Tag Archives: Ancient History

From Patreon: Otzi

Hey there readers and listeners, I’m going on holiday till January 25th 2023, so I’ve programmed the following posts to drop weekly until I’m back.
In September I went through my Patreon page, and re-recorded the episodes on there with new narration (I’d upgraded my podcasting rig a ways early in 2022.)
While doing so I made the first Four Episodes free to all – This is Two of Four.

I also put those four episodes up on YouTube in full, using iMovie on my tablet to make promo ads for the Patreon.

If you’d like to support what I do, and would like to get your hands on some extra content, it costs just $2 US a month (plus any applicable goods and services taxes your country may charge, if any.)
This gets you access to one guaranteed episode a month on the first of each month. If you can help me exceed my first target of $500 a month, I’ll up that to two episodes a month. If we get over $1,000 I’ll add more stuff.
Of course it goes without saying I’m keeping the free channels going, free of charge. I’ve got 23 blog posts, with 23 accompanying podcast episodes planned for 2023 via the free channels.

This episode can be found Here on Patreon


This week’s bonus tale is a murder mystery, and will leave way more questions than answers. As we get going you’ll see why.

Our tale is set today in the distant, pre-historic past, somewhere on the border between modern day Austria and Italy. We can place the story somewhere in the ballpark of 5,300 years ago. Our protagonist, a man of about 45 years of age. Dark-eyed. Decked out in goatskin clothing topped off with a bearskin hat. Thought slight, weighing somewhere around 110 lbs and standing 5.2” to 5.3”, he was clearly engaged in physical labour his entire life and was all muscle. The high levels of arsenic found in his system suggest he may have been involved in metallurgy.

More advanced civilisations were already just into the Bronze Age at this stage. Arsenic could poison metallurgists when making arsenical bronze – where tin (then super rare) would be substituted for the toxin. Copper itself often has some level of arsenic in it, if taken from a less than pure source. While Central Europe was still at the end of the Stone Age, our man was found with a copper axe. We presume it is super rare.

He may have suffered from his heavily worn down teeth. He certainly had aches and pains, suffering from arthritis in his neck and hip. Furthermore, the mystery man lived with tapeworm in his belly. The condition of his hair and nails show extreme stress in the last four months of his life. One may ask, was this stress related to his eventual death. We can say his stress levels were enough to have made him very unwell in the months leading up to his murder. He was also nursing broken ribs at the time of his death, suggesting some time in the last few weeks of his life he’d come of second best in a fight, and been given quite a beating.

And there are a couple of other things we should mention – and will do as we go on.

Now, a little on the setting before we come back to the main tale. Just an FYI, we’re going to run a couple of scenarios today.

Parts of Europe became habitable to Homo sapiens as the ice sheets melted, between 26,500 and 19,000 years ago. A handful of us had hung around the edges of the Mediterranean from around 45,000 years ago. The Neanderthals, clearly much tougher than us, were living on the continent itself 300,000 to 600,000 years ago, and would either integrate with homo sapien invaders, or be killed by them when we finally arrived en masse. DNA records indicate a little bit of both – most Europeans are between 2 – 3% Neanderthal.

Around 8,000 years ago something looking like a city first sprang up in Europe, Lepenski Vir, in Serbia an early example. As people put down roots, these societies diversified – some taking specialised roles. These roles of course included people of violence – people who protected the towns and people who attacked other towns. The area in question was headed in that direction – people congregating in small villages close to water, and increasingly turning to farming wheat and barley for a living.

We believe, based on DNA tests, our mystery man may have lived around modern day Piedmont, Italy, near the Alps- at least a few articles claim some Piedmontese people alive today have DNA matching his. Isotope testing of his teeth suggest he lived just south of the Alps, in Italy. The Romans, millennia later, called the people living in this region Ligurians, stating they were culturally Celtic – but we know the area was overrun by Celts two and a half millennia after our man’s time. It doesn’t automatically stand that he was Celtic.

So, let’s run a few scenarios. All take place somewhere around 5,300 years ago. Based on berries found in his stomach found halfway up the mountain at a certain time of year, the earliest this could be is June, the latest August.

Our man, Otzi is the name we gave him, has been under great stress over the last four months. We don’t know exactly what has happened – whether it’s down to theft, love interests, village politics or any number of reasons, scenario one has it he’s come info conflict with someone else in the tribe, and a blood feud has developed. Probably living largely hand to mouth, he is unlikely to have been able to ‘take to the mattresses’ till the situation calms down. Sooner or later he has to return to his work – variously guessed at as specialist hunter, shepherd or metal prospector. One day Otzi heads off for work, and never comes back.

