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Free for All Friday, 21 June, 2024

It's Friday everyone, and with that comes the newest latest Free for All Friday Thread! What books have you been reading? What is your favourite video game? See any movies? Start talking!

Have any weekend plans? Found something interesting this week that you want to share? This is the thread to do it! This thread, like the Mindless Monday thread, is free-for-all. Just remember to np link all links to Reddit if you link to something from a different sub, lest we feed your comment to the AutoModerator. No violating R4!

11:00 UTC


Mindless Monday, 17 June 2024

Happy (or sad) Monday guys!

Mindless Monday is a free-for-all thread to discuss anything from minor bad history to politics, life events, charts, whatever! Just remember to np link all links to Reddit and don't violate R4, or we human mods will feed you to the AutoModerator.

So, with that said, how was your weekend, everyone?

12:15 UTC


Geopold: Vietnam vs the West


Although it is pretty much a meme video, many in the comment section were genuinely saying that it was more accurate than wEsTeRn accounts of the Vietnam War, so I just had to address it. Note that I will cover the second half as it is more serious.

So from 1889 to 1954, Vietnam was part of French Indochina and whilst the colonial French did some pretty awful things to prop up Catholicism in the region, I won't lie, it did result in some of the best food known to man being invented.

Here, Geopold shows images of bánh mì and phở.

For bánh mì, the French influence is obvious. But for phở, while the modern rendition was the result of high French demand for beef, the basic structure of having meat within a noodle soup was technically already present in Vietnamese cuisine.

And honestly, even without French-influenced dishes, Vietnamese food would still be great. For instance, give me any of bánh khúc, bánh giò/gói, or bánh bột lọc over bánh mì. Likewise, give me any of bún bò huế, bún thịt nướng, or mì Quảng over phở bò or phở gà.

One very important thing to mention though is that the Viet Minh were Communists therefore the schizo paranoid Americans supported the French and China who was Communist backed the Viet Minh.

These points are only true for the second half of the First Indochina War. For the first half, the United States did not support the French until the outbreak of the Korean War, while Communist China would only begin supporting the Việt Minh after the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

And prior to 1951, many Catholic militias were actually aligned with the Việt Minh, so it is not as if the organization were completely communist for the whole duration of the war. Note that they would switch to the French Union after they began to increasingly perceive the Việt Minh as a front for global communism that was hiding under the guise of national independence.

Instead, along with some other groups, they would put their hopes in the "gradualist" solution of Bảo Đại's State of Vietnam eventually earning more and more autonomy under the French Union over time. Of course, over the course of the First Indochina War, their enthusiasm for this political arrangement would proceed to decline steadily, leading many to instead give their support to a growing anti-communist, nationalist coalition led by Ngô Đình Diệm (yes, him).

However, it wasn't a full victory, really, as the country got split up in 1954 into the State of Vietnam and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Catholics fled south, Communists fled north.

Note that Geopold also includes "western" and "capitalist" with the "Catholics," then "rural" and "Viet Minh" for the "Communists."

First, it must be observed that approximately 209,000 Buddhists moved south in the post-Geneva migration period. Obviously, this number is far less than the corresponding number of Catholics (about 676,000), but it is actually enough to exceed the number of people moving north. Hence, depicting the northern movement and southern movement as being equivalent in scale is somewhat misleading.

It is also important to note that some Northern Catholics made the decision to actually stay in the DRV rather than move southward. For instance, Trịnh Như Khuê, the archbishop of Hà Nội, chose to remain in the North, which explains why a smaller proportion of Catholics migrated out of the capital than was initially expected. And the diocese of Hưng Hóa (roughly corresponding to modern-day Northwestern Vietnam) would also see a relatively low rate of emigration due to its distance from the ports of exit.

And just before anyone brings it up, the CIA did release propaganda pamphlets urging people to leave the DRV, with this initiative having been overseen by Edward Lansdale. This fact has led some to conclude that the refugees were merely brainwashed by the CIA and that they did not really want to leave, something which was claimed by the North Vietnamese Politburo at the time as well.

However, the more probable reasons for the large difference in migration numbers were that many Catholics had a genuine fear of communist persecution, and also the fact that they were attracted to the Catholic-led South Vietnamese government. Indeed, Peter Hansen observed that among the surviving refugees he interviewed, practically no one had even seen the aforementioned pamphlets, so their impact was most likely marginal at best.

The South had this U.S backed president [Ngô Đình Diệm]...he violently suppressed any critics

True. No wonder Hồ Chí Minh invited Diệm to serve on the DRV cabinet in 1946.

rigged elections

The 99% result in the picture was that of the 1955 State of Vietnam referendum, which Diệm probably would have won anyways because Bảo Đại was that unpopular.

Of course, besides possibly the 1956 Constitutional Assembly elections, all of his electoral successes were rigged, so I am fine with criticizing him on this matter.

destroyed Rural Life

I will assume that Geopold is referring to the Strategic Hamlet program.

For areas controlled by the NLF (about 1/3 of the Southern countryside in 1960 to my understanding, but I may be mistaken), the program obviously did not change things.

For the remaining areas, the program ranged from being completely ineffective to being devastating for the families who had to move from their ancestral lands. The latter group would have the right to claim that their lives were ultimately upended by Diệm, but it is an exaggeration to suggest that Diệm somehow destroyed rural life.

and worst of all spoke French

Pretty much every Vietnamese political leader who grew up during the colonial era—whether for the DRV or for VNCH—spoke French. To demonstrate this point, here are three videos depicting Vietnamese communist leaders speaking French.

Phạm Văn Đồng

Võ Nguyên Giáp

Hồ Chí Minh

So his oppressed population started to travel North using the Ho Chi Minh trail to temporarily stay away from his regime, many of who joined the Viet Cong, Ho Chi Minh's Army.

...I have never seen anyone make this bizarre claim until now.

The Ho Chi Minh trail, otherwise known by its endonym Đường Trường Sơn, was meant to supply communist forces in Southern Vietnam. The logistical network would develop tremendously over the course of the war, and it is rightfully considered one of the greatest feats in military history.

But it was not used as a way for people to escape Diệm's regime, nor was such a use an intent of the North Vietnamese government. And even if people had tried to do so, the trail was an extremely difficult trek through the wilderness at the time of Diệm's rule, only becoming proper roads later on in the conflict. Considering that well-trained soldiers were barely able to make the journey southward, civilian refugees would have had a tough time, to say the least.

And as for the VC, it was not formed by oppressed refugees who had fled northward. Instead, it was—through Northern support and coordination—formed from the small number of Việt Minh who stayed behind in the South after the post-Geneva migration period. Note that there was significant debate within the North Vietnamese Politburo on whether to spark a directly military confrontation with the US/VNCH or to instead gradually build up North Vietnam's economy and wait for a peaceful unification.

See this handsome man JFK. Well, he started sending a lot of aid to South Vietnam in order to stop the spread of Communism, something he had failed to do many times before.

Both of Truman and Eisenhower's foreign policies were defined by attempts to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. It is odd to portray JFK as the first U.S. President to try to aid South Vietnam.

However, both him and Diệm suspiciously got smoked in 1963.

For JFK, it is obvious who killed him. Someone even took a picture of the assassin right at the crime scene!

But for Diệm, the reality was that the coup which overthrew him was planned and organized by a group of South Vietnamese generals, including but not limited to Trần Thiện Khiêm and Tôn Thất Đính, the latter mistakenly being perceived by the Ngô brothers as a key ally. The extent of the CIA's intervention was that they knew about the plot and ultimately approved it because of the growing instability within South Vietnam, which was perceived as undermining the fight against communism.

Without the CIA, it is likely that the coup would have occurred anyways, just like Nguyễn Chánh Thi and Vương Văn Đông's coup attempt in 1960 and the bombing of the Independence Palace by two disgruntled RVNAF pilots in 1962. Such context helps explain why the Ngô brothers themselves were in a position to have already known about an additional coup being planned against them by 1963, and they bizarrely sought to plan their own counter-coup that would eliminate the prospective rebels. Hence, it cannot be said that the coup d'etat completely took the Ngô brothers and their close allies by surprise.

It should also be noted that Diệm's assassination was not the intent of the coup—both the generals (with the possible exception of Dương Văn Minh, and not even initially) and the Kennedy administration generally wanted a bloodless exile.

However, Diệm and his brother Ngô Đình Nhu would be killed in the APC that was supposed to take them to Tân Sơn Nhứt Airport. It may have been due to Minh's orders, with the general being bitter from the fact that the Ngô brothers had escaped Gia Long Palace prior to being captured in Chợ Lớn, thereby making Minh lose face once he showed up to the palace expecting to see them. It also could have been due to a shouting match between Nhu and Captain Nguyễn Văn Nhung turning deadly, culminating in the captain stabbing Nhu to death and shooting Diệm multiple times with his revolver, as noted by Colonel Dương Hiếu Nghĩa. Note that the two officers were in the APC along with the brothers.

But what is clear is that the overwhelming majority of the generals involved in the coup were shocked by the bloody outcome. Much of the regret was made towards Diệm's death only, since Nhu was the mastermind behind many of Diệm's controversial policies and therefore much more disliked, but the generals' reaction still demonstrates that killing the bothers was not the initial intent of the coup. As for the Americans, JFK himself would be reportedly shaken and dismayed by the news of the Ngô brothers. He would go on to blame not only himself, but also Trần Lệ Xuân, better known as Madame Nhu since Nhu was her husband.

“That goddamn b*tch. She’s responsible for the death of that kind man. You know, it’s so totally unnecessary to have that kind man die because that b*tch stuck her nose in and boiled up the whole situation down there.”

It would have been insane to hear about this stuff in a meme video, but oh well.

Now, we got this guy [LBJ] who lied about a U.S boat being attacked.

The first Gulf of Tonkin incident actually happened, but the second incident which was used to justify further American involvement in the conflict was indeed fabricated.

During a usually peaceful national holiday in 68, the Viet Cong took the South by surprise storming some of the western strongholds.

The People's Army of Vietnam also participated in the Tết Offensive. And as a matter of fact, the North Vietnamese Politburo was the entity that organized the offensive in the first place, with the operation specifically being the brainchild of Văn Tiến Dũng and Lê Duẩn, both of whom having used past ideas from the late Nguyễn Chí Thanh.

Võ Nguyên Giáp is popularly viewed as the mastermind of the offensive, but he was actually in such disagreement with the proposal that around the time of the plan's approval, he suddenly traveled to Hungary for "medical treatment." He would not return to Vietnam after the offensive had already started. But regardless of who exactly planned it, the operation was certainly not some spontaneous, grassroots effort by Southern Vietnamese communists.

And whether "western" is used in a literal geographic sense or in an ethnic sense (referring to the Americans/Australians/New Zealanders), it is incorrect either way. Attacks occurred all across Vietnam, not just in Miền Tây or the Central Highlands, which are the "western" areas of South Vietnam to some degree, although the country itself is quite thin so what counts as "Western Vietnam" is up to interpretation. ARVN and South Korean units were also heavily involved, so it was not just Western units participating in the fighting.

Nationwide protests and Nixon started to withdraw troops in 1969 with the intention of training and leaving South Vietnamese soldiers in control which still to this day is actually the most successful and effective U.S military tactic and then in 1973 all the American troops left. Can you maybe possibly slightly somewhat guess what happens next?

Superpedantically, the assertion that all the American troops left in 1973 is problematic in multiple ways.

While it is true that all ground units were gone by 1973, the last major operation to involve US ground units would technically be Operation Lam Sơn 719 in 1971. The intent of this operation was to invade Laos and interdict the PAVN logistical centers that were quite literally the lifeline of communist forces in the South. American units would only operate either in South Vietnamese territory to help make way for the invasion or provide helicopter support/transport when in Laos proper. Note that the offensive was originally designed and planned with 60,000 American ground troops in mind, rather than the 20,000 South Vietnamese troops that were actually used in reality.

But from another perspective, the last American infantrymen to leave Vietnam technically did so in April 1975. These were the Marines posted at the US Embassy at Saigon as embassy guards, all being genuinely concerned that they would be left behind.

Regardless, the more important question is whether the withdrawal of US ground units caused the fall of South Vietnam. Considering the fact that the Easter Offensive in 1972 ultimately failed, the answer to that question would technically be a no because American ground troops did not participate in the campaign.

Instead, the severe cut in logistical support given to South Vietnam should be seen as far more important when it comes to analyzing US actions. Indeed, by 1975, ARVN artillery batteries that were used to firing 100 shells a day would now only be able to fire 4 shells a day. RVNAF sorties would also be cut in half by the final year of the conflict. And ARVN infantrymen would be limited to about 85 rounds of rifle ammunition per month, which is absurd considering the common estimate that it required 50,000 rounds to kill one enemy during the Vietnam War.

I mean it was always obvious who was gonna win just by the quality of their flags. The Viet Cong flag is almost just an aesthetically pleasing version of America's. And don't get me started on South Vietnam's flag.

Debatable. I have even seen a few leftists begrudgingly admire the appearance of the VNCH flag, but both designs are solid in my opinion.

It also would have been more fair to use the DRV flag for the comparison.


Hammer, Ellen J. A Death in November: America in Vietnam, 1963. New York, NY: E. P. Dutton, 1987.

Hansen, Peter. “Bắc Di Cư: Catholic Refugees from the North of Vietnam, and Their Role in the Southern Republic, 1954–1959.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 4, no. 3 (October 2009): 173-211.

Head, William P. "They Called Defeat 'Victory': Lam Son 719 and the Case for Airpower." Air Power History 63, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 7-26.

Li, Xiaobing. Building Ho's Army: Chinese Military Assistance to North Vietnam. Lexington, KY: Kentucky University Press, 2019.

Miller, Edward. Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

Miller, Edward. “Vision, Power and Agency: The Ascent of Ngô Ðl̀nh Diệm, 1945-54.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 35, no. 3 (October 2004): 433-458.

Nguyễn Phi Vân. “Fighting the First Indochina War Again? Catholic Refugees in South Vietnam, 1954–59.” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 31, no. 1 (March 2016): 207-246.

Pribbenow, Merle L. "General Võ Nguyên Giáp and the Mysterious Evolution of the Plan for the 1968 Tết Offensive." Journal of Vietnamese Studies 3, no. 2 (June 2008): 1-33.

Trần Văn Trà. Vietnam: History of the Bulwark B2 Theatre. Volume 5: Concluding the 30-Years War. Joint Publications Research Service, 1983.

Veith, George J. Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75. New York, NY: Encounter Books, 2011.

Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954–1975. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. Translated by Merle L. Pribbenow, 2015.

21:57 UTC


Free for All Friday, 14 June, 2024

It's Friday everyone, and with that comes the newest latest Free for All Friday Thread! What books have you been reading? What is your favourite video game? See any movies? Start talking!

