The purpose of this list is simple: to share historical trivia which is funny, strange, bizarre, interesting, fascinating, suprising, thought-provoking, or shocking, from ancient times to modern times and everything in between. Contributions are of course welcome.
Note: This list has already been Busen Memoed by yours truly, so you don't need to bother.
Note: Most of the items are lighthearted in nature, but I don't want to ignore the darker sides of history, so I've decided to include some potentially disturbing material in a few posts. This is accompanied by this sign: -Warning-
Some spectacular marine debris washed aground in Hastings, Great Britain, on the 15th of April 1919: the German U-boat Seiner Majestät Schiff U-118. It had been surrendered by the Imperial German Navy and was towed to France for scrapping when it broke a drift. It ran aground on the beach directly in front of the Queens Hotel after midnight and it must have been quite a sight for the local population when they awoke in the morning. The Admiralty allowed the town clerk to charge a fee for people to climb on the deck, and a total of £300 was collected. Sadly, two coastguards who served as guides on board the U-boat later died due to chlorine gas which escaped from the vessel's batteries.
In 1898, the novella Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan by Morgan Robertson was published. The plot: The ocean liner Titan, described as "unsinkable", is struck by an iceberg on the starboard side an April night in the North Atlantic, 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland. The ship sinks and more than half of her 2500 passengers die; there are not enough lifeboats to save everyone.
Note: RMS Titanic was actually not described as "unsinkable" until after the disaster.
There have been some peculiar so-called demonstration sports at the Olympic Games as well:
La Canne (French cane fighting) (1924) Finnish baseball (1952) Glima (Viking martial art) (1912) Military patrol (1928, 1936, 1948) Savate (1924) Ski ballet (1988, 1992) Swedish (Ling) gymnastics (1948)
On a sidenote, the Greek Spyridon Belokas came in third place in the marathon at the first Olympic Games 1896. He was, however, disqualified for having covered part of the course by carriage rather than on foot.
The American Defense Department has confirmed the loss of 11 atomic weapons during the Cold War; how many nuclear weapons Russia lost is uncertain. All in all, it's believed that up to 50 nuclear weapons worldwide were lost during the Cold War. Of the known lost weapons, almost all of them rest in the depths of the oceans, but one lies in a swamp 20 kilometers from a city called Savannah in the American state Georgia, with a population of 100,000; the crash site remains a restricted military zone.
Chiang Wei-kuo was unique in the respect that he was the only Chinese to serve as an officer in the Wehrmacht. He was the adoptive son of Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of Kuomintang and later the President, or rather dictator, of Taiwan. He was sent to Germany by his father to get a military education at the Kriegsschule in Munich; among other things, he managed to earn the prestigious Gebirgsjäger Edelweiss sleeve insignia. Chiang Wei-kuo commanded a Panzer unit during the 1938 Austrian Anschluss as a Fähnrich, leading a tank into the country. He was then promoted to Lieutenant of a Panzer unit awaiting to be sent into Poland, but was recalled to China before he received his mobilisation order.
Some sports were not invented in the countries they are most closely associated with. Ping Pong originated in Great Britain, not China, and baseball originated in Great Britain as well, not the USA. Cricket, on the other hand, may have originated in Flanders, not Great Britain, according to recent theories.
According to the study All the Countries We've Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To by Stuart Laycock from 2012, the British have invaded almost 90 per cent of the countries around the globe; there are only 22 exceptions in total. These are the lucky 22: Andorra, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mali, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Mongolia, Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe, Sweden, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Vatican City.
Perhaps not very surprisingly, there are some cavaets: The study only covers the 192 UN member states plus Vatican City and Kosovo. It's based on current national boundaries and names, which didn't always apply when the invasions took place. Finally, the word "invasion" is used in a very broad sense in the study: any sort of military presence through force, the threat of force, negotiation, or payment; incursions by pirates, privateers, and armed explorers have also been included, provided they were operating with the approval of their government.
The first documented use of toilet paper is from 589 CE, when the Chinese scholar and government official Yan Zhitui (531–591) wrote that, "Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes".
