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Ben Thomas
Ben Thomas
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The Drunk Austrian Army That Battled Its Own Stupid Self

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Why Is Ancientness So Fascinating?

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Great Empires of Central Asia, Part 1: Primeval Beginnings

They inspired Sumerian cities, Indian trade and Persian art. Meet the most influential civilization you’ve never heard of. In the 1970s, Soviet archaeologists traveled deep into Turkmenistan’s Kara-Kum Desert, which most people can’t even point to on a map. This bleak desert might seem a strange place to seek the ruins of a lost civilization. […]

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Great African Empires, Part 6: The Tattooed Lords of the Desert

Meet the nomad warriors who conquered Egypt, battled Rome, and ruled Spain. If you grew up watching Star Wars (like I did), you probably dreamed of visiting Tatooine, the desert planet where Luke Skywalker gazed up at the twin suns and imagined becoming a Jedi. Like a surprising number of people and places in sci-fi […]

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Why Do We Fetishize History's Greatest Monsters?

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Great African Empires, Part 5: The Richest Man in History

His spending sprees were legendary. His entourage crashed whole cities’ economies. Meet the flashiest emperor in African history. Imagine a billionaire arriving with his entourage in London, or Las Vegas, or Rome; and completely taking over an entire city block— turning a five-star restaurant into his exclusive kitchen; a skyscraper into his private office; a […]

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A Triad of False Dmitriys

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The Great Emu War

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Great African Empires, Part 4: Philosopher Kings of the Sahara

They turned a Saharan trade route into a world-class center of Islamic learning. Meet the first medieval empire in West African history. Some empires blossom around central seaports, or on the banks of vital rivers. But the Kingdom of Wagadu’s wealth was born — at least, in the beginning — thanks to a tall, long-legged, bad-tempered animal. […]

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Great African Empires, Part 3: Kingdom of Gold

They traded with Egypt, Israel and Babylon. But when they turned to the Christian God, East Africa would never be the same. In the 200s CE, the Persian prophet Mani referred to the “four great powers” of the world. The first three empires are easy to guess: Rome, Persia, and China. Mani’s fourth choice might […]

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