Much of the modern Irish identity is drawn from the belief that it is “Celtic.” This is evident in the many Irish art styles, music, symbols and sports clubs that take the name “Celtic.” But what is “Celtic”? And does it have anything to do with Ireland? Jackie Mead explains.

You can read Jackie’s previous article on Lewis Temple and the 19th century whaling industry here.

Jesus Christ as shown in the 9th century Book of Kells.

Jesus Christ as shown in the 9th century Book of Kells.

Who Were the Celts?

The word “Celt” comes from the Greek word “Keltoi,” used to refer to barbarians on the border of their empire. It is unlikely that these groups used the name to refer to themselves. For many years, academics believed that this group, loosely affiliated through culture, linguistics, and art style, was able to conquer much of mainland Europe and Ireland in the Late Bronze Age. This meant the new culture became the foundation of modern Irish culture, since the Irish natives of the time would not have been as strong as that of these continental invaders. However, those same academics were unsure as to when this group arrived, where they originated, and what technologies they brought.[1]


Social Darwinism and Archeology 

The Celtic invasion theory was able to take hold so effectively because invasion was already believed to be a common theme in Irish history. Early medieval pseudo-history stated that the modern Irish were the descendants of Mil, a biblical figure who traveled to the Iberian Peninsula and started the race that would eventually rule Ireland.[2]Continuing on this vein of thinking, nineteenth century archeologists believed that a new material culture in the archeological record indicated the arrival of a new, invading group (because, of course, it was simply not possible that one group could have twoart styles).

There were contemporary political motivations for this. At the time, Ireland was in a colonial relationship with England, and English scientists were attempting to rationalize Britain’s colonial empire through Social Darwinism. While the English were asserting that they were of a superior Germanic race, they were searching for an inferior origin for the Irish.[3]This led to a frantic search to find evidence that the Irish were descended from a barbaric continental tribe.[4]


Debunking the Myth

Archeology is a major player in the academic debate surrounding the Celts. Armies drop a lot of stuff, so some of that stuff would have ended up in the ground. But archeologists found a significant continuity throughout Irish prehistory. There is no sudden change in technology in the Late Bronze Age. The first iron objects were made to resemble traditional bronze objects, suggesting that they were made by the same people. Living conditions were similar as well; many Iron Age sites rest on reused Bronze Age hill forts.[5]Religious practices such as ritual deposition (purposefully dropping valuable objects into bogs and lakes) were also continued in the Iron Age, along with the burial traditions of cremation and single-grave tradition.[6]With all of these continuities, it seems highly unlikely that an invasion on a large scale could have taken place.

One of the most commonly turned to pieces of evidence for a Celtic invasion is the spread of the La Tène art style. This highly stylized curvilinear art style was very popular in the late Bronze Age, spreading from the Austrian-Switzerland region to Hungary, France, Germany, and Ireland. The English academics believed the Celtics invented La Tène and dropped it like a business card wherever they conquered a new territory. Antiquities expert John Collis calls this kind of association “dubious in the extreme.”[7]The theory completely ignores the fact that art can spread because people like it, not because it was brought by an invading army. Secondly, it fails to account for the fact that La Tène was almost exclusively a commodity for a very small group of wealthy people. An empire built on this art style would have been a very lonely one, and devoid of lower classes.[8]

It is far more likely that La Tène was brought to Ireland through contacts in Britain and on the Continent. Several pieces of the art have been found to be imported from these places, although the majority of it is Irish made.[9]Based on this evidence, La Tène is no longer considered to be the basis for the Celtic empire.


Pollen Evidence

Some of the most convincing evidence against the existence of a Celtic invasion comes from pollen. Pollen diagrams show that there was a resurgence of tree growth during the period, which indicates that there was a significant decrease in farming. It also shows that areas of Ireland were experiencing bog growth, which is unfit for human habitation.[10]Archeologists also had difficulty finding Iron Age sites to study, which means that there were less people during the period. The diminished population could not maintain the booming economy of the Late Bronze Age. An invading army, especially one that supposedly possessed great advancements in weaponry and art, would have boosted the economy and increased the population.[11]


Why Do the Irish Embrace Being Celtic?

If the ideas behind Ireland’s Celtic identity are not only wrong, but also racist, why have the Irish embraced it so much? Because, oddly enough, the English attempts to separate themselves from the Irish backfired spectacularly. Ireland had spent much of its history politically divided, and the new nationalist movement required a shared history. The idea of the Celt, a race that was separate from the British and had no right to be colonized by the descendants of Saxons, was created.[12]Douglas Hyde, the first President of Ireland, once wrote: “The sense of nationhood among the Irish stems from the half unconscious feeling that the Celtic race, which at one time held possession of more than half of Europe, is now making its last stand for independence on this island of Ireland.”[13]


The Celts of Today

Shared history is a powerful ingredient to nationalism, and the Celts became that for the Irish.[14]They fully embraced the biased literature of the period, embracing the so-called Celtic art style, music style, and spirituality. Today, the idea of the Irish Celt has been debunked in academia, but lives in on popular Irish culture.

As it became better known to the wider population, especially to the local Irish, the definition of a Celt changed. The ridiculous idea of an invasion by a continental group was replaced by a much more vague definition of “Celt,” simply meaning of Irish or Scottish origin. Although the original intent was to disenfranchise, the Irish have taken pride in their new identity. After all, the idea of Celtics did not take off in the popular imagination until the Irish were able to define it for themselves.


What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

[1]John Waddell, “Celts, Celticisation and the Irish Bronze Age,” in Ireland and the Bronze Age, ed. J. Waddell and E. Twohig (Dublin, 1995), 160.

[2]J.P. Mallory and Barra Ó Donnabháin, “The Origins of the Population of Ireland: A Survey of Putative Immigrations in Irish Prehistory and History,” Emania17 (1998): 47.

[3]Barra Ó Donnabháin, “An Appalling Vista? The Celts and the Archeology of Later Prehistoric Ireland,” in New Agendas in Irish Prehistory, ed. A. Desmond (Cork, 2000), 192.

[4]John Collis, “Celtic Myths,” Antiquity71 (1997): 197.

[5]Tomás Ó Carragáin, 2016. "Early Iron Age - The Celts.” Presentation, Boole Lecture Theater.

[6]Ó Carragáin,"Early Iron Age - The Celts.”

[7]John Collis, “Celtic Myths,” 199.

[8]Mallory and Ó Donnabháin, “The Origins of the Population of Ireland,” 61.

[9]Mallory and Ó Donnabháin, “The Origins of the Population of Ireland,” 61.

[10]Ó Carragáin, "Early Iron Age - The Celts.”

[11]Ó Carragáin, "Early Iron Age - The Celts.”

[12]Ó Donnabháin, “An Appalling Vista?” 192.

[13]Ó Carragáin, "Early Iron Age - The Celts.”

[14]Chris Morash, “Celticism: Between Race and Nation,” in Ideology and Ireland in the Nineteenth Century, ed T. Foley and S. Ryder (Dublin, 1998): 192.

The origins of humanity are a regular topic of debate in much of the world. Here, Steven Keith considers Christian and Hindu texts, and 'haplogroups’ as the basis for a less well-known argument on the origins of cultures and civilizations in the world.

You can read Steven’s article on the origins of Scotland here, and the origins of the Picts, Gaels and Scots here.

A 18th century depiction of Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism.

A 18th century depiction of Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism.

From the creation of Adam, until the birth of Noah (as a significant proportion of the world believes), there are eleven generations of his line; Adam, Cain and his brother, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Cainain, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah and Lamech, before we arrive at Noah, born, it is written and said, in 3300 BC. Although there are documented eleven generations, born between the dawn of civilization and the great flood (believed to have been an historical event by almost the entire world’s population) that would drown every living creation, other than Noah, his three sons and their wives, there are twelve individuals named specifically; Cain always being mentioned together with his sibling, Abel.

So, as the story goes, for the first score of centuries since this perfect creation, by an omnipotent creator, these twelve men lived longer lives than any of their contemporaries managed to do on this infant earth and they possessed extraordinary, superhuman powers, that each had inherited as a consequence of their blood connection to the original manifestation of human consciousness, their ancestor, Adam. Were these men the guides for the burgeoning human population who had been blessed by a birth in a bountiful and boundless world?


The Adityas

May I suggest that it is not a coincidence, that from one of the Vedic perspectives, according to the Vishnu Puranaspecifically, there were twelve Adityasor divine, holy men, who were born from the womb of the Goddess,Aditi, the wife of Kasyapa, the son ofMarichi, (son of Brahma), and his wife, Kala,and from their twelve sons grew the human race. Grew civilizations. In Book 3, Chapter 134, verse 18 of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata, Ashtavakra writes, ‘and twelve, according to the learned, is the number of the Adityas.’

