Egyptian Protective Knife

Egyptian Protective Knife

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What Are the Natural Barriers That Protected Ancient Egypt?

Ancient Egyptians lived throughout the Nile River valley and delta, shielded on all sides by deserts, seas, mountains and rapids. To the east, a small desert separates the river valley from the Red Sea, while the Sahara Desert lies to the west, stretching almost all the way across the continent. To the north, the Mediterranean Sea separated the Egyptians from European people, while mountains and rushing rapids protected the south.

Ancient Egypt was protected from other civilizations by these natural boundaries, but that does not mean they had no contact with other civilizations. Egyptians traded with several of their contemporaries, especially the Greeks. Nevertheless, their relative isolation allowed their culture to develop uniquely.

Egyptians benefited greatly from their geography. In addition to the protection afforded by the nearby mountains, seas and deserts, they were able to develop an agrarian culture thanks to the annual flooding of the Nile River. Each year, the river would swell and eventually overrun its banks, flooding vast areas of flat ground near the river. When the waters receded, the soil was fertile and full of moisture. The combination of the flood-enriched soil and nearly constant warmth and sunshine allowed the region to farm crops successfully.

Egyptian Protective Knife - History

Despite an estimated one-sixth of the world's men having been circumcised [1,2], it has long been forgotten where or why this most intriguing operation began. The procedure has been performed for religious, cultural and medical reasons, although the last has only become fashionable since the rise of modern surgery in the 19th century. Accordingly, the indications for surgery have surfaced, submerged and altered with the trends of the day. In this review we explore the origins of circumcision, and discuss the techniques and controversies that have evolved since the event has become `medicalized'.

Anthropologists do not agree on the origins of circumcision. The English egyptologist, Sir Graham Elliot Smith, suggested that it is one of the features of a `heliolithic' culture which, over some 15 000 years ago, spread over much of the world. Others believe that it may have originated independently within several different cultures certainly, many of the natives that Columbus found inhabiting the `New World' were circumcised. However, it is known that circumcision had been practised in the Near East, patchily throughout tribal Africa, among the Moslem peoples of India and of south-east Asia, as well as by Australian Aborgines, for as long as we can tell. The earliest Egyptian mummies (1300 BCE) were circumcised and wall paintings in Egypt show that it was customary several thousand years earlier than that [3,4].

In some African tribes, circumcision is performed at birth. In Judaic societies, the ritual is performed on the eighth day after birth, but for Moslems and many of the tribal cultures it is performed in early adult life as a `rite of passage', e.g. puberty or marriage. Why the practice evolved is not clear and many theories have been proposed. Nineteenth century historians suggested that the ritual is an ancient form of social control. They conceive that the slitting of a man's penis to cause bleeding and pain is to remind him of the power of the Church, i.e. `We have control over your distinction to be a man, your pleasure and your right to reproduce'. The ritual is a warning and the timing dictates who is warned for the new-born it is the parents who accede to the Church: `We mark your son, who belongs to us, not to you' [5]. For the young adolescent, the warning accompanies the aggrandisement of puberty the time when growing strength give independence, and the rebellion of youth [6].

Psychologists have extended this theory to incorporate notions of `pain imprinting'. By encoding violence on the brain, child-maternal bonding is interrupted and a sense of betrayal is instilled in the infant these are considered requisite qualities that enhance the child's ability for survival later in life [7]. Indeed, some components of these psychological theories have recently been tested in prospective clinical trials and there is now evidence that neonates who are circumcised without local anaesthetic do have increased pain responses when 4- and 6-monthly vaccinations are administered [8].

Fig. 1. A captured Schemite warrior is circumcised. Engraving
by J. Muller. Reproduced with permission of the Wellcome Institute.

Others believe that circumcision arose as a mark of defilement or slavery [1,9] (fig. 1). In ancient Egypt captured warriors were often mutilated before being condemned to the slavery. Amputation of digits and castration was common, but the morbidity was high and their resultant value as slaves was reduced. However, circumcision was just as degrading and evolved as a sufficiently humiliating compromise. Eventually, all male descendents of these slaves were circumcised. The Phoenicians, and later the Jews who were largely enslaved, adopted and ritualized circumcision. In time, circumcision was incorporated into Judaic religious practice and viewed as an outward sign of a covenant between God and man (Genesis XVI, Fig. 2).

Fig 2. Circumcision is a covenant between God and man.
Reproduced with permission of the Wellcome Institute.

