Interview with Matilda of Tuscany

Zach – So, you’re basically what we call a “security contractor.”

Matilda – I suppose you can say that. I had my men and arms and we protected the Papal throne. Yes, we did some bodyguard business and such, but we really didn’t hire out to anybody.

Zach – What was your favorite weapon?

Matilda – Broadsword, definitely. Broadsword with a shield. I never like the spear much.

Zach – and if you were working today?

Matilda – Probably M-4’s, eotech red dot sights and plate carriers. Maybe a few with an AR-10 of somekind, maybe the Crusader Broadsword, I like the name of that one.

Zach – yes, that’s a sweet weapon. What was it like on campaign in Italy?

Matilda – Well, I love the weather in my home. Italy is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I hear Venice is gorgeous but I’ve never been. My lands and Venice have never been on good speaking terms.

Zach – Well, while you’re here in the 21st century, you might want to stop by. It’s an amazing place.

Matilda – I just might do that.

Zach – So, what’s your favorite book?

Matilda – Generation Kill, Dead Six and Jane Eyre. Hey, I can be a girl sometimes. The new movie with Micheal Fassbender was amazing. Okay, and Pride and Prejudice, the BBC version.

Zach – What was it like on campaign?

Matilda – That part wasn’t very romantic and I can’t say I enjoyed sleeping in tents. Up in the mountains it got very cold and I had to wear extra layers under my chainmail. After a while you get used to the weight of the armor and you feel naked without a sword on your hip. In the summer it got too hot but if you wear too little, the chainmail will rub you raw. And then you had to make sure it keeps from rusting, and the food is bad and…Oh, I don’t want to sit here and complain. Anyone can get used to anything given enough time. I prefer to stay in my comfortable castles any time.

Zach – I hear you’re getting married.

Matilda – Yes, to my stepbrother. I hate him. He is a miserable wretch. But he has connections.

Zach – Very pragmatic of you.

Matilda – When you’re surrounded by enemies, even ones that claim to be your friends, you do what you must.

Zach – What’s your favorite food?

Matilda – You do ask all the hard questions, don’t you? (Laughs.) I suppose I like roasted mutton with hard bread and Olive oil…and strawberries.

Zach – When you’re not cleaving skulls what do you like to do?

Matilda – I like to read, practice my swordplay and crochet. Don’t laugh. It’s very relaxing. You should try it some time.

Zach – Maybe I will.

So, if you have any questions for Matilda, E-mail me and I’ll have her answer in a timely manner. Ask anything, don’t be afraid.


C-list kingdoms

We always hear about the great empires that spanned continents and waged wars with armies of millions. Is there no love for the small time guys? They were actually quite interesting, dynamic and sometimes a bit odd or quirky.

This is a reprensentation of the "Kingdom of Lusk."

The first opening band of kingdoms is the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. Ever heard of it? Me neither.

Here's their flag. At least they had that.

This little jewel of a country was situated in the armpit of Turkey where the Anatolia meets Palestine. This is a country made up of Armenian refugees from when the Turks conquered their original homeland. The Byzantine Empire helped move them in and gave them cardboard boxes, loaned them a moving van and even helped them unpack. They were a small country surrounded by Turks, Arabs and Kurds, all of which didn’t like them very much so when the First Crusade came around they were more than pleased to suddenly have a whole horde of unwashed allies. The Crusaders immediately began setting up shop and forming little kingdoms and principalities. They welcomed the Crusaders and let them have free access to the port and began adopting their ways. This tiny Middle Eastern country adopted French as the language, and Westernized a great deal including the adoption of Feudalism, chivalry and tight silly pants. It was then officially recognized as a Kingdom by the Pope himself.

See, I wasn't joking about it being in th armpit of Turkey.

While the Crusaders were there, they used that time to bite their thumb at the local Muslim nations that surrounded them. They married their daughters off to Crusaders and used this time to expand their territory, ticking off the Turks and Byzantines both.

"Eat this Seljuk Turks! What are YOU gonna do?"