To complete this triumvirate of twelves, are the haplogroups (human genetic family groupings) beginning with ‘A’, and running alphabetically (though not always chronologically), through until, ‘L’. At group ‘K’, the most recent, there was a fracturing, the very same splintering that our friends from both the ancient Hebrew and Hindu traditions had taught had happened in the long forgotten past, when the earth was still being populated by migrating clans of families, forging new nations and creating cultures that would over time develop into civilizations, some of which would shine for thousands of years as material entities and indeed, some of them continue to influence our existences as individuals and as civilizations today.

Could not these twelve individuals, irrespective of their whether their names be spelled and pronounced according to the Hebrew or the Hindu tradition, correspond to the twelve haplogroups, each emerging one after the other, until clade ‘L’ split from it’s sibling, ‘K’, leaving it alone, the earth already having been peopled by the migratory nature of the human ‘beast’?


The Groups

Group A emerged as an outburst of consciousness, allowing group BT to emerge later as it’s sibling. Two initials together (unlike the other clades, in which, as a rule, each capital letter represents a particular genetic line) that contained the necessary genetic information for all the mutations that would follow over time. Similarly, in the line of relatives that descended from Adam to Noah, only Cain and Abel, the second generation, are mentioned together as a pair. Those men who came after, are mentioned alone, as individuals, as themselves, irrespective of whether or not they had any brothers. Like BT.

From BT came B, before mutating (M168) to give group CT. All the haplogroups that emerged after B retain the evidence of this mutation that occurred some 65,000 years ago. Group B had emerged in central Africa about eighty thousand years ago and spread across the continent, sharing it with men carrying the genetic information that we associate with group A. Today the B lineage is found in significant proportions almost exclusively among the men of the Pygmy tribes of the Congo rainforest in tropical Africa. These people today, are still dominated by the Bantu African (E) population, who overwhelmed and displaced them myriad years previously and who continue to surround their forest home with the pasture necessary for the livestock that remains the mainstay of their economies and societies.

There is next to no trace of group B outside of Africa. They seemed to have been fixed to the land that they worked, unlike group C that emerged around 60,000 years before our present age, whose men would become the aboriginal Australian clans upon reaching that continent, after moving along the coastline of the Arabian, Indian and Malaysian peninsulas, as well as reaching and first populating the new world. They arrived there so early that Australia had not yet developed as the island continent that we know today. The ‘C’s’ have left their genetic imprint all along their journey, their clade still significantly represented in communities throughout the Middle East, the subcontinent and South-East Asia. It suggests that they migrated, looked for and found places to settle and develop. Along the way, Clade D had arrived on what today are known to us as the archipelagos of Japan and the Andaman Islands, each of which may have been connected, or at least partially so, to the Asian mainland at that time.

Group D had also arrived on the plateau of Tibet, an unlikely destination for anyone looking for lands with hospitable environmental conditions, upon which they could settle. One clade in three distinct groups, far apart from each other geographically and linguistically, and each community survives to this day in relative isolation, genetically speaking. The ancient indigenous Aino people of Japan (and southern Russia) and the indigenous people of Tibet and the Andaman Islands have each retained their cultural heritage to some degree, but more importantly, the knowledge of the great antiquity of their ancient ancestors. People and their places still visited today by anthropologists and the like, all trying to unravel and decode their deeply held knowledge. The immediate sibling of the Ds are the E group. They spread south through Africa, conquering all before them and seeding almost all of her with their genetic sequences and displacing the A and B groups that had previously experienced that massive continent by themselves. Rather like the Aryan tribes are assumed to have done many millennia later. Clade F would give rise to the group GHIJK approximately 50,000 thousand years before present. At the point of the emergence of F, there was a mutation (M89) that is carried by all men who would follow until today.


The Groups’ Impact on the World

Could it be that these were the original castes to populate the world and make the growth and development of civilization both possible and inevitable? In one of the Hindu traditions, God had pulled four castes of human beings out of his own body, each designed and imbued with the skills necessary for humanity as a collective to progress. To build society requires a collection of skills to be present simultaneously in place and time and working in harmony. These four clades emerged around the same time as each other, approximately between sixty and sixty-five millennia ago. Several more tens of thousands of years would pass until the conglomerate of clades that had grown out of F, GHIJK, would bring a third diffusion of four castes into society, the castes that would provide us with revolutions in farming (perhaps haplogroup G), commerce (perhaps haplogroup J, the Semitic peoples) and would become the ancestral Europeans (haplogroup I).

At the time that clades I and J had split away from K, groups L and T (previously known as K2) had emerged in their own right, having been dormant in the jumble of letters (clades), biding their time. Clade L is now found in it’s highest density along the Malabar Coast of India (Kerala) and in the area of the delta of the Indus River, and in the high mountains, from where it emerges into the plains. The heartland of the former Indus/Harappan civilization. By the time that clade K had seen it’s siblings grow up and leave the GHIJK family nest, each of the earth’s land masses had been colonized, if not every landscape. That would come with the virtual disintegration of K, sending pioneering new clades into unexplored virgin territories. 

Can the disparate understandings of the Divine be reinterpreted as being one in the same story and can that story, that appears to fly in the face of the modern scientific theory on the origins of the human race, be demonstrated to be a true testament of our common culture, by the knowledge gained by the scientists themselves, in the field of genetics? Has the earth actually been formed, complete with man and beast? Populated by successive outbursts of consciousness, representing the four castes necessary for evolution of society? Guided by divine sages, each a guardian of an age. Does the movement, on the axis of the earth itself, every 23,000 years, known as the precession cycle, correspond with the mutation of clades? Coincidence always seems to be an unlikely answer when trying to explain away these connections, in a world that appears to us as being fundamentally magical, from whichever perspective that you want to look at it from.


What do you think of the article? Let us know below.


Steven Douglas Keith is a Scotsman living for twenty years in the mountains of India, an essayist, an artist and a poet. His work seeks to find the commonalities shared by cultures, specifically between the traditions of the orient and occident.

He can be found on Twitter @k_el_phand

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

Modern society is often compared to past times and ages. Here, Daniel Smith returns and argues that the economic control exerted by a small elite today is similar to seventeenth century capitalism. 

You can read Daniel’s past articles on California in the US Civil War (here), Medieval Jesters (here), How American Colonial Law Justified the Settlement of Native American Territories (here), and Spanish Colonial Influence on Native Americans in Northern California (here), and differences in Christian ideology in the USA (here).

The Declaration and Standard of the Levellers, a 17th century English movement. Gerrard Winstanley was one of the founders.

The Declaration and Standard of the Levellers, a 17th century English movement. Gerrard Winstanley was one of the founders.

In light of our modern Renaissance, we as human beings in our own moral and ethical weaknesses have forgotten as people, that history canrepeat itself. With the invention of the television, computer, cell phone, Internet, and social media… Americans have become comfortable—complacent—and have forgotten about their own vulnerabilities in society. Most of the aforementioned gadgets were all invented within the last 30 years![1]In the last 100 years, government and wealthy private entities have slowly re-aligned the way that society is structured. We tend to easily forget about the history behind how we are even standing here today. Of course, who reallywants to remember their old classes from school? 

Well, if you have not figured out the fact that there are distinct “social-classes” in America and that we as Americans are ran extremely hard in the workforce, then this should help explain how we are living in a society that we can compare to the seventeenth century! It’s pretty eye opening actually. What has happened with the development of the global corporate world is just today’s version of the Hudson Bay Company, or even the East India Trading Company.[2]I learned that a man by the name of Gerrard Winstanley (1609-76) was a clothier and laborer who resided in England. Mr. Winstanley was said to have had “religious visions,” and in 1649, he wrote of these dreams. In arguing his ideas he had mentioned that on our earth, man was destined to slavery and to be “kept in the hands of the few.”[3]

This last quotation of course is his recognition to the fact that the top 2% of wealth holders were the established elite.[4]Seems eerily familiar to today’s 1%, doesn’t it? This hierarchy is based upon the newly structured global societal standards. So where do we all fit in to this historical and rather not too surprising sociopolitical hierarchy? Most of us sit squarely on the bottom two levels as peasants and vassals. In contemporary context the vassals are the top professionals like doctors, large business owners, entertainers, etc. The rest of us are sitting on the peasant level: laborers, farmers, retail and grocery workers, students, soldiers, truckers, etc. It’s really important to see that most of these careers existed in the old world. The differences today are in just how the information is delivered, including the method of the job being done.

