The city of Ghent was extremely rich. So its Burgundian overlords wanted to milk it. Ghent, however, had ideas of their own about where to put their money.

The Burgundian duke Philip in all his splendor [1447 painting by R. van der Weyden]

The mighty city of Ghent was one of Burgundy’s most prized possessions. But the relationship with its powerful Burgundian overlords was difficult, complicated and often tempestuous. How was one city able to be such a persistent and painful thorn in Burgundy’s side?

The price of wealth

The dukes of Burgundy ran a splendid state in the 15th century CE. Its court was so magnificent it set the fashion for other European royal houses. It was the envy of many a monarch.

Politically speaking, the Burgundian State was a major power in Western Europe. The Burgundian dukes styled themselves as “Grand Dukes of the West”…


The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach

A severe rebellion rocked the Chinese Tang Empire in the 8th century. General Zhang Xun was forced to take sides. He was prepared to make great — and extreme — sacrifices. [image from SupChina]

What drove the otherwise stern and respected Chinese general Zhang Xun to eat his own concubine? And why did Chinese historiography raise this commander-turned-cannibal to hero status? Well, as it happened, all was not well in the Chinese Empire of his day.

Zhang Xun’s stellar career

When Zhang Xun grew up in the 8th century CE, the great Tang Dynasty ruled a unified China. A high point in Chinese civilization, this was an empire of cosmopolitan grandeur. Meanwhile, imperial armies penetrated deep into Central Asia, subjugating the Turkic tribes living there.

The Tang era has consequently been dubbed one of China’s Golden Ages. Zhang…


The Fall of Rome was only the beginning of an epic clash of civilizations on the Italian peninsula. One general turned out to be smarter than the others involved.

Late Antiquity Gothic warriors by Fall3NAiRBoRnE (deviantART)

Ever wondered what happened to Rome after — you know — the Fall of Rome? Did the Middle Ages simply start the next day? Were the last Romans turned into “barbarians” overnight?

Fortunately for us, the transition was way more interesting than that.

The future after the fall

Rome, the capital of the greatest empire of Antiquity, fell to the invading Goths in 476 CE. However, they didn’t transform the Eternal City into the center of their new kingdom. After the Gothic conquest, there were still plenty of Romans in Rome — and many more to come.

As a matter of fact, the crumbling Roman…


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

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.


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

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…


In a so-called Dark Age, it’s important to shine your light brighter than ever. Learn how noble ladies and gentlemen managed to look dazzling.

Medieval attire. [19th-century painting]

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


Frankish prince Charles Martel was confronted with two mighty Islamic armies. Nevertheless, he managed to withstand the onslaught of jihad.

Charles Martel, AKA ‘the Hammer’

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.


Thanks to its explosive ideology of jihad, Islam enjoyed a stunning rise in its early days and defeated one Western power after the other.

The last king of the Germanic Goths addressing his troops before their clash with the armies of jihad. The following moments decided the history of the Iberian peninsula for many centuries.

How did armies during the Rise of Islam conquer a vast selection of christian lands? What was jihad in the first place? Who were the colorful commanders that led it to the West?

Muhammad’s irresistible ideology

Simon Duits

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