The Story of Writing

Writing began about 5,500 years ago as a way of keeping accounts and records, and later of passing on news, views and stories. Before this, people had to rely on what they could remember, and this was not always very accurate. As people began to trade and travel widely, a more practical and reliable system of storing and passing on infromation was needed.

Without writing, we would know very little about the past. Most of our historical evidence comes from ancient writing. From Ancient Egyptian records, for example, we know about what people wore, what they ate, what work they did, the battles they fought, whom they married, what their hourse looked like, and the gods they worshipped.

Temple Records

Some of the earliest known examples of writing are inscriptions found on clay tablets from Sumeria (now in Iraq). The tablets are over 5,000 years old. They are temple records, listing heads of cattle, sacks of grain and the number of workers (bakers, brewers, blacksmiths and slaves) employed in various temples.

The First Alphabets

The Egyptians – In many early civilisations, writing was thought to be a gift from the gods. The Ancient Egyptians believed that Thoth, the god of wisdom, created writing and bestowed it on the world. The word “hieroglyphics”, which describes the Egyptian writing system, means “sacred writing”.

The picture symbols could represent a whole word, a single sound or part of a longer word. It could be written and read left to right, right to left, or top to bottom. Animal and people signs provided clues about where to start. If they faced left, you read from left to right, and so on.

The whole system was so complicated that highly-trained scribes were the only ones to understand it. Most Egyptians couldn’t read or write!

Hieroglyphs remained a complete mystery until AD1822. Then, for the first time, a French linguist, Jean-Francois Champollion, deciphered the hieroglyphs inscribed on a large, stone slab known as the Rosetta stone.

The Vikings believed that thier god, Odin, invented the runes they wrote with. The Viking alphabet, or futhark, gets its name from its first six letters and only has 16 letters. It was designed to be carved on wood or stone so the individual letters, or runes, were composed of simple, straight lines.

The Ancient Greeks, in the 8th century BC, adopted the alphabet of the Phoenicians, a trading people from Lebanon. The Greeks had to add vowels because the Phoenician alphabet only used consonants. At first, they wrote from right to left. Then they tried writing “plough-wise”, changing ddirection at the end of each line, like oxen ploughing a field. Eventually, they settled on writing left to right, which made life a lot easier.

The Romans – A form of the Greek alphabet was adapted for writing Latin, the language of the Romans. During the time of the Roman Empire, the alphabet only contained 22 letters. J, U, W, Y and Z were added later. Long after the Romans had come and gone, their alphabet remained. In the Middle Ages, Latin was the language of scholars and the Church. The alphabet we use today to write English is based on the Roman alphabet.

~ excerpt from The Story of Writing and Printing by Anita Ganeri ~

BookCrossing – FREE YOUR BOOKS!

What is bookcrossing? It is the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.

I’ve heard of this before but have never thought about doing it … until now! If you visit the website –BookCrossing – FREE YOUR BOOKS! – you can read all about it. You don’t have to use your favourite books. I will leave a total of four books in my local area, books that I’ve read and wouldn’t read again. I’ll register them, of course, and see what happens.

I suppose it could be addictive but to be honest, there are only certain books that I’d leave for other people to find. I love my books too much to sacrifice the really good ones.

General Conditions and Sanitation

One of the major reasons for the spread of plague in fourteenth century Europe was the generally wretched and squalid conditions in which most of the people lived. The vast majority of people were serfs or poor peasants. They lived in small villages of windowless thatched wooden huts.

People knew little of sanitation. They dumped their wastes into rivers from which they also drank, or into nearby fields. Humans and livestock slept under the same roof.

People rarely washed either themselves or their clothes. Fleas, lice, and other vermin were just part of life’s afflictions to be endured with all the others. Rats were so common that they went almost unnoticed except when there was a population explosion among them and the vast numbers of rats threatened to eat up the food supply.

The nobles lived in grander houses or in walled castles, but their sanitary conditions were not much better, and may even have been worse. The problem of waste disposal, for example, was more difficult within the walls of a castle than in a village.