While the re-structuring of global society has happened over the last half-century, the most important part of this whole process is to direct how money is controlled. Establishment of the central banking systems were made; entities such as the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank… just to throw out some names. These are the modern kings, queens, and emperors of the medieval and early-modern eras. There are a few ways to manipulate the societal ladder that we are in, such as a decent education and a solid career track. For the most part though, we are all here together, stuck doing our part, and given our own hands to play in life. Further, we can all agree as human beings regardless of spiritual belief, to never part in doing the best we can, as individuals, both morally and ethically while here alive on planet earth.


What do you think of the author’s arguments? Let us know below.

Finally, Daniel Smith writes at

[1]Cross, Gary. An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. p. 17.

[2]Ziegler, Herbert, and Jerry Bentley. Traditions & Encounters, Volume 2: from 1500 to the Present. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2014. p. 462.

[3]G.H. Sabine, The Works of Gerard Winstanley[Ithaca, NY. Cornell University Press, 1941], pp. 251-4, 288.

[4]Wiesner, Merry E. "Politics and Power, 1600-1789." In Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. p. 343.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

Fifty years after Apollo 11 landed astronauts on the moon, what is the enduring legacy of humanity’s ventures beyond the Earth?  As explained by Harlan Lebo, author of 100 Days: How Four Events in 1969 Shaped America (Amazon USAmazon UK), the answer is much broader and deeper than President Kennedy’s original vision for achievement in space.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the US flag during Apollo 11, on July 20, 1969.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the US flag during Apollo 11, on July 20, 1969.

On a warm summer night in 1961, two months after President John Kennedy declared a mission to the moon as a national goal, presidential advisor Theodore Sorensen sat on the front steps of his home in Washington, staring up at the heavens, and wondered about the wisdom of creating a program to send humans into outer space.

“Was it really possible,” Sorensen remembered thinking, “or was it all crazy?” 

Crazy or not, eight years later the goal was realized with the journey of Apollo 11 in July 1969 – five months before Kennedy’s deadline of reaching the moon “before the decade is out.”

While the specific goal of reaching the moon was achieved, Kennedy’s broader intention – to demonstrate to the world America’s supremacy in technology and national will – was also more than satisfied.  And if the United States not been engaged at the same time in a hopeless, endless war in Vietnam, the benefits to the nation might have been even more pronounced.


Looking back at a deeper legacy

Now, 50 years later, we can look back and ask, did Apollo spawn a lasting legacy?  The most obvious answer is yes – the US reached the moon, and with that achievement firmly established the United States as the pre-eminent leader in science and engineering of the 20thcentury.  

Thanks to Apollo, America still supports a vigorous space program – even without a current schedule of manned missions – that engages both the public and private sectors.  And we can, of course, itemize the direct benefits of our efforts in space with a tally of specific products as diverse as fire prevention fabric, improved solar cells, freeze-dried food, and medical monitoring, among hundreds of others.

But beyond those individual achievements, the enduring advances are less tangible, yet even more profound.  


The jolt of inspiration

The greatest value of Apollo to the American experience emerged from the sudden, abrupt focus of technological inspiration required to create the lunar mission – the largest financial outlay ever made by a peacetime nation.  

While one can point to the growing needs of national defense in the cold war as a catalyst for economic growth, it was the research and development across the spectrum of science required for the Apollo Program, compressed from decades into a few years in the 1960s, that acted at a breakneck speed as a formidable accelerator in advancing the nation.  The jolt supplied by the manned space program produced a trail of benefits – not only for the results achieved in space, but for the technical possibilities that the mission illuminated.  

Transcending individual inventions and products, Apollo stimulated the broad expansion of advances over a wide range of industries and fields – including many enlightened enterprises that are both profitable and progressive, such as organizations involved in precision medical equipment or alternative energy sources. 

For example, the process of creating the Apollo Guidance Computer, with its razor-thin margin of capabilities needed to support the moon missions, became a high-profile inspiration within the computer industry to create new generations of components that were more powerful, smaller, and cheaper.  

The country’s growing needs for digital technology in space programs created a thriving market – and competition – in the creation of semiconductors and related hardware for the computing industry. U.S. government projects – primarily defense and space – were the world’s largest purchasers of semiconductors – accounting for almost 70 percent of all sales – spurring production and shrinking prices. In 1962, the average price of a computer chip was $50; by 1973, the price had fallen to 63 cents. 

Beyond just shrinking the costs of technology, Apollo proved to be a powerful catalyst for the digital realm long after the missions were over – with important links to the growth of Silicon Valley and other tech crucibles. The path was clear for the development of new types of computers that did not yet exist, including computers created for individuals. Soon to come were the first personal computers in the 1970s and 1980s; the internet was not far behind. 


New leaders, new progress

This progress was possible largely because of growth in technological leadership – a new generation that rose in American business, science, and engineering thanks to the flourishing of the space program.

“Many people point to guys working in their garages in the Silicon Valley as the starting point for the technology industries of the 1980s,” said space historian Roger Launius. “But much of the innovation of that era had already come from scientists and engineers trained to work in the space program; after Apollo, these people dispersed and went everywhere – to companies, to universities, to think tanks – taking with them the knowledge they had gained from working on the space program. 

“We saw a blossoming of technology in the 1970s,” said Launius, “that was in no small part the result of the base of knowledge that built up during the space program, and that was pushed by Apollo.”

The Apollo 11 landing on the Moon was the most important peacetime achievement of the 20thcentury.   But even more important is the broad range of change inspired by Apollo that continues to touch the American experience.


Harlan Lebo’s book, 100 Days: How Four Events in 1969 Shaped America, is available here: Amazon USAmazon UK

The theater in ancient Greece was a place where politics, religion, popular figures, and legends were all discussed and performed with great enthusiasm. People came from all across the Greek world to attend the popular theaters held in open-air amphitheaters. In the so-called 'glory days' some amphitheaters could accommodate crowds of up to 15,000 people, and some were so acoustically precise that a coin dropped at the center of the performance circle could be heard perfectly in the back row.

The origin of the dramatic arts in Greece was in Athens, where ancient hymns were chanted in honor of the gods. These hymns were later adapted into choral processions where participants would dress up in costumes and enact the narratives. Eventually, certain members of the chorus evolved to carry out exceptional roles within the procession and, hence, Greek theater came to life.

Jamil Bakhtawar explains.

An ancient Roman painting from the House of Vettii in Pompeii, showing the death of Pentheus from Euripides’ Bacchae.

An ancient Roman painting from the House of Vettii in Pompeii, showing the death of Pentheus from Euripides’ Bacchae.

A festival for the gods

One of the Greek festivals was called the 'City Dionysia’. It was a festival of entertainment held in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility, and featured competitions in music, singing, dance, and poetry. The revelry-filled event was conducted by drunken men dressed up in rough goat skins (goats were thought to be sexually potent). The Greeks entertained large crowd gatherings during these festivals by dramatizing scripted plays, often with only one person acting and directing the transition of each scene. As the playwrights evolved, a handful of actors produced on-stage performances consisting of a live chorus and musical background.

One particular theater, built to honor Dionysus, was called Epidaurus. It was the greatest theater in the western world and is often considered a pioneer of engineering by today’s standards. Fifty-five semi-circular rows of seats were built into the hillside with such precision that the theater had perfect acoustics. Named after the god of medicine Asklepios, it was believed that the Epidaurus (and theaters in general) had beneficial effects on mental and physical health. It was regarded as an important healing center and is considered to be the cradle of medicinal arts. Two-and-a-half-thousand years later, it is still in use and is among the largest of the surviving Greek theaters.


The Greek tragedy

Little is known about the origins of the Greek tragedy before Aeschylus (c. 525-c. 455 B.C.), the most innovative of the Greek dramatists. His earliest surviving work is 'Persians', which was produced in 472 B.C. The roots of the Greek tragedy, however, are likely embedded in the Athenian spring festival of Dionysus; which included processions, religious sacrifices, parades, and competitions. Early Greek theater focused on tragic themes that still resonate with contemporary audiences. The word “tragedy” translates from “goat song,” a phrase rooted in the Dionysus Festival of dancing around sacrificial goats for a prize. The original Greek tragedies centered on mythology or historical significance that portrayed the antagonist’s search for the meaning of life. Other times, playwrights focused the overall tragedy on the nature of the gods and goddesses.

Of the few surviving Greek tragedies, all but Aeschylus’ Persians draw from heroic myths. The protagonist and the chorus portrayed the heroes who were the objects of religious cult in Attica in the fifth century B.C. Often, the dialogue between the actor and chorus served as a didactic function, linking it to a form of public discourse with debates in the assembly.

