History Made Simple

This is the post excerpt.

History Made Simple is a history blog that can help students in 4th grade through College.  HMS can also help teach their parents a thing or two.  If you are interested in history or simply want to learn more history but don’t know where to turn, look no further.

The focus of this blog will be United States history, European history, and a bit of World history thrown in for good measure.

Why is history important?

History is important for students because no matter what subject a student decides to major in at college, history classes will be mandatory at some point.  History is intertwined in all humanities majors and it shows up in many others.

History is important for everybody because having a grounding in history makes one a better citizen of his or her country and a better citizen of the world.

Have fun.  Learn history. Be a better student. Be a better, more well-rounded person.


U.S. Expansion – How the country became so large.

How did the United States grow from 13 separate British colonies along the Atlantic coast into one country that touches the Pacific Ocean?

The politics can be complicated but the general idea is relatively easy.  There were a few incidents that expanded U.S. lands in sizeable ways and two huge expansions.  We will cover the two large expansions.


The 13 colonies became states of a united country in 1776.  The current form of government was implemented in 1789.  Soon after that the country began to expand. The expansion of land was so large in the two major incidents to be discussed that the acquisition of Florida is considered small!  That may give you an idea of how much land the United States gained in these agreements.  (You probably know at least one of them.)  Some smaller land acquisitions:

Acquisition of Florida from Spain 1819.

Inclusion of Texas as a state 1845.

Gadsden Purchase from Mexico 1853.

Purchase of Alaska from Russia, 1867. (“Seward’s Folly”) – It should be noted that Alaska is absolutely huge, but it is not as politically important as what will be discussed below.


The two major incidents of expansion are the Louisiana Purchase and the land resulting from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo after the US – Mexican War.


The city of St. Louis and the area of Louisiana was named after Saint Louis, or Louis IX, king of France, who lived from 1214 to 1270.  He really was a “Saint” as he was canonized (made into a Saint by the Catholic Church) in 1297.  “Louis” is pronounced “Louey.”

In regards to the area of Louisiana, it was owned by France, obviously.  It was a massive area consisting of a large number of today’s states in the Midwest and West.  This land was acquired under Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.  At this time France was headed by the famous Napoleon, a leader not shy on expansion himself.

At this time, the western border of the U.S. was at the Mississippi River.  Due to its strategic and economic location on the Mississippi River, the United States attempted to get the city of New Orleans from France.  Instead, the United States was able to buy the whole Louisiana Territory.  Napoleon knew he needed to focus on Europe and that he couldn’t really control this territory.  What really showed him this was the slave rebellion in France-controlled Haiti, which is located in the Caribbean.  The French could not control the situation.  Haiti soon became independent, and the first free black nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The opportunity to buy the Louisiana Territory came as a surprise to many, especially Jefferson.  The president did not really find anything in the Constitution enabling him to purchase the territory but that did not stop him. The huge area was purchased in 1803.


The next large expansion didn’t occur until over 40 years later.  The country of Mexico, newly independent from Spain in 1810, Mexico claimed all the land in North America formerly claimed by Spain.  Soon, the U.S. would claim much of the same territory. The acquisition of the Mexican Territory was accomplished by way of war.

The war with Mexico remains controversial.  California was a very large jewel that the United States wanted. The United States was expanding in population and power.  The Mexican territory was sparsely populated in relation to the eastern portion of the continent.  There was also a border dispute with Texas – Mexico claimed the Nueces River to the north, the U.S. claimed the Rio Grande to the south.

War erupted in 1846 with the U.S. claiming violence was committed against U.S. troops by Mexican troops in the disputed area between the two rivers.  Future president Abraham Lincoln made his famous “Spot Resolution” in Congress, urging President Polk to show the “spot” on which American blood was spilled.  (This was an anti-war speech.)

The war was generally popular.  The idea of “Manifest Destiny,” the idea that the U.S. was destined by God to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was put into the national mind by newspaper editor John O’ Sullivan in 1945.  Mexico was standing in the way of Manifest Destiny.

The U.S. military soundly defeated the Mexican army.  Many Civil War generals from the North and South fought together as lower ranking officers in this conflict.  The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war in 1848.


The map below shows in detail the areas of United States expansion with dates.  The map was taken from thomaslegion.net.







What Is Government, Really?

