepts and practices that include the Five Pillars of Islam, the five basic concepts and acts of worship – the foundation of Muslim life – are obligatory!

The Five Pillars of Islam are:

Shahada: Faith
Salat: Prayer
Zakāt: Alms-giving
Sawm: Fasting
Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca

The third Pillar “Zakāt” or alms-giving is the practice of charitable giving based on accumulated wealth.

The word zakāt can be defined as purification and growth because it allows an individual to achieve balance and encourages new growth. The principle of knowing that all things belong to God is essential to purification and growth.

Zakāt is obligatory for all Muslims who are able to do so. It is the personal responsibility of each Muslim to ease the economic hardship of others and to strive towards eliminating inequality.

Zakāt consists of spending a portion of one’s wealth for the benefit of the poor or needy, like debtors or travelers.

A Muslim may also donate more as an act of voluntary charity (sadaqah), rather than to achieve additional divine reward.

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Building golden mosques but zero in humanity


The Iberian Peninsula: Part 2 – The Reconquista


By T.V. Antony Raj


Many ousted Gothic princes and nobles took refuge in the unconquered north Asturian highlands. From there, they aimed to reconquer their lands from the Moors. This war is known as the Reconquista, the Spanish and Portuguese word for Reconquest.

Many ousted Gothic princes and nobles took refuge in the unconquered north Asturian highlands. From there, they aimed to reconquer their lands from the Moors. This war is known as the Reconquista, the Spanish and Portuguese word for Reconquest.

Co-existence and alliances between Muslims and Christians were prevalent, so also were the frontier skirmishes and raids.

At the end of the 9th century, the ideology of a Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula started to take shape. The Christian Chronica Prophetica (883-884), a document stressing the Christian and Muslim cultural and religious divide in Iberia set a landmark by stressing the necessity to drive the Muslims out of the Iberian Peninsula. Even then, it was common for the Christian and Muslim rulers to become divided and to fight amongst themselves. Also, the mercenaries from both sides fought for whoever paid the most.

As time wore on, the idea of the Reconquista seems to have faded in the minds of the Christians. The 10th and 11th-century documents are silent on any idea of a reconquest.

By 1172, all Islamic Iberia was part of the Moroccan Berber Muslim Almohad Caliphate. Between 1146 and 1173, the Almohads wrested control of the Moorish principalities from the Almoravids and transferred the capital from Cordoba to Seville.

In the late 11th century, when staunch Muslim Jihad ideology in Al-Andalus confronted the Christians, the religious ideology of a Christian reconquest sprouted once again in the minds of the Christians and they started the Crusades. Later, military orders like the Order of Santiago, Montesa, Order of Calatrava and the Knights Templar fought in Iberia.

The Almohad Caliphate dominated Iberia until 1212. At that time, the Christian princes of Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Portugal formed an alliance and defeated Muhammad III, “al-Nasir” (1199–1214) at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in the Sierra Morena. Soon after, the Almohad Caliphate lost all their Moorish dominions in Iberia.  In 1236, the great Moorish city of Cordova fell to the Christians. In 1248, the Christians  conquered the city of Seville.

Gradually, the Christian kingdoms to the north retook control of the Iberian peninsula, and by 1300, the Moors controlled only Granada, a small region in the south of present-day Spain.

The Catholic Monarchs

“The Catholic Monarchs” (Spanish: Reyes Católicos) is the joint title used in history for Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. They were second cousins from the House of Trastámara. Since both descended from John I of Castile, Pope Sixtus IV gave a papal dispensation for their marriage to deal with consanguinity.


Queen Isabella I of Castile and León with her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Queen Isabella I of Castile and León with her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon.


The marriage of 18-year-old Isabella and 17-year-old Ferdinand took place on October 19, 1469, in the city of Valladolid. This marriage helped to unite the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon under the same crown. Isabella became the Queen of Castile in 1474 and Ferdinand became the King of Aragon in 1479. Though their marriage united the two kingdoms, what later became Spain, it was still a union of two crowns rather than a unitary state. They ruled independently and their kingdoms retained part of their own regional laws and governments for the next few decades.

The Spanish Inquisition

In the twelfth century, Pope Lucius III  created the Inquisition to fight heresy in the south of what is now France and constituted it in some European kingdoms. In 1478, the Catholic Monarchs requested the assent of Pope Sixtus IV to  introduce the Inquisition to Castile. On November 1, 1478, the Pope published the Papal bull Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus, to establish the Inquisition  in the Kingdom of Castile. It was later extended to all Spain.

The Spanish Inquisition targeted forced converts from Islam (Moriscos, Conversos and secret Moors) and from Judaism (Marranos, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews) who came under suspicion of either continuing to adhere to their old religion or of having fallen back into it. Thus, Spain modeled its national aspirations as the guardian of Christianity and Catholicism.

The Granada War

The Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand set a goal to complete the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by conquering the Moorish Sultanate and Kingdom of Granada. They launched a series of campaigns known as the Granada War. Pope Sixtus IV helped the Granada War by granting a tithe and implementing a crusade tax to invest in the war.

Two Andalusian nobles, Rodrigo Ponce de León and Diego de Merlo led the Castilian forces. The Granada War began in 1482 with the seizure on the strategic town of Alhama de Granada, in the province of Granada, about 50 km from the city of Granada.

The war proved to be a long, drawn-out campaign. The 10-year Granada War was not a continuous effort, but a series of seasonal campaigns launched in spring and broken off in winter.

In 1491, the Catholic Monarchs summoned Abu Abdallah Muhammad XII, the twenty-second and last Nasrid ruler of Granada to surrender the city of Granada, besieged by the Castilians.

After 10 years of fighting, the Granada War ended on January 2, 1492. Muhammad XII surrendered the Emirate of Granada, the city of Granada, and the Alhambra palace to the Castilian forces.


The Capitulation of Granada by F. Pradille y Ortiz, 1882.
The Capitulation of Granada by F. Pradille y Ortiz, 1882.


Six days after the event, an eyewitness wrote a private letter to the bishop of León:

The Moorish sultan with about eighty or a hundred on horseback very well dressed went forth to kiss the hand of their Highnesses. According to the final capitulation agreement both Isabel and Ferdinand will decline the offer and the key to Granada will pass into Spanish hands without Muhammad XII having to kiss the hands of Los Reyes, as the Spanish royal couple became known. The indomitable mother of Muhammad XII insisted on sparing her son this final humiliation.

Though the Granada war was a joint project between Isabella’s Crown of Castile and Ferdinand’s Crown of Aragon, the bulk of the troops and funds came from Castile. So,  Castile annexed Granada. Apart from the presence of King Ferdinand himself, the Crown of Aragon provided naval collaboration, guns, and some financial loans.

The  traditional Spanish historiography  considers the Granada War  as the final war of the “Reconquista“.

The aftermath of the Granada War saw the end of “convivencia” (“live and let live”) between religions.