There are many other reasons why circumcision may have evolved. Some have suggested that it is a mark of cultural identity, akin to a tattoo or a body piercing [3]. Alternatively, there are reasons to believe that the ritual evolved as a fertility rite [4]. For example, that some tribal cultures apportion `seasons' for both the male and female operation, supports the view that circumcision developed as a sacrifice to the gods, an offering in exchange for a good harvest, etc. This would seem reasonable as the penis is clearly inhabited by powers that produce life. Indeed, evidence of a connection with darvests is also found in Nicaragua, where blood from the operations is mixed with maize to be eaten during the ceremony [1,10]. (Fig. 3). Although the true origins of circumcision will never be known, it is likely that the truth lies in part with all of the theories described.

Fig. 3 Attendants await to collect the circumcision blood this is to be mixed with maize and eaten in a harvest ceremony. Reproduced with permission of the Wellcome Institute.

From ancient to mediaeval times

Whatever religious or cultural forces drove this practice, historical clues to the surgical aspects of circumcision cane be found by chronicling the medical texts. However, this approach has its limitations: techniques and practitioners were diverse and studying surgical writing alone provides an incomplete reflection of the controversies that are endemic to all times. Furthermore, was it always doctors who performed the procedure in ancient times? Probably not: in biblical times it was the mother who performed the ceremony on the newborn. Gradually mohels took over men who had the requisite surgical skill and advanced religious knowledge. After prayer, the mohel circumcised the infant and then blessed the child, a practice little changed today [11] (Fig. 4a-d). In ancient Egyptian society, the procedure was performed by a priest with his thumb-nail (often gold-impregnated) and throughout mediaeval times it appears to have been largely kept in the domain of religious men [12].

Fig. 4. (a) A Mohel circumcises an infant with his finger nail. (b) An ancient circumcision knife. Collection plate and Scroll of Torah (

300 AD). (c) Instruments and sacred objects of the Enlightenment (1741): Above bistoury, collection plates, anointment and prepuce holder. Below: scrolls of Torah. (d) A Mohel's pocket knife. All reproduced with permission of Wellcome Institute.

Few mediaeval medical texts describe the procedure, although Theodoric (1267) suggests the need for `removal of the end part (penis)' in the treatment of `black warts and tubercles' [13]. He may indeed have been describing circumcision in the context of some penile pathology. However, it is likely that doctors did not perform circumcision until the latter half of the 19th century.

The early 19th century

Brief descriptions of adult circumcision for phimosis start to appear in early 19th century textbooks. Although the surgical techniques tend not to be described in detail, Abernathy (1928) [14] who was a reluctant surgeon) does report the use of the bistoury (knife) to achieve circumcision in men with `gonoccocal phimosis'. He also states that the bleeding should be `stanched with iodoform and boric', possibly indicating that sutures were not applied. Baillie (1833) [15] also describes gonococcal phimosis and recommends that the initial treatment is `nugatory' (inoperative) involving the washing of the penis (and under the prepuce with soap and tepid water, followed by the application of calomel ointment. Abernathy also warns against immediate circumcision in the face of a `morbidly sensitive surface' (and declares that Sir Edward Home agrees with him!). He advocates that the posthitis (inflamed foreskin) should be allowed to `soothe and allay' before surgical intervention. We can assume that the complications recognized by both Abernathy and Baillie were re-phimosis, re-stricture or suppuration what is clear is that circumcision was not a procedure taken lightly at that time. Interestingly, neither author mentions circumcision in the neonate, suggesting that it had not yet significantly entered the domain of English surgeons.

Mid-19th to early 20th century

By the middle of the 19th century, anaesthesia and antisepsis were rapidly changing surgical practice. The first reported circumcision in the surgical accounts of St Bartholomew's Hospital was in 1865 although this comprised only one of the 417 operations performed that year, it was clearly becoming a more common procedure [16]. Indeed, this was a time when surgical cures were being explored for all ails and in 1878 Curling described circumcision as a cure for impotence in men who also had as associated phimosis [17]. Many other surgeons reported circumcision as being beneficial for a diverse range of sexual problems [18]. Walsham (1903) re-iterates the putative association of phimosis with impotence and suggests that it may also predispose to sterility, priapism, excess masturbation and even venereal disease [19]. Warren (1915) adds epilepsy, nocturnal enuresis, night terrors and `precocious sexual unrest' to the list of dangers [20], and this accepted catalogue of `phimotic ills' is extended in American textbooks to include other aspects of `sexual erethisms' such as homosexuality [21,22].

Fig. 5. The scissor technique described by Sir Frederick Treves (1903). Reproduced from [23].

The turn of the 19th century was also an important time in laying the foundations of surgical technique. Sir Frederick Treves (1903) provides us with a comprehensive account of basic surgical principles that remain today [23]. Like most of his contemporaries, he used scissors to remove the prepuce (fig. 5) and describes ligation of the frenular artery as being `mandatory' in the adult. He also warns against the excess removal of skin, as this may lead to chordee.