Government.  That is a word that encompasses a whole lot.  There are so many different kinds of government around the world.  The United Kingdom has a constitutional monarchy.  Iran has a Shia Islamic theocracy.  The United States has a republic or constitutional republic, or democratic republic, or ….

Even within the United States there are different kinds of government.  While the states have similar governments to each other there are large differences.  Counties within the states have governments.  Finally cities have their own level of government.

There have been brilliant writers discussing and debating the topic of government; Hobbes, Locke, Burke, Montesquieu, Adams, Hamilton, Madison, Lincoln, and hundreds more.  There are almost as many ideas about what a government should be (or if there should be one at all) as there are people in the world.

The topic of government can really be confusing.  It can also be divisive, especially when ideologies and politics are involved in the discussion.  “Trump is better than Clinton.””  “Clinton or Sanders would have been better than Trump.” “I voted for Trump but I liked Ted Cruz better…”  This can go on and on.  It really solves nothing.  Groups can talk in circles about this but nothing is really said to the “other side.”

While we may not agree on what government should do to us, for us, or agree upon who should run it, there is one thing that all sides can agree on.  That is the definition of government.

My description of government is going to be a bit weird to you at first.  It is not a “partisan” idea, but I admit that I took it from a libertarian (small “L” as in libertarian ideas, not the Libertarian Party.)  It is quite brilliant.  I have tried to think of another description but I can come up with nothing better.  This description should be agreed upon by everyone, from the most ardent anarchist to the person who wants government to control every aspect of our lives.

Here it is….

“Government is an entity that has a monopoly on the legal use of violence.”

“Wow,” you say.  “Violence?  What do you mean?”

Government, all governments, have a monopoly on legalized violence, meaning that the government can and will coerce people to act within a certain set of laws that have been previously defined.  This coercion, if taken to its ultimate conclusion, will result in physical violence.  By “violence” the government controls the actions of the citizens of the defined boundaries of the government.  For this article, the boundaries will be those set forth in the United States.

The obvious example of legal government violence is police action.  If someone murders one you love you can’t legally go and kill them or use force to imprison them in your house or some prison you built.  The government can use force to apprehend a murder suspect and if that person is convicted in a government court that person can be put in a government prison or killed by the government if the death penalty is legal in the area that the murder was committed in.  The police, court system, and prison system must coerce the suspect / convict with force but these state actors are all acting within the bounds of the law.  Simple enough?

Another obvious example is military force.  The military is obviously controlled by the government.  The military can be ordered to use violence to defend the United States, but more often than not, the violence projected by the military is used in a foreign land.  The U.S. government used violence to change the government in Iraq.  This military violence is not something that U.S. citizens could have done legally or at all.

A less obvious example is taxes – which partly pay for the people who can use legal violence like the police, military, FBI, and other government agencies.  Nobody literally puts a gun to your head and physically takes money away from you in the form of taxes but see what happens when you don’t pay your taxes.  You may be subject to penalties.  If the penalties are high enough the government may use physical force to arrest you or to take away your property or your freedom.

What about government roads?  That seems pretty non-violent.  Well, if you own a house or land within a proposed route for a government road you will be offered money to pay for your inconvenience and for your property (whether the amount is fair is another topic.)  If you refuse to move the government can take your property by force and possibly use force to charge you with crimes.

Any law, if really broken down, involves the threat of force by the government against the individual.

This is not a critique of government, per se.  Understanding that government is the entity that has a monopoly on the legal use of force is vital to really understanding what government really is. When implementing a government or new laws under a government, people must be cognizant of the fact that there is an addition of the threat of force in their lives.

If you understand the basic idea of government you will be able to argue your points about government in a better and stronger manner.

I am not saying that the government is a violent entity.  I am simply pointing out the now obvious fact that a government cannot exist without having the option to legally use violence when it is in the best interest of the government to do so.  I would think that this is something that we can all agree on.  I bet that your teacher didn’t teach this to you in your civics class.government

More Than Just The Big Wars – U.S. Intervention Around The World

The subject of U.S. military and political intervention around the world is a very controversial subject.  Some say that the United States has a responsibility to keep the world stable by using military force to quell incidents in far off lands.  Others say that the United States should not be the policeman of the world and that it costs too much money.

The focus of this post is not to take one side or another on this issue.  This post is only serving to show the reader a few of the many events that have taken place throughout the history of the U.S. Most people in the U.S. have not heard of these events and how they relate to the modern geopolitical climate.