Have any weekend plans? Found something interesting this week that you want to share? This is the thread to do it! This thread, like the Mindless Monday thread, is free-for-all. Just remember to np link all links to Reddit if you link to something from a different sub, lest we feed your comment to the AutoModerator. No violating R4!

11:00 UTC


Brief response to an article that weirdly claims the British Empire did not take a "spoils approach"

I’m expanding on my comment from earlier, about a terrible newspaper article I saw. The article is drivel from start to finish, but here are some “highlights”:

In reality, some empires - French, Spanish, Portuguese and others in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia in previous centuries - took a spoils approach, while others, like the British, progressively developed their colonies economically and politically.

I'm imagining historians of the British empire having an aneurysm reading this. I guess we’re expected to believe that an empire that enslaved more than three million people (1) did not take spoils. Lol. Lmao even.

Can anyone seriously maintain that if Europeans had never colonized North America or Africa, bringing Christianity in their wake, indigenous peoples would have abolished the endemic slaving practices in their cultures?

Well, yes actually. We don't need to speculate about counterfactuals, because there were in fact quite a few Native American societies with no tradition of slavery. As David Graeber and David Wengrow point out, many of the Indigenous societies in present-day California, such as the Maidu and Wintu among others, did not practice it. They in fact argue that slavery was “likely abolished multiple times in history in multiple places”. (2)

Two more things are worth emphasizing. One, Native American forms of slavery were in most cases vastly different from the sort of commodified chattel slavery practiced in the Atlantic world. Slavery is always violent and dehumanizing, and it would be ridiculous to claim that Native American traditions of slavery were not. But it's just as ridiculous to pretend that slavery was essentially the same everywhere. Euro-American colonial powers also undoubtedly practiced slavery on an unprecedented scale. Regarding North America, for example, the historian Robbie Ethridge notes:

Slavery was not new to North American Indians at contact; most Native groups practiced an Indigenous form of slavery in which war captives sometimes were put into bondage. Large-scale captive taking, such as occurred during the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, however, was most likely not conducted during the precontact era but came about with the colonial commercial slave trade. (3)

Or as Camilla Townsend writes:

There has recently been explosive growth in the study of contact-era enslavement of indigenous peoples not only by Europeans but also by other indigenous peoples. (…) The widespread social destruction in certain regions in certain periods now appears almost unfathomable; all seem to agree that although the patterns of enslavement were in place long before, the extent of the phenomenon that unfolded could only have occurred in the presence of Europeans. It does not seem likely that the next generation will have recourse to the notion that responsibility for the enslavement that occurred ultimately lies at the feet of Native Americans themselves, as happened for a while in scholarship on the African slave trade. The nature of slavery in precontact America differed profoundly from the institution introduced by Renaissance Europeans. (4)

See also the work of Andrés Reséndez, Nancy van Deusen, and other leading experts on Indigenous enslavement.

Abolition, on the other hand, is an aberration that originated in the Anglosphere and which showed few signs of appearing anywhere else.

This is straight up false. Let’s look at one example: I’ve talked about this book a few times here, but I’m going to once again recommend José Lingna Nafafé’s book on Lourenço da Silva Mendonça, a 17th century exiled Angolan prince who led an international, transatlantic abolitionist movement calling for the total abolition of slavery. Mendonça presented a legal case before the Vatican calling for an end to slavery, after working with confraternities in "Angola, Brazil, Caribbean, Portugal, and Spain" as well as networks of New Christians and Native Americans who supported his case. This happened long before the more well-known abolitionist campaign of Wilberforce. (5)

To be fair, this is relatively recent scholarship. Let’s consider another question: which nation was the first to permanently outlaw slavery?

Oh right, it was Haiti in 1804. Slavery was also declared illegal in Guatemala (Federal Republic of Central America at the time) in 1824, Chile in 1823, Mexico in 1829, and Bolivia in 1831. Britain ended its role in the slave trade in 1807, but continued practicing slavery in the Caribbean until 1834. (6)

So, yep. Definitely the "Anglosphere".

Here's the kicker:

Despite the imperfections, there is no society in the world in which visible minorities and indigenous people would have been better off than in the North American societies of recent decades.

So there you have it: Indigenous peoples are "better off" due to colonization. Never mind that even in "recent decades" Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada (he doesn't seem to consider Mexico in his discussion of North America, that's another topic) live disproportionately in poverty. Never mind the catastrophic violence and devastation unleashed by colonialism, resulting in a demographic collapse arguably unparalleled in world history. At no point does the author consider that Indigenous peoples might have been better off having not been subjected to genocidal colonialism. The idea of Indigenous peoples having remained independent and governing themselves does not seem to have occurred to him. He vaguely gestures at "imperfections", failing to mention that those imperfections included large scale and systematic dispossession, enslavement, extermination, and cultural genocide.

How does this absolute garbage get approved for publishing? Did the newspaper not even do basic factchecking?


(1) James Walvin, A World Transformed

(2) David Graeber, David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything

(3) Robbie Ethridge, Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America

(4) Camilla Townsend, The Cambridge World History of Slavery, Volume 2

(5) José Lingna Nafafé, Lourenço da Silva Mendonça and the Black Atlantic Abolitionist Movement in the Seventeenth Century

(6) William A. Darity Jr., A. Kirsten Mullen, From Here to Equality

EDIT: Forgot one citation.

02:38 UTC


YouTuber Claims Ancient Rome was Anti-Gay, Causing me to Spend 6 Months Learning about Ancient Roman Gay Sex (also he's wrong)

Hello all, back in November I saw this video where a Youtuber named Leather Apron Club was making the argument that Romans, far from being a culture where men sleeping with men was seen as normal, actively despised homosexuality in all its forms. Tops, bottoms, switches, all were condemned by the great empire.

Now, if you want a much fuller response, I made a whole video that's almost 3 hours long going through every claim he made and source he cited while providing my own examples form historical works as well. But that won't fit in a Reddit post so I’m going to do highlights with timestamps below. He cited a few scholars who I also end up disagreeing with, but I'll leave that part in the video, there's context unrelated to his overall claim there.

Also I originally had links to every source hyperlinked to the text as I mentioned it, but it got caught by Reddit’s spam filters. So in addition to my bibliography in the comments, you can check out my companion doc on my video if you want direct links to everything I talk about here.


His first claim is that scholars only focus on the period from 200BC - 200AD, that everything outside of that time period is considered deeply anti-gay even by the ‘pro-gay’ scholars. For the end date, he mentions Emperor Philip the Arab banning male prostitution (recorded here, around 245 AD), and Emperor Theodosian passing a law condemning, as he puts it, “known homosexuals” to death by flame. (recorded here, around 390 AD)

However, even the author who recorded Philip the Arab’s ban mentioned himself that 

Nevertheless, it still continues to this day.

And that’s about 100 years after the ban would have taken place. For the later law, ignoring that it only targeted male prostitutes, not all homosexual men, we also have a record of a tax called the Chrysargyrum, from several historians, but I’m going to stick with Evagrius here.

In his 3rd book on Roman history, chapter 39, he mentions a tax that affected everyone, including

and also upon women who made a sale of their charms, and surrendered themselves in brothels to promiscuous fornication in the obscure parts of the city; and besides, upon those who were devoted to a prostitution which outraged not only nature but the common weal

Keep in mind Evagrius was a christian priest writing under the Byzantine empire. He claimed that tax was kept in place until emperor Anastasius did away with it, in 491 AD.

We also have records from The Digest, a law book codified under Justinian of the Byzantine empire (around 500 AD), where homosexual men were specifically allowed to appear in court to defend themselves (or prosecute someone else) (3.1.6). They were, notably, banned from being lawyers, but the fact they were allowed and mentioned makes it clear they had a place.

For his earlier bookmark of 200 BC, Leather really just cites a few stories where boys are getting sexually assaulted, all of which is recorded by Valerius Maxmimus, and people are against it.

Not only are those situations clearly non-consensual, one (1.9) involving a boy continually refusing and being beaten, another involving a boy resolutely testifying against his rapist in court, but there is evidence of consensual homosexual relationships being approved of around that time.

First let’s look at Plautus, a playwright from around 200 BC (254-184 BC).

In many of his plays he features prominent male-male loves, usually between a slave and their master, though much of Plautus’ humor came from the slaves obtaining power over their masters in some capacity.

In Curculio, he even makes a point of a character saying

No one forbids any person from going along the public road, so long as he doesn't make a path through the field that's fenced around; so long as you keep yourself away from the wife, the widow, the maiden, youthful age, and free-born children, love what you please. 

Even earlier than that we have Etruscan art, from around 500 BC (keep in mind the last several kings of Rome were Etruscan, and it’s said they invented gladiator games, as well as introduced the three big gods into Rome, Jupiter, Minerva, and Juno), showing two men actively naked and together.

So, a lot of gay stuff before and after those dates. He also makes an odd claim that people outside the city of Rome were opposed to homosexuality, but check the video if you want to see my thoughts on that, and the first time I disagree with a scholar, Ramsay MacMullen (who is incredibly full of shit).

Leather also poses a challenge, try to find any depictions of male-male relationships between adults being depicted in media from the time period. I reference the poems of Catullus, where he lusts after not only his adult friend, but a boy of at least the age of 17 who, though he spurned Catullus, was in relationships with other adult men. Catullus was widely respected in his time, even dining with Julius Caesar on a famous occasion.

I also mention depictions of men having sex we can see in frescoes on the baths at Pompeii, and Spintria (coins used for either gambling or brothels), two men of military age featured in the Aeneid, and the eunuch Earinus (8.11, 9.36), lover of emperor Domitian, who had poetry commissioned and published to immortalize their love. Check the video if you want to see any of those.

Leather now moves on to masculinity but this post already is going to be long and that’s not DIRECTLY about being gay so I’ll be very brief here, but it’s in my video if you want. 


Leather talks about how masculinity was important to Romans, making the claim that sexual conservatism was an important part of that, going on to claim homosexuality, as it doesn’t produce children, was anathema to that. He uses one quote from Cato, a Roman senator active in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, and Cicero, a senator active in the 1st century BC. 

Cato’s quote is about him censuring a man for embracing his wife outside the senate house, as displays of affection were seen as ‘unmanly’. However, he literally goes on to joke he only embraced his wife “when it thundered” (aka in the bedroom) and was a happy man when it “thundered loudly”.

For Cicero’s quote, he is saying excessive lust for women is a disease, but, again, this is way out of context. It’s from Cicero’s Tuscan Disputations, in which he is examining various states of the soul, to see if any can be called truly ‘good’ or ‘evil’. If you want the full deep dive it’s in the video, but the short version is Cicero is including things like greed and lust for power in his ‘diseases’, but points out that all of these drives are good in and of themselves. The key is moderation, and not letting yourself become consumed by these desires.

I go on to use quotes by the exact same men to show they were not very sexually conservative, including Cato having a mistress (17, 24), and Cicero attending a dinner party where a married man also has a mistress, and Cicero citing an old greek philosopher as to why he didn’t have a problem with it (Fam 9.26), though he does state he was never interested in having a mistress himself. None of this is really about being gay though.

So let’s move on to:


As a brief note, Romans thought of sex more in terms of roles, if you played the ‘active’ or ‘top’ role, that was seen as masculine, and if you played the ‘passive’ or ‘bottom’ role, that was seen as feminine. They had many terms for men who bottomed, but one of the most common is ‘pathic’ and I like the word so that’s what I’m gonna use.

Leather claims pathic men were despised throughout all of Roman history. When I first watched his video, I wasn’t really uncritical of this, because that’s what I had thought myself. But, as I looked more into both his sources, and things I came across myself, I ended up completely changing my view on this.

His first source to back up his claim is a story of a son, who was a pathic, was banished by his father, some time in the late republic. This comes from Valerius Maximus, with further evidence from a historian named Orosius (5.16.8) that the father actually had his son killed by two of his slaves.

Now, that does sound pretty bad, until you read literally one line later where Orosius says 

Upon the accusation of Censor Pompeius, he was tried and found guilty

With Cicero, in a speech in defense of one of his friends, stating the punishment was this father was banished from Rome. Capital punishment was pretty rare for Roman Citizens, so banishment (which included surrendering all your property) was one of the harshest punishments you could get. Though the father clearly had a problem with his son, Roman society, via the legal system, clearly thought the father was in the wrong here, in a way taking the side of the pathic son.

In addition to showing two more of his sources were wrong, and providing even more examples of pathics being seen as okay (including the above-mentioned love poetry commissioned by an emperor for his eunuch, and more about Sporus, the husband of an emperor being politically important after the death of said emperor), I also do a deep dive on Tacitus, another Roman Historian, talking about German culture around 100 AD, and showing the Germans were likely a lil gay themselves.


Leather’s claim is the theater was heavily looked down as a place for commoners, with a reputation for attracting drunkards, pimps, and prostitutes. Therefore, whatever was in the theater would be more indicative of what the lower classes thought.

My rebuttal is pretty simple: under Emperor Augustus, there was a law passed that actually reserved front row seats at theaters for senators. There also was a very long history of plays being performed as part of roman religious ceremonies, many funded directly by the senate. 

Cicero himself, in a speech to the senate even mentions that ‘everyone’ loves the theater. There’s more stuff about actors and if certain emperors banned plays and whatnot but that’s again sort of tangential to the gay stuff.

Leather then claims there was a very popular play by Juvenal, his second satire, which ruthlessly berated homosexual men.

So, a few things here.

  1. Juvenal was NOT a playwright. He was a poet. And, at the time, poetry was seen as an ‘epidemic’ in Rome, with everyone writing poetry and boring people to death by forcing them to listen to it. Juvenal even addressed this in his first satire, starting with ‘what, am I to be a listener only all my days?’
  2. Due to that, Juvenal was likely writing for the upper classes. There is actually some interesting debate over whether he was writing for a more conservative audience or was doing a Colbert Report thing and actually mocking conservatives for a more liberal audience, but from everything I tend to think it was more conservative
  3. At the same time as Juvenal, there was an EXTREMELY popular book called the Satyricon, which features an all-male love-triangle involving the main character (chs 9-11 are pretty good examples of this).

But back into the second satire. Juvenal does have several lines which can be seen as disapproving of same-sex relations, such as a woman attacking her husband for being pathic, and even going so far as to say pathics should castrate themselves.

The latter scene is taken out of context, it isn’t about homosexuals per-say. It’s from a section called “To Those in the Closet” and is about men pretending to be women, especially participating in religious rituals that traditionally could only be done by women (notably sacrificing to Cybele). While it could be seen as gay, if anything it’s more anti-trans.

But even then, calling that passage anti-gay is tough to square when Juvenal has such lines as 

More open and honest than they; who admits his affliction

In his looks and his walk, all of which I attribute to fate.