Treves also maintains that the oppositional sutures of the skin edges must be of interrupted `fine catgut'. Other surgeons chose to use horse-hair or silk [19], but irrespective of variations in suturing materials, all were agreed that a continuous stitch should not be applied. One notable exception was the Master Technician and influential French Surgeon E. Doyen, who headed his own Institute of Surgical Excellence in Paris (L'Institut Doyen). Many foreign surgical trainees passed through his department, and together with his English collaborator H. Spencer-Browne, they described their antihaemorrhagic triradiate continuous circumcision suture line [24]. Three circular sutures of no. 1 silk were applied to achieve `coaptation' of the skin edges, each one third of the circumference of the glans. The ends were not tied so as to allow expansion of the space between the two skin layers if necessary (fig. 6a). A compressing piece of sterilized muslim was then wrapped over the entire distal penis, with a snug hole to allow for the passage of the glans (Fig. 6b). The sutures and the muslin were then removed after 3-5 days.

Fig. 6. (a) The triradiate continuous suture of Doyen (1920). (b) Compressive muslin dressing.

Such variations in suture application aimed at minimizing the most frequent immediate complication of haemorrhage. Indeed, the popular urological text of Charles Chetwood (1921) recommended leaving long interrupted horse-hair sutures so that compressive strips of iodoform and petroleum gauze could be securely tied down over the suture line (Fig. 7a). Variations on what became known as `chetwood's dressing' appeared as recently as Sir Alec Badenorch's Manual of Urology in 1953 (Fig 7b) [25]. This later text is also interesting in that measures to prevent haemorrhage within the first 24 h of surgery included the administration of stilboestrol to prevent erection of the penis. He recommended that this be given at a dose of 5 mg three times daily, beginning one day before surgery and continued for several days afterwards. He also advocated the use of bromide and chloral for similar reasons. It is also interesting that the 1974 edition of Badenoch's Manual no longer included this advice.

Fig. 7. Chetwood's lang horse-hair tethering sutures (1921) and (b) Chetwood's dressing. From [25]

Neonatal circumcision techniques have evolved in parallel. It is clear from most surgical texts that circumcision of the new-born had become a regular request for the surgeon by the later part of the 19th century. For instance, Jacobsen (1893) [26] warns of the importance of establishing a familial bleeding tendency from the mother before circumcision. He describes the case of four Jewish infants, each descended from a different grandchild of a common ancestress, all of whom died from haemorrhage after circumcision. Treves (1903) [23] and most other contemporary writers note that ligation of the frenular arteries is usually not necessary in the neonate and that bleeding can usually be controlled by simple pressure. Indeed it seems that `crush' with a clamp followed by preputial excision rapidly became the template for the operation in babies. As such, the last hundred years has seen the evolution of various crushing and clamping instruments to facilitate the procedure. Doyen (1920) [24] developed his écraseur for use in neonatal circumcision. The foreskin was crushed and cut in four separate manoeuvres with very little concomitant bleeding. He was so impressed with the efficacy of this instrument that he frequently used it for adult circumcisions without (he claimed) the need for additional sutures (Fig. 8a-c).

Fig. 8. (a) the Écraseur of Doyen (1920), with (b) and (c) showing the four-point crushing manoeuvre.

By the 1930s, many circumcision clamps were available for use in the new-born. Indeed, the use of such clamps prompted Thomson-Walker [27] to painstakingly warn of the dangers of injury to the glans when such clamps were used, and not surprisingly, more sophiticated tools were introduced to protect the penis. The prototype of the `Winkelman' was introduced in 1935 and its appearance has changed little today. (Fig. 9). However, concern not only over the dangers of neonatal circumcision, but also of the risks of neonatal anaesthesia lead to the development of the `Plastibell' device by the Hollister company in the 1950s (Fig. 10). Its use was first reported in 1956 [28] and several favourable reports followed [29,30]. With the exception of the occasional proximal migration of the ring [31,32], complications are few and the device remains in widespread popular use today. More recently plastic clamps with integral stell cutting blades have also been introduced [33]. These include instruments such as the Glansguard TM (Fig. 11) and many other clamps, e.g. the Gomco, Bronstein and Mogen variations, are used in different parts of the world.

Fig. 9. The `Winkelman' circumcision clamp. Reproduced with permission of Aescalup Surgical Products.

Fig. 10. The Plastibell TM device.

