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Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for-

Nudity in battle! Among the ancient Gauls there were an entire society of warriors called Gaesatae that fought in the nude. Their opponents, Greek and Roman, that wrote about them could only speculate as to why they did this, but they did observe that they were the most seriously hard-core bad-asses on the Gaulish side of the battle. Polybius said that the name Gaesatae meant "mercenary", but it is a much closer cognate to the Old Irish word gaiscedach or "Champion".

N is for Norsemen. I can't say enough good about the Norsemen. I love their culture, their religion and their women. The Norse had a more direct effect on how English and American democracy came into being than the Athenians did because of their democratic councils or Things. The Norsemen and their culture touched and had a lasting effect on every other non-Mediterranean European culture starting from their Scandinavian homeland and heading west to France, Britain and Ireland; across the Baltic to Germany and all of the Baltic and Slavic states there. They pretty much created Russia and it was named for them*. Aside from all the raiding, raping and pillaging, they also colonized pretty aggressively. Normandy**, The Danelaw in England***, Orkney, Shetland, Sutherland, Caithness and the Hebrides in Scotland, the entire Isle of Mann and pretty much everywhere there is a city in Ireland (Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Cork). As explorers they found and colonized The Faeroes, Iceland, Greenland and, briefly, Vinland****. They also were pretty hard-core capitalist-consumers. They loved trade.

N is for Normans which are what you get when you take Norsemen and "civilize" them. Teach them all about Christianity, Feudalism and French culture, then give them horses. You got a culture that retained the dynamic expansionism and warrior ethos of their Norse forefathers and gave them the sense of history, responsibility and entitlement or the Frankish aristocracy, then added the imperative to serve the church of Rome to save their souls. Oh, and they learned politics and public relations along they way too. The transitional period from the early middle ages, or so called "Dark Ages" to the High middle ages might as well be called the Norman middle ages. The Normans had two major conquests in that period, both with Papal blessing; their Duke William the Bastard got to become known as William the Conqueror in the more famous of the two, the Norman conquest of England; but they also conquered Sicily and southern Italy under the leadership of the Norman de Hauteville family after a decades long campaign.

Normans from Normandy would continue to migrate to both areas of conquest, and both of the conquered areas would become launching points for further military adventures by Normans. Over the course of the 11th and 12th centuries the Normans would come to dominate Scotland and Ireland and Wales. They would secure all of southern Italy from the Moors and Byzantines. They would wage war against Papal armies to secure their own rights by conquest. They would be among the key players in the first Crusade*****, founding Christian kingdoms and principalities in territories that had long been in Muslim hands.

The Normans weren't completely about conquest and war either, they were patrons of the arts and of the church too. The Bayeux Tapestry was a Norman commission and most of the medieval cathedrals in England are Norman built. They were big on poetry and feasting and hunting and stuff that most nobles of the middle ages liked too.

N is for Nobunaga. Technically it's Oda Nobunaga, but he's famous enough that people will recognize him just from his first name. The Japanese video game company Koei has put out an entire series of Nobunaga's Ambition games; including an MMORPG set in feudal Japan. Sadly not all of the series have had English translations. The first two were available for the NES though and were part of what got me interested in Japanese history, particularly the Sengoku Jidai period. Oda Nobunaga himself is the first of the three great unifiers of Japan. Before he completed his work and unified the nation, ending the age of battles; he was betrayed by his retainer Akechi Mitsuhide and forced to commit seppuku. His unification of Japan was ultimately completed by two of his vassals Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

N is for Neverwinter Nights, specifically AOL's Neverwinter Nights. AOL NWN was an SSI Gold Box AD&D 1st edition computer game adapted by Stormfront studios for multiplayer online play. I know that I spent literally thousands of dollars for my wife and I to play this game, making it one of the most expensive entertainment expenses I have ever incurred, and I do not regret it. The community of players made it worth every penny. My wife and I once traveled, with Darryl C and his wife Muriel, to a wedding in another state for a guy we had only ever met online, and he was from a rival guild! In July it'll be 14 years since that game stopped being and I still miss it and I know I am not alone. I am pretty sure that if someone were to get the game up and running again most of the old players would come back, crappy graphics and all. I mean, the graphics were already 10 years out of date when we were playing the game in the late 90's.

N is for Ninja. Mystical bad-ass assassins and spies of feudal Japan. I have found that in every Oriental Adventures campaign there is always that one guy that wants to be the Ninja. I have tried to work with that guy on numerous occasions with varying degrees of success. My advice is that Oriental Adventures campaigns come in two types- Samurai campaigns and Ninja campaigns, keep them separate. Other then that the only real thing I know about Ninjas is that there weren't any at my wedding******.

N is for Naginata, essentially a Japanese Glaive. Traditionally considered a good weapon for women because it increased their reach, this did not discourage their use among men. The Japanese don't really have a lot of pole-arms, the only other one I can think of off the top of my head is the Yari which is just a spear.

N is for Nomads. I have to give Nomads a shout out because not only are the Mongols nomadic pastoralists, but I lived a pretty nomadic life for much of my young adulthood anyway. I used to limit the amount of stuff I owned to what I could easily move, with a couple of friends helping, in one day. Getting married and having kids kind of put the kibosh on that, but I still like the concept of a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Of course now it's just because I am getting older and don't want to deal with the Oswego county winters anymore. I keep telling Mona that when Em graduates from high school we're moving someplace with less snow, like Alaska or Canada.

*Actually what the Greeks called them, Rhos or Rus.

**Funny story that's largely forgotten by history; apparently there were very briefly two different Normandys in France. The records of the era are spotty and there isn't much information available on the "other" Normandy in English. Maybe not in French either, I don't know.

***Or, as people with maps call it half of England.

****How long the Vinland colony lasted is disputed by scholars, which should come as no surprise since scholars didn't believe in it's existence half a century ago. Scholars also argue about how long the Norse maintained contact with North America after the failure of their colony. Archaeological evidence from Greenland and Iceland suggest that the sagas weren't bullshitting us on this one either, they probably continued making trips to North America for wood into the 14th century; when global climate change made the trek across the north Atlantic near the Arctic circle in a small open topped boat dangerous. Also, Eskimos probably killed the last of the Greenlanders off.

*****The First Crusade is arguably the only really successful one, and it came in two waves. The first wave was a bunch of poorly trained and led religious fanatics, many of them peasants and clergymen; they were pretty soundly beaten, which may have been what caused the Muslims, who were also busy at the time fighting among themselves, to not take terribly seriously the second wave of professional soldiers that pretty much handed them their collective asses wherever they stood to fight. Professional Norman-Style Christian knights were inarguably better trained and better equipped and better led than any of their Muslim opponents during the First Crusade. For later Crusades the Muslims got their shit together and started taking Europeans seriously, then it was the Christian Europeans that didn't take their Muslim opponents seriously, which was a big mistake when you are trying to maintain a series of colonies hundreds of miles from home in an alien environment surrounded by hostile natives with a tech level roughly the same as your own.

******Or were there?