Disease and early death were expected. Most children died before reaching the age of six. Their mothers often died in childbirth. The average age of death among those who survived the perils of childhood was about thirty five. Anyone who managed to reach the age of fifty was considered a marvel of longevity.

    17th and 18th Centuries

    Housing conditions in London during the 17th and 18th Century were incredibly bad, though improved by Medieval standards. A huge “floating population” was largely housed as weekly tenants in furnished rooms.

    Those who could not find lodging slept in ale-houses, garrets, in night cellars (latrines with cesspits), in doorways and in streets. Many simply slept in rented chairs in pubs, where they were permanent guests. Coffee houses and pubs were desirable addresses for those establishing themselves in London.

    Methane (swamp) gas generated by cesspits caught fire, exploded and brought instant death to those trapped in sealed homes. Hydrogen sulfide gases overwhelmed victims as they slept, their lungs paralyzed by the gas.

    It is estimated that several hundred thousand Londoners perished from typhoid, cholera, plague and pestilence before it was understood that the City was dying from its own filth.

    Finally, it was up to the Sewer Commissioners to find a way to rid the city of centuries of human waste stored within its walls.

    Servants, such as cooks and maids, slept in the kitchens or pantries. There were 6,000 hog pens and countless slaughterhouses in the housing areas. Bathing and fresh air were feared. Most people had only one set of clothes. How often these were washed or cleaned is not known.

    The crowded conditions in London were due, in part, to social tradition, but were mostly dictated by the need to be near a place of work. The small stalls of “Costermongers” lined the streets vending every manner of goods from buttons and brick to breads and sausage from cattle slaughtered on the spot.

    “Causes” and “Cures”

    Physicians at Paris University claimed that the stars had infected the sea, causing it to give off a vapour, which fell as rain. The only way to protect yourself from this vapour was to light huge bonfires; then you had to make sure that you were not rained on, and that you did not use rain water for cooking.

    In Switzerland people accused Jews of poisoning the water supplies. In one Swiss town every Jew was rounded up and burned to death. This was one of the saddest incidents during the Black Death. While millions of people were dying of the disease, healthy Jewish people lost their lives because of the fear and ignorance of others.

    Some thought that God had sent the plague to punish people’s wickedness. In Germany and eastern Europe, people wandered from village to village, whipping themselves mercilessly to show they were sorry. These flagellants, as they were called, were refused entry to many towns because of their violence and extreme views. This was sensible anyway because the flagellants themselves might have been infected with the plague.

    The Role of the Doctor

    plaguedoctorPeople in the seventeenth century didn’t know what caused the plague and many believed it was a punishment from God. They did realise that coming into contact with those infected increased the risk of contracting the disease themselves. Cures and preventative measures were not at all affective.

    Many doctors, knowing that they could do nothing for plague victims, simply didn’t bother trying to treat the disease. Those that did tried to make sure they were as protected as possible from the disease by wearing a “uniform” (refer to the image).

    The “uniform” was designed for protection and left no part of the doctor’s body uncovered. The long gown was made from thick material and often covered with wax as this was thought to keep the germs out. The beak that was attached to the mask was stuffed with herbs, perfumes or spices to purify the air that the doctor breathed when he was close to victims. He carried a wooden stick so that he could drive people away if they came too close to him.

    Christmas Season

    In two weeks, I’ll be on holiday. In two weeks and two days, it’s Christmas!

    It has come around too quickly and I’m not prepared. This year, the days are blending together and I’m getting nothing done. It’s frustrating because I have so much to do.

    Also, the internet connection at work is playing up and that’s when I do most of my… surfing! Bother! On the other hand, because I’m unable to visit my online ventures I have been working on the replan of my manuscript and it’s coming along nicely.

    To be totally honest, I feel completely exhausted all the time. It’s beginning to worry me a bit but I’m pretty sure that judging the anthology stories has taken a lot out of me – more than I thought it would. Maybe it’s just the time of year.