Each surviving tragedy began with a prolog that explained the action in each corresponding scene. Subsequently, the chorus introduced the paradox; a transition whereby the audience becomes familiar with the characters, exposition, and overall mood of the setting. Finally, the exodus implies the departure of the chorus and characters derived through the play’s duration.

Some of the oldest surviving tragedies in the world were written by three renowned Greek playwrights. Aeschylus composed several notable tragedies, including “The Persians,” and the “Oresteia” trilogy. To this day, drama in all its forms still functions as a powerful medium for transmitting ideas.


Ancient comedies

The exact beginnings of Greek comedic plays are not known. Some historians believe they could have started from the activity of actors mimicking one another as well as making jokes about current plays and more. During the 6th century BCE, the plays started to incorporate scenes involving actors dressed in exaggerated costumes mostly of animals. They would subsequently perform a dance much to the audience’s delight. Various poems involving humor as well as songs would be performed during plays.

Unlike the Greek tragedy, comic performances produced in Athens during the fifth century B.C., the 'Old Comedy', ridiculed mythology and prominent members of Athenian society. There seems to have been no limit to speech or action in the comic exploitation of sex and other bodily functions. Terracotta figurines and vase paintings dated around the time of Aristophanes (450–ca. 387 B.C.) show comic actors wearing grotesque masks and tights with padding on the rump and belly, as well as a leather phallus.

In the second half of the fourth century B.C., 'the New Comedy' of Menander (343–291 B.C.) and his contemporaries presented fresh interpretations to familiar material. In many ways comedy became simpler and tamer, with very little obscenity. The grotesque padding and phallus of the Old Comedy were abandoned in favor of more naturalistic costumes that reflected the playwrights’ modern style. Subtle differentiation of masks worn by the actors paralleled the finer delineation of character in the texts of the New Comedy; which dealt with private and family life, social tensions, and the triumph of love in a variety of contexts.


Major playwrights of the time

There were many Greek playwrights, but only the major works of three dramatists have survived: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. They wrote plays for the City Dionysia, but the central idea of each of their plays were different.

The plays of Aeschylus explore the dangers of arrogance, the misuse of power and the bloody consequences of revenge. Aeschylus was the first to introduce a second actor during on-stage performances. His trilogy, the Oresteia, explores the chain of revenge set into motion by king Agamemnon’s decision to sacrifice his daughter in return for a fair wind to take his ships to Troy. 

Sophocles wrote seven popular tragedies including “Antigone,” “Electra,” and “Oedipus Rex” to name a few. Sophocles' playwrights are focused around the redemptive power of suffering. A good example of this is the character of Oedipus in Oedipus Rex. He portrayed Oedipus as a good-hearted but headstrong young man who kills his own father without knowing that he is his father, and marries his mother without realizing that she is his biological mother. When he discovers what he has done, he blinds himself in remorse. Sophocles introduced a third actor during on-stage performances and was the first dramatist to include painted backdrops.

Euripides, the last of the three, belongs to a somewhat later generation of Greek thought, and is a far more troubled, questioning and unsatisfied spirit. Euripides was thought of as the most direct of the three in his questioning of Athenian society and its established beliefs. He composed over ninety plays, with roughly eighteen surviving pieces studied and incorporated by contemporary playwrights; including “Medea,” “Hercules,” and “The Trojan Women.” Critics lambasted Euripedes’ questionable values presented during his on-stage performances, often depicting varying psychological archetypes not explored by previous playwrights. Many authors modeled Euripedes’ experimentalism centuries after his death. 

The Grecian playwrights also injected humor into certain aspects of theater. Popular comedians competed during the Athenian festivals, including Aristophanes, who authored more than forty plays. Among his eleven surviving plays included a controversial script entitled “Lysistrata,” a tale about a strong, independent woman who heads a female-based coalition against the war in Greece. 

Each of these playwrights introduced something new to Athenian drama when their plays were chosen as the best, and it is largely because of these writers that theater developed into the way it has now. Despite the limited number of surviving tragedies and comedies, the Greeks greatly influenced the development of drama in the Western world.


The art behind a mask

It was common practice for Greek actors to use masks. These theatre masks were thought to amplify the actor’s voice and contribute to the theatrical ambiance. They have since become icons of the ancient Greek culture and sought after collectors’ items. Highly decorated masks were worn during feasts and celebrations as well as during funeral rites and religious ceremonies. These masks were constructed out of lightweight organic material, such as linen or cork, and copied from marble or bronze faceplates. Often, a wig was attached to the top of the mask. The mask was then painted; usually brown to represent a man and white for a woman. There were two holes for the eyes, large enough for the actor to see the audience but small enough so as not to allow the audience to see him. The shape of the masks amplified the actor’s voice, causing his words to be easier for the audience to hear.

There were several practical reasons for using masks in the theater. Due to the sheer size of the amphitheaters they were performing in, exaggerated costumes and masks with vivid colors were much more visible to a distant member of the crowd than a regular face. Masks were also worn for a transformation into character. There were only two or three actors present in each production, so masks allowed for quick character changes between scenes. Masks were tools for the audience to learn something about the character, whether it be a huge beard and roaring mouth to represent the conquering hero, or curved nose and sunken eyes to represent the trickster. Tragic masks carried mournful or pained expressions, comic masks were seen smiling or leering. 

Many masks have survived, as well as literary descriptions of the masks and artistic recreations in frescoes and vase paintings. One can see the evidence of the importance of masks at almost any surviving ancient Greek theater. Statues depicting the grotesquely laughing, crying, or raging masks stare down at innocent viewers, their lips largely engorged and eyes so rounded and saucer-like, one would think the mask itself had a mind of its own.


Theatrics of the stage

The Greek theater stage consisted essentially of the orchestra, a flat dancing floor of the chorus, and the actual structure of the theater building known as the ‘theatron'. Since theaters in antiquity were frequently modified and rebuilt, the surviving remains offer little evidence of the nature of the theatrical space available to Classical dramatists in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. There is no physical evidence for a circular orchestra earlier than that of the great theater at Epidauros dated to around 330 B.C. Most likely, the audience in fifth-century B.C. Athens was seated close to the stage in a rectilinear arrangement, such as appears at the well-preserved theater at Thorikos in Attica. During this initial period in Greek drama, the stage and most probably the skene(stage building) were made of wood. Vase paintings depicting Greek comedy from the late fifth and early fourth centuries B.C. suggest that the stage stood about a meter high with a flight of steps in the center. The actors entered from either side or a central door in the skene, which also housed the ekkyklema, a wheeled platform with sets of scenes. A crane, located at the right end of the stage, was used to hoist gods and heroes through the air onto the stage. Greek dramatists made the most of the extreme contrasts between the gods up high and the actors on stage, and between the dark interior of the stage building and the bright daylight.



The city of theater was, indeed, Athens. Athens birthed drama, bred drama, and ultimately was responsible for cultivating it into the most important art of the Classical and Modern world. Greek theater has proven itself to be timeless as it continues to entertain audiences with its ability to portray universal themes. Although many of the plays have been lost through the ages, many of the originals from the 5th and 6th century BCE are regularly performed around the world and are still looked at as the top of their craft.


What do you think of ancient Greek theater? Let us know below.

The whaling industry was at its height in the nineteenth century as it helped power the Industrial Revolution. The center of the whaling industry in the US was in Nantucket and later New Bedford. But there were a number of breakthroughs that powered the industry. Here, Jackie Mead tells the story of Lewis Temple, a free African American who invented something very important for the whaling industry.

A statue of Lewis Temple in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Source: LGagnon, available  here .

A statue of Lewis Temple in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Source: LGagnon, available here.

Hunting whales has been an integral part of Native American communities for millennia, but whaling had never been practiced on such a massive scale as it was in the 1800s. The Industrial Revolution demanded whale oil to light the factories, as well as the plastic-like baleen for lady’s corsets and spermaceti for mass-produced candles and perfumes. Whaleships became floating factories for processing the massive creatures, complete with tryworks for boiling the whale blubber into precious oil. A consumer might pay as much as $2.50 for a gallon—$80 today.[1] This meant whales were essentially swimming petroleum deposits, and massive fortunes could be made by those brave enough to hunt them down.


An Upstart City

Nantucket, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, was an obvious capital of the whaling industry. By the 1840s, however, they were being eclipsed by an upstart mainland town: New Bedford.[2] In 1851, Herman Melville wrote in his masterpiece Moby Dick, “New Bedford has of late been gradually monopolizing the business of whaling,”[3]and that “nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford.”[4]The city had a superior harbor that fit even the biggest of whaleships, and a rich industry sprang up around the waterfront.