Between 1480 and 1492, the Christian Monarchs forced all Muslims and Jews to convert to Christianity or face expulsion. Many Jews and Muslims fled to North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.

The Alhambra Decree issued in January 1492 forced the Jews in the Iberian peninsula to convert to Christianity or be exiled. In 1501, all of Granada’s Muslims were obliged to either convert to Christianity, become slaves or be exiled. By 1526, this prohibition spread to the rest of Spain and the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula was complete.


← Previous: Part 1 – Conquest by the Muslims







The Iberian Peninsula: Part 1 – Conquest by the Muslims


By T.V. Antony Raj


Greek geographers used the ancient Greek word Ιβηρία (Ibēría) to refer to the land mass known today as the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal). Hecataeus of Miletus (c. 550 BC – c. 476 BC), an early Greek historian  was the first to use this term during the time of the first Persian invasion of Greece which began in 492 BC.

In Europe, after the Scandinavian and Balkan peninsulas, Iberia is the third-largest peninsula, located in the southwest corner of Europe.


Hispania in 418 AD
Hispania in 418 AD


Hispania was the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula. The modern name España derives from Hispania.

Roderic, the last king of the Goths

In 711, an army of Muslim Moors composed of North African Berber soldiers with some Arabs, under Tariq ibn-Ziyad and other Muslim generals, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and landed at Gibraltar. The Islamic army began its conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania ruled by King Roderic, known in the legends as “the last king of the Goths“.

According to the Chronicle of 754, a Latin-language history in 95 sections composed in 754 in a part of Spain under Arab occupation, Roderic immediately upon securing his throne gathered a force to oppose the Moors raiding in the south of the Iberian peninsula.

Since there were just a few freemen among the Goths, Roderic gathered together an army of unwilling slave conscripts. He made several expeditions against the invaders led by the Berber general Tariq ibn-Ziyad.

The early modern historian al-Maqqari, in his “The Breath of Perfume,” places the following long sermon to the troops in Tariq ibn-Ziyad’s mouth before  the Battle of Guadalete:

Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy. Remember that in this country you are more unfortunate than the orphan seated at the table of the avaricious master. Your enemy is before you, protected by an innumerable army; he has men in abundance, but you, as your only aid, have your own swords, and, as your only chance for life, such chance as you can snatch from the hands of your enemy.

If the absolute want to which you are reduced is prolonged ever so little, if you delay to seize immediate success, your good fortune will vanish, and your enemies, whom your very presence has filled with fear, will take courage. Put far from you the disgrace from which you flee in dreams and attack this monarch who has left his strongly fortified city to meet you. Here is a splendid opportunity to defeat him, if you will consent to expose yourselves freely to death.

Do not believe that I desire to incite you to face dangers which I shall refuse to share with you. During the attack, I myself will be in the fore, where the chance of life is always least. Remember that if you suffer a few moments in patience, you will afterward enjoy supreme delight. Do not imagine that your fate can be separated from mine, and rest assured that if you fall, I shall perish with you, or avenge you.

You have heard that in this country, there are a large number of ravishingly beautiful Greek maidens, their graceful forms are draped in sumptuous gowns on which gleam pearls, coral, and purest gold, and they live in the palaces of royal kings.

The Commander of True Believers, Alwalid, son of Abdalmelik, has chosen you for this attack from among all his Arab warriors; and he promises that you shall become his comrades and shall hold the rank of kings in this country. Such is his confidence in your intrepidity. The one fruit which he desires to obtain from your bravery is that the word of God shall be exalted in this country and that the true religion shall be established here. The spoils will belong to yourselves.

Remember that I place myself in the front of this glorious charge which I exhort you to make. At the moment when the two armies meet hand to hand, you will see me, never doubt it, seeking out this Roderick, tyrant of his people, challenging him to combat, if God is willing. If I perish after this, I will have had at least the satisfaction of delivering you, and you will easily find among you an experienced hero, to whom you can confidently give the task of directing you. But should I fall before I reach to Roderick, redouble your ardor, force yourselves to the attack and achieve the conquest of this country, in depriving him of life. With him dead, his soldiers will no longer defy you.


The weakness of the Visigothic kingdom was displayed in Roderick's stunning defeat at Guadalete / Río Barbate, (July 19, 711). It is believed that Roderick and much of the Visigothic nobility was killed in the battle and aftermath. (Source: histclo.com)
The weakness of the Visigothic kingdom was displayed in Roderick’s stunning defeat at Guadalete / Río Barbate, (July 19, 711). (Source: histclo.com)


On July 19, 711, Tariq ibn-Ziyad defeated Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete / Río Barbate. Roderic and much of the Visigothic nobility were killed in the battle and aftermath.

Facing no further strong resistance, Tariq swept north toward Toledo, the Visigothic capital.

Al-ʾAndalūs, the Islamic Iberia

In an eight-year campaign, the Moors brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic control. In 719, they crossed the Pyrenees and took control of Septimania, the last province of the Visigothic kingdom. In 721, the Moors tried to conquer Aquitaine from their stronghold of Narbonne, but suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Toulouse.

At no point did the invading Islamic armies exceed 60,000 men.

The invading Moors gave the Arabic name Al-ʾAndalūs (الإندلس) to the region under their control, maybe to mean “Land of the Vandals“. The Islamic rule lasted 300 years in much of the Iberian Peninsula and 781 years in Granada.

From their stronghold of Narbonne, the Moors launched raids into the Duchy of Aquitaine, a fiefdom in western, central and southern areas of present-day France to the south of the Loire River.


Al_Andalus & Christian Kingdoms (Source: en.wikipedia.org)
Al_Andalus & Christian Kingdoms (Source: en.wikipedia.org)


After establishing a local Emirate, Caliph Al-Walid I, ruler of the Umayyad caliphate, recalled many of the successful Muslim commanders to Damascus including Tariq ibn Ziyad, the first governor of the newly conquered province of Al-Andalus. Musa bin Nusair, his former superior replaced him.

Governor Musa’s son, Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, married Egilona, Roderic’s widow. He established his regional government in Seville. Under the influence of his wife, Egilona, he wanted to convert to Christianity. He was then accused of planning a secessionist rebellion, and Caliph Al-Walid I ordered his assassination.

By the year 1100, local Iberian converts to Islam, the so-called Muladi formed the majority of the Iberian population. The term ‘Moor’ was the generic term used to refer to the Islamists that composed the initial Arabs and Berbers and the converted Muladi. The Iberian Peninsula transformed from a Romance-speaking Christian land into an Arabic-speaking Muslim land. However, pockets of Arabic and Romance-speaking Christians called Mozarabs and a large minority of Arabic-speaking Jews survived throughout Al-ʾAndalūs.

In the chronicles and documents of the High Middle Ages the Christians used the terms Spania, España or Espanha derived from Hispania in reference to Muslim controlled areas. King Alfonso I of Aragon (1104–1134) says in his documents when in 1126 he made an expedition to Málaga he “went to the lands of España.