    I will submit the stories to the publisher on Monday and then I’ll be able to relax a bit. I need to rest and I think I’ll start that right now.

    Good night!

    The Plague of 1665

    Bubonic Plague was known as the Black Death and had been known in England for centuries. It was a ghastly disease. The victim’s skin turned black in patches and inflamed glands or ‘buboes’ in the groin combined with compulsive vomiting, swollen tongue and splitting headaches made it a horrible, agonizing killer.

    The plague started in the East, possibly China, and quickly spread through Europe. Whole communities were wiped out and corpses littered the streets as there was no one left to bury them.

    It began in London in the poor, overcrowded parish of St. Giles-in-the-Field. It started slowly at first but by May of 1665, 43 had died. In June 6,137 people had died, in July 17,036 and at its peak in August, 31,159 people had died. In all, 15% of the population perished during that terrible summer.

    Incubation took a mere four to six days and when the plague appeared in a household, the house was sealed, thus condemning the whole family to death! These houses were distinguished by a painted red cross on the door and the words, ‘Lord have mercy on us’. At night the corpses were brought out in answer to the cry, ‘Bring out your dead’, put in a cart and taken away to the plague pits. One called the Great Pit was at Aldgate in London and another at Finsbury Fields.

    The King, Charles II and his Court left London and fled to Oxford. Many people who could, sent their families away from London during these months, but the poor had no other option but to stay.

    The plague spread to many parts of England. York was one city badly affected. The plague victims were buried outside the city walls and it is said that they have never been disturbed since then, as a precaution against a resurgence of the dreaded plague. The grassy embankments below the walls that can be seen as York is approached are the sites of these plague pits.

    In some towns and villages in England there are still the old market crosses which have a depression at the foot of the stone cross. This was filled with vinegar during times of plague as it was believed that vinegar would kill any germs on the coins and so contain the disease.

    The plague lasted in London until the late Autumn when the colder weather helped kill off the fleas.

    Over the centuries Bubonic Plague has broken out in Europet and the Far East. In 1900 there were outbreaks of plague in places as far apart as Portugal and Australia.

      The plague still exists today.
      An outbreak was reported in India as late as 1994.
      With today’s technology very few people
      actually die from the plague.

        Influenza seems to be the modern form of plague. At the end of World War One an influenza outbreak circled the world during 1918 – 1919. Within a year 20 million people had died world-wide.

        Cleopatra’s Story

        The Teenage Queen

        From an early age, Cleopatra’s family were at war – not only with the people it ruled but with each other. The people suffered under the cruelty of Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, due to his alliance with Rome, the citizens rioted and chased Ptolemy out of Egypt. Berenice, Cleopatra’s older sister became queen at this time but after only three years, Ptolemy returned from Rome taking back his throne and ordered Berenice’s execution. It is rumoured that during her three years as queen, Berenice had her sister, Cleopatra Tryphaena murdered.

        cleopatraMost of the royal family did not want to marry outside the family, because they thought this might weaken its power, so when her father died in 51BC Cleopatra, aged eighteen, married her twelve year old brother, Ptolemy XIII, and became queen. Fearing her enemies would try to kill her, she made friends with powerful courtiers. She prepared herself for government by learning many launguages including Egyptian (the rest of the family only spoke Greek). She also used religion to support her claim to the throne. Cleopatra called herself the Sun-God’s daughter, which was an ancient royal title.

        During the first few years of her reign, Cleopatra managed to keep hold of the power. Her brother – now husband – was considered too young to reign and Cleopatra ruled alone. As Ptolemy XIII approached his sixteenth birthday, he gradually demanded his share of the power. Cleopatra’s most powerful enemy was Pothinus, her brother’s chief advisor who didn’t like the way Cleopatra made decisions without consulting him.