The vulnerability of such is pitiful, and their passion itself

Deserves our forgiveness

Which seems to hold up the pathic, while denigrating the active partner. This is not to mention his 6th Satire, against marriage, where Juvenal suggests his friend should not marry, but if he had to, pick a boy over a woman, as the boy would nag him less and be more down for sex. His 9th, as well, is him talking to a male prostitute, and isn’t really mocking him even though he mostly talks about his male clients. Again, way more detail in the video, I’m leaving out quite a bit here.

So let’s get back into it by examining:


There’s one thing I need to lay out for this next section. Most of this centers around a concept in the Roman legal system called ‘infamia’. Infamia was a term of legal and cultural censure that was applied to certain classes of people. This label came with the loss of many privileges normally given to Roman citizens, including voting, running for office, serving in the army, being able to be a lawyer, or bear witness (either in court or for wills).

This, while not great, wasn’t the biggest impact on the lower classes. And some professions in the lower classes guaranteed this. 

Gladiators, beast fighters, prostitutes, and potentially SOME types of actors were labeled infamia just for their profession. Most of this seems to revolve around accepting money for your performance, as we have examples from Cicero (with the actor Roscius) and Livy (talking about Atellan Farce actors) where this was not the case.

Your actions could also earn you the label infamia. If a woman committed adultery, she would be labeled infamia. If you welched on a business deal, infamia. Marry multiple women, infamia. Etc etc.

So the claim Leather makes here is that homosexuals were considered infamia during this time period, and he claims the Lex Scantinia was the name of the specific law they were breaking.

This is gonna get a bit long so just skip to the next section if your eyes start to glaze over.

There is a point in history where homosexuals, or at least pathics, did become infamia, but, importantly, we don’t know exactly when that was. We know in the Digest (Byzantine) that pathics (one who has used their body in women’s fashion) were “labeled with infamy”. The problem is, we don’t know exactly when that started. 

The Digest was actually a compilation of legal writings from around the empire, and as such many of the contributors were long dead by the time it was published. One quote from the Institutes, a separate legal work packaged with the Digest in the Corpus Juris Civilis, claims

The Lex Julia… punishes with death not only defilers of the marriage-bed, but also those who indulge in criminal intercourse with those of their own sex


But I’m making Leather’s argument for him here. And again, this is from after the fall of Rome, which is the arbitrary end date for our focus here. His argument is there was a law, the Lex Scantinia, which outlawed homosexuality, and that this law was what applied the label of infamia to homosexual men.

However, for some reason he conflates the Lex Scantinia with the qualifications for ‘infamia’ laid out in the digest. That is not true, we actually do not have any surviving text from the Lex Scantinia, we only can guess at it from the references others make to it.

And the references we have include Cicero, being the first to mention it(8.12, 8.14) saying a man tried to use the law to convict one of his friends, but that friend put his accuser on trial and had him convicted. 

We also have, again Cicero, saying a man he is defending took a ‘man out into the countryside to satisfy his lusts’ but goes on to say ‘but this is not a crime’ (non crimen est).

We obviously have later emperors engaging in public relationships with men, least of all Trajan (who Dio said was ‘addicted to boys and wine’) and Hadrian.

Leather’s best case is in Juvenal’s second satire, when the wife accuses her cheating husband of breaking the ‘Scantinian’ law. 

However, there is a lot of interesting evidence that this law likely banned at least assault on freeborn boys, and possibly sex with them altogether (though we have plenty of evidence of those relationships happening, notably Mark Antony being the youth in a relationship with an older man).

This idea mostly comes from the fact that Scantinia was the name of a politician in the mid republic who famously forced himself on a boy and was punished for it, and a note from another lawyer/rhetorician named Qunitilian who talked about it using the word ‘puer’ or boy under the age of 17, though in a fictional scenario, and the outcome was the man simply had to pay a fine.

Again, this gets fairly nuanced and I go into a lot more detail in my video, but basically homosexuals were labeled infamia by the time of Justinian, and pathics possibly as early as Theodosian, and we don’t know what the Lex Scantinia was but it probably had to do with protecting young boys, not banning all forms of homosexuality.

So let’s move on to


This section is actually, imo, the most boring. If anyone has even just browsed the comments of a meme about Roman sexuality, you’ve likely come across the idea that “it was okay as long as you were the top.” At this point I don’t super believe that anymore, but regardless pretty much everyone will disagree with the take that the active partner was despised or looked down on.

For this section I’m mostly just showing that Leather is either lying, or lacks reading comprehension.

Leather’s first claim is Pompey, a famous senator from the late Republic, was attacked for ‘seeking for another man’. He was, but it’s clear he’s being called pathic in this instance, as he is also attacked for ‘scratching his head with one finger’ which, to the Romans, you’d only do if you were worried about messing up your hair, and caring about your hair is gay pathic.

His second claim is Seneca tells the story of a man who is ‘impure with both sexes’, and that clearly his active role with men brought on part of his censure. Yet, in the actual text, it’s very clear he’s bottoming for the men. Both, arranging mirrors so his dick looks bigger, and ‘taking them in with his mouth’. So again, not active

His third claim is Catullus, the gay poet I mentioned earlier, attacked a man for getting a blowjob from a guy. Ignoring the fact that Catullus never specifies who is giving the man the blowjob, or that the point of that poem is that guy is a good guy and Catullus is kind of the fool in that poem, or that Catullus would go on a poem later to threaten two members of the senate that he’d make them suck him off, Catullus himself wrote openly about wanting to be with other boys, and a woman he was off-and-on-again with for a bit. So it’d be strange for him to condemn active male partners, then to turn around and try to be an active male partner.

His fourth is about a case where an officer very clearly tries to force himself on one of the soldiers serving under him. It’s gay and it’s active, but it’s clearly not consensual, which makes the gay part feel kinda tangential.

His fifth is a quote from the stoic philosopher Epictetus, and I will just ask you to please watch the video for that part (1:14:19). I did a ton of work for this section, using greek dictionaries and comparing passages and comparing instances of certain words appearing in the original greek manuscript and I really am just proud of the work I did there. 

But TL;DW the quote is ‘what does the man who makes the pathic what he is lose? Many things, and he also becomes less of a man’ but my argument is Epictetus has other quotes seeming to accept at least same-sex attraction, and the original greek could be read as something more like ‘what does the one who arranges for the pathic’ and there’s a later line where Epictetus says you could make money off it and so my argument is it’s about pimping.

Leather’s last quote he just is confused again. It’s about Suilius Caesonius, a pathic who lived under Emperor Claudius. Emperor Claudius’ wife, Messalina, slept around so much she tried to coup him. When Claudius came back to Rome and put all the members of the conspiracy to death, Suilius was let off the hook, explicitly because he was pathic. Leather asks if that means active gay men were condemned, otherwise why say this man was pathic, but it’s because he never actually slept with the emperor’s wife, as he was a bottom through and through.

Anyway, we’re halfway through.

SLAVES (1:22:19)

The main argument from Leather here is pro-gay scholars will argue homosexual sex with slaves happened, but Leather argues this was usually condemned and spoken out against.

So Leather’s first point, he just completely made up. It’s not 100% his fault, because one of the scholars he got a lot of these mined quotes from, notably Ramsay MacMullen, was the one to make this quote up, and Leather just copied it without bothering to do any research, but still.

If you want a deep dive check out my video again, but I feel like a broken record. Point is he added words to a quote to change the meaning. 

The original quote is “But how you rich remodel your marriages. Remodel? Other pleasures carry you off. Those slaves of yours, those boys imitating women.”

Leather puts it as “You rich… don’t marry, you only have those toys of yours, those boys imitating women.”

So those ellipses skip a ton, and he then goes on to simply add words. And the guy saying the quote is envious of the rich guy if anything, so not only is this not putting down sex with slaves, it’s sort of displaying it as a privilege of the rich.

He goes over a few more quotes and even scenes from plays just showing that men could have sex with their slaves, which I agree with, but he gets his framing for a lot of them wrong, as he’s building towards the argument that this practice was frowned upon and occasionally openly criticized. But, on the face of his argument, I don’t disagree with the premise.

Then he gets into quotes talking about how sex with slaves was condemned. His first is from the stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus, where he says 

if one is to behave temperately, one would not dare to have relationship with a prostitute; nor with a free woman outside of marriage; nor even, by Zeus, with one’s own slave woman

But what Leather leaves out here, is that Rufus was incredibly radical, not just for his time but even by today’s standards. He further advocated that you should NEVER have sex unless it’s explicitly for procreation. Wife gets pregnant? No more sex until the baby comes. Want to try anal? Literally why. So you or wifey is sterile? Congrats, you’re also celibate now too.

Does this condemn sex with slaves? Yes, but it did not fit in with any of the other ideas at the time. Keep in mind Rufus wrote this during the reign of Nero.

Next is another Cato moment Leather again gets wrong. He claims it’s Cato arguing for censure of a man for sleeping with his slave boy. But the story at the quoted section is about this man murdering an asylum seeker in cold blood to impress his young lover, the lover is not condemned, and their relationship itself was not called into question. Remember earlier, when Cato had a mistress? That mistress was one of his slave girls.

And lastly is another Cato story, where supposedly a man was punished for buying boy slaves, but these were public slaves meant to work on public works projects, and so Cato was upset about this guy basically stealing from the Roman people, not the fact he was buying slave boys.

There is a little bit in the next section about adultery but honestly I’m getting tired just writing this so I’ll stick to the main topic of


Leather’s main argument here is pro-gay scholars would argue pederasty was seen as okay within the roman world, and this contributed to them being known as a gay society. However, leather claims that while it did occur, it was universally condemned by all at all times. 

I go into a bit more poetry, namely Virgil and Horace, where they talk about either their, or their characters’ love of boys, and one moment from Herodian’s History where Emperor Commodus was said to share a bed with a young boy he kept around the palace naked. Going on to say keeping young boys like this was fashionable among the upper classes. All of these depctions were both widely read, and positive.

Leather’s first real quote is talking about Mark Antony, and how he was a young boy in a pederastic relationship. This is being relayed to us by Cicero in a speech attacking Mark Antony.

However, what Leather leaves out is Mark Antony was the one pursuing the relationship with the older boy, going so far as to break into the older boy’s father’s estate when that father tried to separate the two. The older boy even begged Cicero to talk to his father, which Cicero did, evidently allowing their relationship to continue unimpeded. Again, this relationship is not shown as negative, it’s Mark Antony’s excessive desire that is being mocked, in a larger speech about how he is not a good man and is not in control of himself or his emotions.

Brief note here, I’m not personally trying to celebrate or say these types of relationships are good, or that young boys have the freedom to choose to date older people, I’m merely saying that’s how ancient Rome, where the marrying age for women was 10, saw things.

Then two more Cicero quotes, one where he says of a witness about to come up in a court case “I know his habits, his licentious ways.” But he continues that he will not state what he is about to argue, because he knows if he reveals his hand now the witness will change his testimony, the ‘licentious ways’ is a tendency to lie, not a tendency to be gay.

The next is another court case which again Leather is wrongly interpreting.

We’ll skip the next section about Stoicism because we’ve covered most of the stoics he mentions, and when he randomly starts talking about Plato it really has nothing to do with Romans or stoics so we’ll move right into


So I’m going to leave most of this in my video, as Leather’s arguments are basically good emperors weren’t gay, and all the gay emperors were bad.

He claims Caesar wasn’t gay, which, maybe, but there’s more evidence he leaves out. He claims Augustus wasn’t gay, even though we have multiple historians writing about how he hung out with young boys a little too much, Suetonius even telling us he ‘collected’ them.

When it comes to Tiberius, he claims he never was gay on the Isle of Capri, even though again, Tacitus, Dio, and Suetonius all tell us he was, and all of them mentioning he was with men even outside of that island.

Nero I have a huge fight with him about, I’m actually doing another video on this topic right now, but short version is it seems like a bunch of people really liked Nero, and his husband Sporus had relationships with the guy who never officially took the throne but made a play for it, and another guy who did take the throne, namely Otho.

There’s a bunch more I’m leaving out, but I want to get to some letters between Marcus Aurelius and his tutor Fronto.

But first here’s a rundown of the first 14 emperors and if any historians wrote about them being with men.

  1. Augustus, see above, Suet Aug 69
  2. Tiberius, see above, Tacitcus Annals 6.1
  3. Caligula, Suet Calig 36, had an ongoing sexual relationship with a male dancer
  4. Claudius, Suetonius Claudius 33
  5. Nero, he’s gay
  6. Galba, see above, Suet Galba 22
  7. Otho, see above, Dio 63.8
  8. Vitellius Dio 63.4.2
  9. Vespasian, no claims of homosexual relations
  10. Titus, Suetonius Titus 7 kept a ‘troop of catamites’ around him
  11. Domitian, see above, Martial Epigrams 9.11, 9.36 Earinus
  12. Trajan, spoiler alert, but Dio 68.7.4
  13. Hadrian, keep reading, or watching, but VERY gay.
  14. Nerva is the only maybe, one accusation, but clearly to malign Domitian, Suet Dom 1.1 Further reading here

Anyway. I also take a look at some letters between Marcus Aurelius and his tutor Fronto, which contain very charged passaged. Marcus writes things like 

Farewell, breath of my life. Should I not burn with love of you, who have written to me as you have! What shall I do? I cannot cease.

For I am in love and this, if nothing else, ought, I think, verily to be allowed to lovers, that they should have greater joy in the triumph of their loved ones. Ours, then, is the triumph, ours, I say.

And Fronto responding with things like

Whenever “with soft slumber’s chains around me,” as the poet says, I see you in my dreams, there is never a time but I embrace and kiss you: then, according to the tenor of each dream, I either weep copiously or am transported with some great joy and pleasure. This is one proof of my love, taken from the Annals,! a poetical and certainly a dreamy one.

Wherefore, even if there is any adequate reason for your love for me, I beseech you, Caesar, let us take diligent pains to conceal and ignore it. Let men doubt, discuss, dispute, guess, puzzle over the origin of our love as over the fountains of the Nile.

And I do way more in the video. Now, I’m not claiming this is a smoking gun that Marcus Aurelius was gay, even in my video and companion doc I cite one piece that I think is somewhat neutral and one that specifically disagrees with my take, but the evidence being there I find relevant to the question of the acceptance of homosexuality.

There is also a massive examination of Hadrian and his lover Antinious, as Leather claims there’s no evidence they were ever gay together, and I look at poetry, the tondos you can still see today in the Arch of Constantine, and dive again into ancient greek to show Dio describes their love using the word ‘erota’, so pretty sexually charged.