During the Middle Ages, the Iberian peninsula housed many small states, including Castile, Aragon, Navarre, León and Portugal.


The five kingdoms of Iberia in 1360.
The five kingdoms of Iberia in 1360.


Towards the end of the 12th century, the whole Muslim and Christian Iberian Peninsula became known as “Spain” (España, Espanya or Espanha). The term “the Five Kingdoms of Spain” referred to the Mussulman Kingdom of Granada and the Christian kingdoms of Aragon, Castile, Portugal and Navarre.

The Muslim caliphs competed with each other in the patronage of the arts. From the 8th to the 15th century, the Iberian Peninsula incorporated into the Islamic world became a center of culture and learning, especially during the Caliphate of Cordoba. It reached its height under the rule of Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III.


Next → Part 2 – The Reconquista





A European in the Orient: Part 3 – Did Marco Polo Really Travel to the Far East?


By T.V. Antony Raj


Marco Polo (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Marco Polo (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Marco Polo died at his home in Venice on January 8, 1324. Before his death, friends and readers of his book visited him and urged him to admit that his book was a fiction. Marco would not relent. He told them:

I have not told half of what I saw!

​Marco Polo has been long regarded as the earliest and most distinguished of European travelers of all times for traversing Asia from one extremity to the other. He surpassed every other traveler of his time in the extent of the unknown regions he visited, as well as in the amount of new and important information he had collected. His description of the Chinese imperial court and the Chinese empire under the most powerful of the Asiatic dynasties, and tales of the adjacent countries in the Far East, forms a grand historical picture not painted by any other traveler of his period.

Authenticity is important in any travel narrative, otherwise it altogether becomes a worthless romance. A profound ignorance veiled  Europe when the Polos returned from the East. Doubts of the authenticity of Marco’s tales arose since most of the regions he had traversed were wholly unknown at that time. And his discoveries far transcended the knowledge of his age. Also, many editions of Marco Polo’s travelogue proliferated in an age when printing was unknown. The narratives varied from one another, often corrupted to a great extent.

Even now, some argue that Marco Polo never reached China, but cobbled together secondhand accounts of what he had heard. They say there are inaccuracies in the tales. They point out that he never mentioned the basic elements of Chinese culture, such as drinking tea, the use of chopsticks, the Chinese characters, or the tradition of foot-binding.

Responders to such skeptics have stated that if the purpose of Marco Polo’s stories of travels was to impress others with tales of his high esteem for an advanced civilization, then it is possible that Polo shrewdly would omit those details that would cause his readers to scoff at the Chinese with a sense of European superiority. Marco lived among the elite Mongols. Foot-binding was almost unknown among the Mongols and was rare even among Chinese during Polo’s time.

Some observers, who have only a cursory view of the history of China, say he never mentioned the Great Wall in his book. These people are ignorant of the fact that the Great Wall, familiar to us today, is a Ming structure constructed, about two centuries after Marco Polo’s travels in China, to keep out northern invaders.

New Evidence

It is odd that Marco Polo never produced a single map to accompany his narrative accounts in the ghostwritten book. Hence, scholars have long debated its the veracity. Now, there is new evidence in favor for this historical puzzle of whether Marco Polo did indeed visit China and the Far East. The proof is in the form of a curious collection of fourteen little-known maps and related documents purported to have belonged to the family of Marco Polo.

In the 1880s, Marcian Rossi, an Italian, immigrated to the United States. He brought along with him a collection of sheepskin vellum he said were of the 13th and 14th century. There were 14 little-known maps and related documents detailing Marco Polo’s journey to the Far East. These  documents bear the signatures of the three daughters of Marco Polo — Fantina, Bellela and Moreta.

The existence of these parchments came to light only in the 1930s, when Marcian Rossi contacted the Library of Congress. He explained that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian Admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family. But the collection did not undergo exhaustive analysis.

Are the maps forgeries or facsimiles?  They created a problem for the historians of cartography. Did Marco Polo’s daughters, whose names appear on some of these artifacts, preserve in them geographic information about Asia as told by their father? Did they inherit the maps created by him? Did Marco Polo entrust the maps to a Venetian admiral who had links to Rossi’s family line? Or, if the maps have no connection to Marco Polo, who made them, when, and for what purpose?

While some historians discounted the 14 parchments as mere fantasy, forgeries, or facsimiles, others wanted a balanced, detailed study of the documents.

Benjamin B. Olshin, a historian of cartography and a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, spent more than a decade studying the artifacts. He translated the Italian, Latin, Arabic and Chinese inscriptions found therein. All but one of the original documents, a map Marcian Rossi donated to the Library of Congress, remain in the possession of Rossi’s great-grandson Jeffrey Pendergraft in Texas. Olshin is the first scholar in decades to see those originals.


Marco Polo's 'Map with Ship' (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)
Marco Polo’s ‘Map with Ship‘ (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)


The map donated by Marcian Rossi to the Library of Congress, dubbed “Map with Ship,” is a curious one. It has an illustration of a Venetian sailing vessel and a sketch of what appears to be outlines of Japan, Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, the Bering Strait, the Aleutian Islands and the coastlines of present-day Alaska and British Columbia. The map was not a navigational aid because it lacks longitude and latitude reference lines.


The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin
The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin


Olshin has detailed the results of his intensive research in his book, “The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps.” The book is the first credible book-length analysis of these parchments. It is a balanced, detailed, and a non speculative work of cartographic scholarship, not another ‘who discovered?’ sensation. Olshin charts the course of the documents from obscure origins in the private collection of the Italian-American immigrant Marcian Rossi in the 1930s. He describes the investigations by the Library of Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI for their authenticity. Olshin describes his own efforts to track down and study the Rossi maps.

After a  thorough tracing of Marcian Rossi’s ancestry, Olshin asserts that Rossi’s explanation that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family was credible.

Olshin describes himself as an “evidence guy” and makes no claims that the document “Map with Ship,” depicts Alaska for certain although there are similarities. Olshin also admits, the authenticity of the ten maps and four texts is not settled. The ink on the parchments remains untested. A radiocarbon study of the sheepskin vellum of one key map, the only one subjected to such analysis, dates it to the 15th or 16th century, making it at best a copy.

Regardless of the origin of the documents, Olshin offers insights into Italian history, the age of exploration, and the wonders of cartography. He then takes his readers on a fascinating journey to the early legendary lands of the Chinese.

Alessandro Scafi said in Times Literary Supplement (UK):

“Olshin plays with the idea that Marco Polo’s relatives may have preserved geographical information about distant lands first recorded by him, or even that they may have inherited maps that he made. If genuine, Olshin argues, these maps and texts would confirm that Marco Polo knew about the New World two centuries before Columbus, either from his own experience or through hearing about it from the Chinese … Fascinating material … Olshin himself admits that there is no hard evidence to support his thrilling speculations. Including translations of every annotation and inscription, Olshin’s study and description of the fourteen parchments are exhaustive. His analysis, however, leaves many questions open … A fascinating tale about maps, history and exploration.”