Pollen in his digestive tract, probably floating atop the water, suggests he was in the foothills before the attack happened. That he had a bag and a fanny pack full of tools, his copper axe, a net to trap birds with, and a box containing fire-lighting material. He also carried a short knife and a half-finished bow with him. Let’s come back to that bow, and his half finished quiver of arrows in a second.

Either in the valley, or perhaps even in his village, we know he was set upon by a gang. The blood of four other men would be found on his knife, few usable arrows and clothes. Their first clash, it appears, is up close and personal. An attacker went for Otzi with a knife – leaving a nasty defensive wound across his right palm. Clotting around the wound suggests his death was as much as three days after the initial attack. The knife-wielding attacker also manages to leave Otzi with several shallow cuts to the chest. Being met by a thug with a knife, Otzi fought for his life, and got himself out of that situation. He may have drawn the blood of his attackers now, or possibly later on – then ran back into the hills.

Scientists believe over the following three days, in a deadly game of cat and mouse, Otzi would ascend to around 8,000 feet – where the yew trees could be found – descend back into the valley, then head back up the mountain again – where he would die. One possible reason for heading up could be to grab a spar off a yew tree to make a bow and some arrows. Yew makes for excellent bows and Otzi’s half finished bow would have been a deadly weapon. Taller than him it would have had a pull weight of around 90 lbs – more than enough to take down an attacker from a distance. For three days his pursuers chased after him. Sometime in his final hours, Otzi had a large meal of Ibex meat. An hour later his attackers caught up with him. Clutching his knife he turned away and scrambled for the summit – only to be struck in the upper back with an arrow. This shot would have killed him, striking an artery. His attacker approached the body, dealing the killing blow to the Iceman – crushing his skull with a blunt object.

While it’s tempting to paint a picture of Otzi coming home from the mountains to find a band of marauders attacking his village, two inter-related points suggest to me he was killed by someone from inside the fold. First, his killer took back the shaft of the arrow, and second he didn’t pillage what must have been an extremely rare copper axe. If the posse were from another village, who there would be the wiser as to who this axe belonged to? – but if they were found with a murdered man’s axe on them in the same village – is this not strong evidence of their guilt? Similarly, if the body was found with a familiar-looking arrow in him, is that itself not a smoking gun – so to speak?

Second, there is a suggestion Otzi didn’t die alone, but had been involved in a war with a neighbouring tribe, possibly over disputed land. From the moment groups of people left hunting and gathering to domesticate animals and grow crops, a problem arose over the question of who owned that land. We were a long way from war as we know it – The Battle of Megiddo in 1479 BC is generally the first accepted war with armies – the two sides Egypt and the kingdom of Kadesh. Archeologists have found battle scenes with a couple of dozen dead on either side as early as 13.400 years ago in Jebel Sahara, Sudan – and increasingly since humans began farming around 12,000 years ago. Scientists base this claim on the blood on Otzi’s cape. It suggests he may have been carrying a wounded comrade shortly before his death. Perhaps the winners didn’t pillage because the situation didn’t allow for it. Where were the other bodies? One possibility is they were there, but as Otzi fell in a sheltered location, he was never taken along by the glacier. Never picked apart by the wolves and other predators.

A third possibility suggested is he was a human sacrifice. Some experts claim Otzi was himself a Celt, and was taken up into the mountains by the other villagers as a blood sacrifice to the Gods. The reason his expensive axe was left behind? It was a gift left for the Gods. Though the ancient celts left no written records, Roman writers such as Pliny the Elder claimed they committed large scale blood sacrifices, and even cannibalised the bodies of their enemies in war. If this is the case, one presumes Otzi did not go willingly to his death.

His Tale, as patchy as it is, may have gone completely forgotten were it not for two mountaineers coming across his body, high up in the Otzal Alps in September 1991. A confluence of increasingly hot summers, and a particularly wild Saharan windstorm which carried across the Mediterranean up into the Alps, where the sand freed him from his suspended animation.

As fascinating as Otzi is, tantalisingly so seeing we know so much about him – yet so little, I also find his discovery more than a little disturbing. As anthropogenic climate change kicks in only more Otzi’s will appear, such as Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi – “The Long Ago Person Found“ as named by the Inuit when a body emerged from the mountains of British Colombia in 1999, and unearthed tombs of Steppe people from the Altai Mountains – Scythian, Sarmations and many other besides. As our world teeters closer to ecological tipping points, the discoveries of these ice mummies may be a window into a past world – but their appearance also portends nothing good for the human race – to put it mildly.

