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Sparta was a city state in the southern part of ancient Greece separated from the mainland by the Gulf of Corinth. Being a Spartan was tough, but that’s how the citizens wanted it. Spartans conquered a lot of land and people around their city state. Each Spartan had a portion of land farmed for him by slaves known as helots. To keep the helots in check, the Spartans created the best military in ancient Greece.
They kept their military strong by raising boys to become warriors. When a male child was born, Sparta’s elders demanded to see him. If he seemed unhealthy in any way, the elders took the boy to the woods and left him there to die. If, however, the child had no obvious flaws, he continued to live with his parents until the age of 7.
At 7 years old, boys were enrolled in a state run school. The school didn’t require the students to learn how to read and write or do math. Instead, the students spent all of their time playing sports and learning military skills, such as how to use weapons. This might sound like fun, but the constant competition often became exhausting. Boys were forced to compete in wrestling and boxing matches. If a student lost, he was humiliated. Though they were young, they were being toughened up to serve in the military.
Another way of making the boys tougher was by not feeding them much food. Without enough food, the boys had to creep out at night and either find and kill wild animals or steal from the kitchens. The experience gave them skills needed in warfare, like how to move around stealthily in the dark and how to live off the land. Students also were not allowed to wear shoes, even in the winter.
During the last couple of years at school, students joined the Krypteia, Sparta’s intelligence agency. The goal of the Krypteia was to spy on the helots in case they were planning an uprising.
To complete their education, each student was sent out at the age of about 20 to assassinate a helot in the Spartan conquered land of Messinia. The young Spartan was sent out unarmed and without food. If he was successful, he was judged ready to be a full Spartan citizen. At this point, the young man joined a men’s club called the Syssitia where he would continue to practice warfare.
Before the pharaoh Narmer came to power in 3100 B.C., Egypt was divided into small areas called nomes. Feuds between nomes and crime in general went mostly unchecked since there was no centralized state to enforce laws. In 3100 B.C., however, Narmer succeeded in uniting the country of Egypt. He first gained control of Upper Egypt (where the river Nile begins in the South) and then defeated a coalition from Lower Egypt (where the Nile spreads into the delta region in the North).
How do we know that Narmer was responsible for the unification of Egypt? Fortunately, archeologists discovered a stone carving in the shape of a shield that documents Narmer’s achievements. The carving is called the Narmer palette.
The front of the palette shows Narmer as the largest and most central figure. He is identified by the hieroglyphs at the very top of the palette. His figure is very muscular, and he is preparing to smite an enemy with his upraised mace. On this side of the palette, he wears the white cobra crown that signifies his rule over Upper Egypt. Below the king are two naked enemies that are trampled beneath his feet. Since Narmer already wears the crown of Upper Egypt, the enemies are likely from Lower Egypt.
The back of the palette shows Narmer wearing the red vulture crown of Lower Egypt. He has clearly vanquished the enemies seen on the front and is celebrating his victory. Royal standard bearers walk ahead of the king in a procession. The procession stops in front of ten beheaded enemy bodies.
Thanks to the discovery of the Narmer palette, we have documentation for Egypt’s unification. The palette also emphasizes the strength and dominance of the pharaoh. In fact, the so-called smiting scene on the front appears repeatedly in ancient Egyptian art when a pharaoh wanted to document a victory.
Queen Nefertari was Ramesses II’s first and favorite wife. Archeologists know that she was not born a princess, but this wouldn’t have bothered Ramesses since his father Seti I became pharaoh after his birth. During their twenty or so years of marriage, Nefertari had six children. Since Ramesses II reigned for 66 years, however, none of these children outlived their father. Fortunately, he had other wives and over 100 children. Yet none of these family members got the same recognition as Nefertari.
Nefertari is shown alongside her husband during royal ceremonies but doesn’t take a particularly active role. No records exist that describe her personality. We do know that Ramesses II favored her, however. She was sometimes referred to as Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt. Usually the king called himself ruler of the two lands of Egypt and did not share the title with his queen.