The, probably, most massive traffic jam in history took place as recently as 2010: the China National Highway 110 traffic jam. It slowed down thousands of vehicles for more than 100 kilometres and lasted for more than ten days. Many drivers were able to move their vehicles only 1 km per day, and some drivers reported being stuck in the traffic jam for five days.
The next time you're stuck in traffic, remember that it could have been worse.
The medical term anorexia nervosa was introduced by a suspect in the Jack the Ripper case. Sir William Gull was a prominent physician and one of the Physicians-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria. In the 1970s, some "Ripperologists" claimed that the Jack the Ripper murders were a conspiracy involving the British royal family and freemasons; according to this theory, Dr. Gull committed the murders with the help of accomplices. Few Ripperologists take this theory seriously today, but Dr. Gull has nevertheless figured as the murderer in fictional accounts of the murders, most recently in the graphic novel From Hell and its film adaptation.
The largest terrestrial mammal which has ever existed, i.e. that we know of, was Paraceratherium, a hornless rhinoceros. Its shoulder height was about 6 metres and its length about 8 metres; it may have weighed as much as 20 tonnes. It roamed Eurasia 34–23 million years ago.
Paraceratherium in comparison with other rhinoceroses and man.
The wealthiest athlete in history is most probably Gaius Appuleius Diocles, a Roman charioteer active during the 2nd century CE. His winnings reportedly totaled 35,863,120 sesterces, an amount which could provide a year's supply of grain to the entire city of Rome, or pay the Roman army at its height for a fifth of a year. Gaius Appuleius Diocles' fortune is estimated to have been $15 billion, adjusted for inflation.
A historically important confrontation in modern history which is largely forgotten today is the so-called Battles of Khalkhin Gol, when the Soviet Union and the Japanese Empire clashed. The reason it's forgotten is that it took place 11 May–16 September 1939, when the world's attention was focused on the German invasion of Poland.
Basically, the conflict was a number of incidents on the border between the Soviet puppet state Mongolia and the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo, which escalated into full military confrontation. It was not simply a skirmish, though. On the Soviet side, 57,000 soldiers, 500 tanks, and 809 aircraft were deployed, and 75,000 soldiers, 135 tanks, and 250 aircraft on the Japanese side. The official casualties were 7,974 killed Soviet and Mongolian soldiers, and 8,440 killed Japanese soldiers; in reality, the Soviets probably lost around 17,000 soldiers and the Japanese around 45,000. In any case, it was a decisive Soviet victory.
Why are the Battles of Khalkhin Gol historically important then? Before 1939, the Japanese were intent on expanding into Soviet territory, but the defeat obviously deterred them. Had it not been for this confrontation, the Soviet Union and the Japanese Empire might not have negotiated and signed the Neutrality Pact in 1941, and the Soviet Union might very well have had to fight a war on two fronts with unknown consequences.
Japanese tanks advancing on the Mongolian steppes.
The first text which definitely can be labeled science fiction is True History or True Story (Ancient Greek: Ἀληθῆ διηγήματα), written by the Greek-speaking Syrian author Lucian of Samosata in the 2nd century CE. Examples of typical science fiction elements that can be found in the text are space travel, alien lifeforms, interplanetary warfare, artificial atmosphere, and colonisation of planets.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi is probably one of the unluckiest persons in history. He was on a business trip in Hiroshima when the city was bombed on the 6th of August 1945. He returned to his home city Nagasaki, and was, despite injuries, back at work when the city was bombed on the 9th of August. He suffered from radiation related ailments for many years, but managed to reach a ripe age of 93 years. Not very surprisingly, Tsutomu Yamaguchi devoted his life to campaigns for total nuclear disarmament.
There were in fact at least 165 people who were victims of both the bombings, and there's even a special Japanese name for them: nijū hibakusha. Tsutomu Yamaguchi is the only officially recognized survivor of both bombings on Japanese record, though.