One person that came to the city to make their fortune was a free African American named Lewis Temple. He was born either a slave or freedman in Richmond, Virginia around the year 1800. Temple arrived in New Bedford in 1829 and married Mary Clark, presumably also African America, and had two daughters shortly after.[5]A blacksmith by trade, he opened a shop on Walnut Street in 1836 and began producing the various metal objects required on whaling ships.


The Weapon of Choice

The most important tool of a whaler was his harpoon: a barbed iron point mounted to a long wooden handle. When thrown at a whale, the barbs would catch in the blubber and prevent the harpoon from dislodging. The crew would grab onto a rope tied to the harpoon and be pulled through the ocean as the whale tried to escape, a risky experience referred to as a “Nantucket sleigh ride.” When the whale was too exhausted to continue, they would then row close enough to stab the leviathan to death. 

If the harpoon came out during the chase, the whale would get away. Since almost all crews were paid through a cut of the profits, losing a whale was a significant hit to their paycheck.[6] 

In the first half of the nineteenth century, harpoon tips resembled arrowheads. These would frequently tear holes in the whale’s blubber instead of lodging in it, leading to angry whales and no profit. Toggling harpoons, which have a frontward cutting edge and a backwards sweeping barb that pivots (or toggles), had been used in the Arctic for centuries. New Bedford whalers were aware of this technology from hunting in Alaskan waters, but were unable to replicate it.[7]


A New Harpoon

Lewis Temple created the first iron toggle harpoon in his Walnut Street shop in 1848. It was similar to its Arctic predecessors, with a sharp point and swinging barb that was held in place by a pin. A small piece of wood held the head straight while it was thrown into the whale, breaking on impact and allowing the barb to pivot ninety degrees into the blubber. This was far more effective than the traditional harpoon, quickly becoming the weapon of choice for all savvy harpooners. 


Lewis Temple, Inventor

Lewis Temple never patented his invention. Although a gifted blacksmith, he never received a formal education.[8]The idea of obtaining a patent probably would not even have crossed his mind. Only three to ten percent of patent holders were African American, many choosing to file under the name of a white lawyer to ensure their product had a fair shot.[9]Since Temple was unable to write his own name, it was unlikely he could have hired one without help. With nothing to prevent them, other blacksmiths freely copied his idea and made their own improvements. 

The Temple family continued to grow, and Lewis began to train his son, Lewis Temple Jr., in blacksmithing. He moved shops several times, renting homes nearby for his family.[10]He was elected Vice President of the New Bedford Union Society in 1834, the city’s first anti-slavery group. It is also possible he knew a young Frederick Douglas in the 1830s, when the famous author was pursuing odd jobs at the wharfs.[11]

His lack of commercial success, despite his stroke of genius, may have been the motivation for the local firm Delano and Pierce to offer Temple a new shop in 1854. However, he was never able to work in it. 

Earlier that year, Temple was walking home at night and tripped over a plank left out by a New Bedford construction crew, sending him into a sewer ditch and injured beyond hope of recovery. His wife and children sued the city for negligence, winning $2,000 in March 1854. Temple died only six weeks later.[12]The local newspaperran a story describing how the Temple family had yet to receive their settlement payment, which was finally given to his widow in February 1857.[13]



The New Bedford sailor and artist Clifford W. Ashley wrote in 1926, “It is safe to say that the Temple toggle harpoon was the most important single invention in the whole history of whaling.”[14]Although he was never able to profit from his work, Lewis Temple made a significant impact on the American whaling industry. His toggle harpoon helped make the city the richest per capita in the entire United States.[15]In 1880, $10 million (yes, 10 million 1880 dollars) was flowing through New Bedford, all the product of the toggle harpoon. Herman Melville wrote “all these brave houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea.”[16]

A statue of Lewis Temple stands outside the New Bedford Public Library. The artist depicts him standing in a blacksmith’s apron with his new invention in his hands, unaware of how it will change the industry forever.


What do you think of Lewis Temple’s role in the whaling industry? Let us know below.

[1]PBS, “The ‘Whale Oil Myth’,” 2008.

[2]PBS, “The History of Whaling in America.”

[3]Herman Melville, Moby Dick(New York: Constable and Company, 1922): 8. 

[4]Melville, Moby Dick,40.

[5]New Bedford Historical Society, “Lewis Temple.”

[6]Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea(New York: Viking Penguin, 2000): 18.

[7]Sidney Kaplan, “Lewis Temple and the Hunting of the Whale.” Negro History Bulletin17 (October 1953): 8. 

[8]Kaplan, “Lewis Temple,” 7.

[9]Michael J. Andrews and Nicolas L. Ziebarth, The Demographics of Inventors in the Historical United States (2016): 8.

[10]Kaplan, “Lewis Temple,” 10.

[11]New Bedford Historical Society, “Lewis Temple.”

[12]Kaplan, “Lewis Temple,” 10.

[13]New Bedford Historical Society, “Lewis Temple.”

[14]Kaplan, “Lewis Temple,” 7.

[15]Derek Thompson, “The Spectacular Rise and Fall of U.S. Whaling: An Innovation Story.” The Atlantic(February 22, 2012)

[16]Melville, Moby Dick, 41.

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most famous symbols of America. But the statue has a long history. Here Aliasgar Abuwala explains the French origins of the statue, how it took many years from being an idea to actually being erected in New York, and the importance of its symbolism in the twentieth century.

The Statue of Liberty. Source: Daniel Schwen, available  here .

The Statue of Liberty. Source: Daniel Schwen, available here.

Throughout most of the 19th century, France had alternated between absolute monarchies, constitutional monarchies and republican forms of government, with varying degrees of power held by elected representatives. The collective psyche of the French was undergoing a monumental change in its beliefs in royal traditions, equality and religion. However, the ideals of the French Revolution had taken root and France had many influential liberals both in and out of its government bodies.

One of them was Édouard René Lefèbvre de Laboulaye, a lawyer, author, academician and anti-slavery activist. Deeply influenced by the values enshrined in the constitution of the United States, he felt France and the U.S. were common partners in promoting these values. After the Union’s victory in the U.S. Civil War in 1865, he had the idea that France should present a monument to the United States to commemorate its ideals of liberty and democracy. In this way, he wished to infuse the same ideals into the consciousness of his countrymen.


Liberty Enlightening the World

Laboulaye put forward the idea to Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the noted sculptor who had a passion for designing monumental structures. The sculptor wholeheartedly supported Laboulaye. Naming the statue was key for the project to take off. Liberty was a controversial term in 19thcentury Europe. It was associated with revolution and violence by many people. The statue had to be seen as a symbol of law and peace, showing the way to freedom. The statue called, Liberty Enlightening the World, would be an honourable and authoritative figure above political turmoil. The statue would be funded by the French and presented to the United States.

The project stalled due to the Franco-Prussian War, in which France’s emperor Napoleon III was captured and deposed. Laboulaye had been elected to the National Assemble and was instrumental in forming The Third Republic. These were ideal circumstances to generate support for the Statue of Liberty. Armed with references and letters of introduction given by Laboulaye, Bartholdi travelled to America to discuss the idea with influential people. 

As soon as Bartholdi’s ship sailed into New York Harbour, he decided that Bedloe Island, now Liberty Island, should be the site of the statue as it would be seen by all ships leaving or leaving the United States. Among the powerful people he met in America was President Ulysses S. Grant who assured him that obtaining the site would not be a constraint. Bartholdi travelled the length and breadth of America, but after returning to France, he confided to Laboulaye that the general response was not as enthusiastic as they had hoped. They decided to launch a public campaign and organized a group called the Franco-American Union.


Design and Symbolism

Bartholdi and Laboulaye had to come up with a figure that could best express the American idea of liberty. They decided on adopting the dominant image of Liberty in the United States, which was derived from the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas. However, Libertas was popular all over Europe. Artists of the 18thand 19thcenturies often used the goddess to represent democratic ideals, but often in a manner that associated her with violence. Liberty Enlightening the World had to depict peace and progress and it was decided that Liberty would wear flowing robes and would hold a torch.

The statue also needed to be crowned. There were two kinds of headwear that statues of Liberty were traditionally donned with: a pileus, a kind of cap given to freed slaves in ancient Rome, and a helmet. Bartholdi chose a diadem instead.  The crown has seven rays which form a halo. It was designed to depict the sun and the seven continents. The rays of the sun are meant to reinforce the torch, by which Liberty Enlightens the World. 