The parchments in the Rossi collection may not only back up Marco Polo’s claim that he journeyed to the Orient, but also could reveal he might have set foot on the North American continent, 200 years before Christopher Columbus. It is purported that Columbus carried a well-worn copy of “The Travels of Marco Polo” with him on his historic 1492 voyage. It is conjectured that the travels of Marco Polo inspired Columbus to seek a westward sea route to the riches of East Asia, but instead landed in the New World.


← Previous: Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”







A European in the Orient: Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”


By T.V. Antony Raj


When Niccolò, Maffeo, and Marco Polo,  arrived in Italy they found the Republic of Venice at war with the Most Serene Republic of Genoa, that had one of the most powerful navies in the Mediterranean.

Marco Polo joined the Venetians in the war. He commanded a galley equipped with a trebuchet, a type of catapult that used as a siege engine in the Middle Ages. The Genoans captured Marco in a skirmish in 1296, off the Anatolian coast between Adana and the Gulf of Alexandretta, and imprisoned him.

While spending several months in prison between 1298–1299, Marco became a friend of a fellow prisoner Rustichello da Pisa, an Italian writer of romance. Marco told Rustichello about his time in Asia. Rustichello soon committed his stories to paper in Old French. The romance writer also incorporated into it tales of his own as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China.


Le livre des merveilles du monde. Marco Polo
Le livre des merveilles du monde. Marco Polo


After his release in 1299, Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa together turned the written notes into a travelogue titled “Livre des Merveilles du Monde” (Book of the Marvels of the World) or “Devisement du Monde” (Description of the World). In Italian the account appeared as “Il Milione” (The Million) or Oriente Poliano and was published later in English as “The Travels of Marco Polo.

Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China.

Marco Polo was the first to leave a detailed popular chronicle of his experience in medieval China to the world, but he definitely was not the first European to travel to the Far East.


John of Plano Carpini's great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue. From the "Historical Atlas" by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923 (2nd edition)
Giovanni da Pian del Carpine’s great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue. From the “Historical Atlas” by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923 (2nd edition)


During the time of the great Mongol invasion of eastern Europe, the Battle of Legnica on April 9, 1241, proved disastrous. The loss threatened to cast European Christendom under the rule of Ögedei Khan, the 2nd Khagan of the Mongol Empire.

Four years later, with the dread of the Mongols still on the mind of the people in eastern Europe, Pope Innocent IV, dispatched the first formal Catholic mission to the Mongols. It was partly to protest against the latter’s invasion of Christian lands, partly to gain trustworthy information about Mongol armies and their intention for the future. The Pope chose 65-year-old Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine to head this mission.

The mission started on Easter day April 16, 1245, from Lyon, where the Pope then resided. Giovanni bore a letter “Cum non solum” dated March 13, 1245, from the Pope to Ögedei Khan, the Mongol Emperor. Another friar, Stephen of Bohemia, accompanied Giovanni, broke down at Kaniv near Kiev. Another Minorite, Benedykt Polak, appointed to act as interpreter joined Giovanni at Wrocław.

Their journey was perilous. The Papal legate wrote that they were, “so ill that we could scarcely sit a horse; and throughout all that Lent our food had been nought but millet with salt and water, and with only snow melted in a kettle for drink.

Friar Giovanni and his companions rode an estimated 3000 miles in 106 days. By the time they reached their destination Ögedei Khan was dead.

On August 24, 1246, Giovanni and his companions witnessed the formal enthronement of Güyük Khan as the Third Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The new emperor refused the invitation to become a Christian, but demanded that the Pope and rulers of Europe should come to him and swear  their allegiance to him.

When Güyük Khan dismissed the expedition in November, 1246, he gave them a letter to the Pope, written in Mongol, Arabic, and Latin. It was a brief imperious assertion of the Mongol emperor’s office as the “scourge of God.”

Later on, other Catholic emissaries followed. In the 1250s, William of Rubruck, traveled east on a quest to convert the Mongols to Christianity. These early missionaries were largely inspired by the myth of Prester John (Latin: Presbyter Johannes), Christian patriarch and king popular in European chronicles and in the tradition of the 12th through the 17th century.

The accounts about this mythical king vary. They are just a collection of medieval popular fantasy. One such account depicts him as a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures. Polo mentions the fictional monarch in his book, and even asserts that Prester John fought a great battle against the Mongol ruler Genghis Kahn.

A Lombardian surgeon also had reached the city of Khanbaliq in 1303. A merchant named Petro de Lucalongo, had accompanied the monk John of Montecorvino to Khanbaliq in 1305.

In his work “Histoire de l’Empire Mongol,” Jean-Paul Roux,  a French Turkologue and a specialist in Islamic culture says that a person named André de Pérouse had mentioned that there was a small Genoese colony, in the harbor of Zaytun in 1326. Andolo de Savignone was the most famous Italian resident of the city. In 1336, Toghon Temür, the 15th Khagan of the Mongol Empire and the 11th Emperor of the Yuan dynasty sent him to the West to buy “100 horses and other treasures.

In 1339, a Venetian named Giovanni Loredanoto returned to Venice from China during the reign of  Emperor Toghon Temür.

A tombstone with the name of Catherine de Villioni, daughter of a Dominici, who died in 1342 during the reign of Toghon Temür was discovered in Yangzhou.


An illuminated manuscript on Marco Polo's fascinating and adventurous travels (Source: facsimilefinder.com)
An illuminated manuscript on Marco Polo’s fascinating and adventurous travels (Source: facsimilefinder.com)


Well-known master artists of the medieval times steeped the manuscripts like the one shown above in enchanting colors.

The Travelogue, “The Travels of Marco Polo” soon spread throughout Europe in manuscript form.  It gave the curious Europeans in the Middle Ages craving to know more about the marvels of the Orient,  the first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan. Rarely have secular topics had such an intense echo.

The Travelogue is divided into four books:

Book One describes the lands of the Middle East and Central Asia that Marco Polo traveled through on his way to China.

Book Two describes China and the court of Kublai Khan.

Book Three describes some of the coastal regions of the East: Japan, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and the East Coast of Africa.

Book Four describes some of the then-recent wars among the Mongols, and some of the regions of the Far North, like Russia.

No authoritative version of Marco Polo’s book exists. The early manuscripts differ much from one another. Also, inadvertent errors and discrepancies crept in during the process of copying and translating.

The published editions of the travelogue either rely on single manuscripts, or a blend of many versions. For example, the popular translation published by Penguin Books in 1958 is the handiwork of R.E. Latham, who blended several manuscripts together to make a readable whole.