Well, the upstart Crusader States of Outremar didn’t last nearly as long as Armenia would have liked. As they started to make themselves scarce, the Mongols move into the neighborhood and everything goes to poo. The Mongols, in an attempt to be nice, put the Sultan of Baghdad in a sack and trampled him with horses. That’s how Mongols say “Hi!” Well, this worried Armenia a little bit. So they make an alliance with the Mongols against the Muslims…until the Mongols convert to Islam and then they were left with not a friend in their part of the world. But, for a while, they tooled around with the Mongols, drinking and driving, egging houses and staying out late. They went on campaign with the Mongols and were BFF’s. So, you have an Eastern country that has adopted Western ways fighting along side Mongol barbarians. Go figure. Sometimes you find strange places in History.

Here's the King of Armenia talking to Hospitlars.

The king and the nobles kept becoming more Latinized and Catholic, but the peasants weren’t too happy and started writing strongly worded letters to their local leaders. While this strife was going on, the Muslims came and invaded. Armenia called for help from their In-laws in Europe, but they weren’t answering the phone. They left a few messages but no help came. The Muslims moved in took over. The king and his family packed up and moved to Paris to enjoy the jazz, Jerey Lewis and to call for a Crusade that never happened. He gave his title over to his in-laws in Cyprus and so, whoever was ruler of Cyprus also owned Armenia…which was always occupied by the Turks from then on. That title exists still to this day because it was passed to the first king of the United Italy. They’re not royalty anymore, but they do still technically own the armpit of Turkey.

Next country we’ll visit is the “Empire of Trebizond.” Do you remember our good friend Anna Komemna? Well her family held important positions in the government for a long time, kind of like the Kennedy’s but smart. But the ruling royal families didn’t like them so then moved to their summer homes off on the southern coast of the Black Sea. When the Fourth Crusade came along and the French Crusaders wanted to rescue all that Christian gold from other Christians, the Komemnos family decided that they didn’t want to deal with smelly French rulers and succeeded from the union. They declared the area around the city of Trebizond to be the rightful heir of the Roman Empire. While Constantinople was occupied by the lame “Latin Empire” they continued on as business as usual over in Trebizond. The Komemnian family did so well in ruling this little country that it actually outlasted the Byzantine empire, surviving until 1461. They survived by doing a lot of trading and earning money to buy off their enemies, making alliances and generally trying to be ignored. The fact that they were on the Silk Road didn’t hurt their fortunes either.

An offical decree ordering pizza by the emperor Alexius and his wife Theodora (popular names)

Eventually Trebizond gave up its title of “Empire of the Romans” (how many countries claimed that title?) and became friends again with the restored Byzantine Empire. So, they were just “Empire of the East” now.
After Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453, Trebizond got really worried. So, their emperor John IV started making alliances with Georgia, other Turks and even Mongols. He was really preparing to defend his home. The local Turk governor tried to take Trebizond with an aquatic landing but the tenacious Trebizonds fended them off. Then John died and his son, who was in idiot, took over. He ticked off all his allies and soon Trebizond found itself surrounded by enemies. The Turks surrounded Trebizond and after a month of hoping the problem would go away, they opened the gates to the Turks. The area there remained strongly Christian until Turkey and Greece did a population exchange in 1923 where Turkey sent Greece all their Christians (regardless of ethnic background) and Greece sent Turkey all their Muslims. That’s an interesting story in of itself. You should go look it up. So, in summary, you have a small remnent of the Roman empire surviving way out on the south eastern shore of the Black Sea a thousand years after the “fall of Rome.”

The Silk Road: The Wild East

The Silk Road was a trade route that extended from Eastern China and India and went all the way to Europe. However, it was more than just a trade route, it was its own culture, a way of life almost independent of the countries it passed through.