U.S. military policy is really more than just the “big wars” like WWI, WWII, Vietnam, etc.  There are dozens and dozens of times the U.S. has intervened around the world.  Sometimes the consequences of intervention were only local, other times this intervention had global implications.  The topics covered today are of the latter.

Today, I will focus on two countries, Iran and Afghanistan.  These countries are in the news a lot today.  The origins of U.S. intervention in these countries occurred during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which will be covered in a later post.  These events also began in the presidency of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) and ended in the presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981-1989).  The ramifications would affect presidents H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, Obama, Trump, and, most likely, many presidents to follow.

So, without further ado, here are some short summaries of the major events of U.S. intervention in Iran and Afghanistan…


Today Iran is hostile to the United States and its interests.  This has been the case since the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979.  This event marked a change in government from rule by a secular Shah to rule that amounts to a theocracy, or religion and government intertwined.  The religion of the ruling government in Iran is Shia Islam and the religious rulers are known as Ayatollahs.

In 1953 the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A) of the United States conducted a coup in order to place Reza Shah Pahlavi in control of the government at the expense of then-Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq.  Mossadeq worried the C.I.A. as he was claimed to have socialist and communist ties.  The wild C.I.A. program known as “Operation Ajax” was largely conducted by Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Operation Ajax was very successful and the Shah was firmly in power until his health faded at the end of the 1970’s.  The Shah’s decline led to a power grab by radical Shia Islamists who have controlled the government ever since.  The anti-U.S. sentiment of the revolution led to the infamous “Hostage Crisis” in which 52 American diplomats were held for 444 days from November 4, 1979 until January 20, 1981 when President Reagan was sworn into office.


In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan in order to prop up the communist regime in power.  The Soviets brutally took hold of Afghanistan, fighting a menagerie of fighters who were often, in other times, hostile to each other.  Some of these fighters were moderate in their belief in Islam, many were quite radical.  In a very complicated situation some in the United States government saw a way to take a shot at the Soviet Union.

The mortal enemy of the United States, the Soviet Union supported communist troops in the Vietnam war.  Supporting the rebels in Afghanistan seemed to be a way to get some revenge against the USSR.  The C.I.A. began to give money and weapons different groups of the rebels.  The most important weapon was the Stinger Missile, which helped the rebels shoot down the lethal Soviet attack helicopters.

The support of the rebels did worsen the situation in Afghanistan for the Soviet Union.  Internal politics and economic woes had a lot to do with it as well.  The Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed not long after that.

This was in a time before Islamic terrorism was a huge deal in the world.  It was known that these radical Islamic elements could pose a future problem, but the USSR was a much bigger problem for the U.S. government so some in the government hedged their bets and went with the radicals.

Fast forward a decade and a half later, and you have these elements in Afghanistan that are causing huge problems for the United States.  Osama bin Laden, a Saudi-born son of a wealthy construction magnate, was well known to United States officials by the 1990s. He, and others from traditional Islamic regions went to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.  More than a few of these “Afghan-Arabs” would turn their fight towards the United States.

Afghanistan was generally ignored by the United States after the Soviet Union withdrew in 1989.  The Taliban, strict radical Islamists, took over the country and offered safe haven to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network after bin Laden was forced to leave Khartoum, Sudan due to pressure by the United States government.

The Islamic terror network al Qaeda is responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.  The United States military has been fighting in Afghanistan ever since.



These summaries on U.S. intervention in Iran and Afghanistan are the very basics that you should know.  You need to understand that these events happened and U.S. intervention was a major player in them.  You can interpret these events in different ways. These books are all great reads and are very informative. I highly recommend at least one of them.  Overthrow is the best overview of U.S. intervention if you don’t know what the heck I was talking about at all.  Kinzer does write in an anti-interventionist fashion but regardless of your politics, it is a vital book to own.

Ghost Wars by Steve Coll

Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile

All The Shah’s Men and Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer

C.I.A.- Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner

Soviet Withdraw


Anachronisms in History – say what?

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word anachronism as an error in chronology especially :  a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other.

In the subject of history it is important to understand that the names of places weren’t always what they are.  When we look at a map today we see names of countries and cities that are familiar to us.  The cities of London, Vienna, Tunis, and Marseilles…the countries of France, Turkey, the United Kingdom, etc.