Alternative procedures

More than 2000 years of Jewish persecution has led to the development of alternative surgical procedures. Indeed, `uncircumcision as a measure to offset the oppression of Jews is cited in the Old Testament (I Maccabees 1:14-15) and surgical attempts to restore the prepuce have been well documented throughout history [17,34,35]. In modern times, this was no more true than during the period of Nazi terror, where clandestine recontructions were commonplace in a desperate attempt by Jewish men to avoid internment [36]. Relics of anti-Semitism are evident throughout history and even the statue of Michelangelo's David (a Jew), which was erected in Florence in 1504 was carved uncircumcised [37] (Fig. 12). Not surprisingly, contemporary operations to `stretch' the circumcised foreskin are recorded in early Renaissance Europe [34]. In more recent surgical times, surgeons were urged to develop alternative procedures to circumcision for men who required surgery for phimosis. Cloquet's `V' excision of the foreskin in 1900 was a popular means to retain a `cloak' of prepuce over the glans, yet still release the phimosis [38] In 1926, Young and Davies [39] described a preputial-plasty whereby a constricting band of the foreskin was incised and then closed by the Heinecke-Mikulicz principle (Fig. 13). Although not widely practised, this procedure has stood the test of time and recently was shown to be superior to circumcision in a comparative study [40].

Fig. 11. The glansguard TM device

Recurrent paraphimosis has long been held to be an indication for circumcision. In most circumstances, it can be reduced by manipulation, and circumcision performed electively later. However, Walsham (1903) [19] recommended an alternative approach whereby acute division of the paraphimotic band was all that was necessary. He suggested that in the presence of such an oedematous prepuce, the phimotic band would heal with less constriction, and that delayed circumcision would not be required (Fig. 14). Young and Davies also described a similar procedure whereby a preputial-plasty was performed on the constricting band during the acute oedematous phase the prepuce was reduced and the need for a circumcision negated (Fig. 15). It is interesting that a `re-invention' of this operation has recently been reported [41].

Understanding the prepuce

It is surprising that despite the many billions of foreskins that have been severed over thousands of years, it is only recently that efforts have been made to understand the prepuce. The first adequate embyrological description of preputial development was published in the 1930s [42]. It was realized that the formation of the preputial space occurred by patch desquamation of the epithelial cells which were contiguous between the glans and the prepuce, a process not necessarily complete by birth [43]. Indeed the first study to address this question was the influential landmark report of Douglas Gairdner in 1949 [44]. He concluded that only 4% of foreskins were fully retractile at birth, yet 90% were so by the age of 3 years. Of these remaining foreskins, most could be rendered retractile by gentle manipulation. Recent studies have suggested that by the age of 17 years, only 1% remain unretractile [45]. However, the importance of Gairdner's paper was that he was one of the first people to ascribe a function to the prepuce. Previous medical texts are notable for their absence of comment and some even describe the prepuce as a vestigial structure [20,21,46]. Gairdner made the astute observations that the slow period of preputial development corresponded with the age of incontinence. He felt that the prepuce had a protective role and noted that meatal ulceration only occurred in circumcised boys. Recently, a doctor writing anonymously in the BMJ provided an analogy suggesting that the prepuce is to the glans what the eyelid is to the eye [47].

Fig. 12. Michelangelo's David, uncircumcised (inset)

Fig. 13. The preputial-plasty of Young and Davies [39].

To date, a more definite function cannot be ascribed to the prepuce, but as an accessible and ready source of fibroblasts, it has become a favourite tissue reservoir for cell-culture biologists and hence basic scientific research. From this wealth of disparate information, it is clear that the foreskin is an androgen-dependent structure [48] with complex intradermal enzyme systems. These confer upon it a wide range of metabolic functions, including the differential metabolism of various prostaglandins which are copiously produced throughout the male and female genital tract [49]. Certainly, it can be anticipated that many other biochemical functions will be defined in the years to come a vestigal structure it almost certainly is not [50].

Fig. 14. The paraphimotic-plasty of Walshame (1903) [19].

Fig. 15. Acute division of the phimotic band in paraphimosis [39].

Notwithstanding the relative disinterest over the function of the prepuce, no other operation has been surrounded by controversy so much as circumcision. Should it be done, then when, why, how and by whom? Religious and cultural influences are pervasive, parental confusion is widespread and medical indications shift with the trends of the day. Doctors divide into camps driven by self-interest, self-righteousness and self-defence. It is not surprising that some of the most colourful pages in the medical literature are devoted to the debate. For instance in 1950, Sir James Spence of Newcastle upon Tyne responded to the request from a local GP as follows:

Literary assaults such as these have served to fuel the debates and even a Medline ® search today reveals that in the last year alone, 155 reviews or letters have been published arguing for or against routine circumcision. However, studying the evolution of the medical indications provides us with a pleasing demonstration of how controversy drives scientific enquiry. We have already described how the surgeons of 100 years ago advocated circumcision for a wide variety of conditions, such as impotence, nocturnal enuresis, sterility, excess masturbation, night terrors, epilepsy, etc. There can be no doubt that a large element of surgical self-interest drove these claims. However, most of the contemporary textbooks also included epithelioma (carcinoma) of the penis amidst the morass of complications of phimosis. Although rare, once this observation had been made, it presumably filtered down through the textbooks by rote, rather than scientific study. A few reports had appeared in the early 20th century indicating that carcinoma of the penis was rare in circumcised men, but not until the debate over neonatal circumcision erupted in the medical press in the 1930s that this surgical `mantra' was put to the test. In 1932, the editor of the Lancet challenged Abraham Wolbarst [52], a New York urologist, to prove his contention (in a previous Lancet editorial), that circumcision prevented penile carcinoma. Wolbarst responded by surveying every skin, cancer and Jewish hospital in the USA, along with 1250 of the largest general hospitals throughout the Union. With this survey, he was able to show that penile cancer virtually never occurred in circumcised men and that the risk related to the timing of the circumcision. Over the years this association has been reaffirmed by many research workers, although general hygiene, demographic and other factors such as human papilloma virus and smoking status are probably just as important [53]. However, Wolbarst established that association through formal scientific enquiry and proponents of the procedure continue to use this as a compelling argument for circumcision at birth.

Almost as an extension to the lack of penile cancer in Jews, Handley [54] reported on the infrequency of carcinoma of the cervix in Jewish women. He suggested that this related to the fact that Jewish men were circumcised. Not surprisingly, this spawned a mass of contradictory studies and over the next 50 years the champions of both camps have sought to establish the importance or irrelevance of circumcision in relation to penile cancer. The pendulum has swung both ways and the current evidence suggests that other factors are probably more important [55,56]. A similar debate has raged for 50 years over concerns for the risks of urinary tract infections in young boys and currently, any decreased risk associated with circumcision remains tentative but not proven [56].

However, during the two World Wars, governments became increasingly interested in reducing the risk of venereal disease amongst their soldiers. Clearly, such pathology can have a profound effect on the efficiency of fighting armis. Indeed, in 1947 the Canadian Army [57] found that whereas 52% of their soldiers had foreskins intact, 77% of those treated for venereal disease were uncircumcised. Persuasive arguments to circumcise all conscripts were proposed. Furthermore, it was an age-old observation, and indigenous African healers had promoted circumcision to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted disease for centuries [58]. As might be expected, the evidence did not withstand further scientific scrutiny and numerous contradictions were provided [56] However, there has recently been startling evidence that HIV infection is significantly associated with the uncircumcised status [59]. Indeed, one author has recently suggested routine neonatal circumcision on a world-wide scale as a long-term strategy for the control of AIDS [60]: a whole new chapter opens in this ancient debate!

Finally, controversy has arisen over who should perform the procedure. Once circumcision had been `medicalized' in the 19th century, many surgeons were keen to take paying customers away from the religious men. As such, doctors were often quick to highlight the unforseen risks attendant on a non-medical procedure. For instance, Cabot (1924) [61] described tuberculosis of the penis occurring when Rabbis with infected sputum sucked on the baby's penis to stop the bleeding. However, it has often been claimed that the incidence of complications in Jewish children is very low and that the final result is usually better than any hospital doctor can produce [62, 63]. Naturally, quality control is variable and whereas not all commentators have had such respect for the religious men [64,65], others have been quick to indicate the sub-optimal results frequently obtained in hospital [29]. Not surprisingly, disastrous accounts damning practitioners from all quarters have embellished the literature on countless occasions. Irrespective, the circumcision of young boys has become a thriving business for all parties [66].

However, with a healthcare budget of $140 million per year in the USA (1990) [67], insurance companies eventually forced closer scrutiny. Following such pressure, the first Task Force of Neonatal Circumcision from the American Academy of Pediatrics (1n 1975) concluded that there was no valid medical indication for this procedure [68]. However, the pro-circumcision lobby was strong and the task force was forced to re-evaluate. In 1989, they conceded that there may be certain advantages to neonatal circumcision, although their recommendations did stop short of advising routine operation [56]. Similar pressures in the UK have now resulted in only certain Health Authorities being prepared to pay for the procedure. These tend to be in regions with large ethnic minorities who otherwise may suffer form `back street' circumcisions [62, 64].

Thus it is clear that medical trends are now being driven by financial constraints. Perhaps this is reflected by the dramatic decline in the number of non-religious circumcisions performed over the last half century in the USA an estimated 80% of boys were circumcised in 1976 [69] but by 1981 this had fallew to 61% [67], and recent estimates suggest that this decrease continues [70]. In the UK the decline has been even more dramatic: originally more common in the upper classes [44], circumcision rates fell from 30% in 1939 to 20% in 1949 and 10% by 1963. By 1975 only 6% of British schoolboys were circumcised [71] and this may well have declined further [63]. Whether this general trend reflects a tempering of attitudes towards the persuasive medical rhetoric that has simmered for the past 100 years, or whether financial considerations have dampened enthusiasm, is unknown. Perhaps the First World cultures are witnessing an escape from the medical paternalism that has gripped them for so long, or even that the age-old ritual is simply no longer fashionable in modern peoples again, it is unknown. However, whatever the current trend, ebbing or flowing, we can be sure that the controversies of circumcision will continue to colour the medical literature, far into the future.