Well, I’m almost out of space, but we really only have one section left. There’s technically one more about one specific story, the Cult of Bacchus, but I’ll be honest with you it’s Leather misinterpreting again and it’s kind of boring. But you know what isn’t boring?

GRAFFITI 2:39:40

Thanks for reading this far, I’ll keep it short and sweet. Leather tries to argue that most of the complete sentences we have in graffiti is non-sexual, which is almost right, most is names or ‘so and so was here’, most of Rome wasn’t literate after all, but outside of that, most of the sentences had to do with sex or love. 

Leather then talks about 3 graffiti found in Pompeii often used to show how gay they were back then. “Amplicatius, I know that Icarus is fucking you. Salvius wrote this.” He claims this could very well be a joke on these three men, written by a fourth party, which, honestly is not the worst explanation, so I’ll give him that one.

His next is “I have fucked men”. Leather claims this was scrawled on a guy’s house and was likely a prank. Which, like, it was inside a house, first off, the House of Orpheus to be exact, and was surrounded by a bunch of other graffiti. It’d be kind of a weird prank to put that on the inside of someone’s house, next to a bunch of other graffiti, and expect people reading it to be like “oh haha, he got you Orpheus! Now we all think you fuck men.” 

His last is one of my favorites “Weep you girls, my penis has give you up, now it penetrates mens’ behinds. Goodbye wondrous femininity.” Leather acknowledges this is gay, but then says so much graffiti is joking that this likely is too. Which… obviously I disagree, but it’s such a nebulous claim it’s kind of hard to argue against. So, in my video, I just give a ton more graffiti which are unambiguously gay. Including one description of an apparently gorgeous mule driver.

And, that’s basically it. Leather ends the video by saying he’s ‘just pushing back’ and signs off.

So to briefly sum it all up: Romans were gay. Almost all of their first 16 or so emperors were gay, they regularly had plays and books where men got together, and poets often wrote erotic poetry aimed at other men. I didn’t have time to get into it, but even very prominent politicians were openly gay and not only not censured for it, but wielded quite a bit of political power. Later, as the empire Christianized, the law of Moses did seem to sway people away from it, with Justinian eventually begging gay men to repent so God would improve their harvests. But it took a long time to get there, and it’s pretty safe to say Rome was gay for at least 1000 years.

Feel free to ask me any questions or anything, I honestly just got really pissed off and wasted 6 months of my life becoming an expert on ancient gay sex in Rome. Hope you enjoyed it!

17:03 UTC


Mindless Monday, 10 June 2024

Happy (or sad) Monday guys!

Mindless Monday is a free-for-all thread to discuss anything from minor bad history to politics, life events, charts, whatever! Just remember to np link all links to Reddit and don't violate R4, or we human mods will feed you to the AutoModerator.

So, with that said, how was your weekend, everyone?

12:15 UTC


Free for All Friday, 07 June, 2024

It's Friday everyone, and with that comes the newest latest Free for All Friday Thread! What books have you been reading? What is your favourite video game? See any movies? Start talking!

Have any weekend plans? Found something interesting this week that you want to share? This is the thread to do it! This thread, like the Mindless Monday thread, is free-for-all. Just remember to np link all links to Reddit if you link to something from a different sub, lest we feed your comment to the AutoModerator. No violating R4!

11:00 UTC


On the many names of Nebelwerfers

To take a break from writing my dissertation on the Second World War, I chose to read a novel… set in the Italian Campaign during the Second World War. The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella is a romance novel that takes place in occupied Naples during 1943-1944. James, a young British lieutenant, arrives in a cushy staff officer position with a single job: to prevent the Allied soldiers, American and British alike (but mostly British), from marrying women in Naples. Of course, Livia, an Italian woman, becomes the cook for his unit, he eats a lot of good food, and romance ensues. 

This is all pretty straightforward, but I was impressed with the level of detail. It’s clear that Capella did some research. The staff structure of the British army is accurate, and there are a few air raids that do a surprisingly good job capturing the horrors of “precision” bombing by recreating real attacks on the city. The 1944 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (including the warnings of Giuseppe Imbo and the more or less total destruction of USAAF 340th Bombardment Group) is not only mentioned but plays a significant role in the plot. The novel even brings up Axis Sally, a propaganda personality used by two different women to broadcast Nazi propaganda mixed with music to Allied troops. The largely accurate detail therefore makes the novel’s brief brush with Nebelwerfers somewhat jarring. 

What does a Nebelwerfer have to do with romance you may ask? Towards the end of the novel, Livia has been sent north by nefarious forces because she refuses to marry a mobster (y’know, because she’s in love with James). James signs up for active duty to get himself sent to the front so he can try to find her. He spends several weeks near Anzio with the US Fifth Army. This is, in itself, somewhat confusing–why is he immediately posted to the American army, instead of the British Eighth Army? It’s true that neither army was purely US or British troops (especially Eighth Army, which included corps or divisions from Canada, Poland, New Zealand, India, Free France, Greece, South Africa, and others) but it’s odd that a British lieutenant would volunteer through British channels for front-line duty and somehow end up with the Americans, especially when the two armies were relatively close together in mid-1944 (i.e. he could have gotten just as close to Livia with the Brits as with the Americans–and in fact, would probably have been closer to Livia had he been posted to the Gothic Line with Eighth Army). It’s not like Eighth Army didn’t need reinforcements, and statistically, the two ranks that most needed reinforcements at any moment were privates and lieutenants–there’s no possible way they just have too many junior officers kicking around. Regardless, James gets shipped off to the Americans, for reasons unknown to us.

As so many other troops before and after him, once in combat,  James learns to identify enemy guns, such as the 88mm vs the 75mm vs a 120mm mortar, by sound. This audio identification includes the Nebelwerfer, which had both mortar and rocket variations, and had perhaps one of the most distinctive sounds in the entire war, variously described as "shrieking" or "howling." Although not particularly accurate and often less effective at causing casualties than other weapons, the sound of  Nebelwerfers almost universally dropped morale among Allied troops and was excellent at inciting fear, especially against green troops. Nebelwerfers were one of the Germans' most used mortars during the war, being present in every campaign with the exception of the Balkans, and their grim shrieking was a familiar sound to most Allied troops. Soldiers being soldiers, nobody wanted to say “We’re under Nebelwerfer fire” every time that sound came up, so they created nicknames. The British (and Commonwealth) troops called them “Moaning Minnies” and the Americans gave them the moniker “Screaming Mimis.” [Edit: fixed a mortar type.]

Enter our main issue: James, being British, would almost certainly call a Nebelwerfer a Moaning Minnie. For all he only learns the sound of the guns on the front, he should be familiar with the general names and effectiveness of them beforehand, either from training, reports, intelligence summaries, or just talking to other troops who are on leave in Naples. Even many civilians knew informal names for weaponry, as soldiers writing letters to family and friends used the slang terms more than their proper monikers. He does not, however, refer to them as Moaning Minnies–-nor does he adopt the American moniker of Screaming Mimi, despite fighting with the Americans at Anzio. No, our dear James calls the Nebelwerfer the “Screaming Meanie”, and states that this was the common slang term for them across Allied forces, which it most definitely was not. It’s a corruption of the common American name, and nothing close to the name most used by Commonwealth troops.

In fairness to James (and Capella), I did some digging, and did find four whole instances of the words “Screaming Meanie” (or “Meenie” in one case) in relation to the Nebelwerfer (it’s also a brand of alarm clock which complicates things)–three of which were private blogs and one of which was a self-published book; hilariously, the self-published book also says that “Screaming Meanie” was the standard British moniker for them which is just flat out untrue; in thousands upon thousands of pages of war diaries, intelligence reports, sitreps, daily orders, and messages from Canadian and British troops at all formation levels  never once have I seen anything used for them but Nebelwerfer or Moaning Minnie (or just “minnies” in some cases). So maybe James simply never read an intelligence report and never chatted with officers on leave at the officers’ clubs and didn’t talk to any soldiers at all before going to the front and then just happened to share an observation post with one of the handful of American troops who misheard Screaming Mimi as Screaming Meanie. Maybe. 

On the whole, The Wedding Officer is both an enjoyable romance novel and surprisingly well researched in just about every aspect, except when it comes to the many names of the Nebelwerfer. Capella’s novel has an amazing level of detail for a piece of fiction, but it’s not quite as strong on the two combat chapters as it is on life in Naples. 


C. P. Stacey, The Victory Campaign: Operations in North West Europe 1944-1945, Ottawa: National Defence, 1960.

GWL Nicholson, The Canadians in Italy. 1943-1945, Ottawa: National Defence, 1954.

There are a ton of other books I can point to that support this argument but descriptions of Nebelwerfers and the names used for them are not the subject of books, they merely appear in passing in the historiography for a paragraph or two at a time. Gullachson’s Bloody Verrieres books have good discussion about the impact of the sound on Allied morale, particularly volume I. Most general campaign histories of Italy and Normandy discuss them as part of an overview on armaments.

16:51 UTC


Is the president of Argentina godfather to hundreds of werewolves?

In late 2014, a curious story made headlines around the world: then president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, adopted Yair Tawil as her godson - as many outlets reported, to stop him from turning into a werewolf.[1]

I like werewolves. This seems like a fun factoid to keep in my back pocket. Is it true?

Typical details looked about the same:

According to Argentinian folklore, the seventh straight son born to a family will transform into the feared "el lobison."

The werewolf shows its true nature on the first Friday after the boy's 13th birthday, legend says. The boy turns into a demon at midnight whenever there is a full moon, doomed to hunt and kill others before returning to human form.

Belief in the legend was so widespread in 19th century Argentina that families began abandoning - even murdering - their own baby boys.

That atrocity sparked the Presidential practice of adoption, which began in 1907, and was formally established in 1973 by Juan Domingo Peron, who extended the tradition to include baby girls.

Seventh sons or daughters now gain the President as their official godparent, a gold medal, and a full educational scholarship until the age of 21.

Yair Tawil, the seventh son of a Chabad Lubavitch family, is the first Jewish boy to be adopted, as the tradition only applied to Catholic children until 2009.

Firstly, the reason this was a news story in the first place - and not the almost 700 children that Fernandez had already adopted in her term - was that this was the first Jewish adoptee in majorly Catholic Argentina; the story was first circulated in English by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on the 25th of December,[2] two days after Kirchner had posted about it on twitter,[3] several days after it had made the rounds on Hispanophone sites. Unlike the Spanish reports (and reporting on previous adoptions), the supposed werewolf connection was at the forefront of the presentation rather than being a quick aside about the tradition, which is the part that was focused on when this went viral.

This virality seems to have happened a few days later, getting articles in the likes of The Independent,[4] NPR,[5] and The Smithsonian;[6] The Guardian added fuel to the fire by posting a debunk article titled "No, Argentina's president did not adopt a Jewish child to stop him turning into a werewolf",[7] generating another cycle - of smug articles from outlets who hadn't reported on it like Business Insider,[8] and edits from those that had (such as NPR and The Smithsonian).

Fortunately for us, the debunk article is basically citing an "Argentine historian ", Daniel Balmaceda, who provides us with more details: namely that this custom is unrelated to the lobizón, the lobizón is not a werewolf, and that:

That custom began in 1907, when Enrique Brost and Apolonia Holmann, Volga German emigrés from south-eastern Russia asked then-president José Figueroa Alcorta to become godfather to their seventh son, said the historian.

The couple wanted to maintain a custom from Czarist Russia, where the Tsar was said to become godfather to seventh sons, and Argentina’s president accepted.

This wraps up the popular narrative of this story, repeated in articles and videos both English and Spanish; we'll be focusing on The Guardian's version, though this merely represents a version of the story that's entered the general Fun Facts archive of endlessly reposted trivia.

To complicate things, Jewish Telegraphic Agency responded by posting a debunk-debunk article[9] in response to The Guardian - citing their own historian, Horacio Vazquez Rial, and the "prologue to his unpublished book, “The Last Werewolf.”" Rial died over 2 years before the article was posted, and the book was never published - nor is there any trace of its existence - so it appears we might be getting this second-hand from Raanan Rein, "a professor of Latin American and Spanish history at Tel Aviv University", whose direct quotes in the article do nothing to debunk the lobizón connection. Yeah, let's move on.

A detail mentioned by The Guardian, among many others - including Spanish Wikipedia[10] - goes as such

The practice soon became tradition and was passed into law in 1974 by Isabel Perón, the widow of Argentina’s political strongman General Juan Perón, once she succeeded him in the presidential seat after his death in office. As Argentina’s first woman president, Mrs Perón extended the benefit to seventh daughters as well.

This is referring to Ley 20,843,[11] but If we read the text of that law we find that it just gives the president general powers to grant scholarships. The image of the Wikipedia page shows Decreto 848/73 - which funnily enough was directly linked by The Guardian - which is the actual 1973 decree[12] that extended this to seventh daughters. Which was still during Juan Perón's (not Argentina's first woman president) time. This decree is the one altered in 2009[13] so that "Those who do not profess Catholic worship" can also be counted, allowing our Jewish seventh son to make the headlines.

Well fine, that's a bit of nitpicking, but at least everyone agrees that it came from Enrique Brost and Apolonia Holmann in 1907, continuing Russian tradition, right? An article by Soledad Gil[14] covers several disputes that their child was the start of this tradition, but while we can know that the newborn José Brost had then-president Figueroa Alcorta as godfather, a potential lobizón connection either has no paper trail, is locked in archives, or doesn't exist. At the very least, the connection was kicking around before Perón enacted his 1973 decree.[15]

However, a connection is made - sometimes confidently, sometimes delivered with a shrugged "supposedly" - that this is a Russian custom that the Tsar granted; some even namedrop Catherine the Great.

The problem is that there is zero record of this supposed custom that I can find. There's a chance this is a misinterpretation of "patronage": the presidential padrinazgo can be translated as "patronage" (even if it's used specifically as being a godparent), and Tsars were associated with patronage - of things like the arts. There's another chance that it is a tradition this pair of Volga Germans brought over - but a German tradition; like Argentina, the German president also becomes the godfather to seventh children (even if the parents are neo-nazis[16]), although the earliest record I can find of this is 1916.[17]

There's a curious detail, that's exemplified by Clarin's article[18] on los ahijados:

Today it is a custom that only applies in our country. It is 100% Argentine heritage; a Russian myth that is not even "respected" in that country, only here.

[Translated using Google translate]

Because, as literally every article on the subject omits, Germany does it. So does the Belgium monarchy. Spain had the Hidalgo de bragueta, offering a form of nobilty rather than a godparent.[19] Two neighbours of Argentina also do it: Paraguay has the godfather system, and Chile has a scholarship for seventh children (you can apply for that here[20]), though both formalised it after Argentina.

