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Miscellanies

Miscellanies is History Today's free weekly long read. Every Thursday, we publish a specially commissioned essay or long read from our archive. The subject? History. As the name suggests, we can’t be more specific…

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Detail from the Bull-leaping fresco from the Minoan Palace of Knossos

King Minos and the Minotaur remain shrouded in mystery and mythology, yet evidence of a Bronze Age ‘Bull Cult’ at the Minoan palaces abounds. Were bulls merely for entertainment or did they have a deeper significance?

'A New Thing in Burglary', Illustrated Police News, 2 April 1898.

‘Lady burglars’ – as they were primly named by the late-Victorian press – had an almost mythical status. That nocturnal robberies were committed by women was often too much to countenance.

Still from 1913 adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda with James K. Hackett as Rudolf Rassendyll.

There are many ways to visit Ruritania, although the country doesn’t exist. Anthony Hope’s bucolic kingdom – replete with chocolate-box royalty and swashbuckling adventure – has a long cultural history.

From 'A Tour in Wales' by Thomas Pennant (1726-1798).

Historical facts about the Druids are few, yet this very lack of tangible evidence has allowed their image to be reworked and appropriated by the English, Irish, Scots and Welsh for over 500 years.

Fort Sumter, 14 April 1861, under the Confederate flag.

One in every four soldiers surrendered at some point during the American Civil War. It was an honourable way of accepting defeat – provided it was done under the right circumstances.

Hindu goddess Durga riding a tiger, Kota, Rajasthan, c.1800.

No other creature has embodied so many attributes: magic spirit, vermin, guardian of holy men, symbol of mother India, an incarnation of evil yet also its vanquisher. 

The much-vaunted 'special relationship' between Britain and the United States obscures another history of rivalry and suspicion between the two allies.

A drunken scene in a dancing hall with a sly customer eyeing a young girl. Coloured etching by George Cruikshank, 1848.

Do you want to dance? As the 19th century wore on, the Victorians certainly did, requiring new venues in which to mix music and movement, whether a pub or a palace.

'Scene in Zion Tabernacle: Christ is All', 11 January 1895.

In the late 1800s, a new church promised to reshape human bodies into a redeemed race, transcending biology and ethnicity. Inhabitants of the dirty, sick slums of the world’s recently industrialised cities were increasingly drawn to the call of Zion.  

Viking ship carrying Harold III of Norway against his half-brother Olaf II in 1030, c.1375.

Norse travellers reached every corner of the known world, but they were not tourists. The ‘racially pure’ Vikings of stereotype were, in fact, cultural chameleons adopting local habits, languages and religions.