When the wife of emperor Gallienus, Cornelia Salonina, was swindled into buying glass jewels insted of authentic ones by a merchant, he decided to punish the swindler in an unusual way. The merchant was sent to the Colosseum to face a ferocious lion, but when the gates opened, a chicken walked out. The herald proclaimed to the masses: "He practiced deceit and then had it practiced on him." The merchant was released, possibly with yellow stains on his tunic.
The largest and most powerful air raid siren ever constructed was the Chrysler Air Raid Siren; they were manufactured 1952-1957 in the USA. The siren was 3.7 metres long and weighed around 2.7 tonnes; it was driven by a V8 engine producing 180 horsepower. It could be heard 32-40 km away, and had an output of 138 dB. For comparison, a clap of thunder from a nearby storm can reach 120 dB, and a gunshot 140-190 dB, depending on the weapon.
The social hierarchy in Feudal Japan was a bit different from the one in Feudal Europe. Of course the shogun and the buke (aristocracy) were on top of the social pyramid, but below the top, the structure was different. Nō (pesants) had a higher standing than kō (artisans), which in turn had a higher standing than shō (merchants). They reasoned that the peasants created life and their output was absolutely essential for the survival of society. The artisans only worked with what the peasants produced and their output was less essential for the survival of society. The merchants only sold what the peasants and artisans produced and was even less essential for the survival of society.
The Kargil War, fought in 1999 between India and Pakistan is unique in two respects. First, it's the only time two states possessing nuclear weapons have been directly engaged in conventional warfare with each other; the Sino-Soviet border conflict in 1969 never developed into a full war. Second, it's the war which was fought on the highest altitude in history; it was fought entirely in the mountains of the Himalayas. The military outposts were generally located around 5,000 metres above the sea level, a few of them as high as 5,485 metres above sea level. At this altitude, the atmospheric pressure is about half of its sea-level value and the boiling point of water is a mere 83 °C. Anyway, Pakistan lost.
The first person to die in a car accident was Mrs Bridget Driscoll, who was run over by a car in London on the 17th of August 1896. The car was travelling at speed of 4 miles per hour, i.e. at walking speed.
The American industiralist and capitalist Henry Ford, famous for introducing the T-Ford, was awarded the medal Verdienstorden vom Deutschen Adler (usually translated as "Grand Cross of the German Eagle") on his 75th birthday, 30 July 1938. It was a diplomatic and honorary award given to prominent foreigners, particularly diplomats, who were considered sympathetic to Nazism. Henry Ford was a rabid anti-Semite and Adolf Hitler expressed his admiration for the man.
The oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic still in existence is San Marino, at least if the Sammarinese themselves are to be trusted. It was in any case founded on the 3rd of September 301 CE. There's a plethora of interesting historical trivia concerning this microstate, and here are a few examples:
• Since 1295, San Marino has had a standing Crossbow Corps. To this day, the members of the corps are trained crossbowmen and wear medieval uniforms; it's a purely ceremonial unit today, though.
• San Marino remained neutral during both World War 1 and World War 2, despite being completely surrounded by Italy geographically, and despite its close economic and political cooperation with its 4939 times larger neighbour. Nevertheless, it was bombed by the RAF in the summer of 1944 San Marino was bombed by the Royal Air Force and briefly occupied by the Wehrmacht in the autumn.
• During World War 2, San Marino accepted more than 100,000 Italian and Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi terror; that was approximately ten times the Sammarinese population at the time.
• San Marino had the world's first democratically elected communist government 1945-1957.
• The years 1981-2006, there was a San Marino Grand Prix. It was run in Italy, not San Marino.
• San Marino's national football team has not been particularly successful, but the fastest goal in World Cup competion was made by San Marino against England in 1993; Davide Gualtieri scored after just 8.3 seconds.
The kingdom where most pyramids were built was not Ancient Egypt, nor was it any kingdom in South America ― it was in fact Ancient Nubia, in present-day Sudan. A total of 255 pyramids were built in Ancient Nubia, compared to a total of 120 in Ancient Eypyt.
What Ancient Nubia may have looked like back in the days.