Note, however, that connecting godchildren to werewolves (or werewolf adjacent conditions) is an Iberian custom;[21] that is to say, the Volga German couple would have been unlikely to connect this to Russian or German werewolf beliefs, whereas the heavy Iberian influence on South American culture would have likely "filled in the gaps" on relatable custom. As an example, we can see the beginnings of this process from a case in 1790s Brazil: with a man smearing another as being a lobizome (werewolf) in name - but in practice, connecting it to native lore of someone whose head turns into a ball of fire, this over time becoming the modern lobisomem in parts of the Amazon that directly combines this native belief with Iberian beliefs about seventh born sons and godfathers.[22]

Russian volkolak beliefs instead involve motifs typical to Eastern European lycanthropes, like knives in stumps, sorcerers, and weddings.[23] The general magical abilities of seventh sons are found throughout Europe - but this specific connection to werewolves isn't. In short, the claim repeated in The Guardian and elsewhere that godparents of seventh sons is an import of Czarist Russia is weak, and the creative additions by outlets like Clarín adding werewolves to this importation are baseless.

This gives us an awkward conclusion - okay, sure, it's probably Iberian in origin and not Russian, but we've got two separate things here: the head of state becoming godfather to seventh sons, and getting a godfather of a seventh son for werewolf reasons, don't seem to actually overlap in Europe, and unless someone is willing to dig up Argentinian archives from 1907 to see if the lobizón was mentioned at all, we're left with the - somewhat ridiculous, on the face of it - proposition that it's unlikely these two were merged at the time this tradition was started. Gil's article lends credence to the idea that this was slowly built up rather than being singularly started in 1907, and either way the request of a Volga German couple would be unlikely to add werewolves into the mix; instead, much like the Brazilian fire-headed lobisomem, when the tradition was well-seated in Argentina it would've then had the opportunity to meld with imported Iberian folklore to create the narrative we have now.

And well, yes, the lobizón is a lobizón, not a werewolf, since lobizón (and lobisomem) don't turn into wolves, with the Iberian werewolf-like beliefs being distinctly separate but related to their lycanthropic brethren in the rest of Europe.

Which gives us a funny conclusion: yes, the Argentinian president has hundreds of lycanthropic godchildren, just not for any of the reasons anyone gives, it likely didn't start off like that, it's not werewolves, and it isn't even the official reason. Folklore doesn't care about all that.


[1] https://www.israelnationalnews.com/news/189189

[2] https://www.jta.org/2014/12/25/global/argentinas-president-adopts-jewish-godson

[3] https://x.com/CFKArgentina/status/547530720626110464

[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/president-of-argentina-adopts-jewish-godson-to-stop-him-turning-into-a-werewolf-9946414.html

[5] https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/12/29/373834462/argentine-president-takes-on-godson-to-keep-werewolf-legend-at-bay

[6] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/argentina-has-superstition-7th-sons-will-turn-werewolves-180953746/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/29/argentina-kirchner-adopt-child-werewolf

[8] https://www.businessinsider.com/argentina-president-adopts-boy-no-werewolf-2014-12

[9] https://www.jta.org/2015/01/05/culture/did-jta-botch-the-argentine-werewolf-story

[10] https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ley_de_padrinazgo_presidencial

[11] https://www.argentina.gob.ar/normativa/nacional/ley-20843-158477/texto

[12] https://www.argentina.gob.ar/normativa/nacional/decreto-848-1973-158462/texto

[13] https://www.argentina.gob.ar/normativa/nacional/decreto-1416-2009-158458/texto

[14] https://www.lanacion.com.ar/revista-lugares/hidalguia-de-bragueta-o-por-que-el-septimo-hijo-varon-es-ahijado-del-presidente-de-la-nacion-nid06012023/

[15] Mayo: revista del Museo de la Casa de Gobierno, Issues 6–7, pg 55-7

[16] https://www.dw.com/en/unlucky-number-seven-causes-headache-for-german-president/a-6290725

[17] Hollingworth, L. S. (1916). Social Devices for Impelling Women to Bear and Rear Children. American Journal of Sociology, 22(1), 19–29. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2763926

[18] https://www.clarin.com/politica/11-mil-ahijados-presidenciales-argentina-historia-maldicion-lobizones-convirtio-ley-unica-mundo_0_ARbSK6Q8xI.html

[19] Cadenas Y Vicent, V.: Heráldica, genealogía y nobleza en los editoriales de” Hidalguía,” 1953-1993: 40 años de un pensamiento

[20] https://apadrinamiento.interior.gob.cl/

[21] Francisco Vaz da Silva (2003) Iberian seventh-born children, werewolves, and the dragon slayer: A case study in the comparative interpretation of symbolic praxis and fairytales, Folklore, 114:3 335-353, DOI: 10.1080/0015587032000145379

[22] Harris, Mark (2013). "The Werewolf in between Indians and Whites: Imaginative Frontiers and Mobile Identities in Eighteenth Century Amazonia," Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America: Vol. 11: Iss. 1, Article 6, 87-104

[23] Marina Valentsova, Legends and Beliefs About Werewolves Among the Eastern Slavs: Areal Characteristics of Motifs. In: Werewolf Legends. eds. Willem de Blécourt/Mirjam Mencej (pg 148-152)

12:42 UTC


Mindless Monday, 03 June 2024

Happy (or sad) Monday guys!

Mindless Monday is a free-for-all thread to discuss anything from minor bad history to politics, life events, charts, whatever! Just remember to np link all links to Reddit and don't violate R4, or we human mods will feed you to the AutoModerator.

So, with that said, how was your weekend, everyone?

12:15 UTC


Monthly Debunk and Debate Post for June, 2024

Monthly post for all your debunk or debate requests. Top level comments need to be either a debunk request or start a discussion.

Please note that R2 still applies to debunk/debate comments and include:

  • A summary of or preferably a link to the specific material you wish to have debated or debunked.
  • An explanation of what you think is mistaken about this and why you would like a second opinion.

Do not request entire books, shows, or films to be debunked. Use specific examples (e.g. a chapter of a book, the armour design on a show) or your comment will be removed.

19:00 UTC


Free for All Friday, 31 May, 2024

It's Friday everyone, and with that comes the newest latest Free for All Friday Thread! What books have you been reading? What is your favourite video game? See any movies? Start talking!

Have any weekend plans? Found something interesting this week that you want to share? This is the thread to do it! This thread, like the Mindless Monday thread, is free-for-all. Just remember to np link all links to Reddit if you link to something from a different sub, lest we feed your comment to the AutoModerator. No violating R4!

11:00 UTC


A this-was-meant-to-be-short rebuke to a radical feminist 'Patriarchical Reversal' on the 'Dark Ages'.

Around a decade ago, there was an operating wordpress blog by a radical feminist (specifically a feminist who followed the radical feminist movement) called witchwind. In this blog, she attacked men, women, trans people (especially trans men), lesbianism, heterosexuality, intersectionality, and heterosexual and homosexual sex in a long-winded and generally unpleasant way. She wrote a post on what she imagined the post-patriarchical utopian world to be. This post is... dubious in terms of science, but the real badhistory was in the comments.

(witchwind) Given that men are by far more protected from violence than women, less violated etc, that there will always be a woman for them to turn to who will mend their ego or problems, and that even in these cushy conditions men die earlier than women, if things turned round for them many of them really wouldn’t live long on their own. I was thinking, maybe that’s why men called the middle ages the “dark ages” because men would die so early and perhaps women wouldn’t, because so many women ran away from marriage at the time. Just a speculation.

The real reason why the medieval period was deemed "the dark ages" was due to the conception of the Roman period being a "light age", which itself is due to the enormous influence that Roman civilisation and culture has had on European culture. You could certainly make an argument that women had more power than in the Roman period, but this is entirely due to the extremely patriarchical Roman culture giving way to a slightly less extremely patriarchical culture. While estimating the sex of skeletons is a difficult procedure fraught with error, and records of deaths are often lacking, there is very little evidence to support the idea that women had a notably higher life expectancy than men during the medieval period, ESPECIALLY given that women would carry children. Estimates for maternal mortality during the medieval period typically range from about 1-2%, but this is per birth during a period when contraception was not readily avaliable or effective, and the same was true for abortion (with the added fact that it was significantly more dangerous.) Also, most women would have been giving birth around the ages of 18-35, which would drag their life expectancy down.

Furthermore, bear in mind that, due to the ease of disappearing in a pre-modern world and the patriarchical social system of the time, men who ran away from marriage were in a far better situation. There are a number of tragic accounts of men disappearing, leaving their wives and children bereft of financial support or any means of finding them, and forcing them to take up poor paying, difficult, and socially disreputable jobs while often living in unpleasant conditions. There was very little in the way of a social safety net.

(witchwind) Another example: the plague happened in the middle-ages at a time where christian religious authorities decided to decimate cats (because they were considered evil, probably because they were associated to witches), but cats were those that regulated rat population, and the plague was a consequence of an overpopulation of infected rats (if my memory is correct).

Well, first of all the plague was a consequence of infected fleas, but that is a minor quibble. The supposed extermination of cats by Christian religious authorities not only was a reaction to the plague, not pre-dating it, but in reality did not happen. The idea that they did supposedly comes from Vox in Rama from Pope Gregory IX, but this is actually a letter talking about alleged heretical rites in the town of Stedinger. There is no evidence that cats were killed en masse during the medieval period, and while they could be associated with witchcraft, the same was true of frogs and other animals.

(cherryblossomlife) I was just thinking to myself this morning “What was so frightening to men about the middle ages that they had to call it “the dark ages”…?”

Well, obviously it was that women were freer! Everything in patriarchy is a reversal, so you just reverse everything back the other way to get to the truth.

We can easily trace the history of men’s entrance into the birthing chambers, and it took place after the “dark ages” , which means that women had far more autonomy, and dare I say, “power” than they have today. They probably owned all the businesses too. I didn’t know that women simply left marriages back then, so that’s another one. I would absolutely love to know more about The Dark Ages.

It is true that until fairly recently, men have not been involved - or, sometimes, even allowed to be involved - with childbirth. This is not particularly good evidence of female empowerment outside of the lines that the patriarchical system of the time set for them. Certainly, midwives could achieve a good level of respect and social standing, but they were ultimately only doing so through the few channels that they were permitted to do so through. There were certainly women who accomplished great things during the medieval period; there were women who managed this while working within the bounds set by male dominance; there were even women who managed to gain control over their husbands. However, women were not even slightly "freer". Marital rape was not even a conception. Beating your wife was not considered abusive by default. Women were largely excluded from education and higher roles within medicine, politics, religion, and really most any structure.

I also have no idea what they're talking about regarding a patriarchical reversal. I've only ever seen anything similar as a concept within society and gender studies, not history, and it's nothing as simple.

(Tracy25) What a great Idea to use the concept of the Patriarchal Reversal on the so-called Dark Ages. I agree that this would be a great place to start Digging for useful feminist information, although the problem of women’s Herstory being erased is always a problem for us when we go looking for these Truths. Speculation, while holding little value in Men’s courts for example (except when used against women of course) will be all Women have many times, and connecting the dots. What a great Project to spot the reversal, speculate, and connect the Dots of information we do have, about the Dark Ages. We can also Assume that the Burning Times, which was experienced as a time of Great Evil (and extreme Fear) was most certainly a Time of great or increased Female power. It seems so Obvious once you say it. Women certainly experienced this as a time of extreme Evil and Fear too, but they were seeing Men as they really are and what they are Capable of doing to women. A different Perspective.

While the time of witch trials was conceivably a time of increased power for women, this is a common refrain (men killed women because they were too powerful) that has very little basis in reality. Quite simply, there is the obvious - the targets were largely people who were socially excluded. The poor, vagrants, widows, the socially unpopular, and so on. Additionally, the women who often had the most power within the patriarchical system were midwives, and contrary to popular belief, midwives were more commonly accusers or witnesses than they were the accused. In fact, they were more likely to take on this mantle than they were to be bystanders!

(bronte71) I imagine guild societies of women artisans or natural scientists somewhat similar to those in the so-called Dark Ages.

Even taking into account the more generous reading of this as just talking about women being part of these future guilds, and not that women formed their own guilds (which did exist, for the record), there were no guilds of philosophers or scientists during the medieval period.


Bennett, Judith M., and Ruth Mazo Karras. The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Harley, D. (1990, April 1). Historians as demonologists: The myth of the midwife-witch. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/shm/article-abstract/3/1/1/1689119?login=false

McDaniel, Spencer. “Were Cats Really Killed En Masse during the Middle Ages?” Tales of Times Forgotten, November 5, 2019. https://talesoftimesforgotten.com/2019/11/05/were-cats-really-killed-en-masse-during-the-middle-ages/.

Mortimer, I. (2011). The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. Windsor.

Murphy, Eileen M. “‘The Child That Is Born of One’s Fair Body’ – Maternal and Infant Death in Medieval Ireland.” Childhood in the Past 14, no. 1 (January 2, 2021): 13–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/17585716.2021.1904595.

10:53 UTC


Mindless Monday, 27 May 2024

Happy (or sad) Monday guys!

Mindless Monday is a free-for-all thread to discuss anything from minor bad history to politics, life events, charts, whatever! Just remember to np link all links to Reddit and don't violate R4, or we human mods will feed you to the AutoModerator.

So, with that said, how was your weekend, everyone?

12:15 UTC


Free for All Friday, 24 May, 2024

It's Friday everyone, and with that comes the newest latest Free for All Friday Thread! What books have you been reading? What is your favourite video game? See any movies? Start talking!

Have any weekend plans? Found something interesting this week that you want to share? This is the thread to do it! This thread, like the Mindless Monday thread, is free-for-all. Just remember to np link all links to Reddit if you link to something from a different sub, lest we feed your comment to the AutoModerator. No violating R4!

11:00 UTC


Knowledgia gives me an aneurysm while summarizing the demographic decline of Anatolian Christians

It has been a while since I have come across a Youtube video that is so terrible as to move me to write a post here, but lo and behold. Knowledgia (whom I mentioned before in another post) attempts to explain the historical reasons for the decline of Christian groups in Anatolia within a measly 12 minutes, which is typically the harbinger of bad news as far as historical accuracy is concerned. After watching it, I can indeed confirm that it is not only inaccurate, but also astoundingly bad through and through.

The video begins by trying to establish just how Christian Anatolia used to be, and in this attempt it makes the first of its errors. They claim that two of the most important cities in the history of Christianity are Constantinople and Antioch which lie within Anatolia. This is of course false; Constantinople (before being transformed into a transcontinental city by the Ottomans) lied solely on the European side at what is now the Fatih region of Istanbul, while Antioch - while being a part of Turkey - is not geographically within Anatolia. The term "Anatolia" may fluctuate in meaning based how one uses it, For example, we can view the Turkish "Anadolu" as analogous to the earlier toponym "Rum" whose borders were more nebulous and not as well-defined. However, in modern terms (and especially in English), Anatolia is a much more well-defined geographical region which does not include those two cities. It does include numerous others of significance in Christian history (some of them being early cradles of the religion, and mentioned in John's Revelation), but Knowledgia completely omits them over the course of the video, albeit they do correctly mention that Anatolia was home to early Christian communities more broadly.