The other reason we know Ramesses was especially fond of her was because of the monuments he dedicated to her. At the Lesser Temple of Abu Simbel in Nubia, there are four enormous statues of Ramesses and two of Nefertari. Unlike temples given to other queens, Nefertari’s statues are of the same size and scale as her husband’s. Just in case anyone doubted Ramesses’ affection for her, he had the temple inscribed: “Ramesses II has made a temple, excavated in the mountain, of eternal workmanship…for the chief Queen Nefertari beloved of Mut…Nefertari…for whom the sun shines.”
In addition to the temple at Abu Simbel, Nefertari has one of the most elaborate and beautifully decorated tombs in the Valley of the Queens. The Valley is west of Thebes, which was Egypt’s capital during Ramesses II’s reign. The sarcophagus that held Nefertari’s body and her grave goods are long gone, but the paintings on the tomb walls are stunning. The images in the tomb are only meant to ease Nefertari’s passage into the afterlife. There are no details about her life on earth. In fact, the paintings were never meant to be seen by humans after Nefertari’s burial.
Various gods and goddesses are shown leading Nefertari on her journey to the afterlife. Nefertari’s image is youthful. She wears a flowing white gown with pleats tied at the waist. On her head is a crown with golden feathers which she wears on top of her dark wig. In one scene, she is led by hand by the goddess Isis to the god Khepri, who symbolized the sun. Another wall shows Nefertari bringing offerings of food to Osiris (god of the afterlife) and Atum (the creator god). The deities assure Nefertari that a place has been prepared for her in the afterlife.
In a later scene, several gates that lead to the underworld are shown. The nearby hieroglyphs function as a sort of cheat sheet, providing the names of the gates and their guardians so that Nefertari will pass though them easily. The journey to the afterlife is a difficult one, but Nefertari is ultimately successful.
President George W. Bush came into office with a dog who was already very familiar with the White House. Spot, or Spotty as family members called her, was the daughter of the first president Bush’s English springer spaniel Millie. Spot was named after Scott Fletcher, the shortstop on the Texas Rangers baseball team. She loved the outdoors and chased birds grasshoppers and anything else she could find at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. Like many White House dogs she welcomed visitors to the Oval Office. President Bush said, “Spot understands the decorum of the Oval Office, so she gets to go in.”
In 2001 Spotty was no longer the Bush family’s only dog. Barney the Scottish terrier arrived shortly after the 2000 presidential election. Though he was more hyperactive than Spot, the dogs became fast friends. Barney lost his companion in 2004. Spot was euthanized at age 14 after having several strokes.
During his master’s time in office, Barney became a media star. He had his own website and “Barney cam” showed videos from his perspective of White House visitors and staff. The public looked forward to these videos on YouTube during Christmas time. President Bush called First Dog Barney “the son I never had.” Barney loved to play ball on the White House lawn and his favorite activity at Camp David was chasing golf balls. Though he was happy-go-lucky with the family, he didn’t like all humans. As First Dog he bit a reporter and another White House visitor. In contrast, he did get along with Miss Beazley, a Scottish terrier puppy given to Laura Bush from her husband as a birthday gift in 2004.
Miss Beazley was named after a character in the children’s book The Enormous Egg. Perhaps Barney liked her because she was actually Barney’s niece. Anyway the feeling was mutual and Miss Beazley was a great friend to Barney. After Barney’s death from cancer at age 12 Laura Bush said, “Miss Beazley really seems to be sad… She seems a little lost looking for Barney.” After her own fight with cancer, Miss Beazley died in May 2014. George W. Bush gave Miss Beazley credit for never holding a grudge against Barney even though he got so much of the nation’s attention.
President Obama promised his daughters they would get a puppy if he won the election in 2008. After his win, there was much speculation both at the White House and in the press about which dog the Obamas would get. Because of daughter Malia’s allergies the family looked for a non-shedding dog. They were torn between a Labradoodle and a Portuguese water dog. The late Senator Ted Kennedy lobbied for the Portuguese water dog who got the president’s vote. In April 2009, Kennedy and his wife gave the president a puppy that would soon become Bo Obama.