A.C. Moule and Paul Pelliot based their  1938 English translation on a Latin manuscript found in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1932, and is 50 percent longer than other versions.


Probable view of Marco Polo's own geography drawn by H. Yule, 1871. (Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo. London, 1871, vol. I, p. cxxxv)
Probable view of Marco Polo’s own geography drawn by H. Yule, 1871. (Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo. London, 1871, vol. I, p. cxxxv)


Some published editions carry notes to clarify, as exemplified in the English translation by Henry Yule.

To date, approximately 150 manuscript copies exist in various languages.

After his release from prison, Marco Polo returned to Venice. He married and raised three daughters. During the next 25 years, he carried on the family business.


Next → Part 3 – Did Marco Polo Really Travel to the Far East?

← Previous: Part 1 – The Adventures of Marco Polo.







A European in the Orient: Part 1 – The Adventures of Marco Polo


By T.V. Antony Raj


A 13th-century travelogue titled Livre des Merveilles du Monde (Book of the Marvels of the World) or Devisement du Monde (Description of the World) introduced Europeans to the geography of the Orient and the ethnic customs of its indigenous peoples.

The book described the travels of the Italian merchant traveler Marco Polo between 1276 and 1291, through Asia: Persia, China, Indonesia, Burma, Tibet, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empire. The book described Cathay (present-day China) in great detail and its abundance of riches. Though Marco Polo was not the first European to have visited the Far East, he still became famous after the publication of the book.


Marco Polo (Credit: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)
Marco Polo (Credit: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)


Marco Polo was born in Venice on September 15, 1254 to a wealthy Venetian merchant named Niccolò Polo. Marco’s father and his uncle Maffeo Polo being merchants had established trading posts in Constantinople, Sudak in Crimea, and in a western part of the Mongol Empire in Asia.

In 1264, the Polo brothers joined up with a diplomatic mission sent by  Hulagu, the ruler of Il-khanate to his brother Kublai Khan, both grandsons of Gengis Khan. They reached the seat of Kublai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, in Dadu (present day Beijing, China) in 1266.


Kublai Khan, Emperor of China. The 5th Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The First Emperor of the Yuan dynasty.
Kublai Khan, Emperor of China. The 5th Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The First Emperor of the Yuan dynasty.


Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor, received the Polos well and expressed his interest in Christianity. He then sent them back to Italy with a Mongol named Koeketei as an ambassador to Pope Clement IV. They carried a letter from the emperor requesting the Pope to send 100 educated people to teach Christianity and western customs to his people. He also requested oil from the lamp of the Holy Sepulcher. The emperor also gave them  the paiza, a golden tablet a foot long and 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide, to signify certain privileges and authority, allowing them to acquire lodging, horses and food throughout  his dominion.

Koeketei left in the middle of the journey, leaving the Polos to travel alone to Ayas in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From that port city, the Polos sailed to Saint Jean d’Acre, capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Pope Clement IV died on November 29, 1268. The long sede vacante between the death of Pope Clement IV, and the election of a new pope delayed the Polos from fulfilling Kublai Khan’s request.

In 1269 or 1270, Teobaldo Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt suggested that the brothers return to Venice and wait for the nomination of the new Pope.

Niccolò Polo once again saw his son Marco, now a teenager, who had been living with his aunt and another uncle in Venice since the death of his mother at a young age.


Niccolò Polo and Matteo Polo remitting a letter from Kublai Khan to Pope Gregory X in 1271.
Niccolò Polo and Matteo Polo remitting a letter from Kublai Khan to Pope Gregory X in 1271.


In 1271, Theobald Visconti was elected as Pope Gregory X. He received the letter from Kublai Khan brought by the Polo brothers.

The Polo brothers left Venice on their second voyage to the Orient along with a 17-year-old Marco. Unable to recruit the 100 people that Kublai Khan had requested to teach his people, the Polos left with only two Dominican friars:  Niccolò de Vicence and Guillaume de Tripoli. They set sail to Acre.

At Acre they joined a caravan of merchants travelling to the Persian port of Hormuz. Soon, bandits attacked their caravan using the cover of a sandstorm to ambush them. The marauding bandits killed many members of the caravan and enslaved the rest, but the Polos managed to escape to a nearby town.

Marco reveled in the adventure, but the two monks after getting a taste of the hard journey ahead of them, soon turned back for home.

When they reached Hormuz they wanted to sail straight to China, but the ships in Hormuz were not seaworthy, so they continued overland through the Silk Road.

The journey was challenging and at times they had to traverse harsh terrain. In what is now Afghanistan, Marco fell ill. He had to retreat to the mountains to recuperate from the illness.

Crossing the Gobi desert, proved long and, at times, arduous. Marco told later: “This desert is reported to be so long that it would take a year to go from end to end. And at the narrowest point it takes a month to cross it. It consists entirely of mountains and sands and valleys. There is nothing at all to eat.

In 1274, three and a half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, the Polos reached Kanbaliq or Dadu, the capital of the Yuan dynasty (present day Beijing). Kublai Khan who welcomed them into his summer palace known as Xanadu, a grand marble architectural wonder. The Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to the Mongol Emperor.

The Polos spent the next 17 years in China under the patronage of Kublai Khan. Niccolo and Maffeo were granted important positions in Kublai Khan’s Court. The Mongol Emperor took a liking to Marco, an engaging storyteller. Marco’s immersed himself into the Chinese culture and mastered four languages. He served as an official in the salt administration and made trips through the provinces of Yunnan and Fukien. At one stage, he was the tax inspector in the city of Yanzhou.

Marco Polo marveled at the use of paper money in the Mongol empire, an idea that had not reached Europe at that time.

Kublai Khan employed Marco Polo as a special envoy.  He sent Marco to Burma, India, Tibet and other far-flung areas hitherto never explored by Europeans. Marco was promoted again and again for his work. He served as governor of a Chinese city. Later, Kublai Khan appointed him as an official of the Privy Council.

The Polos asked permission on many occasions to return to Europe, but Kublai Khan liked them so much that he would not agree to their departure.

In 1291, Kublai Khan entrusted the Polos with their last duty. It was to escort the Mongol princess Koekecin to her betrothed, the Il-khan Arghun of the breakaway state of the Mongol Empire in Persia, ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu.

The Polos departed from the southern port city of Quanzhou with a caravan of several hundred passengers and sailors. They sailed to Sumatra, Ceylon and India. They visited Mylapore, Madurai and Alleppey in India. Marco Polo nicknamed Alleppey as the “Venice of the East.”

The journey was harrowing due to storms and disease. Many perished. By the time they reached Il-khanate in Persia in 1293 or 1294, only 18 people, including the princess and the Polos, were still alive.  They came to know that Il-khan Arghun to whom the princess was betrothed had died. They left the Mongol princess Koekecin with the new Il-khan Gaykhatu. The Polos then moved to Trebizond . From there they sailed to Constantinople and then reached Venice in 1295. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km).  The Polos returned to Venice with thier fortune converted in gemstones. In Venice, the Polos struggled to converse in their native tongue. Above all, they were unfamiliar to their family.