The next mistakes in Knowledgia's narrative come when they try to explain the splitting of Christianity during the Great Schism and how that manifested in the demographics between east and west. The initial description (albeit an abrupt jump from the previous section without adequate explanation) is decent at summarizing it, with the only minor mistake being calling Constantinople the centre of Orthodox Christianity which is not true, or at least not in the same manner as Rome was for Catholicism. This owes to the much more decentralized structure of the Orthodox church and the fact all leaders of autocephalous regional churches are seen as equals. Rather, the mistake comes from claiming that while western Europe was uniform religiously, with Jews facing restrictions and discrimination, Byzantium was "multicultural". There is a debate to be had about just how truly multicultural Byzantium really was in an ethnic or linguistic sense, with an expected plurality existing even as late as the 11th century when the Great Schism occurred. However, there is no question about religious affiliations, with Byzantium being no more multiconfessional than other European states.

Jews (contrary to what Knowledgia claim) were not more numerous in Byzantium than in western Europe, and geography certainly didn't play any part in this. Said Jews also faced discrimination and occasional persecution by the Byzantines, albeit arguably to a lesser degree than in western Europe. Muslims were never a substantial population within Byzantium, which had laws and social conventions heavily favouring Christians at the expense of heathens. Constantinople itself had only one mosque which was primarily intended for Muslim diplomatic envoys, merchants and travelers. And of course deviant forms of Christianity were often deemed heretical and persecuted. This often included the Miaphysite Armenians; themselves a native Christian population of Anatolia.

And how could any self-respecting pop history video about the Byzantines possibly omit the posterboy of bad historical takes that is the battle of Manzikert. Knowledgia regurgitate all major myths about the battle: they overstate its significance while not mentioning the internal strife in the imperial court and deposition of emperor Romanos Diogenes, they mention how it had an immediate "massive demographic impact on Anatolia", and they confidently claim that "many historians" believe this to be the beginning of the end of the Byzantine empire. The first point is crucial in understanding how the vying for power within the Byzantine camp was the catalyst of destabilization rather than the battle itself, with Seljuk conquests often happening with cooperation from local Byzantine lords. The conquest indeed brought Turkmens and other peoples as settlers to Anatolia, but there is no indication of any large-scale demographic replacement within such a small amount of time, especially for a region like Anatolia with millions of native inhabitants. And even then, many descendants of Turkmen or offspring of mixed Roman-Turkic marriages became Christians and served as mercenaries in Byzantine armies for the next several centuries (the so-called Tourkopouloi/Turcopoles).

The most egregious claim however is the last one which plays into the classic "sick man" trope of an empire in perpetual centuries-long decline that stems from one singular event. The Byzantines clearly weren't destabilized to the point of no return, nor were they doomed after the loss at Manzikert. Alexios Komnenos and the Crusades (which Knowledgia mention only in passing) were indeed crucial in a gradual stabilization of the Byzantines and eventually the reconquest of most of Anatolia from the Seljuks. In addition, Alexios' inquiry to the west for soldiers was not a sign of inability to deal with the Seljuks alone, as the video seems to imply. The Byzantines at that time had been facing subsequent invasions by the Pechenegs over the Danube and the Normans in the Balkans, both of which posed an existential threat. The request for aid itself was not unusual for a Byzantine emperor, given that Byzantine armies had always incorporated foreign mercenaries to supplement their own native forces.

Within two generations by the reign of Manuel Komnenos, the Byzantines were once again the most powerful state in the region and the sultanate of Rum was by all means a minor power within the Byzantine periphery. It was the political strife following the reign of the tyrannical Andronikos Komnenos (who earlier pushed the Constantinopolitan mob to commit the massacre of the Latins of the City), the highly incompetent rule of Isaac Angelos, and then the events of the fourth crusade - culminating in the 1204 sack of Constantinople - which drastically weakened the Byzantine empire and allowed for the Turks to reemerge as a major power contender in Anatolia. Many Byzantine territories were lost to the Latins, and others split into competing successor states claiming to be the legitimate Roman empire. The empire of Nicaea centred around western Anatolia would emerge victorious and restore much of the Byzantine empire, but not as powerful as it once was. Subsequent civil wars within the last century of the empire's life were the terminal point of decline; around 300 years after Manzikert.

Knowledgia also imply that the Ottomans somehow arose out of the Rum sultanate without explaining anything about the intervening period. The Rum sultanate ceased to exist as an independent entity before the Byzantines recovered Constantinople from the Latins, as the Mongols invaded Anatolia and defeated the Turkish armies, turning them into vassals of the Ilkhanate. The Byzantines avoided this fate by instead entering an alliance with the Mongols. When the power of the Mongols started to wane in the region around the late 13th century, it was then that we get the first truly independent Anatolian beyliks, and more would start forming over the course of the 14th century. It is within this context that the Ottomans came into being.

These of course don't necessarily explain how or why the Christian population of Anatolia was affected. The aforementioned events are broader political changes that do affect demographics to an extent, but it's not trivial to deduce the decline of the local population just from these. Crucial aspects which are ignored are the demographic impact of the Black Death which killed a substantial portion of the Anatolian Christian population, the Turkish ghazas (raids) into Byzantine territory and across the borders over centuries which contributed to the destruction of major urban centres and depopulation of the countryside, as well as the social influence of Sufi orders who had been instrumental in the spread of Islam in Anatolia since the very beginning of Turkish presence in Anatolia.

What follows is arguably the most ridiculous historical mistake in the video. Knowledgia (after incorrectly claiming the capital was renamed "Istanbul" by the Ottomans which is incorrect, as the that was only a colloquial name) claims that each religious group belonged to a "self-governing community" called a millet. They go as far as to draw distinct borders on the map, and to claim they could conduct their affairs free from Ottoman interference, with the "Rum" (Orthodox Christians) using Roman law from the time of Byzantium.

Literally every single thing about what they claim is blatantly wrong. The millet system was only relevant after the 19th century, and in no way constituted a system of self-governance or freedom from the Ottoman rule of law, let alone the adherence to the code of Justinian. The millets had no set geographical boundaries, and the figureheads merely acted in the interests of their communities by being their representatives, often cooperating with Ottoman authorities for the purposes of local administration and tax collection. In fact, the geographical boundaries give the impression that a) there were exclusively distinct contiguous majority Christian regions throughout the empire, and b) the choices they make reflect much later (or even modern, as in the case of Cyprus) geographical divisions.

The social disadvantages the video mentions later were also definitely crucial in incentivizing many locals to convert, however the figure they give about less than 20% of the empire being non-Muslims is misleading. This figure depends on the exact point of the 19th century we're talking about, and the veracity of many of the censuses published both by the Ottomans and other sources (e.g. the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople). In addition, it doesn't make it clear whether Anatolia specifically had such a percentage or not. More modern studies such as [1] in the bibliography below do seem to suggest that the Christian population by the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century constituted a percentage in the 15-20% range in Anatolia.

Later on when talking about nationalist movements fighting for independence from the Ottomans, they incorrectly show Bosnia as a distinct entity. Bosnia was conquered by the Austro-Hungarian empire before that, and in fact it is the Serbian nationalists within it looking for unification with Serbia that were the catalyst to World War I.

Furthermore, when talking about the expulsion of Armenians from Anatolia, the Ottomans are mentioned alongside the Soviets as the instigators. The Soviets did invade independent Armenia in the 1920s, but that wasn't with nationalist incentives that lead to a depopulation of Armenia, nor was that geographical region part of Anatolia. The near-eradication of Armenians from Anatolia is the result of decades-long persecutions that started with the Hamidiye massacres in the 1890s and of eventually culminated in the Armenian genocide over the course of WWI. It wasn't between WWI and the Turkish war of independence, since the latter only started after the conclusion of the former. This flawed timeline fails to mention the massacres at the expense of other Christian groups such as the Assyrians and the Pontic Greeks, both of which also occurred over the course of WWI.

Finally, the last significant demographic shift which sealed Anatolia as a well-nigh exclusively Muslim region was the population exchange between Greece and Turkey following the conclusion of the Greco-Turkish war in 1922. close to 1.2 million Greeks left Turkey (almost exclusively from Anatolia) for Greece, and around 400.000 Turks left Greece for Turkey. This significant event is mentioned almost as an afterthought at the very end of the video, dubbed as "a large shift in population", rather than a foundational part of the history of the republic of Turkey.

Overall, Knowledgia's video is wholly inadequate in explaining the very topic they sought to explain. Major events are overlooked or brushed over, bad history tropes and common misconceptions are taken as fact, important factors are never analyzed, and their own claims remain unexplored.


  1. S. Mutlu (2003), "Late Ottoman population and its ethnic distribution", Turkish Journal of Population Studies, 25, 3-38
  2. W. Treadgold (1999), "A History of the Byzantine State and Society"
  3. A. Kaldellis (2019), "Romanland"
  4. G.N. Shirinian (2017), "Genocide in the Ottoman Empire: Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks, 1913-1923"
  5. C. Kafadar (1995), "Two Worlds: The Construction of the Ottoman State"
  6. A.C.S. Peacock and B. De Nicola (2015), "Islam and Christianity in Medieval Anatolia"
15:30 UTC


Mindless Monday, 20 May 2024

Happy (or sad) Monday guys!

Mindless Monday is a free-for-all thread to discuss anything from minor bad history to politics, life events, charts, whatever! Just remember to np link all links to Reddit and don't violate R4, or we human mods will feed you to the AutoModerator.

So, with that said, how was your weekend, everyone?

12:15 UTC


Roland's Durendal sword-in-the-stone at Rocamadour

I’ve just learned of this interesting sword via a Facebook post - this thing has been doing the rounds for several years now. The source is an article at online magazine 'La Brujula Verde' entitled 'The sword embedded in the rock of the precipice of Rocamadour for 9 centuries' written by Guillermo Carvajal in Spanish in 2016, then published in 2019 in English, which seems to be what prompted it to go 'viral' to some extent. I'm a few years late but still hoping to nip this one in the bud as far as posting something that the curious can easily find if they care to look. I would link an image of the sword but all images appear on pages with associated bad history and the rules say not to link to that. Anyway...

I saw several people lamenting that the Cluny Museum had taken this treasure down and put it in a museum. For one thing, if a piece of ferrous metal had truly survived 900 years in an exposed rock crevice (the more famous ‘sword in the stone’ at Montesiepi Chapel was at least protected from the elements), it certainly would have required salvage and preservation. However, what the article’s author failed to bother to find out is that this thing was completely fake in the first place, put there to attract tourists (Barber, Arthurian Swords I, Arthurian Literature XXXV, Volume 35, p.14):

Tourists can see [Durendal] fixed in the cliff face above the doorway to the shrine of the Virgin at Rocamadour; but this is a relatively modern feature and the sword is a nondescript nineteenth-century decorative sword of poor workmanship. In 1787 or 1788, a local lord, the Vicomte d'Anterroches, bullied the canons at Rocamadour into agreeing to present the sword then shown to visitors as Durendal - a coarse short dagger, possibly Bronze Age to the prince de Condé, whose collection of antiquities was dispersed at the Revolution. At some point a story was created that Henry the Young King had stolen the original sword when he came to Rocamadour during his rebellion against his father in 1183, but the first printed record of this is in the work of a late nineteenth-century English historian. There is no known connection between Roland and Rocamadour, and even the origins of the idea that Durendal might have been at the shrine are totally obscure.

Barber’s reference for the sword being fake is none other than the Cluny Museum itself, where the now-relic fake ended up (L'épée: usages, mythes et symboles : Paris, Musée de Cluny--Musée national du Moyen Âge, 28 avril-26 septembre 2011, p.97). The Cluny didn’t acquire it to preserve some 900-year-old treasure, they took it because of its significance as an example of how swords are used symbolically. Notably, as they say, pregnant women in the early 20th century would ask that particular fake sword for favours for their unborn children. Now, there has to have been an earlier sword there because Alexis de Valon noted in 1851 that;

...in Rocamadour and its environs, local people revered Durandal, believing that both it and its modern substitute could make childless women conceive.

(Harry Redman, Jr. 1991. The Roland Legend in Nineteenth Century French Literature, University Press of Kentucky, p.104).

Despite Barber’s comment about unknown origins of the Rocamadour 'Durendal' we do in fact know these, back to the early 17th century at least and summarised by Redman as follows:

Writing in 1620, Scipion Dupleix stated that Roland had been interred at St. Romain's and that, according to tradition, his sword had been placed at his head and his horn at his feet. Later, he added, the sword was taken to Rocamadour, while the horn was deposited in St. Seurin's. Mérimée, Inspecteur Général des Monuments Historiques, was in an excellent position to know where such things ought to be, and he thought the sword was still at Rocamadour. Frédéric Mistral was convinced of it. Mérimée's friend Alexis de Valon was not so sure and held that it had been removed from Rocamadour at the time of the French Revolution and replaced by another one not at all resembling it. Prince Lucien had the sword, along with its owner, interred at Roncevaux. For Peyrat, Roland, his sword, and his horn were all buried where the paladin was struck down. Cervantes, we recall, believed that the sword was in the Madrid museum where Quinet claimed to have seen it.

(Harry Redman, Jr. 1991. The Roland Legend in Nineteenth Century French Literature, University Press of Kentucky, p.213). Lots more in that article on the background to a claimed Durendal at Rocamadour prior to the insertion of the fake removed in 2011 (and since replaced by a new fake!).

Note that the sword referenced by Cervantes is an entirely different one in the Real Armería de Madrid, which was never claimed to reside at Rocamadour. So we have two competing 'surviving' Durendals, neither of which are even period, much less anything to do with Roland. This is typical of ‘surviving’ heroic swords which are mostly contemporary to the time when they are first claimed to be original. There's every chance that the Rocamadour sword is a replacement for something much older. Redman speculates that there may have been three swords there prior to 2011 (p.106). Whether any sword once in that rock face dated to Roland's era or could even have been his, we will never know. I suspect it originated as a classic ecceliastical fundraising effort, like Arthur and Guinevere's grave at Glastonbury Abbey. Regardless, the claim at hand is about the sword removed in 2011, and we can be certain that the this was definitively a fake, itself now replaced by a sword that will likely also be assumed as real in future. And if you've been to Rocamadour since 2011, the sword you saw is brand new.

Sources - inline with text/linked.