The pup was named Bo after the first lady’s father whose nickname was “Diddly.” The American Kennel Club states that the Portuguese water dog “has the ability to swim all day,” but Bo doesn’t particularly enjoy the water. In fact, he can’t swim! Fortunately swimming is not required to be a presidential pet.
Bo proved to have many admirable qualities, however. He became the star of various children’s books including one entitled Bo: America’s Commander in Leash. Like other first dogs before him, Bo oversaw meetings and greeted guests in the Oval Office. He helped Michelle Obama when reading to kids and usually managed to steal the show. For example, during a reading of The Night before Christmas at a children’s hospital, Bo jumped into Mrs. Obama’s lap. He even helped with the 2012 presidential campaign by starring in an ad. In the ad, voters were encouraged to “throw a bone to Bo.”
In August 2013, a female Portuguese water dog named Sunny joined Bo at the White House. It was easy enough for guests to tell the two dogs apart. Bo has some white fur on his front paws and chest and black fur everywhere else, while Sony’s coat is completely black. Both dogs became so popular they eventually had schedules like the president. Notable occasions that they attended included the annual Easter Egg Roll. They also cheered up wounded servicemen and hospitalized children.
Though they did many things together, the dogs had their differences. Bo had a job as a helper to the head groundskeeper Dale Haney at the White House. Mrs. Obama said, “he leaves every morning and he goes down with Dale and he’s with all the National Park Service guys. And you’ll see him and he is like walking around with them, and looking at the plants. I think he thinks he has a job because he takes it very seriously.” Although she was usually as good tempered as Bo, Sunny seemed disappointed that she and her family would have to leave the White House in 2017. In January, the dog bit a visitor when she bent down to pet Sunny.
Overall the two dogs represented their master well. President Obama did have to promise to “clean things up a bit” before leaving the White House because the dogs had “been tearing things up occasionally.”
As Queen of England, Victoria was expected to produce an heir. Soon after her coronation in 1837 a search for a husband started. Since the Queen of England ruled in her own right, finding a husband presented some unique issues since there was really no precedent. Queen Elizabeth I ruled alone but never married. In the end Victoria chose her German cousin on her mother’s side. He became known in England as Prince Albert.
The extraordinary circumstances of their marriage were no doubt helped by the fact that Victoria and Albert were very much in love with each other. Prince Albert soon carved out his own role beside Victoria. He served as her private secretary and closest advisor. He often stood in for her when she was feeling particularly unwell during one of her nine pregnancies. Albert also influenced Victoria with his interest in science and technology. As a result the queen remained a patron of both throughout her reign.
Husband and wife and their nine children made for quite a happy family. Though it has been said that Victoria did not like children, this was mostly true of children six months of age and younger. Like most women, she did not enjoy the experience of childbirth. In contrast to Victoria, Albert liked the company of very small children. The Queen admitted that Albert made a better nurse than she did after the birth of their first child and later reminded her daughter “dear Papa always directed our nursery and I believe that none was ever better.”
Victoria had many photographs and portraits made of her and her family, although she was often away on official business. Neither mother nor father could spend as much time with the children as they would’ve liked, but this was common among wealthy British families. Both parents took a keen interest and concern in their children’s education. They tended to stay away from the traditional clerics and selected more liberal tutors.
Albert and Victoria’s personalities also balanced one another out. Albert had tendency to be serious, while Victoria appeared more serious in portraits than in real life. Many people who met her in person were surprised to see Victoria smile and laugh so often.
When Albert died in 1861, the Queen was devastated. After his death, she wrote “What a dreadful going to bed! What a contrast to that tender lover’s love! All alone!” Victoria mourned in private for almost three years until she was finally seen in public riding in her carriage.
Princess Alexandrina Victoria, born in spring of 1819 in Kensington Palace, London was an unlikely successor to the English throne. Her older uncles were expected to produce heirs. King George IV had one child named Charlotte who died in childbirth. King William IV succeeded George IV but had no legitimate children.