Think if the wild west extended thousands of miles east and west and they used swords instead of six shooters

Think if the wild west extended thousands of miles east and west and they used swords instead of six shooters

It was a wild place to say the least. There were wild bandits, raiders, small countries that few remember, mountain fortresses and travelers from all over the world. This was “Deadliest Warrior” but for real. You had Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Persian, Russian, Byzantines, Romans, and Venetians. When Rome controlled the Mid-East they had frequent contact with people they’ve never heard of. Roman statues were traded to India and Chinese silk and pottery were traded to Rome. There are stories of Roman soldiers going so far as China. (They were prisoners of war used to guard the eastern Parthinian boarder. The story goes that they went to China.) Chinese silk was quite the rage in Roman and the Senate even tried to issue laws to limit the wearing of it. The laws were ignored.
Silk was the big money maker. It’s called “The Silk Road” for a reason. Wars were fought over the control of the Silk Road. Byzantium and the Turks were constantly fighting for the land route south of the Black Sea. It was a sore point of contention between the two super powers and it went back and forth constantly, until…two Byzantine monks went on a mission to China. Like all Byzantines, these two were very sneaky and devious and soon discovered the secret of how they made silk. (worms! All this time. Who woulda thought?) So, they snuck these worms out and started their own silk factory right there in the Imperial palace in Constantinople. Maybe our government should learn how to make money instead of spending ours?

The wild nomads were upset that "Big Trade" made all the money so they like to rob and plunder when they could.

The Chinese Empire had remote outposts far into the western deserts and fought with Turks, Afhganis…wait, Afghanistan causing trouble? I don’t believe it. My, how things change. Like the Wild West, towns grew up along the trade routs and were supported by the merchants coming and going.

They were bustling places with local sherifs, coffin makers, saloon girls with hearts of gold and crusty prospectors.

Ideas, money and goods went back and forth from one continent to another. Very few people ever traveled the entire length of the Silk Road. Mostly it was like a relay race where one merchant would travel so far, trade his stuff and another merchant would take it further. A few travelers did go the distance. Rome sent official delegates to China, Christian missionaries went to try to convert the Mongols and Marco Polo went for an extended vacation in the east and brought back spaghetti for which I’m eternally grateful.

It wasn't all fun and games. Unless you count brushfire wars as fun.

Because LOTS of money was to be made there were people willing to kill for it. It was a dangerous place with massive wars, small skirmishes and police raids. The Mongols followed the Silk road on their unstoppable march westward.

A typical merchant along the Silk Road

China followed the road westward until they came to the Islamic Empire and the two had harsh words for each other.
So, Who is the Deadliest Warrior??!! Romans, Persians, Turks, Chinese, or rabid nomads?

My money's on this guy

Two Tough Chicks

Today I’ll be talking about two very tough broads. Two women that knew how to kick but and take names. I’m not talking about some hard attitude and go-get-em spunk, I’m talking about cracking skulls, splitting bellies and kicking groins. Both women took up the sword, donned their armor and went out to fight anyone that pissed them off.
The two women are Matilda of Tuscany and Duchess Gaita of Lombardy (also known as Sichelgaita Princess of Lombardy.)

Here's a picture of Gaita I drew when she was gracious enough to pose for me. She likes dressing up for work.