Marco Polo's Route (Source: httpdepts.washington.edu)
Marco Polo’s Route (Source: httpdepts.washington.edu)


Next → Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”







To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 6 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Renaissance Period Bathe?

Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj


Information and opinions about the attitudes toward  bathing in the 16th century are quite mixed among historians. The general consensus seems to be that bathing was quite popular as a social ritual. In fact, the Catholic Church allowed bathing, but warned against excessive indulgence in the habit.

In the first volume of his “Geschichte des deutschen Volkes seit dem Ausgang des Mittelalters” (“History of the German people since the end of the Middle Ages“) the 19th century German Catholic priest and historian Johannes Janssen wrote details on the popular use of baths in Germany during the Middle Ages. According to him, German men bathed several times each day. Some German spent the whole day in or about their favorite springs. The mid 16th-century German merchant Lucas Rem wrote in his diary that in 1511, he bathed 127 times from May 20th to June 9th.

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth, c.1575-1578. Painting attributed to Nicholas Hilliard. Anglesey Abbey.
Queen Elizabeth, c.1575-1578. Painting attributed to Nicholas Hilliard. Anglesey Abbey.

Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was Queen of England and Ireland from November 17, 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, the childless Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty.

Queen Elizabeth I boasted that she bathed once a month, “whether I need it or not”?

James I, her successor, seems to have washed only his fingers.

King Louis XIV of France

King Louis XIV of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701).
King Louis XIV of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701).

King Louis XIV (September 5, 1638 – September 1, 1715) of France known as Louis the Great (Louis le Grand) or the Sun King (le Roi-Soleil), was a monarch of the House of Bourbon. He became King of France and Navarre at the age of four in 1643 after the death of his father, Louis XIII. His reign spanning 72 years and 110 days is the longest of any monarch of a major country in European history.

The palace of Versailles (French: Château de Versailles) was once the most lavish largest home in the world. It was the home of the French royal family along with hundreds of their courtiers and servants. It was created by Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) of France. The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris. For more than 30 years, the King’s obsession was to enlarge and enhance his residence. Now, three million people visit it every year, hoping to get a glimpse of the royal lifestyle of the 17th century.

Today, when looking at the gleaming golden palace, it is difficult to believe that life at Versailles in the 17th century was quite dirty. There were no bathrooms as we would know them. “Then how did…?”

Well, there were decorative commodes for the royalty and the courtiers in each room. The commoners simply relieved themselves in the hallways or stairwells. The royal dogs were not house-trained and the servants never bothered to remove the dog poo lying on the floors. The chimneys did not exhaust well and everything inside the palace was covered with soot.

I want to share the following excerpt from the interesting article titled “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene” by Helen from Fife, Scotland writing under the pseudonym Seeker7.

‘Garde Loo’ and Other Toilet Habits

The romantic scene of a towering castle surrounded by the pristine sparkling waters of a moat is not strictly true. Especially when we talk about toilets from hundreds of years ago.

In Tudor houses they were called ‘privies’. Many were basically a bowl with a slab of wood and a hole carved in the top. This would be set into a recess or cupboard-like area called a garderobe.

The castles were not much better. The slab of wood often just covered a hole in the floor that took waste products straight into the moat – now you know why there are no picturesque paintings of some cute rustic fishing in a castle moat.

Peasants did not have the luxury of any form of toilet no matter how crude. They were forced to relieve themselves where they could and then bury any waste matter. Washing your hands after doing your business was not practiced by anyone.

Of course, rich or poor, neither had toilet paper. Poor people would use leaves or moss to wipe their bottoms. If you had a bit more money then you would use lambs wool.

However, if you were the King, then you employed someone to wipe your bottom for you. The position of royal bum wiper was officially called ‘The Groom of the Stool’ the more formal title would be read as ‘Groom of the King’s Close Stool to King (name )’. As disgusting as this job may seem to be, it was a much sought after position. Noblemen would fight hard and dirty – excuse the pun – to get their sons employed in this role, as it often resulted in, eventually, advancing to powerful roles such as Private Secretary to the King. The reason for the promotion was that the groom, who knew the King’s most intimate secrets, often became his most trusted advisor and friend.

A medieval toilet or garderobe (Source: "A History of Humanity's Disgusting Hygiene").
A medieval toilet or garderobe (Source: “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene“).

Garderobe shafts for getting rid of waste products (Source: "A History of Humanity's Disgusting Hygiene")
Garderobe shafts for getting rid of waste products (Source: “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene“)

A royal toilet - still on view at Hampton Court, London. (Source: "A History of Humanity's Disgusting Hygiene")
A royal toilet – still on view at Hampton Court, London. (Source: “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene“)

 Old Edinburgh

If you ever find yourself transported back in time to old Edinburgh be prepared for the shout of ‘garde loo ‘. If you were not quick enough – or if you were disliked – you could find yourself being showered with the contents of chamber pots hurled from the tenement windows. Chamber pots were of course used to collect urine overnight.

The term ‘garde loo ‘ comes from the French garde L’eau which means ‘watch out for the water’. This is where the nickname – ‘loo’ – for the toilet may have come from. The resulting stench of chamber pot contents was ironically known as ‘the flowers of Edinburgh’ .

So what happened to all this waste littering the streets? There was, in theory, supposed to be some form of street cleaning, but this was seldom carried out effectively. The streets all year round were covered in faeces – human and animal – urine, rotting food, corpses of animals and so on. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that an effective street cleaning regime came into force.

Old Edinburgh's narrow streets showing the tenement buildings from which chamber pots were emptied out of the windows. (Source: "A History of Humanity's Disgusting Hygiene")
Old Edinburgh’s narrow streets showing the tenement buildings from which chamber pots were emptied out of the windows. (Source: “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene“)
During the reign of Louis XIV people seldom bathed. They believed that a grimy layer of dirt would keep one healthy. The commoners fancied strong body odour, which they adduced gave them potent sexuality. They made up their own proverb:

The more the ram stinks, the more the ewe loves him.

To combat the smells, the royalty and the courtiers changed their linen wear often, but they still stank. So, they doused themselves with heady perfumes, oils, and scented powders to mask not only their own body odour, but also to avoid inhaling the stench emanating from other persons.

Opinions differ about the bathing habits of King Louis XIV.

It is often said that the physicians of King Louis XIV advised him to bathe as infrequently as possible to maintain good health and he had only three baths in his entire life.

A few primary sources say that King Louis XIV bathed only twice in his life, when his doctors prescribed a bath. Louis they say was usually powdered from head to toe with perfumed powder several times a day since he found the act of bathing disturbing.  But the King’s reluctance to bathe did not mean that he was covered in dirt.

As there was no running water inside the buildings servants brought hot water in pails or jugs for the King to bathe or wash.