        In 48BC, Cleopatra discovered that Ptolemy and Pothinus were plotting to send soldiers to kidnap her, and guessed that they planned to kill her. She knew that she must leave Egypt and set sail for Syria. When she left, she took her only surviving sister, Arsinoe, into exile with her. This was partly to protect her from Ptolemy and Pothinus, but more importantly to stop Arsinoe trying to seize power while Cleopatra was gone because she hoped to recruit an army to help her win back her throne from her brother.

        A short time later, Caesar arrived in Egypt to collect a huge sum of money that he claimed Cleopatra’s father had owed him. He ordered Cleopatra and Ptolemy to meet with him to discuss a peace treaty. Not trusting her brother, Cleopatra knew that her life would be in real danger if she had to come face to face with any of her brother’s advisors. She knew her only option was to get Caesar’s protection.

        It is said that Cleopatra sent Caesar a beautiful carpet as a gift. Caesar was astonished when the carpet was unrolled to reveal Cleopatra herself. Using her charm and intelligence she quickly gained his support.

        When Pothinus, Ptolemy’s chief advisor, found out that Cleopatra had won Caesar’s support, he plotted against him. Caesar’s barbar overheard Pothinus’s plans and Pothinus was executed. Meanwhile Arsinoe, Cleopatra’s younger sister, escaped from the city to join forces with General Achillas and the Egyptian army against Caesar. When Ptolemy XIII heard that Cleopatra was with Caesar, he ran out of the palace and threw down his crown in a terrible rage. The palace was now under siege by the Egyptian army. In the hope of appeasing them, Caesar allowed Ptolemy to leave the city and join his sister, Arsinoe, and General Archillas. Days after the war in Alexandria ended, Ptolemy’s body was found in the harbour.

        A Powerful Protector

        Cleopatra finally felt secure. Her enemy Ptolemy XIII and his advisors were dead, and Caesar promised to protect her. She promptly married her surviving brother, 11 year old Ptolemy XIV and with Caesar at her side, she sailed down the Nile, to meet her subjects. It was believed that Cleopatra was pregnant with Caesar’s child and when he returned to Rome, he left 15,000 men to guard her.

        caesarClaiming she was negotiating a peace treaty between Egypt and Rome, Cleopatra hurried to join Caesar in Rome. Cleopatra took her son, Caesarion and her teenage brother, Ptolemy XIV with her, fearing her brother or his advisors would try to seize power in Egypt while she was away.

        Cleopatra stayed in one of Caesar’s splendid villas in Rome. She held court there, inviting leading Romans to visit her and offering them rich gifts. She hoped to win their friendship and support. Caesar paid for a beautiful statue of Cleopatra to be put on disply in a temple – it showed her as a mother holding Caesarion in her arms. Many Romans were shocked by the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra. They were afraid that Caesar would name Caesarion as his heir and would become ruler of Rome.

        As a reward for his victories, the Senate made Caesar dictator (sole ruler) for the next ten years in 46BC. Two years later, he was made dictator for life. Some Romans feared that Caesar was becoming too powerful, and that he wanted to be king so about sixty conspirators decided he must be killed.

        Julius Caesar was stabbed to death after a Senate meeting in 44BC.

        Antony and Cleopatra

        After Caesar’s murder, Cleopatra hurried back to Egypt. Once again her kingdom was in danger as many hostile countries saw Egypt as a rich prize, and hoped to conquer it. Fearing Caesar’s enemies would murder her son, Cleopatra kept Caesarion close by her side. At this time, Ptolemy XIV mysteriously disappeared, and people believed that Cleopatra had poisoned her brother, so that she could rule Egypt with her young son. Life in Egypt was not easy as many people saw Cleopatra as a traitor because of her friendhsip with Caesar and her long visit to Rome.

        Caesar’s death led to three years of civil war in Rome. Finally, in 42BC the Roman lands were divided among the three powerful men leading the rival armies – Octavian (Caesar’s nephew), Marcus Antonius (Antony), and Marcus Lepidus. Antony took control of the whole eastern Mediterranean region, which included Egypt.

        antonyAntony needed Cleopatra’s support as he feared that she might side with his enemies. He also needed Egypt’s gold to pay his armies to keep control of his share of the empire, and Egypt’s grain to feed his men. Antony wrote to Cleopatra and when she did not reply, he summoned her to meet him.

