11. The oldest existing Parliament in the world dates from 930AD.
Most people are taught to think of the British Parliament as the “Mother of all Parliaments” and so the oldest in the world. In fact, the Icelandic Althingi is the oldest running Parliament in the world. Icelanders established the Althingi in 930 AD as an annual outdoor assembly that was held 45km from Iceland’s modern capital of Reykjavik. All free men could attend the Althingi. However, it was also the place where Iceland’s leaders made laws and dispensed justice. Although in the fourteenth century the Danish Monarchy limited the Althingi’s role, it continued to survive as a law court and became supreme one more in 1944 when Iceland achieved independence.
10. Official records show only six deaths due to the Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London began on September 2, 1666, in a baker’s shop on Pudding Lane. Within three days, it had wiped out 89 churches, and 13,500 houses. 90% of London’s 80,000 inhabitants were left homeless. However, the records record only six deaths from the fire. Amongst them were an unnamed maid from the baker’s in Pudding Lane and three people from St Paul’s Cathedral who were mummified by the heat. However, it is likely that hundreds or even several thousand people died in the fire. To some extent, disarray in administration explains to some extent the low official death toll following the conflagration. However, some bodies became lost amongst the ashes of buildings while other victims went unnoticed as no one missed them.
9. Ancient Egyptians don’t seem to have used pillows to sleep.
While pyramids, mummies and the River Nile may be hot topics in Egyptian history, the sleeping habits of the ancient Egyptians don’t seem to feature much in classrooms, probably because it is taken for granted they weren’t much different from our own. However, while archaeologists have discovered one 4000-year-old, wax-covered linen pillow, pictures and hieroglyphs suggest that most Egyptians slept resting their heads on uncomfortable-looking headrests. Egyptians made the headrests from wood, ivory or even marble, and consisted of a curved upper section supported by a high base. Often carved with the names of their owners, depictions of the headrests give no sign of any padding.
8. Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna ordered a military burial for his amputated leg.
General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was Mexican president 11 times in the violent period following Mexico’s independence from Spain. Essentially a military dictator, Santa Anna saw himself as the “Napoleon of the West,” leading his troops into battle himself much like his French hero. In 1838, this determination to lead from the front led to a French canon wounding the General in the leg so severely that doctors were forced to amputate. Santa Anna initially buried his lost leg at his home. However, when he resumed the Presidency in 1842, he had the limb exhumed. The appendage was paraded through Mexico City in a funeral coach before Santa Anna buried it with full military honors and a monument.
7. Arabs did not invent the Arabic Numerical system used in the west today.
The modern western numerical system is often referred to as the Arabic system because it is widely believed to have originated from Arabic numerals. However, the system should more correctly be known as the Hindu-Arabic numeral system, for it developed in India- not the Middle East. Symbols resembling western numerals can be found dating to as early as the third century BC in Indian sources such as the Ashoka inscriptions. Trade with India probably facilitated the adoption of the Hindu system in North Africa and the Middle East, which in its turn found its way to Europe.
6. Pirate Henry Avery was the subject of the first recorded worldwide manhunt.
Henry Avery, also known as John Avery or “Long Ben” was one of the most renowned British pirates of the seventeenth century. Avery’s life of piracy began in 1691 after a stint in the Royal Navy. Within only four years, he was famous and became particularly notorious in 1695 when he attacked 25 ships of the Indian Mughal government, capturing loot worth around 78 million dollars today. The Indian government were outraged and retaliated by closing some of the English East India Company’s trading stations- provoking the company to offer a hefty bounty for Avery’s capture. And so began the first recorded worldwide manhunt. However, despite the $130,070 reward, Avery was never captured and disappeared from history in 1696.
5. The “D” in “D Day” is simply a repetition of ‘Day”!
The D Day landings on June 6, 1944, signaled the start of the allied invasion of France and the beginning of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Some people believe that the “D” stands for doomsday or decision day. However, the explanation offered by the British Imperial War Museum is somewhat different: ‘D-Day is a general military term for the day on which an operation or exercise is planned to commence. The choice of the letter D has no significance, and any other letter could equally be used. Its only purpose is to provide a point of reference from which all other dates can be reckoned.”
4. The First Bomb dropped on Berlin during WW2 claimed no human casualties. But it did kill an elephant.
As the capital of Germany, Berlin was a prime target for allied bombers during World War II. On August 26, 1940, British planes dropped the first bomb of the war upon the city. They destroyed a suburban woodshed, and two German civilians sustained minor injuries. However, the only casualty in the city was one of the nine elephants in the Berlin Zoo. The elephants remained curiously safe until an allied raid in 1944 wiped out another seven. Only one elephant in the zoo survived the war: Siam, an Indian bull elephant who was left alone in what remained of the enclosure.
3. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-iI wrote six operas
The composition of classical music is probably not something that immediately springs to mind when the name of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-iI. However, music was one of the many talents advertised by his official biography after his death in 2011. “He wrote six operas, “declared the biography, “better than any in the history of music.” Whether this judgment of Kim Jong’s compositions is balanced is a matter of opinion. However, the dictator did have an enthusiasm for opera which he shared with his father and in 1974, he encapsulated his musical ideas in a book, The art of opera.
2. America missed out on the metric system due to the misfortunes of a French scientist.
It is possible that in the eighteenth century, the US may have adopted the metric system of measurements if it were not for a series of unfortunate events that befell Frenchman Joseph Dombey. Dombey was sent to America in 1794 to help the Americans reform the imperial system of measurements inherited from the British. He took with him copper prototypes for the newly devised meter and kilometer, which he intended to present to Congress. However, his ship was blown off course to Guadeloupe where French royalists imprisoned him. H, Dombey was released- only to be captured by pirates who stole his measurements and held him for ransom. While in captivity the unfortunate Frenchman died of a fever- thus depriving America of the metric system.
1. During High School, Ronald Reagan was a lifeguard who saved 77 lives
In 1925, 14-year-old future US President Ronald Reagan took a summer job as a lifeguard at the prestigious Lowell Park sanctuary in Illinois. It was a job he kept up for seven summers. The young Reagan worked every day of the week, for twelve hours a day monitoring guests at the resort that were swimming in the Rock River. During the time Reagan worked there, he saved seventy-seven lives, which he kept a tally of on a log by the river’s edge.