14:13 UTC


Free for All Friday, 17 May, 2024

It's Friday everyone, and with that comes the newest latest Free for All Friday Thread! What books have you been reading? What is your favourite video game? See any movies? Start talking!

Have any weekend plans? Found something interesting this week that you want to share? This is the thread to do it! This thread, like the Mindless Monday thread, is free-for-all. Just remember to np link all links to Reddit if you link to something from a different sub, lest we feed your comment to the AutoModerator. No violating R4!

11:00 UTC


You're breaking my heart PBS! Bad History in "A Brief History of the Future" Episode 6

Episode 6 of the series, "A Brief History of the Future" is blurbed as:

Examine the ways we often see the future as a rigid and singular concept rather than the multiple possible futures before us, the crucial need to think much, much bigger about what could come next, and how we all have more personal agency than we realize.

There are two examples of fairly remarkably bad history in the episode. Around minute 7, the narrator, creator of the series, and "renowned futurist" Ari Wallach visits with Raya Bidshahri, the founder of the School of Humanity. The school is physically located in the Dubai but enrolls students from around the world in their virtual programs.

Bad history moment #1. From the transcript:

Bidshahri, voice-over: We all, for whatever reason, have a story we tell ourselves about what it means to go to school, what it means to learn, what that experience should feel like. And there's this mainstream kind of narrative in our collective imaginations. Changing that for an entire species is tough.

As the narrator speaks, the screen shows grainy 1950s color images of a white couple hoeing a row of crops, two white men standing in a field talking, a combine moving through a cotton field, shots of a piece of machinery, white women sewing in a factory, a large group of white children playing outside, groups of children streaming out of a schoolhouse.

Narrator: Acres of rich soil, and willing hands gave the good earth tireless care. But times have changed. Machines of every type are multiplying productivity in remarkable ways. This is an investment for your children's future here.

Bidshahri: A lot of the structures that we're experiencing in schools today came from the assembly line. (black and white video of a white man moving a car hood in a factory.) We really needed to train millions of factory workers.

#It's difficult to prove a negative and to be sure, education historians have been trying for decades to disprove this narrative but the structure of schools did not come from the assembly line and had nothing to do with training factory workers. At all.

As a general rule of thumb, education historians offer that schools look the way they do because people tried different things and what we see today is what worked - and stuck. There is a lot to be said about who it works for and how we define what works but first and foremost, schools were not designed in any meaningful sense of the word. In addition, America has an incredibly decentralized education system and getting all schools to move in the same direction around anything takes a literal act of Congress (i.e. adding the Pledge of Allegiance to the school day) and that just about part of a school's morning routine, not curriculum and pedagogy that would be required to do what she's describing.

It's difficult to provide sources regarding something that didn't happen but some of the pieces by education historians that try to get the flaws in this misconception include this piece in the Washington Post by Jack Schneider and the chapter on this topic by Sherman Dorn in this recent book. If you're interested, I pulled together the history around the phrase in this Wikipedia article. There's also the fact that there were sometimes schools inside factories, child labor was a whole thing for a time period, and there were high schools that operated in ways that were very similar to today's high schools in the mid-1800s - long before the assembly line was invented.

A few moments later, Bad history #2.

Bidshahri: In fact, the reason we have bells... [Bell rings] in between lessons is because in the factory, you would have bells to signal the movement from one assembly line to another.

#There is no evidence in the historical record to support a claim that the reason schools have bells is because of factories.

The best resource on this topic is this essay by Audrey Watters, author of Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning. In her work, Watters explores how "disruptors" like Bidshahri repeat the story of the bells such that they can position themselves as offering an alterative. In the very next scene, Bidshahri offers:

We're actually moving towards a creative economy, especially with the rise of AI and automation. The kinds of tasks and thinking and processes that will be most difficult to replace with machines are the ones that are most creative and imaginative and require higher-ordered thinking.

To which the narrator replies:

So this kind of Henry Ford model of education makes sense in the early 1900s, when millions of people are moving off of farms, and we have to get them ready to kind of work in factories. Now, here we are really at the beginning of the 21st century. What does it look like if we want to do it differently?

It's a fairly egregious use of bad history and a bummer that it comes from PBS.

19:23 UTC


Mindless Monday, 13 May 2024

Happy (or sad) Monday guys!

Mindless Monday is a free-for-all thread to discuss anything from minor bad history to politics, life events, charts, whatever! Just remember to np link all links to Reddit and don't violate R4, or we human mods will feed you to the AutoModerator.

So, with that said, how was your weekend, everyone?

12:15 UTC


The Armchair Historian's Mischaracterization of Qing China and the so-called "Century of Humiliation"

A few days ago I chanced upon this new video by The Armchair Historian, titled: "China's Rivalry Against the West: Century of Humiliation".

Now, the telling of Chinese history is a difficult matter. Like the cats of T.S. Eliot's poem, they are understood by many names. The Armchair Historian perpetuates many common tropes about Qing China:

  1. Qing China was harmonious: it supposedly maintained East Asian peace through a hierarchical tribute system with China as hegemon
  2. Qing China was stagnant: it failed to advance centuries of science and technology, hence its subsequent subjugation by Western colonial powers
  3. Qing China was a victim. Specifically a victim of Western imperialism that has unfairly wronged a peaceful Middle Kingdom.

The Armchair Historian managed to perpetuate all three tropes in the first minute of the video.

Peaceful Middle Kingdom or Colonial Empire?

At 0:17 of the video, the Qing empire was claimed to only possess 'occasional internal strife'. In reality, the Great Qing (大清) was twice the size of the preceding Ming empire, achieved through a series external conquests during the 18th century known as the 10 Great Campaigns, including the 4 invasions of Burma from 1765 – 1769 and the invasion of Vietnam in 1788 – 1789. The Qing also fought 70 years of war with the Dzungars, ending with the genocide of the latter, and the incorporation of Tibet, Qinghai and part of Xinjiang into its territories. None of these were 'internal strife', but external-facing invasions perpetuated by the Manchu Great Qing.

Now one could argue that there were some internal rebellions such as the Miao Rebellion. The issue with using the term 'internal' assumes that this was a civil conflict of sorts, when in fact, they are anti-colonial rebellions. The Miao peoples were majorities in their homeland until they became 'minorities' after being conquered. Nor were these peculiar to the Qing period: the Miao rebellions began as early as the Ming dynasty, during the 14th and 15th centuries. What we term 'internal' conflicts are in fact euphemisms for anti-colonial uprisings.

The Qing was thus no peaceful Middle Kingdom, but a colonial empire by all sensible definitions.

Source for this section:

Interrogating Supposed Qing China's Economic Self-Sufficiency Through State-Led Policies

Part of the aforementioned mythos of a benevolent, peaceful Middle Kingdom necessarily involves the idea of strong government creating a powerful internal economy that did not require external conquests. At 0:36 of the video, it is claimed that Qing China had a 'self-sufficient' economy that was 'tightly controlled by the state'.

It is unclear what this meant, for the Qing's frequent external conquests in the 18th century was economically devastating. For instance, the suppression of Gyalrong tribal chiefdoms (modern Jinchuan) resulted in the loss of an estimated 50,000 troops and 70 million silver taels. Arguably, the relative weakness of 19th century Qing China to Western powers was partly due to economic overreach caused by excessive imperial conquest by the Qing in the prior 18th century century.

Furthermore, claiming an expansionary empire - such as the Qing - to be 'self-sufficient' is an oxymoron. One does not claim self-sufficiency if it needs to conquer others and extract their resources. The aforementioned genocide of the Dzungars in 1755 led to the Qing's policy of settlement of Han and Uyghur peoples in Dzungaria. James Millward astutely observes:

In territories newly acquired by the Qing, Han settler colonialism followed wherever farming was environmentally feasible...

Sources for this section:

The Stereotype of an Aloof, Inward-looking Qing Empire

At 0:58, it is asserted that 'internationally, China viewed itself as culturally superior and largely self-reliant, requiring little from the outside world'. There are many issues with this claim, chief among them the fact that the Manchu rulers emerged as a confederation of Jurchen tribes outside China, now ruling over an internal Han Chinese majority not always pleased by their foreign occupation. The assumption of a clear distinction between what's in and out of China is problematic to begin with.

The Qianlong emperor was aware of this, and even more the fact that the Qing ruled over more than just a Han majority, but numerous subjugated ethnic groups from the 10 Great Campaigns. Seeking to reinvent the Chinese civilizational narrative, Qianlong claimed that China is in fact an inclusive empire, it is not just for Han Chinese, but for all ethnicities in its embrace. The obvious intent is that Qianlong was Manchurian, hence he needed an ideological narrative legitimizing his rule over the Chinese.

The point here is that Qing China, or at least its Manchu rulers, does not so much as view their empire as superior to the outside world, as it was very consciously reinventing the Chinese civilizational narrative to justify their then-current imperial arrangement.

Rethinking the 'Century of Humiliation'

Let us conclude with the state of affairs that is 19th century China. To cast the 19th century as a Century of Humiliation isn't entirely unfair, but it is a half-truth at best. China was not unilaterally victimized by Western imperialism, for Qing China was also an imperial power in itself. The instability it faces, therefore, was not just from foreigners, but also from its subjugated peoples.

The subjugation is twofold: from the Han majority resentful of Manchu rule, and the conquered ethnic minorities. For example, the Taiping Rebellion demonstrate much anti-Manchu sentiments. This is unsurprising, for Manchu rule over China is reflective of a far older and deeper rooted memory of conquest by northern steppe empires (Mongols, Turks, Khitans, Jurchens), with the Western incursions being relatively recent by comparison.

The 19th century is thus not just a century of humiliation by Western powers, but also a century where the Manchu rulers could not hold the fraying empire from its dissenting Han majority and anti-colonial uprisings. It was not a Middle Kingdom humiliated by European powers, but a losing conflict between the Chinese colonial empire and European colonial empires.

Further Resources:

23:24 UTC


Free for All Friday, 10 May, 2024

It's Friday everyone, and with that comes the newest latest Free for All Friday Thread! What books have you been reading? What is your favourite video game? See any movies? Start talking!

Have any weekend plans? Found something interesting this week that you want to share? This is the thread to do it! This thread, like the Mindless Monday thread, is free-for-all. Just remember to np link all links to Reddit if you link to something from a different sub, lest we feed your comment to the AutoModerator. No violating R4!

11:00 UTC


Mindless Monday, 06 May 2024

Happy (or sad) Monday guys!

Mindless Monday is a free-for-all thread to discuss anything from minor bad history to politics, life events, charts, whatever! Just remember to np link all links to Reddit and don't violate R4, or we human mods will feed you to the AutoModerator.

So, with that said, how was your weekend, everyone?

12:15 UTC


One Man’s 20-Year Anti-Stratfordian Obsession

Brief note: I will be linking to relevant articles and sources throughout this *long* effort post, some of which will take you to McCarthy’s own webpage, some of which might be behind paywalls - depending on how interesting you find all this, you might like to follow these links to get a glimpse of the ‘primary texts’ themselves!

Sooo: take a seat - get some snacks - and get ready. This is the story of one man’s obsessive 20-year quest to convince the world that the ‘real genius’ behind Shakespeare’s plays was an Elizabethan translator called Sir Thomas North.

First things first! I studied literature for my undergraduate degree, and I have a master’s degree in the history and philosophy of science: basically, my interests intersect perfectly with the ‘Shakespeare Authorship Question’, given that it is a) all about *probably* the greatest literary figure in English, maybe western, art, and b) it is of course a realm full of spurious thinking, logical fallacies and grasping at radical conclusions without any evidence.

I’ve been interested in the topic since before my undergrad degree over a decade ago, and have read all the arguments about all the usual suspects: from Edward de Vere (he of little poetic talent), to Christopher Marlowe (he at least could write well); all the way to Sir Francis Bacon, Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh. Honestly, it sometimes seems like everybody in 16th century England has been put forward as the playwright by someone at some point.

But the subject of this post is one Dennis McCarthy, an American independent researcher who has previously published papers on biology, and since the late 00s, almost exclusively (when journals will accept his papers that is…) on Shakespeare. In some ways McCarthy is clearly a tier above the usual conspiracy theorist/anti-Stratfordian (don't bother clicking this link - it's just an example of craziness). He’s not just looking at a random line in a sonnet, and extrapolating that into a huge, elaborate story about how ‘Shax-pere’ (as these sorts love to pointedly call Will) was actually a front for the Earl of Oxford’s plays, and he does do some research that takes him out of his house and off the internet; but he still ends up falling prey to the same old problems all anti-Stratfordians fall into, which I will get to below.

Now, if anti-Stratfordians were capable of thinking critically, the failure of McCarthy to convince anyone should really be the end of their mind-numbing nonsense - but of course it won’t be. My point being, that even the best intentioned, and most ingenious anti-Stratfordians eventually have to contend with reality: and it is at that point they fall flat on their face.

So, what makes this story any different? And why should anyone be interested in another pretender to the throne? Honestly, it’s mostly because my aunt bought me his book (Thomas North: The Original Author of Shakespeare's Plays) for Christmas, knowing my interest in the topic. Since I’ve recently finished it, I thought you should all go through what I went through 🙂

But McCarthy’s story is also interesting in and of itself. As far as I see it, it is an almost Shakespearean (or should that be ‘Northern’...?) tale of hubris. Full of intellectual arrogance, confirmation bias on a grand scale, and (independent) scholarly folly of grand proportions.

I think it’s also just genuinely interesting to see Thomas North of all people put forward as ‘the real Shakespeare’, because he is not at all a mainstream contender - whatever one might like to say about McCarthy, he certainly hasn’t made this easy on himself. And given the short shrift he’s been getting on the fringes of social media that pay attention to him, it’s fair to say he’s not a people pleaser. I almost admire his tenacity chasing this lost cause.

You see, Thomas North is seemingly the last literate male in Elizabethan England to be put forward as the ‘real’ playwright. Even some Italian and French writers were suggested decades before poor Thomas North was. Given that this translator, soldier, lawyer and son-of-Henry-VIII’s-main-man-when-it-came-to-the-dissolution-of-the-monasteries did actually have a real link with Shakespeare’s plays, it’s genuinely amazing that he’s only just now been put forwards: you see, it was his translation of Plutarch’s Lives (1590) that Shakespeare used as the source for his 3 Roman Plays. Those are Corialanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and Julius Caesar.

Now, anyone who knows anything about Shakespeare’s sources will know what I’m about to say, and it has been known by critics since at least the late 18th century. North’s Plutarch is not only one of Shakespeare’s most important sources, up there with Holinshed’s Chronicles and Ovid, it is the only one of Shakespeare’s sources that the Bard seemed to think didn’t need that much work to get good enough for the Elizabethan stage. You can check out Dennis’ webpage to see the common language between, say, Antony and Cleopatra, and North’s translation.