Hannibal in Bithynia

Hannibal in Bithynia (Re-upload) Tales of History and Imagination


Today’s tale is set in the Asiatic town of Libyssa, in Bithynia – on the periphery of what is now Turkey. The date, some time around 182 BCE. Hannibal Barca, perhaps one of the all time great generals in world history is pacing the room like a caged Barbary Lion. His life, from the age of nine had lead to this point – ever since his father made him take an oath he would “Never be a friend of Rome.” At the time Rome was a republic with it’s greatest days ahead of it. The tough, militaristic state had yet to really flex – to show what they were capable of. Carthage, was already a superpower, but one on the decline. The two powers had come to blows over the Carthaginian island of Sicily, now part of modern Italy. For 23 years the two superpowers butted heads. They fought on land and sea – and finally the young lion, the Roman republic, got the better of Carthage.

Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar, had been present at the Peace of Lutatius; where Carthage was ordered out of Sicily for good, to be peaceful to Syracuse and her allies, to pay 56 tons of silver over 20 years as reparations, and to hand over their weapons. A leading general in the war against Rome, Hamilcar agreed to all terms bar one – he and his men refused to disarm under any circumstances. Peace had been a relative term for Carthage, As soon as the first Punic war ended, Hamilcar was sent out to quash several rebellions from their own people. The unsightliness of it left him with a lifelong hatred of the Romans – which he passed on to his young son.


Pacing in that Bithynian compound, one wonders; did Hannibal cast his mind back to his youth. As a young general, he marched an army of 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and of course 38 elephants over the Alps, hitting the Romans where they never saw an attack coming. To cross the alps with an army, and war elephants was madness, utterly suicidal – yet he did it. On the other side, Hannibal’s army wreaked havoc. Though half his army died on the Alps crossing, his remaining force made short work of the Roman’s, time and time again. Ticinus, Trebia, Lake Trasimene. Nothing stood in the way of him sacking Rome itself – other than the fact he left his siege engines in the Pyrenees; and the oligarchs back home refused him the financial backing to build new ones. The war in Italy would eventually wind down to a stalemate.

If, one’s life flashes before your eyes when facing your demise, the battle of Cannae would loom disproportionately large. A masterclass in completely obliterating a much bigger army, military strategists with much greater understanding of such things than myself, still rate Cannae as one of the all-time greatest battles of history. The Romans outnumbered Hannibal and his allies by almost 2 to 1. They were slaughtered at a rate of more than 11 to 1 in the battle. Hannibal’s cavalry encircled the Romans from the outside. Within Roman ranks, a band of 500 ‘deserters’ revealed hidden short swords and cut them to ribbons. Death came from all directions. Pliny would write of 67,000 dead Romans, Polybius of 5,700 dead Carthaginians. In the aftermath, many Roman allies jumped ship. The Romans turned to guerrilla warfare, never again fielding a large army against Hannibal on Roman soil.

The Romans refused all peace treaties, enlisted all their men into military service, and carried on. Carthage’s oligarchs responded indifferently to Hannibal’s requests for the siege engines needed to topple Rome itself. In 202 BC Rome eventually landed a king hit, at Zama, modern day Tunisia. The Roman Scipio Africanus succeeded where Hannibal failed, and the oligarchs declared peace.


Hannibal must have cast his mind back to his middle age, as an avenging, populist politician. He limited the term an oligarch could rule from life, to two one year terms. He taxed them so they would pay their fair share. Just as his reforms were bearing fruit however, the accusation came from Rome that he was colluding with Antiochus III of Syria to overthrow the Roman empire. He would find himself exiled, forced to spend his remaining years on the lam, a soldier of fortune for whoever a. could afford him and b. would be willing to harbor him, knowing Rome could arrive at any time. Antiochus took him in for a while, then Artaxias I of Armenia. For a while he hid out in the pirates’ den which was Crete, before finding employ with Prusias I of Bithynia.

Bithynia would eventually succumb to the Roman yoke, and Prusias would betray Hannibal anywhere between 183 and 181 BC, though they were told to find him themselves. Roman soldiers would track him to his house and demand his surrender. One tale has it, in a ‘live by the sword’ moment, that Hannibal had recently injured his hand by his own sword, and the wound was sceptic. Another tells, in his final moments he downed a vial of poison. Whatever the case, the Romans entered the premises, cautiously, to a deathly silence. The old lion had passed, a note on the table read

“Let us release the Romans from their long anxiety, since it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man’s death.”