More background on the Viking Age, part 3 of 3

Equipment of the Viking warrior: shield, sword, and bearded axe.

This series of posts describes fun things I learned while reading A Dark History: Vikings, by Martin Dougherty. You might find it on the discount shelf at Barnes & Noble.

This post describes the criteria for picking target for raids, adds a few comments on weaponry, and discusses life expectancy.

See part 1 and part 2.

Newborns were valued only after they were accepted

The times were hard, as we see in so many ways.

One particular way life was harsh was that a new-born child could be abandoned to the elements if the baby was deformed or a family did not have the means to feed another mouth. This was socially acceptable.

A family accepted a baby by naming the child and having the mother nurse the baby. After a family accepted an infant, the baby was recognized by society and subject to legal protection.

If not named or nursed? The baby would be allowed to die.

Like I said, times were hard.

For some perspective, the economy was so lousy that another mouth to feed might make the difference between the family surviving the upcoming winter or much of the family dying from starvation. Life was that precarious.

Life expectancy

The book describes life expectancy in a different way.

Continue reading “More background on the Viking Age, part 3 of 3”

More background on the Viking Age, part 2 of 3

Part of viking age village replica in southern Sweden in early spring. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

This series of posts describes fun things I learned while reading A Dark History: Vikings, by Martin Dougherty. You might find it on the discount shelf at Barnes & Noble.

Text points out the rest of the story behind the incident when King Knut the Great sat on the ocean shore commanding the tide not to come in.

After his command failed, he turned to his nobles and pointed out that the power of a king is nothing compared to the power of the Christian God.

That sort of changes the point of the story, doesn’t it?

Social order

Chapter 3 goes into some depth on “Viking law and social order.” There were well-developed laws which provided property protection. That in turn allowed the society to prosper.

Text points out there was no police force to enforce laws. Instead those who violated social norms would have to deal with armed men enforcing what society disapproved.

Continue reading “More background on the Viking Age, part 2 of 3”

More background on the Viking Age, part 1 of 3

Viking house in the city of Hobro, Denmark. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Another fun read on Viking history is A Dark History: Vikings, by Martin Dougherty. You might find it on the discount shelf at Barnes & Noble.

Will mention just a few particularly interesting thing I found noteworthy.

Weak information

Book starts out reminding us the information on the Vikings is limited.

Without a contemporary written history most of the non-metallic and non-stone artifacts, such as clothing and homes, have disintegrated. Written accounts, even those that are contemporaneous, are by people who are not Vikings and would thus not understand the Viking culture or mindset.

As mentioned by other writers, comments by victims of Viking raids may have a bit of bias in their comments.

Starting and ending point of the Viking Age is vague

Contemporary comments for the first raids, such as during the famed Lindisfarne raid referred to the raiders as being “from the north” or “from the land of robbers” which suggests the Scandinavians had a reputation in place long before 793 A.D.

Continue reading “More background on the Viking Age, part 1 of 3”

Wages for crew on Christopher Columbus’ ships.

Model of Santa Maria. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Wages paid to the crew and a current understanding of crew list for Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas is provided at Columbus Ships Crew.

Crew size:

  • 41 – Santa Maria
  • 26 – Pinta
  • 20 – Nina
  • 87 – total

Of particular interest to me is the pay information provided in the article. It also lists reference points for gold and silver.

Will list that info here for future reference. All amounts are maravedis, which was the Spanish currency at the time. This data is for 1492 in Spain.

Continue reading “Wages for crew on Christopher Columbus’ ships.”

Cost and time to cross the Atlantic has dropped by more than 90% in the last 500 years.

Columbus’ Ships. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Transatlantic travel time has dropped radically in the last 500 years.  Time to transit the Atlantic has dropped about 99% and cost has dropped about 95% by my calculations.

Let’s look at several data points for cost and time, then calculate one indicator of improved quality of life.

(Article cross-posted from my other blog, Outrun Change.)

Human Progress provides fun data points on August 2, 2018 in their post, A Reminder of How Far Transatlantic Travel Has Come.

Columbus’ first trip

The 1492 trip by Christopher Columbus took two years of lobbying before the king and queen of Spain approved 2 million Spanish maravedis to fund the trip. A professor has calculated that would be comparable to about US$1,000,000 today.

The cost seems low to me. I’ll look at that more later.

Crew size was 87 according to this article. The accountant in me is driven to calculate the cost per crewman.  That would give an average cost of $11,494. I’ll round that to $11,500 and ignore any adjustment for several crew members who died on the trip.

His trip took two months, nine days, which I calculate at 70 days (30+31+9).

Mayflower

Mayflower. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Continue reading “Cost and time to cross the Atlantic has dropped by more than 90% in the last 500 years.”

Travel times during mid 1800s.

General Sherman monument in New York City at Grand Army Plaza. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Here are a few data points from the Civil War era for travel times and logistics as mentioned in William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life by James Lee McDonough. Previous post mentioned some data points for compensation of senior army generals and housing costs.

