Contemporaries described the Mongol invasions as a tsunami. Now it seems they did indeed ride a wave of good luck — and rain.

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Monument dedicated to Genghis Khan, one of history’s greatest conquerors.

How were Mongol ruler Genghis Khan and his descendants able to create the largest land empire in history? Did climate change in any way contribute to their ability to outplay their opponents? And if the weather did turn in their favor, why didn’t their enemies profit as well?

The galvanizing genesis of the Mongol horde

For a long time, historians believed it was a drought that pushed the Mongols to leave their homeland. Why but for a lack of resources would these ‘barbarian’ nomads invade fertile, sedentary, and cultured civilizations? Or so the reasoning ran.

Now, studies increasingly show that it was actually an abundance of resources…

Medieval politics were a men’s world but Melisende of Jerusalem entered the arena anyway

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Melisende (to the right) on her wedding day. After the honeymoon, things soon turned sour. The fighting couple was more than a handful for the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Three generations of Crusader kings had to deal with the princess and queen Melisende: her father, her husband, and her son. None of them were able to exclude her from the government of the kingdom. How was she able to circumvent medieval gender norms and amass tremendous power in the so-called Kingdom of Heaven?

Phase #1: Princess Melisende

The Kingdom of Jerusalem was the most powerful Crusader state in the Holy Land after the First Crusade. Melisende’s father, Baldwin, had traveled east with this campaign. Through scheming and conniving, he ended up on the throne of the kingdom as Baldwin II in 1118 CE.

What did people wear in the Early Middle Ages? What clothing options did one have to distinguish oneself from the common peasant? Simply put: if you’re not a princess, how do you look like one?

Status games — and how to win them

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Frankish regal dress, around 800 CE: not everybody could afford this attire, and that was exactly the point.

Short version. Question: did medieval fashion even exist? Answer: sort of.

Longer version. Over the course of the Middle Ages, habits in dress and costume did indeed develop and evolve. The changes had one specific goal in mind: to start, play and win status games.

Any modern observer with an Instagram account can tell you that not much has changed since then. Nowadays, we try to highlight our differences with material capital (yachts, private jets, etc). Or with sexual capital — what else are fitgirls and fitboys trying to market?

In medieval times, one conveyed status not just through impressive…

Why was Charles Martel called ‘the Hammer’? What did he do to the Arabs that halted the Islamisation of Western Europe? And why wasn’t the King involved?

Charles’s lust for power

After the Romans left Gaul (roughly present-day France), the area mostly came under the control of the Franks. They were a collection of Germanic tribes originating from the Netherlands and Germany. Having taken over the Roman province of Gallia (Gaul), the area became increasingly known as Francia.

Gallia (Gaul) had come a long way since surrendering before Roman might, depicted here by Lionel Royer.
Gallia (Gaul) had come a long way since surrendering before Roman might, depicted here by Lionel Royer.
Gallia (Gaul) had come a long way since surrendering before Roman might, depicted here by Lionel Royer. When Charles Martel was born, it was in Frankish hands.

In 688 CE, a son, Charles, was born to the Frankish statesman and commander Pepin of Herstal. Pepin occupied the office of Mayor of the Palace (maior domus or majordomo). Originally, this was the household manager of the Frankish king.

While Pepin was in office, the majordomo managed way more than that: he…

Got a minute? Of course you don’t!

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The Pillars of Creation

We are accustomed to sayings like “That’s been with us since the beginning of time”. Depending on your personal beliefs, this can refer to the Big Bang, the Creation, or something else from time immemorial. Time, however, is a rather modern invention and thus a human construct. It’s a convention we could change as we see fit. As a matter of fact, human civilizations have done this time and time again. Let’s put the history of our calendar on our agenda for a bit, shall we?

Rome if you want to

It’s not COVID-19 that’s the threat.

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We have arrived in the cyclist’s and pedestrian’s paradise. Milan, capital of COVID epicenter Lombardy¹, is reallocating 35 kilometers of streets from car use to cycling and walking.² Colombia’s capital Bogotá is planning to alter 76 kilometers of car lanes into bicycle areas.³ And in Berlin and Vienna, popup Radspuren are a common sight now.⁴ It seems to be only a matter of time before the metropolitan areas of this world can triumphantly announce “We are all Amsterdam now”. But let’s hold off singing Kumbaya together for a little longer. …

Great opportunities for things to come.

It goes without saying that, in spring 2020, we live in very strange times. Our streets look different than before. Would you like to go back to how things were earlier? Think again.

As we speak, COVID-19 is throwing a big wrench into the global economy. Commute patterns that were built up over decades have changed in an instant. Infrastructure laid down to provide a certain capacity is being used at <25% of normal levels. …

Simon Duits

Tales from our past are seeds for our future. Master’s Degree in history. Editor at

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