The names of all of the above, plus many, many more, have all changed throughout history.  While being totally specific when discussing general history may be a bit overboard, it is important to understand what places were called in the time period one is discussing.  We want to avoid anachronisms when discussing history.

Below I will discuss a few anachronistic mistakes that I have encountered:

TURKEY – Turkey is a country that is a “bridge” from Europe to the Middle East (another misunderstood term btw…)  This area has been occupied and or governed by many different cultures over thousands of years, including Hittites, Lydians, Greeks, Romans, and eventually Turks.

The Turks come from the Asian steppe.  Original “Turks” probably came from the area of modern-day Turkmenistan.  The Turks were only one of numerous tribes to come from the Asian steppe. The problem stems from calling the place Turkey when speaking about cultures prior to the invasion of the Turks, who came in large numbers in the 11th century, famously establishing themselves in the west by beating a Byzantine force at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071.

There were no Turks in what we call Turkey prior to the invasion of the Turks. And speaking of Turkey…..

ISTANBULIf you have a date in Constantinople she’ll be waiting in Istanbul…. So goes the song.  Modern-day Istanbul has had a name change or two.  It was originally a Greek city named Byzantium, which is where the word Byzantine, as in Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) comes from.  Byzantium was later renamed Constantinople by the Roman Emperor and huge figure in Christianity Constantine in the 4th Century A.D.  Over 1000 years later Constantinople was sacked by the spreading Muslim Ottoman Empire under Mehmet II (the Conqueror) in 1453 who officially named the city Istanbul.  These three names are only the most well-known of the several others that this city has ben known as.

NEW YORKEven old New York, was once New Amsterdam, why they changed it I can’t say – people must like it better that way….  OK, I promise, nor more of that song.

Yes, New York used to be named New Amsterdam.  The Dutch and English were rivals on the seas during the 17th Century.  The English eventually took control of the entire eastern portion of the modern-day USA and kicked the Dutch out during one of the Anglo-Dutch wars.  The Dutch basically held the area along the Hudson River, which flows south to NYC.  The name “New York” comes from York in England.  The Duke of York at the time of the naming was the future King James II.

As far as “Dutch ” culture goes, Harlem, in northern NYC, is a Dutch name, just add another “a” as in Haarlem.  The “Pennsylvania Dutch” are not Dutch at all.  They are German.  “Dutch” was just a mispronunciation of “Deutsch” (doy-ch), which simply means “German” in the German language.

LONDON – London is somewhat simple.  It was called “Londinium” by the Romans who founded it.  If you remember, the Romans took control of the British Isles in the mid-first century A.D.

ENGLAND – SCOTLAND – WHALES – UNITED KINGDOM – These names often are synonymous with each other.  This post would be incredibly long if I went into all of this.  Just remember that the different areas in the modern-day United Kingdom all have their own separate histories.  The United Kingdom, or UK, is a relatively modern term encompassing England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  This stems from the Acts of Union in 1707 (which did not include N. Ireland at the time.)  This is where we get the “British flag” as many call it, or the “Union Jack.”  Refer to my previous post “The Layers of British History to 1066” if none of this rings a bell.


I could go on all day.  Hundreds of places have changed.  I didn’t even mention hundreds of Greek cities in Europe.  I didn’t even mention that “Greek” comes form a Latin term or that “Latin” comes from Latium, which was where Rome was founded.  “Rome” comes from Romulus, one of the legendary founders of Rome……  It really never ends, trust me….

When you read about history you will notice the names of places change.  It is really fun to understand the ancient and modern connections. The point is, if you understand what some major places used to be called, you will understand history much better.  The best way to explain something is to use the term “modern-day.”  For instance, you can say that the Greek culture spread all along the western coast of modern-day Turkey.

The map below is of Roman Britain, or the modern-day United Kingdom and northwest continental Europe.




Histories By Herodotus – A Movie Script Disguised as a History Book

Histories by Herodotus is considered the first true history in Western Civilization.  It was written over 2400 years ago by a man named Herodotus.  He was from a city called Halicarnassus which was located on the western coast of modern-day Turkey.  This was WAY back before any Turks inhabited the area (which would happen around 1000 A.D.)Halicarnassus was part of the larger Hellenistic world, or as you know it, the Greek world.

