When Roman “Barbarians” Met the Asian Enlightenment

Who ruled the East while Rome ruled Europe? Meet four of the greatest empires in the history of Asia.

This week, the BBC announced the discovery of two “ethnically Chinese” skeletons at an ancient Roman burial site in England. Who were they? What drove them to the far end of the world? We don’t know, yet.

But for once, an article’s clickbait headline may not be exaggerating. If the genetic identity of these skeletons can be confirmed, it could indeed “rewrite Roman history” — or at least, a whole lot of long-held assumptions about who was in contact with whom in the days of the Roman Empire.

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A Cemetery of the Living

How my friend’s art connects Hollywood and ancient Egypt

Last weekend, I took a trip up to Milan. My friends and I hit all the usual sightseeing spots — the big famous Gothic cathedral, the sprawling neoclassical shopping mall known as the Galleria — but I had one special destination in mind.

My friend, the painter Tracy Molis, had a gallery show there.

Two things made this show especially interesting to me.

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A (Somewhat) NSFW History of Dirty Jokes

The best naughty one-liners, setups and punchlines, from the bronze age all the way to to the 20th century.

So a Sumerian walks into a bar.

Doesn’t really have to be a Sumerian, actually. A guy. Any guy.

Guy walks into a bar, orders a drink, tries to join in on the conversation. But none of the regulars seem to be telling stories or jokes. One of them just says a number — “243!” — and everyone laughs. Then somebody else answers, “17!” and everybody laughs at that.

Guy asks the bartender, “What the hell’s goin’ on in here?”

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Across the Aegean

A tale of a time when East met West

When Aristagoras, Greek sea-trader of Piraeus, first laid eyes upon the treasures amassed by his distant cousins in the Asian provinces of Lydia and Ionia, more than just his avarice was awakened. When he studied the layers of gold inlay on an earring crafted on the shores of the Oxus, and ran his hand over a luxuriant, thick robe woven high in the Zagros, he did something a Hellene rarely did:

He stared in shock.

 

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Fear and Loathing in World History

"The Opium Eater" (1913) by N. Wyeth

From hash-smoking Assassins to Nazis on meth, take a ride through the facts (and myths) of drugs in history.

“We were somewhere around Greece, at the edge of the Iron Age, when the drugs began to take hold…”

Alexander the Great probably fought his battles drunk.

I say “probably” because no historical source explicitly says this — but let’s look at the facts.

Fact 1: Alexander was a legendary high-functioning alcoholic.

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How Real Aliens Killed Sci-Fi For Me

A tale of waking up from geek dreams to geek reality

The day the ship came from the other world, Fox was bringing in the last of the fall harvest. He tossed a handful of ripe squash into one of the woven baskets that stood at intervals around his field, then stood up, cracked his back, and surveyed his work. Plenty of veggies for winter.

A young man tore through the village, breaking the silence with excited shouts. He was screaming what sounded like nonsense — some kind of gigantic craft had materialized off the coast. It had enormous white wings, and many mouths from which smoke poured. The elders were down by the shore now, debating whether to go out for a closer look.

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The “G” Word: “Gypsies” Aren’t Who You Think They Are

They’re called Roma, their culture is ancient and intriguing… and the word “gypsy” is a slur.

All right my friends, let me tell you about “Gypsies” — or as they’re actually called, the Romani people, or simply the Roma.

They’ve been in the news a few times lately for child abductions. They’ve got a reputation as musicians and fortune-tellers at best; or as thieves, pickpockets and kidnappers at worst. They’re probably from Romania, right? They must have something to do with the Romanians.

Well, not really. Not at all, actually.

 

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Time’s Orphans Have Names

A whirlwind journey into the past, guided by some of the most ancient voices on record.

The world is full of orphans.

Not just orphans in the literal sense — though there are millions of those — but people who are just lost. Disconnected from the rest of us, for all kinds of reasons.

But we can listen and try to understand them.

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