Worth pointing out here that McCarthy’s actually completely right on this point, but it’s a rather trivial point that everyone already agrees with: it’s with his novel arguments where he falters.

So with that, let’s get back to Dennis, and his story. His first venture into the world of literature was nearly 20 years ago - and here comes the hubris bit: like all STEM-lords he wanted to apply ideas and methodologies from the sciences to the arts. And, as he writes in the opening chapter to his self-published book, he started this part of his journey by asking himself: ‘what’s the single greatest, most important literary work in the western canon?’. This led him to think about Hamlet as not just a work of imagination and creativity, but as something that evolved into its final state that we all know today.

This is not, of course, completely insane - in fact, this is precisely what academics have done already. We know that the ultimate source of Hamlet is a Danish myth, that - over the course of a few hundred years - migrated to Elizabethan England via a French translation. McCarthy, undaunted by the fact that better minds have already worked out all there is to know about this, set himself the task of answering it his own way.

So he started by looking at contemporary references to Hamlet and Shakespeare. As any student of Elizabethan literature is likely to already know, the earliest reference to Hamlet can be found in Thomas Nashe’s preface to Greene’s translation of Menaphon, 13 years before the earliest publication of Shakespeare’s play. Nashe writes of someone who, ‘if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches’. Given that Nashe then says that his followers are like the ‘Kid’ in Aesop, it is often assumed that Nashe is implying Thomas Kyd wrote this early Hamlet.

But we don’t really know who wrote this early Hamlet, often known as the 'ur-Hamlet': some suggest it may have simply been Shakespeare himself rather than Kyd, and it was merely an early iteration of the play he went on to perfect over the coming decade. McCarthy, always dissenting, reckons Nashe was referring to Thomas North as the author (of course!).

Now, to be fair to McCarthy - and this is as fair to him as I will ever be - this bit isn’t the whacky part, at least prima facie. After all, given that we don’t really know who Nashe was obliquely implying was the author, and the scant details in the text could be interpreted any number of different ways, McCarthy’s suggestion that it might have been North is in and of itself OK.

It’s more the fact that this one little inference became the basis of his multi-decade obsession with his North-Shakespeare hypothesis.

You see, what followed that first supposition was a classic case of confirmation bias. I say a classic case, but actually it is of course a rather extreme case. McCarthy has since published articles on:

Thomas North and Titus Andronicus

Ben Jonson’s Satires (and how they supposedly point to North as the writer of Shakespeare’s plays)

The claimed linguistic parallels between Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy and North’s first translation, the Diall of Princes

He’s also managed to unearth, and sometimes successfully publish books and/or articles on: Thomas’ handwritten marginalia in his personal books, that he thinks are connected to Shakespeare’s works; an unpublished travel journal, again by Thomas North, again thought by McCarthy to be connected to the plays; a copy of a book on politics, by George North, presumed to be Thomas’ cousin and yet again argued be the basis of certain scenes and phrases in the plays; payments that are assumed to be for putting on plays or revels, in the North family accounts; and finally, numerous (but of course coincidental) biographical connections between Thomas and Shakespeare’s plays (you'd have to read his book for those details).

Anyway, some of McCarthy’s discoveries are genuinely interesting in and of themselves, and certainly of historical interest to anyone who is a nerd for Elizabethan stuff, but where McCarthy sees endless corroboration and proof for his conclusions, I see confirmation biases on a scale rarely seen outside of QANON forums.

After all, where Dennis is likely to ask ‘what are the chances that everything Thomas North is known to have written and done can be directly linked to the Bard’s plays?’, I am inclined to answer ‘very likely, if that is what you’re looking for’. It’s just typical conspiracy thinking, isn’t it?

Let’s look at some specific examples of his arguments and so-called ‘evidence’, if you’re not too queasy-stomached with this journey so far.

At some point over the last decade, McCarthy has managed to get journalist Michael Blanding, and (presumably formerly) respected Shakespearean June Schlueter on board with his silliness, and together they’ve unearthed books from the North family library, some of which has marginalia in what they reckon is Thomas North’s handwriting (mentioned above).

You can click here to read a bit about it if you like (honestly, don’t bother), but the gist is simple: McCarthy thinks that North’s marginalia shows North’s process of writing some of the plays, and points in particular to his underlining of supposed ‘key plot points’ in Cymbeline, such as giving tribute to Rome, the slaying of a certain king, and the Roman invasion of Britain. He also loves to bang on about the fact that Shakespeare and North seemingly misspell a character’s name the same way, which he repeatedly asserts in his book is ‘highly unlikely’.

The main problem here is that we already know that Shakespeare used Fabyan’s chronicles as a source, so it’s hard to work out what these marginalia are meant to prove: the connection is already known. The fact that Shakespeare and North misspell ‘Cassibellan’ in the same way (‘Cassibulan’) means little when you remember that publishers would have the final say in how word were spelled, rather than working precisely to what was written in the manuscript: why assume it was Shakespeare who was misspelling the Roman name the same way as North? Clearly another reach by McCarthy, but of course he sees nothing but further confirmation of his theory.

And the fact that North underlined many of the ‘salient’ plot points and bits of phrasing that appear in Cymbeline needn’t suggest anything more than the translator saw Shakespeare’s play (or had a physical copy) and underlined those passages based on that. And that’s only one of any number of possible alternatives!

Anyway, in the early 2010s, he got his hands on some plagiarism software - WCopyfind - and of course applied his newest toy to his singular obsession. His findings from using the tool comprise the bulk of his book’s argument. It will surprise none of you, I’m sure, to hear that - shock, horror - he found exactly what he was looking for. I’m not going to go into detail here about all of the collocations he thinks he’s found, just check out his website for a run down, if you’re really that much of a masochist. (There are times looking into all of this that I’ve had to question both his and my soundness of mind…)

So, I’ll just stick to one example, possibly the single biggest reach I think I found in all his work:the claimed commonalities between Shakespeare’s writing, North, and North’s sources, and the argument that these are evidence for North’s authorship of the plays. For example, he reckons bits of King Lear are taken from one of Thom’s translations. I can happily accept that these connections might be real, to be fair, and that Shakespeare may have read North more widely than Plutarch’s Lives, but McCarthy of course has to go one step further: he asserts that the playwright must also have read North’s non-English source (one Simon Goulart), because Edgar/Poor Tom uses the word ‘esperance’, which appears in Goulart’s French text in the same passage McCarthy thinks King Lear is borrowing from, via North.

Exhausting isn’t it?

His argument isn’t just that Shakespeare is borrowing from both North’s translation, and Goulart’s original, of course, but that North wrote King Lear and at some point sold the play to Shakespeare, and so he would have had access to his own translation and the original already when he was writing the play. Just read his webpage for a full breakdown of his warped thought process. As far as I’m concerned, this actually proves nothing. After all, 'esperance' was already an extant word in English by the late 16th century, being first recorded in 1430, so there’s no reason to assume Shakespeare got it from Goulart. And after all, coincidences do happen, but try convincing a conspiracy theorist of that.

It’s also not impossible - if we want to give McCarthy some leeway with his ideas - to believe that Shakespeare may have read both Goulart and North in parallel while writing King Lear. There’s good reason to believe he spoke French quite well, and it’s certainly not unheard of to work this way, even today. But McCarthy of course sees literally everything as confirmation of his theories.

Ultimately, it’s a shame that he had to wrap his research and discoveries up in this anti-Stratfordian nonsense. Had he simply stuck to the more reasonable and conventional view, that mainstream academia has accepted for hundreds of year - i.e. that actually, yes, the Man from Stratford wrote the plays we think he wrote - he could have contributed something useful to the field of Shakespeare’s sources or Elizabethan literature and history more broadly.

By all accounts, this Thomas North chap clearly led an interesting life. He certainly had some influence on Shakespeare’s writing, at least when it came to the three Roman Plays. And you know what, he may even have been used as a source for more of the canon than we had previously thought, if the collocations McCarthy talks about are anything to go by! But because McCarthy is far too fast to assume that nothing could be coincidental, or trivial - when in fact, actually, many things are - he’s put himself in a position where his work will forever be relegated to the fringes of academic study.

Elizabethan manuscript culture is well attested to and well discussed in the literature, and there’s no reason to think that Shakespeare couldn’t have read North’s unpublished journal, probably McCarthy’s favourite widdlle discoveries that he’s endlessly blathering about. Why should we assume that every single verbal parallel found between Shakespeare’s plays and North’s translations means Shakespeare must have been using the older writer as a direct source? And Just because Thomas North was Alice Arden’s half-sister (something else he goes on about a lot!), doesn’t mean he must have written Arden of Feversham, part of the ‘Shakespeare Apocrypha’. After all, we know that William himself had a distant relative on his mother’s side called ‘Thomas Arden’: does that not also, taking this line of argument, corroborate the Shakespeare-as-author case?

Well, there’s good reason to believe that Shakespeare did co-write at least some of Arden, based on robust stylometric analyses, so that is something of a rhetorical question. The point is, again, that McCarthy unfortunately sees everything as evidence for North’s authorship of the canon, and seems to think that because he can link every known biographical tidbit about Thomas North with Shakespeare’s plays, and because he squints his eyes and sees verbal parallels everywhere, and because North’s marginalia happens to misspell something the same way as Cymbeline - and honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg… well, this is the very definition of delusional monomania, right?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little portrait of a man besotted by his own theories, and you’ve not simply spent the time reading it groaning in agony and despair over the fact that it’s 2024, and these baseless ideas keep popping up. I find something fascinating in all this, even if I also find it all a bit crazy.

Citations - I've tried to link to anything I really need to cite, but I also read/consulted

Shapiro, James - Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, 2011

Blanding, Michael - In Shakespeare's Shadow: A Rogue Scholar's Quest to Reveal the True Source Behind the World's Greatest Plays, 2022

My go to version of Shakespeare's works is The Arden Shakespeare, which also includes lots of notes on specific plays, and their sources, dates etc. I also use The RSC Shakespeare: The Complete Works

22:07 UTC


Free for All Friday, 03 May, 2024

It's Friday everyone, and with that comes the newest latest Free for All Friday Thread! What books have you been reading? What is your favourite video game? See any movies? Start talking!

Have any weekend plans? Found something interesting this week that you want to share? This is the thread to do it! This thread, like the Mindless Monday thread, is free-for-all. Just remember to np link all links to Reddit if you link to something from a different sub, lest we feed your comment to the AutoModerator. No violating R4!

11:00 UTC


Saturday Symposium Post for May, 2024

Monthly post for all your debunk or debate requests. Top level comments need to be either a debunk request or start a discussion.

Please note that R2 still applies to debunk/debate comments and include:

  • A summary of or preferably a link to the specific material you wish to have debated or debunked.
  • An explanation of what you think is mistaken about this and why you would like a second opinion.

Do not request entire books, shows, or films to be debunked. Use specific examples (e.g. a chapter of a book, the armour design on a show) or your comment will be removed.

19:00 UTC


Mindless Monday, 29 April 2024

Happy (or sad) Monday guys!

Mindless Monday is a free-for-all thread to discuss anything from minor bad history to politics, life events, charts, whatever! Just remember to np link all links to Reddit and don't violate R4, or we human mods will feed you to the AutoModerator.

So, with that said, how was your weekend, everyone?

12:15 UTC


Everything wrong with CountryZ's 'CountryBalls - History of Australia' in just the first 60 seconds

CountryZ tells their history by using countryballs (balls with flags to repersent countries and their people). So in order to save time, I'm not going to criticise the use of modern flags for ancient ones as a visual shorthand. But I will criticise flags and designs that have never been accurate.

The channel description states that "On our channel you will see a lot of informative, funny and interesting animations" and also sometimes talking about a zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, no apocalypse in this particular video. Just an attempt at history.

And it is so inaccurate, that after getting through the first minute of this video, I'd run out of time to debunk any more. So here's everything wrong in the first minute of CountryZ's video.

0.05 "2000 B.C."

Watch closely folks! Because in just the first 12 seconds of this video, the video manages to make three major mistakes already.

Firstly, there's the protrayal of Sahul existing in 2000 BC. Sahul is an ancient continent that contained mainland Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea. Problem is, Tasmania had split away from the rest of them by 12,000 years ago. At 2000 BC New Guinea had also split away.


At this point a bunch of countryballs pop up on the map in mainland Australia, New Guinea, and Indonesia. This would suggest the video is referencing the migration of the first Aboriginal people into Australia as it sort of refers to a possible route. Problem is, they're tens of thousands of years too late. The first Aboriginals are thought to have come to Australia around 48,000-[65,000 years ago] (https://cosmosmagazine.com/history/the-quest-to-understand-when-ancient-migration-to-australia-began/).

But let's take a look at how they protray the first people to arrive in Australia...


...... Like they were a Native American group?

The feather headpieces definitely don't resemble any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander group I've seen. And the flag is neither the Australian Aboriginal Flag or the Torres Strait Islander Flag. Anyone know what flags are being shown here? Despite my best efforts I could not identify them.

Anyway, here's what Australa's two native flags actually look like.

So anyway, there ends the first 12 seconds. How does the video fare after that?


We move on to a comment about the arrival of the Dingo which is said to happen... take a guess... 2000 BC.

This could actually be correct, but it could also have happened 4000 years earlier, or even earlier, if that more recent study turns out to be wrong.


We then show someone doing some long distance trading of fish. The first Australians even traded far outside of Australia, including with the Makasar of what is now Indonesia. So naturally they had plenty of trading going on in the Australian mainland too. But I highly doubt they ever would have traded fish this far, especially to someone who appears to live right by the ocean.


The next bit features some Aboriginals trading gold. I don't know much about the value of gold to the indigenous peoples, so I won't comment on that scene.

0.32 "2000 BC - AD. 1600. Pre-Colonial Life of Indigenous Australians"

Here we see Aboriginal people growing wheat. Wheat is not a plant the Aboriginal Australias (or the Torres Strait Islanders) would have had. Wheat arrived after contact with Europeans.

But more infuriating is the title which comes up at 0.36. Australian Indigenous heritage does not start just 4000 years ago. And the Colonial Period doesn't start until 1788 with the colony of New South Wales.


So we now we get the arrival of the Dutch. The first European to arrive in Australia and attempt to map it was Willem Janszoon. But he did not land in what looks to be southern Queensland, he landed close to the Northern Tip of Queensland, at Cape York Peninsula. Also he arrived in 1606, not 1600.

So anyway, that was the first minute of the video. I'd like to know what kind of sources were used for this video, but alas, they weren't posted with it.


Sources can also be found in the links

On Sahul

Route and Timing of the Arrival of the First Peoples

Flags of Australia's Indigenous Peoples


Long Distance Trade

Wheat and the Colonial Period

Willem Janszoon

11:36 UTC

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