When Victoria’s father the Duke of Kent noticed that his brothers were failing to produce children, he decided that he should start a family. His search for a wife ended with the Dowager Princess of Leinigen who already had two young children by her first marriage. As a child with an English father and a German mother, Victoria soon mastered both languages.
Since she was not initially expected to be heir to the throne, Victoria’s early childhood was less restricted than it was later on. She enjoyed going to concerts and the theater. After attending a concert or play, she would often dress up her dolls as her favorite characters or she would draw sketches of them.
Like other young girls, Victoria loved to play with dolls although she had a few more than most. With help from her governess Louise Lehzen she made beautiful clothes for her collection of over 100 dolls. Though the dolls were put away when she grew up, Victoria continued to be an avid sketcher and painter throughout her life. As a child she particularly loved to draw her pet dog Dash.
Though the future Queen Victoria had multiple pets including some very fast horses, Dash the Cavalier King Charles spaniel was her favorite. She loved him so much that after her coronation she rushed home to give him a bath.
Her female companions consisted of her mother, with whom she had a complex relationship, her half-sister Feodora, and her German governess Baroness Lehzen. Feodora was 12 years older than Victoria. She married a German prince in 1828 and went to live with him, leaving Victoria without one of her favorite companions. After one of Feodora’s visits an emotional 15-year-old Victoria said, “I clasped her in my arms and kissed her and cried as if my heart would break; so did she, dearest Sister.” The two would correspond and visit each other throughout their lives.
When it became clear that Victoria was next in line to the throne, her mother decided to employ the so-called Kensington System for Victoria’s remaining upbringing. At all times Victoria was to be accompanied by an adult; she even had to sleep in the same room as her mother until she became queen at age 18.
Victoria’s mother had a bad habit of listening to her advisor Sir John Conroy who wanted only to enhance his own power. Victoria’s mother took a great deal of bad advice and never completely understood her adopted country, but her two daughters Fedora and Victoria were successful and accomplished young women. Despite her mother’s faults, it is likely that the Duchess had something to do with Victoria’s character.
Though her closeness with Baroness Louise Lehzen would complicate her adult relationships, when she was younger Victoria believed her to be nearly perfect. She was Victoria’s closest companion and someone she in whom she could safely confide.
Victoria’s father the Duke of Kent died when she was an infant, and the scheming Sir John Conroy was certainly not someone that Victoria could look up to as a father figure. That role was filled by her Uncle Leopold. He was her uncle from her mother’s side and eventually became King of the Belgians in 1831. He tried to give Victoria advice on how she should behave and to prepare her for the possibility of becoming queen. He told her “high personages are a little like stage actors – they must always make efforts to please their public.” Victoria relied on Leopold’s letters and took his advice to heart.
At the age of 18, Victoria learned that she was to become queen of England. She remembered, “I cried much on learning it and even deplored this contingency.”
In honor of Presidents’ Day weekend and African-American History Month, I am revisiting this post from last year on Abraham Lincoln.
Until the 1850s Abraham Lincoln was a frustrated one-term congressman who had decided to focus on his law practice. Lincoln was drawn into politics again during the Kanas Nebraska Act controversy. While he accepted slavery where it existed, he couldn’t abide its expansion into new territories.
He was not in favor of giving blacks full citizenship, however. In 1840 he criticized Martin Van Buren for voting to enfranchise blacks, and he did not support giving blacks the vote in his bid for the U.S. Senate against Stephen Douglas. He believed that blacks had the right to earn their own living without it being taken away by their masters. Though he lost to Douglas, the debates helped raise Lincoln’s political profile.
Although he did not officially campaign for the nation’s highest office, Lincoln cleverly placed himself in the public eye. Prior to the election he had the debates with rival Stephen Douglas published; the volume became a national bestseller. He also travelled to New York so people in that part of the country could listen to his arguments and see his talent as a public speaker.
While in New York he had his photograph taken so it could be handed out just in case his name was mentioned at the Republican convention. After he was elected, more than sixty photos were taken of Lincoln, making him the most photographed president up to that time. Though opponents often made fun of his plain, slightly unkempt appearance, Lincoln also poked fun at himself. After being called two-faced, Lincoln said, “If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?”