Herodotus is one of the famous three Greek “H” authors.  In chronological order you have Homer, who is credited with the “Illiad” and the “Odyssey.”  You have Hesiod, who wrote “Works and Days” and his more famous “Theogony.”  Finally you have Herodotus and his “Histories.” Western culture would be different without these three important and wonderful authors.

Herodotus is called the “father of history.”  He is also called “the father of lies.”  There is not doubt that Herodotus embellished parts of his work.  There were simply some things he didn’t understand, such as full knowledge of various cultures and a full knowledge of geography.  For writing over 2400 years ago, Herodotus, in my humble opinion, wrote on of the greatest books of all time.  I absolutely LOVE “Histories.” It is anything but a boring read.  It is not the easiest read, but there is help with that.  I read “Histories” through the Landmark series of classics.  There are maps, footnotes with explanations and corrections, and really awesome appendices that are essentially essays by experts explaining certain aspects of Greek and other cultures encountered in “Histories.”

If you read only ONE classic in your life, “Histories” by Herodotus would be one of the best choices.  Originally written in ancient Greek, “Histories” is divided into nine books. The Landmark translation mentioned above is 722 pages (including all maps) and about 850 pages with all of the must read appendices.  It is well worth it.

Below is a summation of my favorite part of the whole work, the end of Book 1…

It is about a great King, a strong defiant Queen, and a moral lesson in pushing one’s luck.

————————————————————————————————————————————– The great Persian King Cyrus (the Great), in his quest to conquer as much as he could, decided to make war with the Massagetai, a people living amongst the plains to the east of the Caspian sea, to the north of the realm of King Cyrus. King Cyrus has had nothing but success so far in his life, beating the Massagetai was simply a foregone conclusion to him.

The Massagetai were ruled by a woman named Tomyris.  Cyrus sent queen Tomyris a proposal of marriage, but Tomyris saw this proposal was simply a ruse to gain her kingdom by deception and she refused his proposal. Thus rebuked, King Cyrus led his army to the Araxes river and his engineers began construction of a bridge of boats in order to cross the river.  As his army was building the bridge Queen Tomyris sent a message to Cyrus:

“King of the Medes (Persians), cease your labors; you cannot know whether this project will prive to be advantageous to you.  So stop; be satisfied with reigning over your own people and endure the sight of me ruling over the subjects that I have now. However, I assume that you will not follow my advice, as you would find anything preferable to living in peace.  Well, if you heart is so strongly set on a trial of strength with the Massagetai, come on then and we shall oblige you; but you need not labor more to build a bridge. Give us three days to retreat from the river, and then you may proceed to invade my territory.  Or, if you would prefer to admit us into your territory, you do the same.”

When Cyrus received this message he summoned the top Persians to meet with him and discuss the situation.  They almost unanimously agreed that Cyrus should admit Tomyris and the army of the Massagetai into his territory. The only contrary opinion was that of the former king and now advisor to Cyrus, Croesus.  Croesus says to Cyrus:

“Sire, you know, as I told you earlier, that since Zeus gave me to you (Croesus was defeated by Cyrus and lost his kingdom to him), I would always strive, to the best of my ability, to avert any harm to you and your house that I could envision.  My suffering, though joyless for me, has taught me many lessons. If you think yourself an immortal an that you command an immortal army, no opinion of mine will mean anything to you. But if you realize that you are human and command an army of human beings, consider first that there is a cycle in human affairs, and as it goes around it does not permit the same person to enjoy good fortune forever. Therefore, I have an opinion opposite to that of these men concerning this matter. For if you permit the enemy to enter your territory and are defeated, you will risk losing your whole empire. For if the Massgetai should win, it is quite obvious that they will not retreat but will march on your other provinces. And even if you defeat them there, you will not gain as much from the victory as you could have gained had you crossed the river and defeated the Masssagetai on their own territory, and pursued them as they fled. Just as they might have done great harm to you had they defeated you here, your victory there will permit you to advance directly into the empire of Tomyris. And apart from all that, it would be an intolerable disgrace for Cyrus son of Cambyses to concede the initiative to a woman and to retreat before her. For these reasons, I think you should cross the river, advance as far as they make way for you, and then endeavor to gain the advantage over them by means of the following scheme… I hear that the Massagetai have had no experience of all the amenities and the finer things in life which the Persians enjoy. So I propose that you shold deal with these men in the following way: slaughter many cattle – and be generous about it. Have the cattle prepared to serve as a feast in our camp, along with generous provisions of undiluted wine and foo of every sort. When everything is prepared, leave behind the worst part of your army and retreat at once with the rest to the river. For in my judgement, the Massagetai, when they see the any good things to eat and drink there, will turn their attention to these delights and thereby create an opportunity for us to perform great deeds of valor.”