Bartholdi designed the statue with strong classical contours to best set if off against the harbour. He wanted passengers on ships entering the harbour to have altering perspectives of Liberty as they sailed towards Manhattan. Reflecting the scale of the project and its solemn objective, Bartholdi scripted his thoughts: 

The surfaces should be broad and simple, defined by a bold and clear design, accentuated in the important places. The enlargement of the details or their multiplicity is to be feared. By exaggerating the forms, in order to render them more clearly visible, or by enriching them with details, we would destroy the proportion of the work. Finally, the model, like the design, should have a summarized character, such as one would give to a rapid sketch. Only it is necessary that this character should be the product of volition and study, and that the artist, concentrating his knowledge, should find the form and the line in its greatest simplicity.


Bartholdi wanted to place a broken chain implying freedom in Liberty’s left hand but thought it would be controversial in the aftermath of the Civil War. So he placed the chain under her robes, beneath her stride, and where it would be relatively inconspicuous In her left hand, Bartholdi placed a tabula ansata, a tablet associated with law and governance. Though even the master sculptor admired the United States Constitution, he chose the Declaration of Independence to be associated with the idea of Liberty. Hence, the ‘JULY IV MDCCLXXVI’ inscription on the tablet. The height of the statue had been decided at just over 151 feet or 46 meters.


Getting to Work

By 1875, France’s economy had recovered from the war. Laboulaye decided it was time to announce the project and seek public support. The Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia seemed the best time to do it. Laboulaye formed the Franco-American Union to help in raising funds for the project. Liberty Enlightening the World would be financed and made in France and America would be required to produce the pedestal on which Liberty would be mounted. The announcement was received with general enthusiasm; as would be expected French monarchists opposed the statue, if for no other reason but to spite Laboulaye who was recently elected a senator-for-life. 

Laboulaye organized fund-raising events designed to appeal to the rich and influential. A musical held at the Paris Opera on April 25 1876, featured a new cantata composed by Charles Gounod especially for the project. It was titled La Liberté éclairant le monde, the French translation of the announced name. However, Laboulaye was able to raise funds from all sections of French society, including schoolchildren and municipalities. Laboulaye asked for support in his political rallies; descendents of the French contingent who had fought in the American War of Independence contributed. French copper industrialist Eugene Secretan donated thousands of pounds of copper.

Bartholdi began fabricating the head and diadem of Liberty and the right arm bearing the torch. In May 1876, he sailed to the United States to participate in the Centennial Exhibition as a member of the French delegation. A huge painting of the statue was displayed in New York as a part of the Exhibition. The head and arm reached Philadelphia too late to have the sculpture recorded in the exhibition catalogue, due to which few could identify it as the Statue of Liberty. However, the exhibit became popular in the closing days of the festival and people climbed up to the balcony of the torch for a better view of the fairgrounds. The head and arm were displayed in Madison Square Park in New York for several years before they were transported back to France to join the rest of the statue.

Bartholdi turned to his former trainer and mentor, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, to design the internal structure of the statue. He suggested a wooden framework with masonry compartments filled with sand be used to support the thousands of pounds of copper skin. Viollet-le-Duc also asked Bartholdi to mold light-weight copper sheets by battering them onto the wooden structure, a technique known as repoussé. He would then use armature bars to attach the molded sheets. The master also helped his former pupil in designing Liberty’s torch and her arm’s support system.

Viollet-le-Duc died unexpectedly in 1879 and Bartholdi asked Gustave Eiffel to finish the internal construction. The creator of his future eponymous landmark designed a completely new support structure for the statue but retained Viollet-le-Duc’s repoussé technique and his skilful use of armature bars.


The Pedestal

Bartholdi made a third trip to the United States and urged Americans of the Franco-American Union to raise funds for the pedestal. Laboulaye turned to his fellow Union League Club members, a group that supported the Union in the Civil War. One of the members was William Maxwell Evarts, an accomplished statesman and lawyer, who was made chairman of the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty. Committees were formed in several states but the New York committee understandably took on most of the responsibility for the pedestal. The committee included 19-year old Theodore Roosevelt, the future President of the United States. 

However, Evarts would prove to be the key figure in the success of the fundraising campaign for the pedestal. The senior statesman’s committed involvement and his social and political influence validated the campaign in the eyes of the public and press. More important was Evart’s influence in the White House and with President Grant. After much persuasion, a joint committee of Congress passed a resolution officially accepting the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France on March 3, 1877. He was also instrumental in Congress contributing $56,000 towards the pedestal.

Famous architect Richard Morris Hunt was commissioned to design the pedestal. Bartholdi, the creator of Liberty Enlightening the World imagined the pedestal as looming ‘Fortress of Liberty’. He also discussed other designs, including a stepped pyramid with Hunt. From 1882 to 1884, Hunt experimented with numerous designs of his own. The architect and the French sculptor ultimately combined the ‘Fortress’ with Hunt’s ‘Pharos I’ design inspired by the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of antiquity. Hunt’s pedestal fused in harmony with the colossal statue above it and remains an important monument in its own right.

Hunt’s other notable works include the New York Tribune building, the Lenox Library and many more. Hunt also founded the American Institute of Architects in 1857 and served as its first secretary. Hunt received $1,000 for his work on the statue, which he donated to the pedestal’s construction.

Statue of Liberty Unveiled  by Edward Moran.

Statue of Liberty Unveiled by Edward Moran.

The Symbol of Liberty

In 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated as the symbol of democracy, the ideals of the Enlightenment and equality for all. However, the struggle for liberty and justice for all was still a reality for a section of American society. African Americans were loath to embrace the symbol of a nation, which would not include them as equal citizens. The Statue of Liberty would not help them achieve equality and justice in the truest sense for another century.

America had long been a nation of immigrants, but when nearby Ellis Island became an immigration centre in 1892, the Statue of Liberty became a welcoming figure as the ships sailed into the harbour. Over time, the Liberty emerged as the ‘Mother of all Exiles’, a beacon of hope for generations of foreigners who had dreamt of a better life in the New World. President Franklin D. Roosevelt further solidified the statue as an immigration icon in his speech on its 50th anniversary when he described immigration as a central part of America’s history. However, the symbolism ignored the real difficulties of settling in the United States, particularly for immigrants from non-European countries.

The two World Wars further advanced the Statue of Liberty as an emblem of freedom for the poor and persecuted people of Europe. The islands of New York harbour had long served as military bases and the statue came to be associated with the US military as well. In wartime, the monument achieved renewed significance for soldiers sailing out to fight overseas. It became an image they may never see again. 

Pictures of the Statue of Liberty were used to sell war bonds and mobilize war efforts in the country. It also reminded Americans that the statue was a gift from embattled France. Servicemen and women returning from war were moved by the sight of Liberty as they sailed back into the harbour. Even after 9/11, the Statue of Liberty was invoked to express American horror, anguish and rage. 

The Statue of Liberty was originally intended to serve as a lighthouse under the administration of the U.S. Lighthouse board. However, though the torch had been electrified, the statue had not been designed to serve as a lighthouse. After some decades under the U.S. Department of War, the Statue of Liberty was eventually turned over to the National Park Service in 1937. Norman T. Newton, the landscape architect of the National Park Service transformed Liberty Island into a park befitting the national monument.  In 1984, the statue was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


What do you think of the importance of the Statue of Liberty? Let us know below.

This article was written by Aliasgar Abuwala of Travel Back Through Time.

The American Revolution (1776-1783) was a key event in the making of the modern world. France helped the American rebels to gain their independence in many ways. One of them was by sending black Haitian soldiers to fight at the Siege of Savannah – which is particularly curious considering the position of people of color in the thirteen colonies and Haiti at the time. Jordan Baker explains.

King Henry I of Haiti, or Henri Christophe, who is said to have been a drummer boy during the Siege of Savannah.

King Henry I of Haiti, or Henri Christophe, who is said to have been a drummer boy during the Siege of Savannah.

You've probably heard how France fought on the colonists' side in the American Revolution. But in 1776, France was a world empire, with territories in the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and India. So, when war broke out in Britain's thirteen American colonies, and Louis XVI saw an opportunity to strike a blow against his kingdom's oldest foe, France sent more than just Parisian troops. In October 1779, around 500 black Haitian soldiers reached the port of Savannah, sent by the French Empire to 'free' Georgia - one of the biggest slaveholding colonies at the time - from the British.1 So, black soldiers from France's largest slave colony, came to help give independence to British colonists who themselves enslaved black people.