Unlike Buchanan, who claimed that he could do nothing if a state wanted to leave the Union, Lincoln refused to bargain with secessionists and sent supplies to the federal fort in South Carolina. He also rejected the idea that the president could do nothing about slavery. While maintaining the Union was his first objective, he said that if freeing the slaves would save the Union he would free them.
Lincoln remained a great politician during the Civil War. He gave out contracts and government offices in exchange for votes. Yet he also knew how to unite people behind a moral cause such as the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery.
As the war drew to an end, he offered friendship to the defeated Southerners “with malice toward none, with charity to all.” Americans can only imagine what Lincoln would have accomplished during his second term in office. On April 14, 1865, he was the first president to be assassinated.
In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the slave Douglass searches for a sense of identity on a Maryland plantation. He is unsure of even the most basic things such as his birthday because slaveowners did not want to tell their slaves when their birthdays were. Even as a child this bothers Frederick. He estimates his age as about 27 or 28 years when he’s writing this narrative. Douglass also has a crisis of identity because he is half black and half white. While his mother was black and a slave, his father was white and also very possibly one of his former masters. He suggests that mixed-race children have a particularly difficult time fitting in in 19th-century society. For one thing, their mistresses resent them because they are a constant reminder of their husbands’ unfaithfulness. As a result, few children of slave owners can please their mistresses.
Douglass is also deprived of having a relationship with his mother, which would give him a sense of self. He is separated from her when he is a baby and only sees her a few times in his entire life. As a result, he reacts to his mother’s death the same way that he would react to hearing about the death of the stranger. Cutting family ties was another way that slave owners used to deprive slaves of their identity.
Slaves could not even distinguish themselves through their clothing since they all received the same clothing allowance. As a child Frederick and the other slave children only had two coarse linen shirts each year. When they outgrew them, children went naked until the next allowance came around.
One of the only ways that a slave on the plantation could distinguish him or herself was by being chosen to run an errand at the main building on the plantation. It was called the Great House Farm. Douglass states, “Few privileges were esteemed higher, by the slaves of the out-farms, than that of being selected to do errands at the Great House Farm…A representative could not be prouder of his election to the American Congress than a slave on one of the out-farms would be of his election to do errands at the Great House Farm. They regarded it as evidence of great confidence reposed in them by their overseers; and it was on this account as well as a constant desire to be out of field from under the driver’s lash, that they esteemed it a high privilege, one worth living for.” It’s difficult to imagine feeling one’s life worth living simply to run an errand, but such was the state of slaves on Col. Lloyd’s plantation.
Slaves were almost always illiterate. They did have other ways of expressing themselves however, particularly through their singing. Douglass notes that slaves did not, as some whites thought, sing because they were happy. In fact, they sang most often when they were unhappy. He writes, “every tone was a testimony against slavery and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness.”
At around seven years old, Douglass leaves the Lloyd plantation to live with his master’s son-in-law in Baltimore. He is now a town rather than a plantation slave, which gives him a few more privileges such as additional food. His mistress teaches Douglass his ABC’s and he learns a few short words. She is stopped, however, by her husband, who suggests that Douglass would not be fit to be a slave if he learned to read and write. “He would at once become unmanageable and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” Douglass writes, “from that moment I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.” Douglass understands that he’ll be able to forge a new life and identity for himself if he learns how to read. He can’t use his mistress as a teacher, but he manages to get reading lessons from the poor white children in the city. He had one advantage over them. Bread was given freely to him, and so he exchanged bread for as he calls it the bread of knowledge.
To some extent, his master is right. The ability to read does make Douglass more unhappy as a slave. “It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy.” He now has knowledge but is powerless to use it just yet. He dreams of escaping from his master but in the meantime determines to learn how to write. Again he uses the boys in the town to help them accomplish this by challenging them to write more words than he can. By the time he is between 10 and 11 years old, Douglass can read and write. He now has two of the tools he’ll need to forge his new identity as an escaped slave.