Travel times

In 1836, when Sherman started classes at West Point, he took a stagecoach for the trip. The journey from Zanesville, Ohio to Washington was three days, traveling night and day. Each stagecoach’s was loaded with nine passages on the inside and perhaps three or four on the roof of the coach.

A quick check on Google maps shows this journey is 345 miles on the modern I-70 and I-68. A trip that took three days and nights, say 72 hours, back in 1836 can now be completed in 5 hours 40 minutes, say just over 6 hours adding in a refueling stop.

That is a drop in travel time by a factor of 12, or a reduction of 92%.

In July 1846, company F of Third Artillery, with young first lieutenant Sherman aboard, sailed from the East Coast to California. They sailed around the Cape Horn. The company consisted of 5 officers and 113 enlisted men. The ship stopped in Rio de Janeiro for re-provisioning.

Continue reading “Travel times during mid 1800s.”

Cost of nice houses in mid 1800s. Gifts to public officials from private citizens.

General William Tecumseh Sherman Monument in Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Another set of financial data points from the Civil War for housing costs may be found in William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life by James Lee McDonough. Previous post mentioned some data points for compensation of senior army generals.

Cost of housing and gifts to the general

While in California Mr. Sherman built a very nice house, hoping that would entice his wife to move to California. He spent the relatively large sum of $10,000. This was in the early 1850s.

Things were different back in the 1800s. For just one particular thing, private citizens would gather contributions and give the funds to high-profile, popular people in public life. William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant each received such gifts.

Continue reading “Cost of nice houses in mid 1800s. Gifts to public officials from private citizens.”

Salary for top level military leaders during and after the American Civil War

Postage stamp images of Union Generals. From left to right; William T. Sherman, U.S. Grant, and Phillip Sheridan. Courtesy of Adobe Stock.

This may not be ancient finances, but salary paid to the senior level military commanders in the 1860s and 1870s provides a worthwhile point of reference.

William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life by James Lee McDonough is a delightful biography of the general. Gen. Sherman was a prolific letter writer. This book looks at his thoughts and feelings by diving into his personal and official correspondence.

The book also provides multiple comments on his compensation level and financial conditions. For his entire married life he struggled with finances, with his large and growing salary never been able to quite keep up with his wife Ellen’s taste for the good life.

Following posts will mention some comments in the book on cost of nice housing, gifts to public figures, travel times, and logistics.

Compensation levels

While serving in the Army in California, Sherman formed a partnership and funded a retail store. He was making $70 a month. Each of the three men in the partnership chipped in $500 and drew out $2,000, make a profit of $1500 each.

Continue reading “Salary for top level military leaders during and after the American Civil War”

When pondering the horrible violence of the Vikings, consider the oh so refined civility of the English in the 1700s – part 7

Swinging from the rope was only the second of five painful steps used by the English to punish High Treason in the 1700s. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Yes, we all know the Vikings were horrible, terrible brutes.

Consider the ‘blood eagle’ form of execution. Quite an astounding way to slowly kill someone while imposing exquisite pain.

As you consider that idea, compare those nasty Vikings to the so very civilized and refined and cultured English of the 1770s.

Page 23 of Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, contains a vivid description of the punishment awaiting anyone convicted of High Treason. I’ll paraphrase:

Such a terrible, horrible person would first be dragged to the gallows by a horse. Then the condemned soul would be hung by the neck, but not until dead. No, the executioner made sure a lot of life was left for several additional steps.

Continue reading “When pondering the horrible violence of the Vikings, consider the oh so refined civility of the English in the 1700s – part 7”

Cost of Egyptian chariot

Egyptian chariot. Courtesy of Adobe Stock.

What was the cost of an Egyptian chariot back in around 1500 BC? That was the state of the art offensive weapon at the time.

In Warfare in the Ancient World, Brian Todd Carey gives some hints, which raised my curiosity.

The Sumerians developed the chariot, which was heavy and pulled by wild donkeys, or onagers. The wheels were solid. With that weight and propulsion, it was slow and cumbersome.

The Egyptians refined the concept, using spoked wheels made with bentwood construction and pulled by domesticated horses. This reduced weight and increased speed. Moving the axle to the rear of the chariot improved stability. Their chariots were fast and maneuverable.

Those chariots were also expensive.

The supporting logistics train required plenty of skilled craftsmen. The book says the following trades were needed to get chariots in the field:

  • Horse breeders
  • Horse trainers
  • Wheel makers (wheelwrights)
  • Chariot builders
  • Bow makers (bowyers)
  • Metal workers
  • Armorers

And in the field there would be people to manage the herds of horses and repair chariots.

Ongoing access to lots of light and heavy woods was needed, such as the cedars from Lebanon.

The Chariot in Egyptian Warfare at Tour Egypt provides more background on the construction of a chariot, along with some tidbits about costs.

Continue reading “Cost of Egyptian chariot”