First I’ll talk about Duchess Gaita. Believe it or not, she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page about her. (go look, I’ll wait here.) So, needless to say, information about her is scarce. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “I looked all around but as Gaita was scarce there was none to be found.” Our information about Gaita comes from our good friend Anna Komemna. (see my post about Anna from earlier) One thing we must know about Anna is that she either saw what she recorded herself or interviewed eyewitness that she knew so we can be reasonably sure of what she said. (though she was strongly biased. She at one point refused to give the names of the Frankish nobles because she didn’t want to write down the Barbaric Frankish language.) In the 1100’s the Normans invaded Byzantine territory. Gaita was the wife of a Norman mercenary captain and she not only accompanied her sugar daddy on campaign, she also went out to battle with him. She fought and wore full armor like any good Norman warrior would do. Though she was a Frankish “barbarian” and the enemy, Anna shows a remarkable admiration for her. Not so much for her husband. Anna says “Robert, they say, was a thoroughly unscrupulous rascal and working hard for a conflict with the Romans; he had for a long time been making preparations for the war; but he was prevented by men of the highest rank of his entourage and by his own wife Gaita, on the grounds that he would be starting an unjust war.” so here we can see that she clearly had some influence over her husband and that she was concerned about “right” and “wrong” in waging war. (the same could not be said about many of her contemporaries.) Okay, so she dressed up in pretty armor and played with swords: that doesn’t make her a real warrior. So, how was she on the battlefield? Again, Anna helps us here.
“There is a story that Robert’s wife Gaita, who used to accompany him on campaign, like another Pallas, if not a second Athene, seeing the runaways (the Norman army was in retreat) and glaring fiercely at them, shouted in a loud voice – words which were equivalent to those of Homer, but in her own language: ‘how far will ye run? Halt! Be men!’ As they continued to flee, she grasped a long spear and charged at full gallop against them. It brought them to their senses and they went back to fight.”
As we can see, she was no slouch in a fight. She had courage and must have looked pretty intimidating all armored up on a horse. So, she was a tough chick and I imagine she was a looker…but that’s just me being a single heterosexual male. Either way, she was a tough broad that kicked a lot of but, even butt on her own side, cared about right and wrong and counseled her husband in matters of war.
Now, for the second of our two warrior women. Matilda of Tuscany, sometimes called “La Gran Contessa.”
She had what might politely call “a messed up” childhood. Her father was murdered, her brother died and her mother married a few warlords, one nicknamed “the bearded” and the other “the hunchback.” Probably not the best father figures. Then her mother died and she was imprisoned in horrible conditions. When her remaining brother died she was left as the only heir of a large fortune. You have to take the good with the bad I guess. Her family then got tangled up in a bunch of papal intrigue and eventually her stepfather became Pope, so she had a pretty big guy on her side now! She was fiercely loyal to him because, hey, having the Pope on your side is a pretty handy thing. Her family and her forces became a sort of bodyguard to the Popes. They have their armored thugs follow around the Popes on their journeys in the equivalent black suits, sunglasses, ear pieces and submachine guns under their jackets. That’s a pretty cool job to have. As they went around Italy being highly paid military contractors for the Pope, our young Matilda learned the arts of war.

Matilda prepping for an "Op."

She apparently had at least two suits of armor, a few castles and knew how to fight on horse and on foot. A can of mace in her purse just wasn’t enough. Like any good military contractor, she spoke several languages including German, French, Italian and could write in Latin. Lethal and smart. That’s a good combination.
After a while of kicking butt, she eventually married…her stepbrother whom she really really disliked. Hey, when you’re surrounded by enemies one has to do what you must to ensure your family stays in power. I’m not judging. Don’t judge.
Meanwhile, the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor (Technically he wasn’t emperor yet. I’ll have a post on that later) were having a hard time coming to a compromise on who should be top dog. Strangely, each side thought they should be in charge. Weird, huh? Matilda, of course, took the Pope’s side. The Pope excommunicated the German ruler. The Pope was crashing at her place and the German king comes knocking at the door begging to be un-excomunicated. This was a pretty sizable victory for the Papal powers and a lot of street cred for Matilda. It was her pad that they made nice nice at.
This cease-fire didn’t last long and the German king crossed the Alps with an army to either get back in the church, get crowned “Emperor of the Romans” (the Byzantines HATED that title….because…you know, THEY were Romans.) Or, kick out the Pope and put a friendlier one in place. Only Matilda stood in the way. She waged a campaign against the Germans but was outnumbered and outgunned. She lost several battles but kept fighting and never ceased to be a pain in the butt for the Germans. The German, Henry IV, kicked out the Pope and put a puppet on the Papal throne who, unsurprisingly, crowned Henry the Holy Roman Emperor. This accomplished, Henry left to go back to Germany to get into a nice pair of lederhosen and eat some sausage. He left his flunkies to “take care of Matilda.” They didn’t know who they were messing with and Matilda fought them off and chased them away like scared little girls. Then the puppet pope died and Henry had to come back and fight Matilda once again. Matilda was pushed back to the mountains but like Megamind, she didn’t know how to quite. She was a fighter, not a runner. Henry then went to go bust up her home castle and Matilda said “Oh, heck no! I aint having none of that!” She stormed down from her hiding place and sent the German emperor packing to the point that he was so scared that he never came back to Italy. That’s an impressive military record for anyone. And she did it all with style, shield, sword, chainmail and a “take crap from no one” attitude.

