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.
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.
The Darb-e Imam shrine in Iran contains an early and exciting example of non-periodic tiling that was only mathematically appreciated five hundred years later.
Certain holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem cannot be changed without agreement from the many local denominations. As a result, a ladder has been propped against a window ledge on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre since 1728.
Around five million years ago, the Strait of Gibraltar closed and the Mediterranean dried up. When it reopened, the sea refilled in less than two years.
The Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses III was murdered in a conspiracy formed by one of his harem wives that included magicians, physicians, and butlers.
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.
Ramesses II was the most famous and powerful pharaoh of Egypt’s New Kingdom. And we’re pretty sure that he was a redhead.
The Royal Game of Ur is the oldest board game for which we have a near-complete set of rules. People were playing it five thousand years ago, and it is still played today.
In Lebanon, political leadership and representation are officially divided up according to religious affiliation. This system, confessionalism, is supposed to encourage peace and cooperation between disparate faiths.
Qatar has been engaged in a diplomatic crisis with its neighbours since 2017. Amid the escalating tensions, Saudi Arabia has proposed a canal stretching all the way along the border with Qatar – turning the peninsula into an island.
John Gayer, a 17th century Lord Mayor of London, had a close encounter with a lion while working in Syria. He prayed, the lion left, and he gratefully endowed a sermon to be given every year thereafter.
One of the Dead Sea Scrolls was written on copper rather than papyrus or parchment – and it’s a treasure map. None of the treasure has been found, but given that the scroll probably dates back a couple of thousand years it is unlikely to ever be found.
The Great Wall of Gorgan in Iran is 195km long, making it the second-longest wall in history behind the Great Wall of China. Built by the Sasanian Empire in the 5th or 6th Century to keep out (probably) the White Huns, medieval tradition also connects it with Alexander the Great and his legendary Caspian Gates.