(Croesus advises Cyrus to leave a trap for the Massagetai soldiers, to lure them into getting drunk and feasting in order that they would be easy prey for the Persian army.)

Cyrus chooses to follow the plan of Croesus. He then told Tomyris to withdraw so he could cross the river into her territory.  Cyrus sent his son Cambyses (II) with Croesus to Persia for safety in case anything should happen to the king in battle and then he crossed the river with his army. That night, Cyrus had a dream that young Darius, son of Hystaspes, had wings on his shoulders, one wing cast a shadow over Asia, the other over Europe. Cyrus interpreted the dream viewing Darius as plotting against his kingdom when in reality, the gods were trying to warn Cyrus that he would die in battle and that Darius would eventually succeed to this throne.

After a day of marching past the river for a day, Cyrus set up a banquet as Croesus advised. Cyrus took his best troops and marched back, leaving the weaker part of his army with the wine and food.  These troops were slaughtered by the Massagetai soldiers who were surprised to see a feast simply waiting for them.  The Massagetai began to eat and drink.  Cyrus’ army then attacked the unaware Massegatie, killed many, and captured more alive, including a general named Spargapises, the son of Tomyris.

When Tomyris learned what had happened, she sent Cyrus another message:

“Bloodthirsty Cyrus, do not gloat over what has happened here. You Persians indulge yourselves with the fruit of the vine (wine) to the point of madness, so that as the wine descends into your bodies, ugly words flow up and out of you. By such means you have tricked me and have taken my son prisoner, but not by supremacy in battle. Well, then, I urge you to follow this advice: return my son to me and, despite the damage you have cunningly wreaked upon a third part of the army of the Massagetai, you may leave this land unharmed. If you do not do this, I swear by the Sun, the Lord of the Massagetai, that I will satisfy your thirst for blood, insatiable as you are.”

Cyrus ignored this message when reported to him. Soon, Sparagapises became sober only to discover that he was captured by Cyrus.  He begged Cyrus to set him free of his chains, which Cyrus did. Sparagapises immediately killed himself.

Tomyris saw that Cyrus did not heed her warning.  She gathered here army and attacked the Persians.

Herodotus writes of the battle:

What happened then was, in my judgement, the most violent of all battles ever fought by barbarians; (meaning non-Greeks) this is what I heard about how it was waged. It is said that the battle began with each side shooting arrows at each other while still far apart. Then, when their supply of arrows was exhausted, they fell upon each other at close quarters with spears and daggers. For a long time they fought fiercely and neither side was willing to flee. But at last the Massagetai prevailed. A large part of the Persian army perished in this battle, and in particular, Cyrus himself met his end. He had reigned for twenty-nine years.

Tomyris then filled a wineskin with human blood and searched for the corpse of Cyrus among the Persians’ dead. When she found him she thrust his head into the wineskin, and as she thus abused the corpse, she declared to it:

“I am alive and have conquered you in battle, but you have ruined me by taking my son through guile. Well, then, just as I threatened, I will slake your thirst for blood.”

Of the many stories told about the death of Cyrus, this account seems to me to be the most credible version.


Oh yeah, the story of the fall of Cambyses II, the rise of Darius, Xerxes invading Greece, and the story of the 300 Spartans are all to come….. no big deal!

I must again recommend HARDCORE HISTORY – KING OF KINGS I, II, and III

It is simply amazing.  Check it out for free at http://www.dancarlin.com

Credit for the material in the summary and picture go to the Landmark crew published by Anchor books.


Learn Geography – Learn History

Atlas MapGeography is such an important part of knowing history.  You really can’t separate the two.  Most people know very little geography outside of the place they actually live.  This is unfortunate.  Knowledge of geography does not mean EXPERTISE in geography.  That is for cartographers (map makers), intelligence agencies, and geography teachers.  Having a good grasp of geography is what I am talking about here.