The Battle of Sekigahara

Most westerners have no idea what the Battle of Sekigahara is, or even who fought in it. This was the climactic battle in the unification of Japan. It’s like our Yorktown, Gettysburg, and Battle of the Bulge all rolled into one. It wasn’t really the last battle of the Unification, but it was the biggest and most important one and everything afterwards would have been too anti-climatic to really include.
The unification of Japan from dozens of warring, militarized states into one, unified, mayonnaise obsessed, anime making country was a lengthy and very bloody business. It started with a man named Oda Obunaga. He began the process of unifying Japan by taking over all of his neighbors and then their neighbors and then their neighbors. One battle in particular was quite awesome. He was out-manned, outgunned and facing an army of thousands that was sent to annihilate him. He and a few hundred cavalry were hiding up in the mountains when a huge rainstorm came. Seeing an opportunity, he and his small band, rushed down the mountain side. The steepness of the mountain was so high that the enemy hadn’t bothered to defend against it. It was said that it was so steep that Oda’s horse’s rear end was higher than his head. So they rushed down like an avalanche and tore into the middle of the unprotected camp and tore the place up like hurricane. This was the man with the vision to unify Japan. BUT….he died before he could complete it, so his loyal vassal, Toyotomi Hideyoshi picked up where his former boss left off and continued the unification. He, a former peasant, conquered the rest of Japan and thought all was great, but then another guy named Tokugawa Ieyasu decided that he could rule Japan better. Toyotomi hadn’t been doing a very good job apparently. He tried and failed to take over Kora because he forgot one of the classic blunders, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

After a while, a unified Japan was boring, so they went over to Korea to take it over.

(As a side note: he was also a jerk. After rising up from the lowest rungs in society to become master of Japan, he then made laws to prevent any kind of upward mobility. Samurai were now a locked class. Peasants could never get rich or increase in rank. Before it had been pretty vague about the whole class thing.)
Hideyoshi Toyotomi eventually dies and his clan takes over the ruling of Japan. Well, Old Tokugawa Ieyasu didn’t like the idea of a former peasant family micromanaging him so he led his crew and everyone else that didn’t like the Toyotomi clan and went on the march. There’s a whole lot of maneuvering, backstabbing, lies, politics and what not that led to the battle of Sekigahara, but I’ll cut to the good stuff. Basically, Tokugawa gathers the biggest army he could and goes out looking to bust heads. Toyotomi clan, tired of Tokugawa’s crap, wants to bust heads too, so the largest gathering of Samurai in Japan’s history takes place outside of a town called Sekigahara. Toyotomi’s army is smaller but has the high ground…unfortunately, not too high though. Tokugawa has the larger force, 88,000 to 81,000.

The Toyotomi's are not amused.

First, before we get into the main event, let me tell you a bit about Samurai and the armies involved. (I’ll eventually do a post about Samurai, but I’ll be brief.) Samurai were honor bound warriors that were unequaled in ferocity, training and intensity. (They were the only people to ever repel a full Mongol invasion. More on that later) They used spears, halberd type weapons, bows and of course, the katana. These light saber wielding maniacs also wrote poetry and practiced flower arranging. These are men, that if ordered to, would ritualistically disembowel themselves and their families because they got the wrong shade of “magenta” for their lord’s meditation chamber. They would charge into battle, screaming their name and wearing awesome looking armor with giant banners strapped to their backs just in case you didn’t notice him.