It just goes to show how fluid notions of race are over time. To contemporary Americans, free black men, no matter from where they hailed, could never fight alongside white slaveowners - but they did. In fact, many of these soldiers wanted to prove just how different they were from the enslaved Africans in both Georgia and Saint-Domingue. Indeed, this dichotomy between enslaved and free blacks proved a rather common occurrence in the colonial world, as ‘freedmen’ were anxious to distinguish themselves from the lowest social class on the eighteenth-century totem pole.


Free men of color in Saint-Domingue

Since the seventeenth-century, free men of color had played a prominent role in French Saint-Domingue. Strangely enough, they often served as overseers of the island’s numerous plantations.3 In fact, many free men of color owned slaves of their own. Owning land at higher elevations in Saint-Domingue’s hill country, these black slaveowners often owned several dozen African slaves who they used to plant, grow, and harvest vast amounts of coffee and indigo.4 This group of black planters felt themselves to be every bit as French as the guy next door. I mean, why not? They spoke French, dressed like Europeans, and even owned people! But as the decades wore on, this group of free blacks became subject to ever increasing, racially-based, prejudice.5

And so they came, hoping to prove themselves the “virtuous Frenchmen” they knew themselves to be. Known as the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue, or Saint-Domingue Volunteer Infantry, this group of soldiers constituted the largest contingent of troops of African descent to fight in the American Revolution.6 According to legend, a twelve-year-old boy, named Henri Christophe, sailed with the Volontaires. Supposedly freed from slavery at an unknown, but early, age, Christophe came with the Saint-Domingue forces as a drummer boy. Twelve years later, that drummer boy enlisted in the Haitian militia, and quickly rose to the rank of officer before becoming the first President and King of Haiti.7


The Siege of Savannah

The Siege of Savannah lasted for over a month, stretching from September 16 to October 18, 1779. The Comte d’Estaing (whose full name was quite a mouthful, Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector, Comte de’Estaing) was named the commander of the Siege, responsible for taking Savannah back for the Americans. In the weeks leading up to the decisive confrontation, d’Estaing attempted to use French naval power and the presence of the American ground forces outside the city to persuade the British to surrender. Ultimately, due to British naval savvy and some luck, these efforts bore no fruit - so the French navy began to bombard the city with cannon fire. From October 3 to October 8, the city of Savannah, rather than the British defenses, suffered the destruction brought on back the cannons. But the British refused to surrender, and so, due to the outbreak of scurvy and dysentery among his ranks, and a shortage of supplies, d’Estaing was forced to assault the city.8

When the actual battle got underway, it proved disastrous to the American troops and their allied forces (including the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue). Tipped off by American deserters, the British troops defending Savannah were more than ready for the attack, easily repelling the oncoming mélange of French, American, and Haitian troops. All told, the Franco-American attackers finished the battle with 244 killed, 584 wounded, and 120 taken prisoner - a total of 948 casualties. The British, however, lost 40 men, had 63 wounded, and reported 52 missing - totaling 155 casualties.9

Due to their bravery in battle and reported loyalty to d’Estaing, the Chasseurs-Volontaires took some of the heaviest losses of any regiment. By the end of the battle, 168 Haitian soldiers lay dead, and another 411 were wounded.10But many of the Haitians present for the siege and subsequent battle survived. These survivors of the Siege of Savannah and the American Revolution in general would go on to play an important role in the liberation of their Caribbean homeland. 

While the Franco-American assault on Savannah ultimately failed, men such as Christophe brought back ideals of republicanism, and the knowledge that rising up against one’s colonial overlord was indeed possible. While not all gens de couleur fought in or supported the Haitian revolution, many came back from the Siege of Savannah battle hardened, and with the desire to form a new government in which they no longer occupied some strange middle ground between freedom and slavery.


Jordan Baker writes at the East India Blogging Company here.




1. Cindy Wong, "Savannah, Georgia: Saint-Domingueans or Haitians in the American Revolution," Miami Herald, June 2002.
3. Laurent Dubois, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804,(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 15
4. Dubois, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 16.
5. Dubois, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 16.
6. "Haitian Monument in Franklin Square, Savannah, GA"
7. "Haitian Monument in Franklin Square, Savannah, GA"

8. “Siege of Savannah,” Wikipedia 

9. Ibid

10. “Haitian Soldiers at the Battle of Savannah (1779),”

Slavery was sadly familiar during the early decades of an independent America. Here, Ian Craig discusses the failure of compromise during the years from 1789 until the US Civil War. In particular he considers the sectional divide between the North, South, and – later – Western American states.

You can also read Ian’s series on President James Buchanan and the US Civil War here.

The official White House portrait of President Zachary Taylor. Taylor played a key role in the Compromise of 1850.

The official White House portrait of President Zachary Taylor. Taylor played a key role in the Compromise of 1850.

In the history of the United States, the nation has long been divided along sectional lines, most notably North and South.  In 1789, when the Constitution became the law of the land, compromise had been used to get the states to agree on the new form of government.  The Three-Fifths Compromise was one such example.  Slavery was deeply rooted in the economy of the South, while the North began to rely heavily on its manufacturing industry. When it came time to decide representation in the new Congress, the Southern states demanded that their slave population be counted toward their population total.  Since the North did not support slave labor and had a growing abolitionist movement, it disagreed with the South’s proposal.  Instead, the authors of the Constitution, including James Madison, came up with a compromise.  The South’s total slave population would not count towards representation, only three-fifths of its slave population would be counted towards each southern states’ population.  This compromise managed to win support on both sides, but the debate and compromise over slavery did not end there.

When President Thomas Jefferson agreed to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, he had no idea that it would help spark further debates over slavery.  The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States with most of its territory lying northwest of the Mississippi River.  The acquisition of such a vast territory was seen by many Americans as progress for the young nation.  No one considered the idea that as more territory was added to the nation, that slavery’s expansion would take center stage.  In 1819, the first debate over slavery’s expansion into the western territories took place.  Missouri, which was relatively more north than south, wanted to enter the Union as a slave state.  However, this would upset the balance of power between slave and free states in the Senate.  The South needed to maintain this due to the fact that the North’s greater population often gave them more support in the House of Representatives.  In an attempt to put an end to the issue, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky came up with a compromise.  He called for slavery to be banned in the region northwest of Missouri and for Maine (formerly part of Massachusetts) to enter the Union as a free state.  This compromise was agreed to and attempted to hold the nation together for another thirty years.  However, when the compromise was passed in 1820, it merely put a temporary fix on the growing issue of slavery.  It did nothing to settle the growing sectional divide the nation was facing as well.


Sectionalism in the US

Sectionalism was deeply rooted in the United States.  When the nation was founded in 1776, many Americans had more loyalty to their individual states rather than the nation as a whole.  This was because many felt that their own state governments represented their best interests because they were their neighbors and friends in some cases. In conjunction with this, many did not trust the new federal or central government.  This goes back to the trade off between having a king thousands of miles away to having many “kings” a mere couple hundred miles away.  It was for this reason that the original government of the United States, under the Articles of Confederation, was made relatively weak.  Under the Articles, there was not one single leader, but many in a representative body or congress.  This Congress was led by a president, but this person was by no means the President of the United States.  In addition, the government had no power to collect taxes or to raise them nor could it regulate trade or create a standing army and navy to defend the nation.  In these terms, the States had all the power as it was intended to be.  Therefore, the Continental Congress had to ask the states to raise funds and relied on the states to provide their militias in times of war.  The Articles left the federal government extremely weak, the Founding Fathers did not want to have a repeat of the rule they had under King George III and Great Britain.   

The federal government would become much stronger when the Constitution was passed in 1789; however, the individual loyalty to one’s state remained.  Often America was referred to as “these United States” instead of a single nation “The United States.” It is this sentiment that began to take hold after 1820. In 1848, when the U.S.-Mexican War came to an end, more territory was added to the nation through the Mexican Cession.  This included land that would become the American southwest and California.  When gold was discovered in California in early 1848, prospectors and settlers flocked to the territory causing its population to rapidly increase.  By 1850, California was ready to enter the Union and become the thirty-first state. However, the majority of the population had come from areas that did not support slavery and as a result, California had wished to enter as a free state.


The Compromise of 1850

This concept had re-opened the door for slavery’s debate in the nation.  Although it had never gone away, it now became a topic for discussion for many. President Zachary Taylor wanted to see California admitted into the Union as soon as possible.  He recognized the sizzling debate of slavery which was growing over the nation, but he felt that a quick admission would solve the issue. In contrast, allowing California to enter the Union as a free state would upset the balance of power in the Senate. Something had to be given to the South for compensation.  This led to the Compromise of 1850 which began under Henry Clay but was resolved under Senator Stephen Douglas.  