According to one source Louis XIV had several bathrooms in his suite at Versailles, one of which contained two bathtubs. One tub contained all sorts of ingredients from bran to milk. A special valet called a “baigneur” applied soap brought from Marseilles, well-known for their abrasiveness, on the body of the king. So the second tub for rinsing and was necessary.

The King suffered from gangrene but refused an amputation. One day, one of his toes was found in his sock.

A Russian ambassador to the court of King Louis XIV of France said: “His Majesty [Louis XIV] stunk like a wild animal.”

The French historian Mathieu da Vinha explains in his book, “Le Versailles de Louis XIV,” that Louis XIV had sumptuous bathrooms built at Versailles, but not to clean the body. Valets rather rubbed his hands and face with alcohol, and he took therapeutic baths only irregularly.

“Louis’s washing consisted of rubbing his face with cotton soaked in diluted, scented alcohol and dipping his fingertips in a bowl – washing in water was considered dangerous to one’s health.”

Some have contradicted the above and have said that in reality Louis XIV was an incredibly clean King and bathed regularly in a large Turkish bath in his palace. He disinfected his skin with spirits or alcohol because perfumes  gave him headaches. He changed his clothing, especially his underwear, three times a day and was so clean that he was almost fussy about it.

After 72 years on the throne, Louis died of gangrene at Versailles on September 1, 1715, four days before his 77th birthday.

Peter the Great

Peter the Great by Paul Delaroche.
Peter the Great by Paul Delaroche.

Peter I or Pyotr Alexeyevich (June 9, 1672 – February 8, 1725) was the Tsar of Russia from May 7, 1682 until his death on February 8, 1725. He gave himself the title “Peter the Great” though he was officially known as Peter I.

Peter the Great, was a widely traveled, educated, and cultured person in his own way.

Some writers say that, however educated Peter was he never understood nor followed a proper practice of hygiene. He did not find it wrong or embarrassing with urinating on the shiny palace walls.

According to these writers, Peter was not a regular bather. He washed himself on occasions using the natural mineral spring bath.

To end this series of “To Bathe, or Not to Bathe” articles, I list below “Ten Weird Facts About Grooming In The Past” which I came across in Seeker7’s article “A History of Humanity’s Disgusting Hygiene.

Ten Weird Facts About Grooming In The Past

  1. Eyebrows that did not look fashionable were often masked by tiny pieces of skin from a mouse.
  2. Ceruse was the foundation make-up of choice for both men and women, that gave the famous smooth, pale look. However, it contained lead that seeped into the body through the skin leading to poisoning. This make-up also tended to crack and had a strong odour.
  3. Although the men wore linen drawers, the women wore no knickers at all.
  4. The reason why so many marriages took place in June was that most people had their yearly bath in May so they were still fairly clean when June arrived. However, as a precaution brides carried bouquets of flowers to cover up any odious smells. June weddings and carrying bouquets are still traditional today but most wedding parties smell a lot nicer.
  5. When people took their bath it was the man of the house who had the privilege of the tub filled with clean water. The sons of the house were allowed next, then the wife, the rest of the females and the babies were last.
  6. Houses in the past did not have the protective roofing we have today. It was not unusual for bugs, pests and droppings to fall onto your clean bedding from the roof. So four poles and a canopy was invented to keep the bed clean and this is where the origin of the canopied and four poster beds come from.
  7. A 17th century publication by Peter Levens gives clear instructions to men on how to cure baldness and thinning hair by making the following mixture – a strong alkaline solution containing potassium salts and chicken droppings to be placed on the area to be treated. In addition if men wanted to remove unwanted hair from any area of the body they should make a paste that contains – eggs, strong vinegar and cat dung. Once beaten into a paste, this should be placed on the areas where the hair is to be removed. Why they didn’t just shave is not documented.
  8. When Mary Queen of Scots returned to her native Scotland from France she was astounded and not a little put out that the men continued to wear their hats while sitting down to eat at her banquets. It was then pointed out to the young Queen that this was not a sign of disrespect to her but necessity. The men kept their hats on in order to prevent not only their long hair from touching the food but head lice from falling into their plates.
  9. In the 16th century some members of the church condemned using forks to eat as against the will of god. One put out minister remarked: “God would not have given us fingers if He had wanted us to use forks.”
  10. The use of condoms goes back many thousands of years. They went out of favour after the decline of the Roman Empire but re-emerged in the form of linen condoms in the 16th century – perhaps due to the fear of the disease syphilis. The church condemned condoms as a way for the devil to encourage elicit sex. One incensed churchman raged that “the use of these foul things allows people to play filthy persons greater than ever.”


← Previous: Part 5 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Early Renaissance Period Bathe? 




To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 5 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Early Renaissance Period Bathe?

. Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj .

The term “Renaissance” is derived from French term “re-naissance” for “re-birth”, and from the Italian term “rinascere” meaning “to be reborn.” The Renaissance period spanned roughly from the 14th to the 17th century. It was the ‘Age of Discovery’. Historians say that this period was the bridge between the Middle Ages and Modern history.

The Renaissance began in Italy in the Late Middle Ages. Later it spread to the rest of Europe as paper became available along with the invention of metal movable types. However, the changes of the Renaissance were not uniformly experienced across Europe.

The Renaissance revolutionized many intellectual pursuits. It brought about a cultural, social and political upheaval. It is perhaps best known for its artistic developments. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and many other notable artists made their contributions during the Renaissance period.

On the cultural front, the Renaissance gave a new lease of life to Latin and the vernacular literatures. On the political front, it contributed to the development of the conventions of diplomacy.

According to historians, the Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, in the latter part of the 14th century due to various factors: the social and civic peculiarities of Florence at the time; its political structure; the patronage of the Medici family to the artists; the migration of Greek scholars and texts to Italy following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, etc.

King Philippe VI of France

King Philippe VI of France.
King Philippe VI of France.

Bubonic plague devastated Europe in the 14th century.  In 1348, King Philippe VI of France asked the medical faculty of the University of Paris to investigate the origins of the Bubonic plague. According to the learned professors a disastrous conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars caused disease-infected vapours to rise out of the earth and water to poison the air. They declared that susceptible people who breathed in the noxious air became ill and died.

Before the medieval period, people susceptible to infection were the obese, the intemperate, and the over-passionate. Now, the professors said that anyone who comes in contact with water was susceptible to disease. Hot baths, they said, had a dangerous moistening, relaxing effect on the body, and opened the pores in the skin which would allow the plague to enter the body.

From this, we can infer that King Philippe VI of France must have had infrequent baths.

Queen Isabel I of Spain

Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Castile and León.
Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Castile and León.

Queen Isabel I of Spain (April 22, 1451 – November 26, 1504), also known as Isabella the Catholic was the queen of Castile. She married King Ferdinand II of Aragon on October 19, 1469, and ruled both Castile and Aragon from 1479 with along with her husband.