And they looked downright awesome.

So, both sides lined up, eyed each other and waited for word from their lords. However, before the battle, Tokugawa bribed and threatened several Toyotomi generals to come over to his side or to at least go out to lunch when the battle started. Even with all those “preparations,” the battle was intense and close. Both sides were tearing into each other like wild dogs and the sound of cannon, muskets and yelling samurai filled the air. The battle was huge. 81,000 men fighting 88,000 men = 169,000. To put it in perspective, Napoleon only had 72,000 at Waterloo and the American Invasion of Iraq had 130,000 men. (most of whom weren’t front line combat soldiers.)

I wouldn't want to be on the recieving end of these guys.


"Epic" though an overused word now, would be fitting to describe this battle.

The battle went on for some time. One of the Toyotomi generals that Tokugawa bribed was just sitting on his little hill, drinking tea and waiting. Tokugawa, not known for being a kind and benevolent person, ordered his gunners to open fire on the lazy warlord to get him to side one way or another in the battle. Though lazy, the man was wise and charged into the fray on Tokugawa’s side. This led to a crushing defeat of the Toyotomi clan as they found themselves begin attacked on their weakened flank.

Tokugawa looking out over the battle as heavy metal plays in the background

An interesting side note is that Miyamoto Musashi, the most famous and lethal samurai ever, was rumored to be present at the battle as a young lad of 17. Musashi went on to win hundreds of duels, develop a duel wielding style of two swords at once, fought 80 guys at a time and beat a guy in a duel with a stick. Not a man to be trifled with.

53, 54, 55...who's next? (Musashi going bezerk like an overpowered anime character)

After the battle, Tokugawa was left in charge, took most of Toyotomi’s land and set up a Shogunate that lasted until Japan modernized in the Meiji restoration in the 1800’s.

Oh, and there were ninja’s there, but I’ll get into that later.

“So what? Why is this important?” These are words voiced by a professor of mine. We were in Italy and we were looking at these strange frescoes that some student considered “strange.” I took these words to heart. “So what?” When we look at something we don’t understand or think we do, we should always ask ourselves why it was important enough for the people who did it/made it, to do. Why did Florence build the Duomo? Why is “The David” so important? Why is Sekigahara important? This battle shaped the future of Japan for the next four hundred years. Most of what we consider Japanese culture was finalized, cemented and created in this 400 years of peace and isolation. This shaped the way Japan evolved and thought. Though, during the Meiji Restoration they modernized, they were still shaped by these events. It was this mindset that American forces encountered in WWII. It was this mindset that dominated Japanese business practices and made them an economically and technologically superior to their neighbors. “So what?” Because this one battle had a ripple effect of events that have shaped the modern world. Every time you read one of my posts or something else about history, please keep this question in mind.

Just got an E-mail

I just got this e-mail from “Waterloosux1815.” (please read the following E-mail with a silly French accent.)

Dear Mr. Zachary Hill

I am writing you this letter to inform you that I think your website is pathetic. You last post was ridiculous and infantile! Everyone knows that we French dominated the Dark and Middle Ages! We ruled Europe for centuries. Do not tell me that you, a supposed “historian” do not know this thing. I have half a mind to put you on my lengthy Vendetta list.

N. Bonaparte

-Well, thank you Bonaparte. Glad to see you’ve enjoyed my blog here. It’s always good to hear back from the readers. So, Bony, let me tell you that yes, I do know the realities of France in the Middle Ages and that they were very competent and were a force to be reckoned with by any standards. They were the bulk of the forces for the First Crusade afterall. Them and their “Frankish Charge” dominated their enemies in the Holy Land. Heck, for a long time the kings of England spoke French and French was…well…the Lingua Franca of Europe because France was so powerful. Don’t get your large funny hat in a wad Nap…Mr. Bonaparte. I exclude a certain Corsican gentleman. And besides, at least we can look at Frances stellar performance in WWII….er…nevermind.