        Cleopatra was no fool, she knew Antony needed her gold and she was in no hurry to respond to him. Instead, she deliberately took her time. She planned to ask for his protection and she wanted his help to kill her enemies – including her sister, Arsinoe.

        After Cleopatra’s arrival in Tarsus, Antony invited her to dine with him. Cleopatra refused. Instead, she insisted that he go to her royal barge. She took great care with her preparations – she wanted Antony to be delighted and impressed by her. She arranged for her barge to be decoreated with thousands of tiny oil lamps in glittering, flickering patterns of light.

        They met several times during Cleopatra’s vist to Tarsus, to discuss the terms of their alliance. Cleopatra’s plan worked and she won Antony’s support. Antony hurried to Egypt and spent the winter of 41BC at Cleopatra side. She watched him exercise with his troops, she flattered him, listened to his battle stories, and entertained him at fabulous feasts. Then she became pregnant – with twins. Antony was their father yet in 40BC, he had to return to Rome because his wife, Fulvia, was leading a rebellion against Octavian; he missed the twin’s birth. Late in 40BC, Antony’s wife Fulvia died. Antony made a peace treaty with Octavian, and as a sign of friendship he married Octavian’s sister, Octavia.

        It was to be four years before Antony returned to Egypt and to Cleopatra. She needed a strong ally to help keep Egypt independent, so she welcomed him back. In 35BC, they had a third child, a son whom they named Ptolemy Philadelphus. Early in 34BC, Antony invaded Armenia and returned to Alexandria in triumph, In a magnificent ceremony Cleopatra was crowned “Queen of Kings”, and all her children were given special royal titles.

        With Antony to help her, Cleopatra hoped to reclaim many of the lands once owned by Ptolemies, including Syria, Lebanon and Phoenicia. When Octavian heard about Antony and Cleopatra’s ambitious plans, he made powerfut speeches in the Roman senate, declaring Antony as a traitor. War was declared against Cleopatra – and all Egypt.

        Naturally, Antony joined Cleopatra in the war against Rome but he did not want to lose control of his lands in the east, which included Greece. They sailed to Greece with a huge fleet of warships. In spring 31BC, the Roman forces arrived and for several months Octavian’s fleet patrolled the Greek coast, fighting Antony’s soldiers, capturing his forts and sinking his ships. Trapped in the Gulf of Ambracia, Antony’s soldiers became very ill with malaria. Food and water supplies ran out and many of them deserted. In a last effort, Antony and Cleopatra decided to smash through the Roman blockade.

        Once out in the open sea, Cleopatra realised she could escape. She took her chance, and sailed away. She hoped to save her ships and her treasure so that she could fight another day. Antony managed to sail after Cleopatra, but the rest of his warships could not get past the Romans. His ships were destroyed, many of his soldiers were killed and the rest surrendered to Octavian.

        Antony went into hiding on Pharos, an island in Alexandria harbour, and refused to see anyone after the defeat and dishonour of the Battle of Actium. Cleopatra planned to continue to rule Egypt. Almost one year later, they faced Octavian for the final time when he invaded Egypt.

        Forced to flee Octavian’s army when most of his soldiers refused to fight, Antony was disgraced and ashamed, and blamed Cleopatra. Afraid of his anger, Cleopatra had locked herself in her mausoleum and sent a message saying she was dead. In despair, Antony stabbed himself. When she heard the news, Cleopatra sent her servants to carry Antony to her, and he died in her arms.

        Octavian allowed Cleopatra to arrange Antony’s funeral and to take part in the ceremony. He refused, however, to allow her children to rule Egypt on behalf of Rome. Cleopatra could not bear to live while forenigners ruled her land. The most popular story about Cleopatra’s death says that she was bitten by a small poisonous snake, called an asp yet her mausoleum has not been found, so historians do not know exactly how she died.