Many historical accounts of circumcision have been written and most authors have used their survey to form an opinion as to whether the neonatal procedure is justified. The weak medical arguments are tempered by the importance of cultural and religious factors. In truth, the real reasons why circumcision has evolved are much broader. Opponents of the ritual draw attention to the `rights' of the new-born, which, they argue, mut be upheld [66]. Others contest that humans are social animals and cannot survive alone they require their parents, community and culture to thrive, and, as such, `rights' belong to the group, not to the individual. If there is an inherent survival advantage to a group of humans who chose to maim their young, then this is presumably evidenced by their continued survival as a race [11]. In short, to conclude any historical reflection with a reasoned `right' or `wrong', would be like claiming to have fathomed human nature itself. Consider this mankind has developed this strange surgical signature that is so pervasive, that in the last five minutes alone, another 120 boys throughout the world have been circumcised.


Son of Isis, conceived after the death of his father Osiris and summoned to succeed him on the throne of the gods after defeating his Uncle Seth. Under the name of HARSIESE, &ldquoson of Isis&rdquo precisely, he incarnates triumphant youth. The little, helpless child exposed to all sorts of dangers bore the name of HARPOKRATES, or &ldquoHorus the child,&rdquo from the end of the New Kingdom onward. This child represents both the divine or royal heir who ensures the continuity of the royal function and the sun who is reborn every morning.

Horus of Edfu also is a sun-god and a god of kingship. These two aspects manifest themselves in him in a fully mature form. The elder Horus, god of Letopolis, is a solar divinity whose two eyes represent the sun and the moon. When these two heavenly bodies are invisible, the god goes blind and takes the name MEKHENTY-EN-IRTY, &ldquoHe who has no eyes.&rdquo When he recovers his eyesight, he becomes KHENTY-IRTY, &ldquoHe who has eyes.&rdquo

A warrior god armed with a sword, he is especially dangerous during his periods of blindness. This Horus is the brother of Osiris and Isis but, under the influence of the other gods of the same name, he can also be considered the son of Isis. The great sun-gods who bear the name of Horus are often represented as falcons or falcon-headed gods and are generally married to Hathor. In an absolute sense, Horus is the prototype of the earthly king.

Cippi of Horus

In connection with the god Horus and his forms as the god of the rising sun and the symbol and personification of Light. Mention must be made, of a comparatively numerous class of small rounded stelae on convex bases, on the front of which are sculptured, in relief figures, the god Horus standing upon two crocodiles. These curious and interesting objects are made of basalt and other kinds of hard stone, they vary in height from 3 ins. to 20 ins they were used as talismans by the Egyptians, who placed them in their houses and gardens, and even buried them in the ground to protect themselves and their property from the attacks of noxious beasts, and reptiles, and insects of every kind.

The backs, sides, and bases are usually covered with magical texts. The ideas suggested by the figures and the texts are extremely old, but the grouping and arrangement of those which are found on the stelae of the XXVIth Dynasty, is thought to not have came into general use very much earlier than the end of the Persian occupation of Egypt.

The various museums of Europe contain several examples of cippi, but the largest, and finest, and most important, is undoubtedly that which is commonly known as the "Metternich Stele, it was found in the year 1828 during the building of a cistern in a Muhammad monastery in Alexandria, and was presented by Muhammad Ali Pasha , to Prince Metternich (political leader of Austria). We are fortunately, able to date the stele from the inscribed name of Nectanebus I, who reigned from 378 to 360 B.C, which occurs on it. On the front of the stele we have the following figures and scenes:----

The solar disk wherein is seated the four-fold god Khnemu, who represents the gods of the four elements, between which is supported on a lake of water on each side of it stand four apes, with their paws stretched out in adoration. No names are given to the apes here, but we may find them in a text at Edfu where they are called:


1. The Bentet apes praised the morning sun, and the Utennu apes praised the evening sun, and the Sun-god was pleased both with their words and with their voices. On the right hand side is a figure of king Nectanebus kneeling before a lotus standard, with plumes and menats, and on the left is the figure of the god Thoth holding a palette in his left hand.

2. In this register we have (a) Ptah-Seker_Asar standing on crocodiles, the gods Amsu and Khepera standing on pedestals, Khas, a lion -headed god, Thoth, Serqet and Hathor grouped round a god who is provided with the heads of seven birds and animals, and four wings, and two horns surmounted by four uraei and four knives, and who stands upon two crocodiles. (b) Taurt holding a crocodile by a chain or rope, which a hawk-headed god is about to spear in the presence of Isis, Nephthys, and four other deities, etc.

