All posts in the Research category

U is for Ulster

Published April 30, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Ulster is a province in Northern Ireland.

The Fomorians were the first to settle Ireland. They were semi-divine beings that preceded the gods, and represented chaos and nature, much like the Titans. In some accounts, they are said to have the head of a goat, but other accounts say they are very beautiful (at least some of them).

The Tuatha De Danann are a race of people who settled Ireland during the bronze age. According to Irish mythology, they were divine;  the Irish equivalent of the Olympians. They came to Ireland led by their king, Nuada Airgetlam, bring with them four magical treasures– The Sword of Light of Nuada, The Stone of Fal, The Spear of Lugh, and the Cauldron of Dagda. After being defeated by the Milesians, the Tuatha went underground into the fairy mound, or Sidhe, and later became the Dione Sidhe of Irish and Scottish mythology.

The Dagda is the “father figure” god is Irish mythology, and was a high king of Ireland after Nuada’s death. He is said to have great power, but is ugly, crude, and extremely well endowed. When the Dagda had an affair with Boand, he made the sun stand still for nine months to hide their affair. Their son, Oengus was therefore conceived, gestated, and born in one “day”.

The Morrigan is the goddess of war and strife, and sometimes appears as a crow, a wolf, or a cow. She was the granddaughter of Nuada, and appears later in the Ulster Cycle with Cu Chulainn.

"Cuchulain Slays the Hound of Culain", illustration by Stephen Reid from Eleanor Hull's The Boys' Cuchulain, 1904

Cu Chulainn is a famous hero in the Ulster Cycle, who is often compared to Achilles (he has a similar prophesy attached to him about great deeds, everlasting fame, and a short life).  He is the son of Lugh, who was half Tuatha, half Fomorian, and Deichtine, sister to the Ulster king Concobar. He got his moniker, which means Culann’s dog, by defeating Culann’s ferocious guard dog in self-defense when he was little. At the age of seventeen, he defended Ulster against queen Medb of Connacht by himself in the Cattle Raid of Cooley.




Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                                 Sci-fi


T is for Thracians

Published April 29, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

The Thracians inhabited much of central and southeastern Europe. They were a series of tribes, with the mountainous people being wilder than their low lying neighbors.  In the Trojan war, they fought alongside the Trojans.

In the 5th century BCE, the Thracian tribes were united under king Teres. He formed the Odrysian kingdom, which is in modern day Bulgaria.

Their contemporaries saw them as barbaric, namely the Greeks and Romans, who seem to have seen everyone other than themselves as savage. Herodotus writes that “they sell their children and let their maidens commerce with whatever men they please.” They are also described as having red hair.

The Dii, a Thracian tribe, were extremely vicious, and committed terrible savageries in the Peloponnesian War. They killed every single man, woman, child, and dog in the cities they fought against, and would impale the heads of Romans on their spears.

Spartacus, the leader of the Third Servile War against the Romans, was Thracian.

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                                   Sci-fi

S is for Slavs

Published April 29, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

The slavic people are an Indo-European group of Eastern Europe with many mythic beliefs similar to other Indo-European cultures.

The most popular creature in Slavic folklore is the Vampire. The Slavs believe that a person could become a vampire by being a magician or an extremely immoral person. Improper burial rites could also cause a person to come back as one. I talked more about vampires here.

Baba Yaga is a haggish creature in Slavic folklore. She flies around on a giant mortar and pestle and kidnaps small children. Probably to eat them. She lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs.

Illustration by Ivan Bilibin

There is also Koschei, an nefarious immortal man who was often the antagonist in many folktales. He is often represented as being old and ugly. Koschei can’t be killed by conventional means. He can only be destroyed by going after his soul, which is inside a needle, in an egg, which is in a duck that is in a hare locked in an iron chest and buried under a green oak tree. A person will be able to control Koschei if they possess his egg, and he will weaken and lose his magic. The egg also acts similar to a voodoo doll that if you toss it about, so won’t his body.

The Firebird is a magical bird that is typically the object of desire in a difficult quest. The bird is described as having fiery plumage that do not stop glowing, even after being removed. The Firebird is usually both a blessing and a bringer of doom to its captor.

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                                Sci-fi

R is for Romans

Published April 29, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

“All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

“Brought peace?”

“Oh, peace – shut up! There is not one of us who would not gladly suffer death to rid this country of the Romans once and for all.”

“Uh, well, one.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, there’s one. But otherwise, we’re solid.”

Ah, the Romans. I’m not going to get into the mythology, because, well, they basically copied everything from the Greeks.

According to myth, Rome was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus, descendants of the Trojan prince Aeneas. Their grandfather, Numitor was deposed by his brother Amulius. Their mother Rhea Silvia was raped by the god Mars (Ares) and gave birth to the twins. Amulius feared the twins, so he ordered them to be drowned, but a she-wolf (or a shepherd woman, depending on the accounts) rescued and raised them.

In time, they went on to found their own city. Romulus ended up killing Remus in a quarrel about where they were going to set up their new kingdom. To bring in citizens, Rome became a sanctuary for the exiled and unwanted. However, this led to a population with very few women. Romulus tried to secure marriage rights with neighboring towns and tribes, but no one wanted to marry their daughters to outcasts. Desperate, Romulus invited the Sabines to a festival, and stole their unmarried daughters.

Rome was a kingdom then a republic before finally settling on the title of empire. Rome was a republic for just over 500 years, before Julius Caesar was declared perpetual dictator and his adopted son, Octavius (later, Augustus Caesar) became the first emperor of the Roman Empire. Julius took part in the Egyptian civil war between Cleopatra VII and her brother Ptolemy XIV. He sided with Cleopatra, and helped her overthrow her brother, the pharaoh. After Julius’ death, Augustus formed the Second Triumvirate with Mark Antony and Lepidus.

Later, the empire split into two, forming the Western Empire, governed through Rome, and the Eastern Empire, governed through Byzantium (later Constantinople and now Istanbul). The Eastern Empire lasted for another 900 years after the Western Empire crumbled.

And that’s all I’m writing on the Romans. Because there is a lot, and I need to get moving on other things. Like the rest of the challenge.


Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                       Sci-fi

Q is for Qin Dynasty

Published April 26, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

So, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, is one of my favorite people in the world. Definitely top five. Here’s why:

Qin Shi Huang unified China after the Warring States Period in 221 BC. Before that, he was king of  the state of Qin, in western China. Among his achievements, were standardizing the currency, weights, measures, and the Chinese Script.  He was also said to have rejected the past, and ordered mass book burnings (not cool). Despite being a heavily bureaucratic government, they did improve transportation and the military.

Shi Huang built the Great Wall of China, which was later reconstructed and expanded during the Ming dynasty. Not much of the original portion remains. He is also famous for his city sized mausoleum and the terracotta army.

Qin Shi Huang’s greatest fear was death and as a result, he was obsessed with the thought of immortality. He even sent out a fleet of ships in search of a 1000 year old magician named Angi Sheng, who he had met in his travels, and had the elixer of life. The fleets never returned and legend says these people went on the colonize Japan. Some scholars believe that when he had ordered the book burnings and, it was to focus them on their quest for the elixer of life, and the scholars that were killed  (roughly 460) were those that had failed him. It was rumored that Shi Huang’s death was due to mercury poisoning, because it was thought ingesting mercury would cause immortality. He was also deathly afraid of evil spirits, and had underground tunnels built so he could travel unseen by these spirits.

Xu Fu's search for the Elixir of Life.

The emperor died during a tour of Eastern China, but it was kept secret out of fear of an uprising. His Prime Minister, Li Si, who was accompanying him at the time, ordered carts of rotten fish to be carried before and after the Imperial wagon to disguise the stench of decaying corpse. They even changed his clothes every day, and pulled down the shades so no one could see his face.

Despite all he accomplished and his later influence, the Qin dynasty only lasted 14 years, falling 3 years after Shi Huang’s death in 210 BC.


Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                                Sci-fi

P is for Persians

Published April 26, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great was a Persian king who lived in the 6th century BC. He founded the Achaemenid Empire, one of the largest empires in the world. He was known for respecting the religions and cultures of the lands he conquered, and his policies.  Under his reign (and throughout the entirety of the Persian empire), people were allowed religious freedom, and slavery was banned. Alexander the Great even looked up to him.

Ruins of Persepolis, the Persian capital.

The Persian Empire was split up into states called a satrapy; each one governed by a satrap (basically a governor).

Herodotus states that Persian youths, from their fifth year to their twentieth year, were instructed in three things – to ride a horse, to draw a bow, and to speak the Truth. Lying was the worst sin you could commit and it was punishable by death. He also says that Persians loved wine, and were often drunk during important councils. They would wait until they were sober the next day before deciding on anything.

Darius the Great created the first imperial navy in the world, yet it was soldiered by foreigners–mostly Greeks, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Cypriots. The navy greatly bolstered their peace-keeping efforts, and opened up trade routes.

Darius invaded Greece in retaliation against the Ionian revolts, and fell during the battle of Marathon. His son, Xerxes continued where his father left off with a second invasion, fighting in the battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. Xerxes was not the oldest son of Darius, but he was chosen as his successor because he was the oldest son with Atossa, Cyrus’ daughter.

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                         Sci-fi

O is for Olmec

Published April 25, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Very little is known about the Olmecs, yet despite the sparse information, the Olmecs greatly influenced all later Mesoamerican cultures. The Olmec civilization flourished in south-central Mexico from 1500 BCE until around 400 BCE, and were the first major Mexican culture. They are most famous for their large head sculptures.

They had many animalistic deities, including a feathered serpent, a dragon with flaming eyebrows, a bird monster with both mammalian and reptilian features, and a shark.

Statue of a were-jaguar

Were-jaguars were an important part of their religion and culture. They believed they resulted from the copulation between and jaguar and a woman. Some scholars think the were-jaguar may have been an important deity in the Olmec religion. And may possibly have been the rain god.

Olmec rulers were important religious figures, and their legitimacy to rule was proven by their connection to the gods.



Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                                       Sci-fi