What does having a good grasp of geography mean?  It means you can hear of something on the world news and be able to know where in the world this event is happening.  You should be able to find (without using Google or Siri) places like Syria, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and the Horn of Africa, on a map for instance.  You should know where the general area of the Roman Empire was located.  You should be able to connect countries and cities with famous landmarks such as the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Machu Picchu, The Golden Gate Bridge, and the Kremlin.  Finally you should understand you local geography and the geography of your own country.  As an American I am proud to know my 50 state capitals, landmarks from all over the country, and the different histories of many people of this great country.

If you are more advanced you should be able to understand that place names really don’t accurately portray the full history of the place. In a later blog post I will cover anachronisms in history.  Look up that word now and think how today’s geopolitical maps can make history confusing. (Think “Turkey” and who was in “Turkey” way before the Turks.)


There are many fun ways to learn geography.  When you simply do activities you will learn.  There is no need to get a list of countries and memorize their capitals.  That is boring.  This blog is about making history fun.

Sports –

If you are into major league sports like MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLS then you have learned U.S. and Canadian geography without even trying.  Where do the Mariners play?  In Seattle, of course.  What about the Cubs?  Chicago!  My home team, the Jazz? Here in Salt Lake City.

Chicago is home of the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, and the Fire.  If you look up “Wrigley Field, Chicago” on Google maps you will see that it is a very large city located near the southern tip of Lake Michigan.  You will see how close Chicago is to some other major cities. (It is a close flight, but a bit of a drive if you are in a car.) You will also see that Chicago is not the capital of Illinois even though it is, by far, the largest city in the state.

Maybe you can look up some international futbol teams. (I am trying to sound cool, but I really call it soccer, like most Americans.)  Real Madrid and Manchester United come to my mind immediately.  Look these places up on Google Maps and you will learn a bit about the geography of Spain and the United Kingdom.  It really is that easy.

Documentaries and TV Shows –  

There are many documentaries that focus on certain places.  You may learn about Vietnam or Japan, or even North Korea simply by watching a documentary.  You get to see the sights and the people, and maybe even learn about a certain political or cultural subject through a documentary.

Some TV shows even have a good bit of geography.  I used to watch “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?”  It was a popular kids gameshow in the early 1990’s.  I found an episode on YouTube.   https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DRXGyZro3Qw  I must say, it was a lot cooler back then than it is when I see it now.

One show I really liked a lot was “How the States Got Their Shapes” on the History Channel.  The book by the same name authored by Mark Stein is incredibly precise and detailed on all parts of all borders in every U.S. state.  It is really cool and if you are a nerd like me I suggest you get it.  The show, hosted by Brian Unger is very entertaining.

Games –

This is a simple Google search away. You can find dozens of sites with good geography games you can play on your computer or your phone when you are not studying History Made Simple.



Books and Magazines –

It is obvious that I love books.  Be on the lookout for book recommendations from this blog.  My favorite book to learn geography AND history with is Atlas of World History by Patrick O’Brien (ISBN – 13 : 9780199746538)

It is cool to knock out two birds with one stone and I can do that with this book.  Nearly every single subject you can think of, from movements of early people to the Vietnam War to the Protestant Reformation is covered with really good maps.

There are many different Atlas books you can buy or borrow from the library that will cover certain subjects.  I would suggest owning the Atlas mentioned above.  It is worth it.

You can also read ANY National Graphic magazine article and learn some random information from some crazy part of the world.  This is a GREAT magazine.








The Layers of British History Up to 1066

British history is not taught in U.S. public school, unless one counts the founding of the 13 colonies as such.  You may think that makes sense since this is the United States and Britain (England, U.K., whatever you call it) is thousands of miles away across the vast Atlantic Ocean.

This is wrong.  The history of the United States relies greatly on the history of Britain, and not just the history of the 1600’s and 1700’s.  I believe that understanding British history is vital to understanding U.S. History and when I say this I mean ancient British history.  The following is a quick overview of the history of the place known as Britain.  Later blogs may deal with the name “Britain” -it came from Brittany, which is in northwest France, but I do not need to confuse you – or the name “England” which came from “An-gel-land” – as in land of the Angles. Another post may deal with the Union Jack flag, which is a combination of three flags.  Another post will….you get the idea.