3. Isis holding Horus in her outstretched right hand, and standing on a crocodile. Standard of Nekhebet. Horus, with a human phallus, and a lion, on a lake (?) containing two crocodiles. Seven halls or lakes, each guarded by a god. A lion treading on a crocodile, which lies on its back, four gods, a lion standing on the back of a crocodile, a vulture, a god embracing a goddess, and three goddesses.

4. Horus spearing a crocodile which is led captive by Ta-urt. The four children of Horus. Neith and the two crocodile gods. Harpocrates seated upon a crocodile under a serpent. A lion, two scorpions and an oryx, symbols of Set. Seven serpents having their tails pierced by arrows or darts. A king in a chariot drawn by the fabulous AKHEKH animal which gallops over two crocodiles. Horus standing on the back of the oryx, emblem of Set.

5. A miscellaneous group of gods, nearly all of whom are forms of the Sun-god and are gods of reproduction and regeneration.

6. A hawk god, with dwarf's legs, and holding bows and arrows. Horus standing on an oryx (Set). A cat on a pedestal. An-her spearing an animal. Uraeus on the top of a staircase. The ape of Thoth on a pylon. Two Utchats, the solar disk, and a crocodile. Ptah-Seker-Asar. The Horus of gold. Serpent with a disk on his head. A group of solar gods followed by Ta-urt and Bes.

7. In this large scene Horus stands with his feet upon the backs of two crocodiles, and he grasps in his hands the reptiles and animals which are the emblems of the foes of light and of the powers of evil. He wears the lock of youth, and above his head is the head of the old god Bes, who here symbolizes the Sun-god at eventide. The canopy under which he stands is held up by Thoth and Isis, each of whom stands upon a coiled up serpent, which has a knife stuck in his forehead. Above the canopy are the two Utchats, with human hands and arms attached, and within it by the sides of the god are:

1. Horus-Ra standing on a coiled up serpent.
2. A lotus standard, with plumes and menats.
3. A papyrus standard surmounted by a figure of a hawk wearing the crown.

On the back of the Stele we have a figure of the aged Sun-god in the form of a man-hawk, and he has above his head the heads of a number of animals, e.g., the oryx and the crocodile, and a pair of horns, and eight knives. He has four human arms, to two of which beings are attached, and in each hand he grasps two serpents, two knives, and "life," "stability," and "power," and numbers of figures of gods. His two other human arms are not attached to wings, and in one hand he holds the symbol of "life," and in the other a scepter.

From the head of the god proceed jets of fire, and on each side of him is an Utchat, which is provided with human hands and arms. The god stands upon an oval, within which are figures of a lion, two serpents, a jackal, a crocodile, a scorpion, a hippopotamus, and a turtle. Below this relief are five rows of figures of gods and mythological scenes, many of which are taken from the vignettes of the Book of the Dead. The gods and goddesses are for the most part solar deities who were believed to be occupied at all times in overcoming the powers of darkness, and they were sculptured on the Stele that the sight of them might terrify the fiends and prevent them from coming nigh unto the place where it was set up. There is not a god of any importance whose figure is not on it, and there is not a demon, or evil animal, or reptile who is not depicted upon it in a vanquished state.

The texts inscribed upon the Stele are as interesting as the figures of the gods, and relate to events which were believed to have taken place in the lives of Isis, Horus, etc. The first composition is called the "Chapter of the incantation of the Cat," and contains an address to Ra, who is besought to come to his daughter, for she has been bitten by a scorpion the second composition, which is called simply "another Chapter," has contents somewhat similar to those of the first.

The third text is addressed to the "Old Man who becometh young in his season, the Aged One who maketh himself a child again." The fourth and following texts contain a narrative of the troubles of Isis which were caused by the malice of Set, and of her wanderings from city to city in the Delta, in the neighborhood of the Papyrus Swamps. The principal incident is the death of her son Horus, which took place whilst she was absent in a neighboring city, and was caused by the bite of a scorpion in spite of all the care which Isis took in hiding her son, a scorpion managed to make its way into the presence of the boy, and it stung him until he died.

When Isis came back and found her child's dead body she was distraught and frantic with grief, and was inconsolable until Nephthys came and advised her to appeal to Thoth, the lord of words of power, She did so straightway, and Thoth stopped the Boat of Millions of Years in which Ra, the Sun-god, sailed, and came down to earth in answer to her cry Thoth had already provided her with the words of power which enabled her to raise up Osiris from the dead, and he now bestowed upon her the means of restoring Horus to life, by supplying her with a series of incantations of irresistible might.

These Isis recited with due care, and in the proper tone of voice, and the poison was made to go forth from the body of Horus, and his strength was renewed, his heart once more occupied its throne, and all was well with him. Heaven and earth rejoiced at the sight of the restoration of the heir of Osiris, and the gods were filled with peace and content.

