The Uncertain Truth Behind Thugee

The word ‘thug’ arrived in English in the early 1800s to refer to a specific kind of bandit operating in India. The concept of ‘thugee’ (the practices of thugs) soon lodged itself in the Anglophone popular consciousness, spawning media like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But real-life thugee was very different from the […]

Weird Treasure: Letters of Introduction

In the seventeenth century, an Iraqi named Elias al-Mûsili traveled throughout Latin America, armed with a thick stack of letters of introduction from some very prestigious people. With these letters, he was welcome just about anywhere ruled by Spain – and he accumulated more letters as he went. Historically, letters of introduction were boilerplate, a […]

Hunting the Wilderness Fop

In 1773, failed architect William Mylne fled his creditors in Scotland by absconding to the backwoods of the American colonies: a little shack outside Augusta, Georgia. He had a vision of setting himself up as a farmer, but a lack of funds and his own incompetence foiled his plans. He abandoned Georgia and traveled overland […]

Retaking the Ship from Confederate Pirates

In July, 1861, the U.S. merchant sailing vessel S.J. Waring was seized by Confederate pirates. William Tillman, a black man and the ship’s cook and steward, learned the pirates intended to seize him too and sell him into slavery in the Confederacy. Tillman was not going to let that happen. He spent nine days quietly […]

Pangani: A Pile of Conflicts Exploding in Revolt

In 1888, the Swahili coast of what is today Tanzania rose up in revolt against the Sultanate of Zanzibar, triggered by the arrogance of the sultan’s new German ‘friends’. The revolt was particularly memorable at the trading town of Pangani. But while German shortsightedness may have provided the instigating incident, Pangani had been moving towards […]

Andrew Battel: Pirate, Convict, Merchant, and Mercenary

Andrew Battel was a failed English pirate. Captured by his intended victims, he was forced into convict labor by Portuguese colonial officials in Angola, Africa. He then went on to a varied career as a Portuguese soldier, a weird sort of half-merchant-half-mercenary dude, a minor warchief, a soldier again, and finally a deserter. His and […]

The Marriage Politics of Blanche of Castille

Blanche of Castille was Queen of France from 1223 to 1252. She was a juggernaut – one of the most powerful people on the continent. She led spy rings, commanded armies, and helped turn France into the pre-eminent power in Europe. The story of how she negotiated a marriage for her son, King Louis IX (the […]

By Order of General Ludd and His Luddites

The Luddites were a British labor movement active roughly between 1811 and 1817. They opposed the growing mechanization of the British textile industry by smashing machines, burning buildings, and threatening – and sometimes killing – business leaders and magistrates. They had a secret, probably fictional, leader. And they’re more relevant now than ever. Let’s look at what […]

The Hidden Treasure of Bahadur Shah & Ultraviolet Grasslands Review

Last week, I wrapped up my five-part Babur series, but I still wanted to present a little coda to the Babur story: a tale of hidden treasure found by his son and successor, Humayun. Because this post is about half the length of what I usually shoot for, I also found the time to (finally) […]

The Scandalous Memoirs of Regency England

For the upper classes, the early 1800s in Britain were an elegant and glamorous age. This is the time of Bridgerton, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice. In London high society, it was an era of lavish balls, fabulous outfits, and not thinking too much about the ongoing Napoleonic Wars or the growing poverty in the […]

The Lavish High Society of 1888 Vienna

In 1888, the Austro-Hungarian empire was in its decadent final decades. In Vienna, the capital, baroque splendor was on full display. Yet while ‘baroque’ can mean glitzy and overwrought, it also refers to an artistic style then over a century out of date. And that’s late 1800s Vienna: a cultural Mecca that was also the […]

“No, I’m the Real Martin Guerre!”

In 1548, Basque peasant Martin Guerre disappeared from his village in southwest France, abandoning his wife and child. Eight years later, he returned. Life improved; he was a better husband, father, and member of his community. But Guerre’s uncle brought a lawsuit against him claiming this peasant wasn’t the real Martin Guerre, but a similar-looking […]

The Wreck of the Convict Ship ‘George III’

Material more than one year old is available to Patreon backers at the DEEP TIME ($2/month) level and higher. If you’d like access to this piece and hundreds more like it, consider becoming a patron! I’ll even write you a handwritten thank-you card.To view this content, you must be a member of The Molten Sulfur […]

The Pirate King of Iceland

Material more than one year old is available to Patreon backers at the DEEP TIME ($2/month) level and higher. If you’d like access to this piece and hundreds more like it, consider becoming a patron! I’ll even write you a handwritten thank-you card.To view this content, you must be a member of The Molten Sulfur […]

Earnest Pleas in Early Muslim Poetry

Material more than one year old is available to Patreon backers at the DEEP TIME ($2/month) level and higher. If you’d like access to this piece and hundreds more like it, consider becoming a patron! I’ll even write you a handwritten thank-you card.To view this content, you must be a member of The Molten Sulfur […]