In order to appease both sides, Douglas was able to come up with five resolutions that would require a vote. They included allowing California to enter as a free state, the ban of the slave trade in Washington D.C., the creation of a new Fugitive Slave Law, that popular sovereignty be allowed in the territories of Utah and New Mexico, and that Texas’ border dispute with New Mexico be resolved.[1]  President Taylor threatened to veto the legislation if it came to him because he did not want any chance of slavery entering the western territories.  This surprised those in the South who believed that Taylor, a Southerner himself, had betrayed them.  In July 1850, the president’s unwillingness to compromise seemed to be taking hold.  However, President Zachary Taylor died of presumed food poisoning after eating cherries and drinking a pitcher of milk.  His vice president, Millard Fillmore, had no issue signing the Compromise of 1850 as he believed he had once and for all settled the question of slavery’s expansion.  Instead, he only made the issue much worse. 


Disputes in the 1850s

The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 meant that the North no longer became a safe haven for escaped slaves.  Instead, those in the northern states were required by law to aid slave catchers in their retrieval of runaway slaves.  Any violation of the law would result in fines and even jail time.  With this act in place, the federal government was essentially allowing slavery to continue while keeping it enforced.  In the eyes of the North, this was a betrayal by the federal government as it appeared to be helping the South continue slavery not end it.  By 1854, the debate which was thought to have ended with the Compromise of 1850 heated up again.  Under the Kansas-Nebraska Act, governments were formed for the territories of Kansas and Nebraska allowing for popular sovereignty.  At the same time, the Missouri Compromise, which had banned slavery in those territories for thirty years, was repealed.  This caused much concern for those in the North.

Although the Kansas-Nebraska Act which was also authored by Stephen Douglas, attempted to appease both sides, it ended up causing much violence in the region.  When Kansas wanted to enter the Union as a free state, pro-slavery settlers from neighboring Missouri crossed the border illegally.  This resulted in the election of a pro-slavery government.  In what would become known as “Bleeding Kansas,” pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces would battle for control of the territory.  This would continue until President James Buchanan sent the military to secure fare elections; however, it wasn’t until 1861 that Kansas was admitted as a free state.  

The sectional wound that the nation felt only became worse after the 1854 Act.  “Bleeding Kansas” was a snapshot of what would come during the US Civil War.  Compromise failed in many ways, but ultimately if failed because the sectional wound between the North, South, and eventually the West, was never resolved. Each compromise or act only put a temporary bandage on a wound that needed stitches to fully heal.  However, all sides refused to find that resolution because they all believed their point of view was correct.  They did not have any regard for the integrity of the nation, instead it was for their individual homes or states.  When the Civil War broke out and South Carolina seceded from the Union, a man who would go down in history was offered a much different path. President Lincoln authorized Francis P. Blair Sr., an advisor, to offer Robert E. Lee full command of the Union Army to put down the rebellion in the South.  Despite his loyalty to the United States, Lee refused because he could not help lead an invasion of his native home Virginia and the South.  Like Lee, many others felt the same way in taking up arms to either defend or fight against the United States.


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[1]James McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction 3rded, (McGraw-Hill, 2001), 74. 

Archeologists always amaze us with their discoveries. Many of these findings are the result of many years of research. But, some of them were found accidentally by ordinary people who didn’t know that such historical treasures were only a few feet underneath them. In this article, Alex Lemaire tells us about five discoveries made by accident.

The Lascaux paintings in France. They were discovered by teenagers in 1940. Image source: Prof saxx, available  here .

The Lascaux paintings in France. They were discovered by teenagers in 1940. Image source: Prof saxx, available here.

Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter

While doing his homework, Daniel Kristiansen, a 14-year Danish boy, and his father Klaus found the wreckage of a German plane that crashed during WW2 in their family-ownedfarm.

The history teacher gave his students a school assignment about the Second World War. Daniel asked his father if he could help. Klaus wanted to teach his son about the history of the area using a different approach. He wanted his son to interact with the historical information instead of just consuming it passively.

Klaus was told by his grandfather about a German fighter that crashed in the farm in the last years of the war when Denmark was still occupied by the Nazis. He didn’t know its exact location and he didn’t expect to find anything because he thought that the wreckage was removed. However, he wantedto give it a shot.

The kid and his father used a metal detector to scan the field. And after a few moments, the device indicated the presence of some buried metal pieces. They dug for a few feet to find the plane’s engine block and the pilot’s remains. They called the authorities immediately. 

The Explosive Ordnance Disposal made sure there were no unexploded bombs and the fighter’s ammunition was safe. The archeologists examined the wreckage. They were able to identify the pilot, the date when the plane crashed and other details about its mission. The airplane’s parts were handed over to the Historical Museum of Northern Jutland Denmark.


Ötzi the Iceman

On September 19, 1991, two German tourists Helmut and Erika were walking in the mountains on the border between Italy and Austria when they found a dead body. It was well preserved; they thought it belonged to someone who recently died. They reported that to the authorities. The police came to the scene and tried to remove the body, which was buried in the glacier. But the first attempt failed due to the bad weather. The body was finally exhumed with some of the man’s belongings. Archeologists estimated that based on the axfound on the site, the dead body was four thousand years old!

Scientists examined thecorpse and the items found with it extensively. They estimate that Otzi was 45 years old when he died, was 5 feet 3 inches tall (160 centimeters), weighed 110 pounds (50 Kg), and lived somewhere between 3400 and 3100 BCE. 

The body was well preserved after all of these years because it was covered by ice moments after the death. Even the blood cells were still intact which makes them the oldest human intact blood cells ever discovered. Otzi’s body, clothes, andtools were reconstructed. They are on display on the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Italy. They offer a unique snapshot of our way of life during that era.


Hoxne Hoard

One of the most famous and precious artifacts displayed in the British Museum is the Hoxne Hoard. It consistsof 14,865 coins, 200 silver tableware,andgold jewelry. It was found on a field, in the village of Hoxne, in the UKin 1992 by Eric Lawes.

Eric’s friend, Peter, is a farmer. When he was working in his farm, he lost his hammer. He called his friend and asked him if he could give him a hand. Eric used his metal detector to look for it. Instead of finding it, he found a hoard inside a wooden box. (They later found the cheap hammer that is on display alongside the gold and silver coins and the precious jewelry in the museum).

The two men reported their discovery to the authorities. A group of archeologists unearthed the treasure and scanned the whole area with metal detectors to make sure nothing was left behind. This trove was large - the expert in the British Museum needed a month to clean and examine these relics.


Pompeii and Herculaneum

Pompeii and Herculaneum are two ancient Romancities. They were buried under feet of ash and cinder, which preserved them in very good condition for hundreds of years. They are amazing time machines that helpus visualize many aspects of Roman life 1600 years ago.

In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted sending tons of ash many miles away and burying the two cities entirely and killing thousands of people instantaneously. Organic materials were carbonized. Wooden objects like doors are still in goodshape. Human bodies turned into statues. Even foodwas preserved.

The two cities were forgotten for centuries until they were discovered while digging the foundations of a newbuilding.Herculaneum is smaller than Pompeii but its residents appear to be wealthier. Colored marble was used extensively in its houses. Around 11,000 people lived in Pompeii. This estimation is based on the number of buildings in the city.

These two cities are the largest continually exacted archeological sites in the world. Many parts of the city are still buried after centuries of hard work to unearth them. However, the biggest challenge isn’t to remove the volcanic ash, it is to preserve what has been already excavated. Because the buildings are now exposed to the elements of nature, they will deteriorate faster if measures are not taken.


Lascaux Cave

The Lascaux Cave is situated near the village of Montignac in southwestern France. Its interior walls and ceiling are covered with over 600 prehistoric paintings. The paintings depictmostly animals that lived somewhere around 17,000 years ago. Many of these animals are extinct like rhinos and lions.

Four teenagers made this discovery on September 12, 1940 after looking for their dog who had fallen into a hole. They decided to explore what’s inside. So they widened the hole and threw some rocks to estimate how deep it is. They entered the cave after they made sure it was safe to get inside and they found the jaw-dropping paintings.

The cave was opened to the public on July 14, 1948. There were around 1200 visitors per day. But the heat, humidity and the deterioration of the air quality along with other factors damaged the paintings. To protect the cave, the authorities decided to close it to the public in 1963. The Lascaux Cave was enlisted in the UNESCO's World Heritagelist in 1979. For those who want to enjoy these breath-taking paintings, you can visit Lascaux 2. It is a replica of the original cave and only a few hundred feet away from it.



Have you made any amazing discoveries? Let us know below if so.

Article written by Alex Lemaire of

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones