Top 10 Ancient Refugee Crises

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Top 10 Ancient Refugee Crises


Refugee crises are nothing new. For millennia, warfare, disease, famine, and political unrest have caused the displacement of millions. The troubles facing both migrants and sanctuary nations have remained constant throughout history.

When handled properly, these mass movements can become opportunities to spread technology and add vitality to a population. If mishandled, refugee crises can topple the most powerful empires.

10Hadrian’s Wall Refugee Camp


In 2013, archaeologists excavating near Hadrian’s Wall discovered what they believe is an ancient refugee camp. They found nearly 100 temporary but well-constructed structures within the ancient Roman Vindolanda fort.

The simple structures are what one would expect north of the wall in agrarian communities. These structures never held soldiers, which has led some to believe that they housed migrants flooding across the border in the third century AD.

Roman soldiers resided in long, rectangular barracks. Many of this type have already been found at Vindolanda. Experts believe that these ancient refugees would have been instrumental in feeding and trading with the Romans.

Due to their collaboration with “the enemy,” the refugees would have beenperceived as traitors by the rebels in the North. The refugees probably fled the North in search of sanctuary because Northern society was in tatters for much of the third century.


9Spanish Jews In The Ottoman Empire


Photo via Wikimedia

In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree, expelling all Jews from their nation and ushering in the Inquisition. The same year, Ottoman Emperor Sultan Bayezid II issued a proclamation welcoming the Spanish Jews to his lands.

Nearly 250,000 Jews settled in Ottoman territory, principally Salonika and Istanbul. These Sephardic Jews used their new homeland to create a second Golden Age, echoing the one they once had in the Iberian Peninsula.

The newcomers introduced the printing press to the Ottomans. Wealthy Jews even financed the sultan’s operations. In return, the sultan offered the Jews the city of Tiberius.

These refugees revitalized the decimated settlement. They restored deserted houses, cleared out rubble, and turned a wasteland into a garden. By the mid-1500s, nearly every one of Tiberius’ new residents was of Iberian origin.

8Rome’s Folly


Photo credit: Jastrow

In the fourth century AD, the Roman Empire faced a refugee crisis. The Huns swept in from the East, overrunning Germanic and Goth tribes who fled toward the Imperial border.

Within a few short years, 200,000 Goths lined the banks of the Danube, Rome’s northern border, pleading for asylum. The Eastern Roman emperor, Valens, accepted Goths into his territory to help fight against the Persians.

The Western Roman Empire housed the Goths in camps that became death traps. Corrupt officials stole food and goods intended for the hungry horde. The desperate refugees resorted to selling their children for dog meat.

Soon, the Goths revolted. Germans already living within the empire broke ranks and joined the invaders. In AD 378, the Goths clashed with the Imperial army at Adrianople. Emperor Valens and most of his army were slaughtered. In AD 410, the emboldened Goths sacked Rome itself.




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In 1685, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had protected religious freedom in France. Protestant ministers were given two weeks to convert to Catholicism or leave. Laymen were not even given the option. As a result, a wave of French Calvinists known as Huguenots fled to Holland, Sweden, Prussia, Ireland, and England.

According to a recent study, one in six Britons has French Protestant ancestry. By the beginning of the 18th century, 5 percent of London’s population was Huguenot. England ultimately provided a home for 650,000 of these refugees.

Their expertise in silk weaving, printing, cabinetmaking, metallurgy, and watchmaking revitalized the English economy. Huguenot Denis Papin even invented the pressure cooker and an early form of the steam engine.

6Ancient Refugee Drama


Photo credit: Philipp Foltz

Ancient Athens prided itself on taking in refugees. Hospitality extended to international diplomacy—occasionally with dire consequences. According to the historian Thucydides, politician Alcibiades convinced the Athenians to go to war in Sicily because helping those in need was the Athenian way. Unfortunately, the war led to the city’s downfall.

A cycle of ancient Greek drama tackles the timeless issues related to refugees. In Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, the Athenians offer sanctuary to Oedipus, who blinded himself after he murdered his father and married his mother. Some believe that hosting the disgraced king will bring divine wrath. However, hospitality prevails and the spirit of grateful Oedipus forever guards the city.

In Euripides’s Children of Heracles, Athenian king Demophon faces civil war for taking in refugees. Ultimately, patronage to the downtrodden wins out in this highly political play, which was sure to stir ancient Athenian souls.

5Silk Road Refugees


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Of all the people who traveled the Silk Road, refugees were the most influential. Technologies proliferated with the movement of populations fleeing political crises and war.

Glassmaking spread from the Islamic world, and paper came from China. Rulers of oasis kingdoms around the Taklamakan Desert fostered tolerance, accepting refugees from around the ancient world and allowing religious freedom. Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Manicheism, and Christianity thrived in harmony in these ancient trade kingdoms.

The 1006 Islamic conquest of the Buddhist kingdom of Xinjiang led to a mass migration of refugees. It not only brought about a dramatic realignment of religion, it also radically altered the linguistic landscape.

Khotanese, Gandhari, and Tocharian became dead languages within a generation. Uighur, which replaced them, can still be heard in the region to this day. Further down the Silk Road, the refugees were sure to find sanctuary. Fostering tolerance and accepting migrants was simply good business.


4The Sea Peoples


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In the 13th century BC, the Sea Peoples terrorized the Mediterranean. Their wave of destruction leveled civilizations and cleared the way for the Greeks and Romans to flourish.

The identity of these marauders remains a mystery. The most popular theory is that they emerged from the collapse of the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and the Mycenaean Empire in Greece.

These devastated civilizations sent refugees flooding into the coastal Levant and Cyprus. Some believe that populations from the Black Sea region also added to the Sea Peoples.

One group of the Sea Peoples listed by the Egyptians has elicited special interest. The “Teresh” are believed to be the Tyrrhenians. According to Strabo, this was an ancient name for the Etruscans and the origin of Tyrrhenian Sea’s name.

According to legend, Tyrrhenians were refugees from Troy. The Mycenaean Greeks destroyed their ancient Trojan homeland, forcing them to ultimately resettle in what is now Tuscany.

3Europe’s Ancient Indian Refugees


The name “Gypsy” comes from a mistaken idea that the Roma hail from Egypt. Genetic and linguistic analysis revealed that their origins actually lie in northwestern India. Sometime before AD 1300, they began a massive migration to the West. Considered outsiders due to their strange customs, they were dubbed “untouchables” or Astingani in Byzantium. This label has stuck with them in many European tongues.

Roma linguist Ian Hancock believes that his ancestors left India in the 11th century after Mahmud of Ghazni’s invasions. The Hindu rulers raised an army to defend against the Islamic incursions. After their defeat, the Hindu POWs became the Roma.

Most were craftsmen in the military camps. The Roma have been esteemed for centuries as blacksmiths and musicians. In AD 1038, the Ottomans defeated the Ghaznavids and liberated the Roma. During this period, their identity and language crystallized. As the Ottomans spread into Europe, the Roma followed.



Photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine

In 1607, a band of religious refugees set out from England in search of a new land. Today, we call them Pilgrims. In 1593, several “Separatists” (as they referred to themselves) were hanged for their unorthodox religious views.

They wanted to simplify ritual and align dogma more with the New Testament. Most importantly, they loathed the marriage of religion and political power in the English monarchy. As a result, they were seen as adirect threat to the Crown.

In 1620, after years of roving, the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod and established the first permanent settlement of Europeans at Plymouth Colony. They had first sought sanctuary in the Netherlands, where they remained for a decade.

A combination of economic hardships and linguistic chauvinism caused them to seek greener pastures across the Atlantic. More than half of these religious refugees died during the first year due to starvation and inadequate shelter.

1Bene Israel


The Bene Israel are Indian Jews who lived unknown to the rest of the Jewish world for centuries. According to legend, they are descended from seven men and seven woman who were shipwrecked and settled the Kolaba region south of Mumbai. Some believe they are descended from Jews fleeing the Assyrian invasion in 721 BC. Others claim they were refugees of Israel’s conflict with King Antiochus.

Rabbi David Rahabi stumbled across the Bene Israel in the 1700s. He was flabbergasted to discover that they maintained Jewish tradition like the recitation of the Shema prayer. Cochin Jews from India’s southwestern coast sent rabbis and teachers to draw the Bene Israel into the fold.

Genetic studies reveal that the Bene Israel descended from Middle Eastern Jews who settled the region between 600 and 1,000 years ago, later than previously imagined. Their maternal DNA suggests that migrating Jewish men married local women.

Abraham Rinquist is the executive director of the Winooski, Vermont, branch of the Helen Hartness Flanders Folklore Society. He is the coauthor of Codex Exotica andSong-Catcher: The Adventures of Blackwater Jukebox.

10 Truly Disgusting Habits Of Royalty

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10 Truly Disgusting Habits Of Royalty


In the era of the great monarchies, the royal families of European nations were people of dignity and culture, above the low and filthy lifestyles of the poor. At least, that’s what they wanted people to believe. The reality, though, is a bit different. There was enough inbreeding between the monarchs of Europe to spark some strange decisions—and some truly disgusting lifestyles.

10Henry VIII Had A ‘Groom Of The Stool’


Photo credit: Lobsterthermidor

Among his many reforms, King Henry VIII introduced an all-important job to the English monarchy: the groom of the stool. One lucky boy, chosen from the sons of his most trusted nobles, got the job of following the king around with a portable toilet.

The groom of the stool needed to be ever vigilant. He was expected to watch the king as he ate, make notes of what he consumed, and prepare for the job to come. When the moment came, the groom would help the king undress and then clean up his mess.

This was actually a highly respected job. The groom of the stool was trusted with unparalleled intimate access to the king. He also got to live in the castle with a handsome salary.

Wiping up after the king of England became a proud tradition that continued for almost 400 years.


9Christian VII Pleasured Himself So Often That It Became A National Crisis


Photo credit: Alexander Roslin

Denmark’s 18th-century King Christian VII knew no love greater than his own hand. He spent so much time at it that the Danish government organized meetings to figure out what to do about it.

The doctors who looked after him were convinced that chronic masturbation was the cause of all his problems. Christian VII was mentally ill, afflicted with porphyria. In reality, mental illness was probably the root of his masturbation problems.

His chief physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, wrote a whole book about Christian’s “masturbatic insanity.” When Struensee couldn’t get the king to put his pants back on and focus on ruling a kingdom, the doctor ended up taking over. He did most of Christian VII’s decision-making for him, which freed up some time for the king to follow his passions.

8Joanna Of Castile Traveled With Her Husband’s Dead Body


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Joanna of Castile, the mother of Emperor Charles V of Spain, spent the better years of her life married to a man known as Philip the Handsome. Apparently, she thought Philip deserved his nickname because she refused to let anyone bury him when he died.

Instead, Joanna kept her husband’s dead body in her room. Over 12 months, while Philip’s body slowly decayed, Joanna went on acting as if he was still alive. Whenever someone asked, she would simply insist that he was asleep and would wake up soon.

She would sleep with the body at night, and she would make the servants treat it with the respect due to a king. In a fit of jealousy, she wouldn’t let any women enter the room with the dead body, apparently worried that they would be overwhelmed by lust.


7King Charles II Kept A Wig Of His Mistresses’ Pubes


Photo credit: John Michael Wright

In 1651, King Charles II started a new project. Every time he slept with a woman, he plucked a few hairs from under her skirt. Then he stitched them all together into a wig that gradually grew into an unnervingly thick mane of female hairs.

When the wig got big enough to cover a man’s head, Charles II donated it to a Scottish drinking club called the Beggar’s Benison Club. They loved it so much that they wore it during their ceremonies. One person even stole it and used it to start his own club, where he made people kiss it.

In 1822, King George IV took up the tradition again and kept a box full of his lover’s lower locks for his own collection. Like Charles II, George planned on making them into a wig but tragically died without ever fulfilling his dream.

6Queen Maria Eleonora Slept With Her Husband’s Heart


Photo via Wikimedia

Queen Maria Eleonora didn’t love her husband, King Gustavus Adolphus, for his power or his money. She loved him for his heart. When he died, she had his heart ripped out of his body so that she could sleep with it.

Maria Eleonora kept her dead husband’s organ in a golden box that she placed above her bed each night. On some nights, she even made their daughter climb into bed with her so that she could be close to her father’s heart.

It was a traumatizing experience that her daughter never forgot. She later wrote that her mother was horribly abusive and never stopped crying, saying that she “carried out her role of mourning to perfection.”

5King Farouk Had The World’s Largest Porn Collection


Photo credit: Alchetron

Legend has it that King Farouk of Egypt had the greatest and largest collection of pornography in the world. He boasted that he had “warehouses full of the stuff” scattered around the world, with whole storage compartments filled to the brim in Rome, Monaco, and Cairo.

Writer and former pimp Scott Bowers claims that he convinced Farouk to ship several crates of porn to the famous sexologist Alfred Kinsey. According to Bowers, the crates arrived filled almost exclusively with pictures of Arab men with young boys.

When Farouk’s empire fell, looters scavenged his porn collection. Little pieces of it started showing up around the country, flooding a market with a whole new type of monarchy memorabilia.


4King Adolf Frederick Ate Himself To Death


Photo credit: Antoine Pesne

Swedish King Adolf Frederick had a habit of eating a dessert called semla, which is a sweet roll filled with cream. This, in itself, is not disgusting, but he ate so many that it killed him.

In 1771, the Swedish king sat down to a meal of lobster, caviar, and every other decadent food you can think of. When the meal was done, he wolfed his way through 14 semlas in a single sitting.

When he managed to stand up, his stomach, unsurprisingly, was bothering him, and he died shortly after. He went down in history as the king who ate himself to death—which wasn’t totally fair. King Henry I of England had already died from eating too many lamprey eels, apparently unable to get enough of the slimy taste.

3King James I Only Cleaned The Tips Of His Fingers


Photo credit: John Decritz

According to a less than flattering description from Sir Anthony Weldon, King James I wasn’t the most hygienic person. Legend has it that King James never bathed, and according to Weldon, James needed to.

“His tongue,” Weldon wrote, was “too large for his mouth.” Whenever James drank, the liquid would dribble down the side of the king’s chin. James wouldn’t do much about it. “He never washed his hands,” Weldon claimed, “only rubbed his fingers’ ends slightly through the wet end of a napkin.”

This was apparently the only type of hygiene the king ever practiced. It might have been out of necessity. King James made regular use of his fingers. According to Weldon, they were “ever in that walk fiddling about his codpiece.”

2Charles VI Didn’t Change His Clothes For Five Months


Photo credit: Alchetron

King Charles VI of France was horribly mentally ill. He would break into fits where he would run wildly through his home. On other days, he became convinced that he was made of glass and would not move a single muscle. The worst bout lasted for five long months—during which he did not bathe or change his clothes even once.

For nearly half a year, the king just stayed very still and carefully tried to avoid bumping into anybody. Then, at last, he had a brief moment of lucidity that lasted long enough for someone to change him and to clean what must have been the most disgusting pair of pants in history.

1Louis XIV’s Throne Doubled As A Toilet


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Of all the people in history, French King Louis XIV must have been the smelliest. His throne doubled as a toilet, and he would use it while conducting court sessions.

One would expect the court to notice the smell. But when Louis XIV was in the room, there were enough smells going around already to block it out. The man only bathed three times in his entire life, which was on the low side even by 17th-century standards.

The king made up for the stench by filling his rooms with flowers and dousing himself in perfume. In fact, he had a team design him a new perfume every week.

He would also change his shirt three times a day, which he firmly believed was all one really needed to do to stay clean. Like the toilet, his wardrobe changes were never affairs to be done behind closed doors. Every morning, the king of France called 100 men into his room to watch him while he got dressed.

10 Little-Known Facts About Early America

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10 Little-Known Facts About Early America


By any stretch of the imagination, life in colonial America was hard, demanding, and cruel. Many European settlers did not survive their first few years in North America thanks to disease, starvation, the harsh climate, and violence.

Many recognize these truths, and yet few have fully comprehended just how daunting a task it was to settle a strange continent. The following 10 entries will not only provide greater detail about memorable events, but many will also provide a new appraisal of certain moments in history.

10The Pre-Pilgrim Settlers Of New England


Most US students can rattle off the dates concerning when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Most believe that before 1620, no English settlers had ever set foot on New England soil. This, however, is incorrect.

In looking through the historical record, it’s clear that isolated English fishing communities from what is now Maine down to Long Island sparsely dotted the map. For the most part, these settlers stuck close to the coast, although it has been asserted that their contacts with the Native Americans led to epidemics that weakened certain tribes prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims.

Furthermore, it’s likely that English settlers had been trawling the waters of New England for generations before the coming of the Separatists and Puritans. Indeed, the very fact that Squanto, a member of the Patuxet tribe, could speak English and was a Christian highlights the fact that the English began settling New England long before 1620.


9The First Pilgrims


Photo credit: Theodore de Bry

Decades before English Separatists sought to leave behind the neo-Catholicism of the Anglican Church, a group of French Protestants, known as the Huguenots, settled in modern Florida.

Back in Europe, after years of tense harmony, French Catholics decided to bloodily purge Calvinism from their country. During the infamous Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day in 1572, the Huguenot leader Gaspard II de Coligny was murdered alongside 3,000 Protestants in Paris and another 70,000 throughout France.

Seeking refuge from Catholic persecution, many Protestants fled to Fort Caroline near today’s Jacksonville. The fort had been founded by a French expedition led by de Coligny and Jean Ribault. Unfortunately, on September 20, 1565, the small garrison at Fort Caroline was overrun by a Spanish force who reclaimed the area for Catholicism.

8Forgotten Conquerors


Photo credit: Stilfehler

The pop history of early America usually focuses on the colonies of England, Spain, France, and, to a much lesser extent, the Netherlands. But there was a fourth power involved—Sweden.

Between 1638 and 1655, Sweden controlled much of Delaware, southern New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania. The center of the colony, Fort Christina, was founded by a small cadre of sailors who left Gothenburg under the command of Captain Peter Minuit. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, Fort Christina included mostly Swedish settlers with a sprinkling of Finnish and Dutch as well.

The commercial goals of New Sweden were never fully met. After Sweden lost to Russia in the Second Northern War, the 400 men at Fort Christina became citizens of New Netherland.


7Battle Of The Severn


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Sometimes called the final battle of the English Civil War, the Battle of the Severn took place far away from England in the colony of Maryland. When Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, took control of the colony, he tried to establish it as a refuge for England’s Catholic minority.

Unfortunately for him, large Protestant immigration quickly turned Maryland into a Protestant-majority colony. In 1649, Governor William Stone allowed several hundred Puritans from Virginia to settle in Maryland.

Years later, Virginia declared its loyalty to King Charles II, the heir of the executed King Charles I. As for Maryland, Governor Stone ordered all landowners to pledge their loyalty to the Catholic Lord Baltimore, which in a way was an oath of allegiance to the English crown.

As can be expected, the Puritans refused. So on March 25, 1655, Governor Stone and a militia force sailed from St. Mary’s City to the Puritan settlement of Providence (today’s Annapolis). Near Spa Creek, the Puritans surprised Stone’s men, killing 40.

6Puritans Return To England


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Decades prior to the English Civil Wars, a massive migration of English Protestants took place. Many went to the Netherlands, where Calvinism was accepted. Some went to the Rhineland, while others headed for the Caribbean islands of Barbados and Saint Kitts and Nevis. An unlucky few settled Old Providence Island off Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast.

The majority, however, landed in Massachusetts, thereby creating the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Between 1620 and 1640, over 20,000 Pilgrims and Puritans settled what would become New England with their families. Soon thereafter, the population doubled and would continue to double every generation for two centuries.

However, in 1640, large-scale immigration to Massachusetts reversed as Puritans, both English-born and Massachusetts-born, began sailing back to England to fight for the Parliamentarians. While the exact number is unknown, it is true that this Puritan exodus essentially stopped widespread immigration to New England until the Irish Catholic waves of the 1840s.

5The First French Fort


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Throughout the history of New France, the most important colony was Quebec. To this day, Quebec remains the chief Francophone province in Canada. Other former French colonies, from Illinois to Ohio, have lost their Gallic flavor.

In 1562, the first French settlement in North America was founded by the Huguenots under the command of Jean Ribault. Called Charlesfort, thisshort-lived colony collapsed when the 26 or 27 men that Ribault left behind mutinied, built their own ship, and returned to France.

The ruins of Charlesfort, or rather Charlesfort–Santa Elena, can be found on Parris Island, South Carolina.


4The Strict New Haven Colony


Photo credit: Davenport Limner

Puritanism has a well-earned reputation for theological rigidity. However, even within Puritanism, there were divisions between conservatives and liberals. John Davenport, the founder of the New Haven Colony in Connecticut, was arguably the strictest Puritan of early America.

Founded in 1638, the New Haven Colony had a very clear set of rules: Everything had to be done according to the Bible. Not only did colonists pledge to live their lives according to Scripture, but the town itself was laid out in such a way as to resemble the Temple of Solomon and the New Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation.

Davenport believed that his colony’s government, exemplified by the Church of the Elect, should be ruled by the laws of the Old Testament and by so-called “saints.” In 1665, New Haven Colony merged with the larger Connecticut Colony.

3Refugees And The Salem Witch Trials


Photo via Wikimedia

As first argued in the book Salem Possessed by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, many today view the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 and 1693 as the tragic end result of a land dispute between many of the village’s families. This view is backed up by maps that show the geographic disbursement of the accused and the accusers.

One of the lesser-studied aspects of the trials is the role played by refugees. Namely, a few of the accusers, including 17-year-old Mercy Lewis, had recently moved to Salem Village from the frontier settlements of Maine.

During King William’s War, which occurred in the background throughout the entire trials, Native Americans raided English settlements in Maine and drove many back to Massachusetts. George Burroughs, the former minister of Salem Village who was accused of leading the witch’s coven, had earlier been accused of bewitching soldiers during his time as the minister of Falmouth (now Portland), Maine.

2The Massacre Of 1622


The attack on the colony of Jamestown that erupted on the morning of March 22, 1622, proved to be one of the deadliest days in the history of colonial America. Angered by the growing English population and the less than friendly manner of the English colonists who began settling away from the coast, the Powhatan tribe surprised the citizens of Jamestown and ultimately killed 347 of them.

The massacre, which was part of a larger Powhatan uprising, nearly ended the English colony of Virginia. One-sixth of all Virginians were killed on March 22, while many others became lost or were taken prisoner.

1The Worst War In Early America


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In terms of sheer body count, the US Civil War remains the deadliest war in American history. In terms of per capita losses, King Philip’s War of 1675–76 is the deadliest. Under the leadership of the Pokunoket chief Metacom (aka King Philip), a confederacy of Native American tribes tried to drive the English settlers back across the sea.

The war was especially vicious. By 1680, Native Americans only made up 10 percent of New England’s population. Furthermore, one-tenth of New England’s military-age male population perished during the war, while 12 Puritans towns were burned to the ground.

Although the war proved costly, King Philip’s War did much to unite the New Englanders as a separate people. As England did not provide troops, arms, or support, the New England militias fought the war on their own, thus arguably laying the groundwork for an American identity.

Hundreds of Historic Texts Hidden in ISIS-Occupied Monastery

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Hundreds of Historic Texts Hidden in ISIS-Occupied Monastery
Hundreds of Historic Texts Hidden in ISIS-Occupied Monastery

This text, also copied in A.D. 1653, describes the genealogy of Jesus Christ. This photo was also taken before the texts were hidden away, just weeks before ISIS occupied the Mar Behnam monastery.

Credit: Amir Harrak

More than 400 texts, dating between the middle ages and modern times, have been saved at the Mar Behnam monastery, a place that the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) had occupied for more than two years, until November.

The texts, which were written between the 13th and 20th centuries, were hidden behind a wall that was constructed just a few weeks before ISIS occupied and partly destroyed the Christian monastery, according to Amir Harrak, a professor at the University of Toronto who studied the texts before they were hidden away.

Some of the texts are “beautifully illustrated” by the scribes who copied them, Harrak said. “Each one contains lengthy colophons [notes] written by the scribes, telling historical and social, and religious events of their times — a fact that makes them precious sources,” Harrak told Live Science.

The texts are written in a variety of languages, including Syriac (widely used in Iraq in ancient and medieval times), Arabic, Turkish and Neo-Aramaic, said Harrak, who is an expert in Syriac. [See Photos of the Monastery and Saved Historical Texts]

First constructed more than 1,500 years ago, the “Monastery of Martyr Mar Behnam and his sister Sarah” contains texts, carved inscriptions and artwork dating back centuries.

ISIS occupied the monastery from June 2014 to November 2016, when it was recaptured byan Iraqi Christian unit that is working with the government to fight against ISIL. Photos and a news report published by the Agence France-Presse shortly after the monastery was recaptured show that ISIS militants destroyed some of the monastery’s buildings (it has multiple buildings), burned what texts they could find, defaced and destroyed the monastery’s artwork and inscriptions, and wrote graffiti over the surviving structures.

The texts were taken to an undisclosed but relatively secure location. Professor Amir Harrak told Live Science that given the unrest in Iraq, it may be best to bring the texts to a library in Europe, at least temporarily, for conservation and safekeeping.

Credit: Amjed Tareq Hano

The texts at Mar Behnam “were hidden in a storage room, 40 days before ISIS invaded the Plain of Nineveh [near Mosul], by a young priest named Yousif Sakat,” Harrak said. Sakat “placed them in large metallic cans and built a wall so that no one [would] suspect there is anything, and he succeeded,” he added.

Sakat, who was forced to flee the monastery, “kept his undertaking in secret even after the liberation of the Plain, out of fear the manuscripts would be uncovered, until he felt the Plain [was] secure — and he divulged the secret,” Harrak said. [See Photos of ISIS Destruction of Iraq Historical Sites]

For more than two years, the texts remained hidden behind the wall. Fortunately, Harrak said, ISIS did not destroy the particular building where the texts were hidden. Reuters reported that ISIS used the surviving buildings at the monastery as a base for its “morality police,” who “enforced strict rules against such things as smoking, men shaving their beards and women baring their faces in public.”

The future of the texts is uncertain, and Harrak wonders if the documents should be removed from Iraq, at least for now, for safekeeping.

“What is the future of these manuscripts? Iraq is a restless country,” Harrak said. “Should they take them to Europe, for example, or the Vatican Library or somewhere more secure?”

The Iraqi government is unlikely to help protect the texts, Harrak said. TheIraqi government has even ignored Iraq Christian refugees, leaving it to churches to provide relief for these people, he added.

Harrak is a native of Mosul, an Iraqi city near the monastery, which, at the time this story was written, ISIS still partly occupied. (The battle for the city is ongoing.) Harrak left Mosul in 1977 and now lives in Toronto, but he hasreturned to Iraq often to study ancient texts, inscriptions and artwork.

Original article on Live Science.

Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week

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Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week