In 1484, King John II of Portugal denied the request for aid sought by Christopher Columbus to cross the Atlantic. Two years later, Columbus was in Spain, asking for patronage from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. After at least two rejections, Columbus obtained royal support in January 1492. Although we cannot accept  the story of Queen Isabella offering to pledge her jewels to help finance the expedition, Columbus secured a limited financial support from her.

Queen Isabella had once confessed that she had taken a bath only twice in her lifetime – when she was first-born and when she got married.

During the next two hundred years, whenever the plague threatened, the cry went out: “Bathhouses and bathing, I beg you to shun them or you will die.

By the first half of the sixteenth century, it was common knowledge that French baths would be closed during eruptions of the plague.

Around 1531, Thomas Moulton was a Dominican friar, who called himself a doctor of divinity published a treatise in England titled “The myrrour or glasse of helth.” It was a manual purported to help avoid the Bubonic plague and to maintain good health. The book became one of the best-selling medical books of the Tudor period. In it, he says:

“use no baths or stoves; nor swet not too much, for all openeth the pores of a manne’s body and maketh the venomous ayre to enter and for to infecte the bloude.”

In the 16th century and thereafter, people believed this and similar statements that water carried diseases into the body through the pores in the skin. Most kings and queens, the members of the royal households, the aristocrats, and the commoners heeded to this advice and refrained from bathing.

In 1538, François I of France had the French bathhouses closed. In 1546, Henry VIII of England officially banned all public baths in Southwark. In 1566, the States-General of Orléans closed the French bawdy houses, which included any operating bathhouses.

Some monastic orders made bathing in hot air and steam part of their regimen, while others forbade bathing except at Christmas and Easter. In certain instances, instead of tearing down the Thermae of old, the Catholic clergy converted them into chapels and churches. Many marble tubs became baptismal fonts, bathing chairs became pulpits, and the pagan springs metamorphosed into holy water.

Members of the upper classes, the aristocrats, and the royalty cut down their full body bathing habits to just a few times per year. As directed by their physicians they struck a balance between the risk of contracting a disease by bathing and emanating body stench. To combat body odour, they changed their linen wear often. Even then, they still stunk. So, they doused themselves with heady perfumes, oils, and scented powders to mask the stench emanating from their bodies.

Sadly, the best medical advice of the period doomed many people. Dirtier the people were, more were they likely to harbour Pulex irritatu, the flea now believed to have carried the plague bacillus from rats to humans.

Henry IV of France

King Henry IV of France by Frans Pourbus the younger.
King Henry IV of France by Frans Pourbus the younger.

Henry IV (December 13, 1553 – May 14, 1610), also known by the epithet “Good King Henry,” was the first French monarch of the House of Bourbon.

In 1568, when Henry IV was a teenager, Ambroise Paré, the French royal barber-surgeon warned about water coming into contact with the human body. He declared:

“Steam-baths and bath-houses should be forbidden because when one emerges, the flesh and the whole disposition of the body are softened and the pores open, and as a result, pestiferous vapour can rapidly enter the body and cause sudden death, as has frequently been observed.”

Thereafter, people believed this and similar statements that water carried diseases into the body through the pores in the skin. Most kings and queens, the members of the royal households, the aristocrats and the commoners heeded to this advice and refrained from bathing.

Members of the upper classes, the aristocrats, and the royalty cut down their full body bathing habits to just a few times per year. They struck a balance between the risk of contracting a disease by bathing, and emanating body stench. To combat body odour, they changed their linen wear often. Even then, they still stunk. So, they doused themselves with heady perfumes, oils, and scented powders to mask the stench emanating from their bodies.

During the reign of Henry IV, bathing, and certainly in hot water, was considered a veritable health risk.

The king did not believe in bathing or using perfumes to mask his body stench. He usually wore soiled linen, and people had great difficulty in not closing their nostrils against the stink that emanated from his person. His body odour has been described as “stinking of sweat, stables, feet and garlic.”

He usually wore soiled linen, and people had great difficulty in not closing their nostrils against the stench that emanated from his person. His body odour has been described as “stinking of sweat, stables, feet and garlic.” He did not believe in bathing or using perfumes to mask his body stench.

One day when the King heard that the Duc de Sully had taken a bath, he turned to his own physician, André du Laurens, for advice. The physician told the king that the poor man would be vulnerable for days. So Henry IV sent a message to Sully informing him that he should not venture outside his residence, or he would endanger his health. Sully was told that the king would visit his home in Paris so that he would not come to any harm as a result of his recent bath.

The veritable womanizer, the ‘Good King’ Henry of Navarre had many mistresses outside wedlock such as: Charlotte de Beaune Semblançay, Marie Touchet, Diane d’Andoins, Gabrielle d’Estrées, Catherine Henriette de Balzac d’Entragues, to name a few.

Gabrielle d'Estrées
Gabrielle d’Estrées

Once, he sent a billet-doux (sweet letter) to Gabrielle d’ Estrées, one of his many mistresses. The letter conveyed the following: “Do not wash yourself, my sweetheart, I’ll visit you in three weeks.”

King James VI and I

King James VI and I. Portrait by Daniel Mytens, 1621.
King James VI and I. Portrait by Daniel Mytens, 1621.

King James VI and I (June 19,1566 – March 27, 1625) was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and a great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland. James succeeded to the Scottish throne at the age of thirteen months, after his mother Mary abdicated in his favour.

King James sponsored the translation of the Bible named after him: the Authorized King James Version.

Sir Anthony Weldon (1583–1648) was an English 17th-century courtier and politician, purported to have authored: “A Description of Scotland” and “The Court and Character of King James I.” However, this attribution has been challenged and so it is unclear whether Weldon was the author of either of these works.

The label “the wisest fool in Christendom,” is often attributed to Henry IV of France, but it was possibly coined by Weldon, to describe the paradoxical qualities of King James.

In “The Court and Character of King James I,” Weldon wrote:

“A very wise man was wont to say that he believed him the wisest fool in Christendom, meaning him wise in small things, but a fool in weighty affairs.”

It is said that the wisdom of King James did not include personal hygiene. The king wore the same clothes for months on end, even sleeping in them on occasion. He also wore the same hat seven days a week, until it fell apart. Moreover, King James refused to wash or bathe because he believed it was bad for his health.

King Louis XIII of France

King Louis XIII King of France and Navarre by Philippe de Champaigne.
King Louis XIII King of France and Navarre by Philippe de Champaigne.

Louis XIII (September 27, 1601 – May 14, 1643) was a monarch of the House of Bourbon.

According to meticulous notes kept by Jean Héroard, the French court physician, King Louis XIII of France born in 1601, was not given a bath until he was almost seven years of age.

He boasted, “I take after my father, I smell of armpits.”


Next → Part 6 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Renaissance Period Bathe?

← Previous: Part 4 – Bathing in Medieval Europe 



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