The British Isles are an archipelago.  This simply means “a group of islands.” There are many tiny islands in this archipelago, the largest being the island consisting of England, Wales, and Scotland in the east, and the island consisting of Ireland, which today is divided into the Republic of Ireland in the south and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, in the north (obviously).  This post will concern itself mainly with the people of the large island.  Ireland has its own distinct history, for the most part. You should probably break out a map if you are unfamiliar with the geography of the British Isles and their location in relation to mainland Europe.


The British isles can be divided into several distinct eras of occupation from B.C. (B.C.E.) all the way through to the year 1066.

Celtic Britain –  Celtic = “K”eltic, hard “C” not like the “Boston Celtics.”  The Celtic people populated all of Europe and much of the British Isles.  It is possible that the Celts migrated by foot from mainland Europe when the ocean level was lower and the island was connected to modern-day France.  It is also possible that the Celts built boats and traveled the 23 or so miles across what we call the “English Channel.”

Either way, there were people in the British Isles for a very long time.  These people built the famous Stonehenge which is west of London.  Not a lot is known about these Celtic people. It is simply important to know OF them.

Roman Britain – The same people who built the Roman Republic and Roman Empire brought parts of the British Isles under their sway. The British Isles were on the outside of the Roman’s known world.  The first Romans to make their way into this area were lead by the famous Julius Caesar in 55-54 B.C. Caesar was a general at this time and not yet dictator. He was conquering Gaul, roughly modern-day France.  Britain was really “Romanized” after Roman Emperor Claudius launched his conquest in 43 A.D.

It is right to say that the Romans “civilized” Britain. It is also a knock on the culture that we do not know a lot about as they had a civilization too.  It can’t be argued that the Romans modernized Britain. Writing became more widespread as did larger buildings. The southern part of the British Isles became a Roman province through 440 A.D.

Anglo-Saxon Britain – The Romans had a lot of problems in the 5th Century A.D.  People such as Attila the Hun were attempting to sack Rome.  Rome had to defend its interior and the British Isles became less important.  When the Romans left other people moved in.  People called Picts from modern-day Scotland in the north and Scots from Ireland in the west invaded the south (yes, I know that is confusing – we have established that this is a confusing subject.)  Germanic tribes called, in general, the Jutes, the Angles, and the Saxons invaded from the east. These people invaded from the area roughly of modern-day Denmark and northern Germany.

The Angles and Saxons eventually controlled most of eastern and central Britain. Anglo-Saxon was a term that eventually encompassed all of the English people. The famous King Alfred the Great ruled this land at the turn of the 9th century.

Norman England – The final era covered is that of the Normans.  Their name comes from “north men” meaning what we would consider Vikings.  Long story short, Vikings invaded lots of places, including modern-day France.  The king of France was relatively weak militarily so he let these Viking north men stay in the northern part of France that today is called Normandy. (Normandy is most famous today as the site of the D-Day invasion of WWII, June 6 1944)

After a couple of hundred years these Vikings were French-ified (no, not a real word).  They were still a distinct people but they spoke French and had a similar culture to the French.  This is where the famous date of 1066 comes in to play.

In January 1066 Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor dies. Harold Godwinson claims his crown but so does a man named William, Duke of Normandy (leader of the French-ified Vikings). William claimed that Edward promised him the crown upon his death.  The only way to solve this would be through battle so a war ensued. Between Harold and William….

But there is another Harold.  Harold Hardrata, King of Norway and brother-in-law of Harold Godwinson, invades northern England.  Hardrata is defeated by Godwinson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in late September.  Godwinson then had to rush down south to meet in invading Normans led by William.  Godwinson left a large part of his army in the north. The armies met at the Battle of Hastings on the 14th of October.  William and the Normans were victorious.  This is the last time that the British Isles have been successfully invaded.

William became King on Christmas day 1066.  He is called William I, William the Conqueror, William the Bastard (yes).  The Norman conquest of Britain totally changed the culture of the British Isles and the history of the world.


There are so many cool stories in this history.  I covered over 1000 years in a few paragraphs.  I may have skipped a few names….  I would suggest picking up a copy of The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain.  It is a wonderful book and, at just under 600 pages it is not a huge volume for the subject matter that it covers.  I would also suggest listening to the podcast “The What-Ifs of 1066” on Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast.  It makes you really feel for the last Anglo-Saxon King, Harold Godwinson.  KingHarold