It’s our 400th post! In most religions originating in the Middle East, the number 40 equals a large unspecific number: 40 days, 40 nights, 40 years should all be interpreted as “many” days, nights, or years.
There’s an extinct species of gibbon, Junzi imperialis, we only know about because a Chinese noblewoman kept it as a pet more than two millennia ago.
The Red Hand is the symbol of the province of Ulster, but its origins are lost in time. Possible sources include three different clans, pagans, fairies, and a soldier who chopped off his own hand.
The heart symbol may have originated with an ancient Roman form of birth control, a plant that is probably now extinct.
Mix egg yolks, dates, honey, vinegar, oil, wine, shallots, and herbs, and then add a roasted flamingo. This is Apicius, one of the earliest surviving cookbooks.
The Poison Damsels of ancient Indian mythology were assassins who could kill someone with a look or a touch.
A bottle of wine on display in a German museum is more than 1600 years old. There are none older – but it probably tastes terrible.
Honey takes on the chemical properties of nectar gathered by bees. This fact turns out to be quite useful if you’re fighting the ancient Romans.
In ancient art from Europe to India a particular artistic motif frequently appears: a male or female figure grabbing two wild creatures, one in each hand. These are the Master and Mistress of Animals.
While Roman emperors were empowered to choose their own successor, the first emperor to actually be succeeded by his own natural-born son was Vespasian.
The Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses III was murdered in a conspiracy formed by one of his harem wives that included magicians, physicians, and butlers.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, also killed the famous author of one of the earliest encyclopedias.
Around 1200 BCE, almost every civilisation in the Eastern Mediterranean collapsed, or just barely survived. One possible culprit were invaders from across the sea: the Sea Peoples. No-one knows precisely who they were.
Europe has a long tradition of puzzle and prank cups and jugs: to drink out of these vessels you must first solve a mechanical challenge.
Ramesses II was the most famous and powerful pharaoh of Egypt’s New Kingdom. And we’re pretty sure that he was a redhead.