The whole Stele on which these texts and figures are found, is nothing but a talisman, or a gigantic amulet engraved with magical forms of gods and words of power, and it was undoubtedly, placed in some conspicuous place in a courtyard or in a house to protect the building and its inmates from the attacks of hostile beings, both visible and invisible, and its power was believed to be invincible.

The person who had been stung or bitten by a scorpion or any noxious beast or reptile was supposed to recite the incantations which Thoth had given to Isis, and which had produced such excellent results, and the Egyptians believed that because these words had on one occasion restored the dead to life, they would, whensoever they were uttered in a suitable tone of voice, and with appropriate gestures and ceremonies, never fail to produce a like effect. A knowledge of the gods and of the magical texts on the Stele was thought to make its possessor master of all the powers of heaven, and of earth, and of the Underworld.


Knives, from the sharp flints with which primitive humans defended themselves to the carbon-steel bayonets carried by modern soldiers, the knife's history is a complex tale of technical ingenuity, artistic virtuosity and brutal violence. Like its larger cousin the sword, this lethal edged weapon expressed the wealth and taste of its owner. But it was also a vital last resort - easy to carry, quick to draw and always at the fighting man's side.

Swords, from the primitive edged weapons used by early humans through to those of the modern world, the history of the sword is a truly fascinating story. It has been used as a fighting weapon, a symbol of authority, a mark of social rank and as a ceremonial object. For centuries, the sword remained the first weapon of choice for the military soldier and its pre-eminence was secured by a combination of continuous technological improvements and adaptation to ever-changing battlefield conditions.

Brass Knuckles, for over more than a century, brass knuckles and knuckle dusters have rested in the pockets of those who need a small, handy impact weapon that is easily concealed and inexpensive to produce. An amazing array of designs and materials has gone into brass knuckles, and their popularity is even greater today among collectors and those who use them for protection. Often demonized and vilified by the press and law enforcement, the brass knuckle has a colorful and interesting history and deserves to take its rightful place amongst the great close-quarters combat weapons of the world.

Personal defense, for safety aware individuals, there are a variety of non-lethal personal defense weapons which are used for the act of defending oneself, one's property or the well-being of another from physical harm. Such personal defense weapons include pepper spray which is a chemical compound that irritates the eyes of your attacker to cause tears, pain, and even temporary blindness. Also an air taser or stun gun which is an incapacitant weapon used for subduing an attacker by administering electric shocks aimed at disrupting muscle functions. And expandable batons for less lethal self-defense, also called collapsible or telescopic batons are like metal sticks of less than arm's length used to defensively strike, jab, block, and can aid in the application of armlocks. And SAP gloves, also called weighted-knuckle gloves are a type of weapon used in hand to hand combat used to help protect your hands against injuries when punching without compromising the effectiveness of the punch. Also, our law enforcement gear page has police batons and handcuffs.

Medieval weapons, it was the time of the crossbow and catapult, halberd and mace, battering ram, siege tower, sword and dagger, and increasingly more formidable armored protection. It was the Middle Ages, when weapons were of such infinite variety that hardly any two soldiers faced off using the same weaponry.

Most martial arts weapons were developed from farm tools. According to the history of Japanese weapons, Japan conquered the island of Okinawa in the early 17th century. The Japanese emperor declared it illegal for citizens to own weapons, so the Okinawans developed self-defense techniques using simple implements. Weapons developed from this early period include nunchaku, kama, sai, escrima sticks, bo staffs, fighting fans, kubotans, etc. Also don't forget about ninja weapons like throwing stars.

Blowguns, a simple weapon consisting of a small tube for firing light projectiles, or darts. The wielder blows into one end, forcing the dart out the other. The blowgun is a mysterious tool of silent force. There are many secrets of its capabilities and uses.

Crossbows, a weapon consisting of a bow mounted on a stock that shoots projectiles, often called bolts. Probably introduced to England by the Norman invaders in 1066, the crossbow was once considered so barbarous that it was prohibited as a “weapon hateful to God and unfit for Christians.” The medieval crossbow was called by many names, most of which derived from the word ballista, a siege engine resembling a crossbow in mechanism and appearance. Crossbows historically played a significant role in the warfare of Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia. Today, they are used primarily for target shooting and hunting.

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Intro to Hoodoo

In this area you will find the basics of Conjure and the tools used. But first, a short lesson on what sets Conjure or Hoodoo apart from other practical magick traditions.

Conjure also known as African American Folk Magic, Folklore, Hoodoo, or Rootwork (all words that are sometimes used interchangeably) has unique characteristics different from the magickal practices of pagan or witchcraft. You will see some similarities, however, Conjure has it’s own special flavoring of bible psalms, unique zoological curios such as animals parts, minerals, special coins, collected dirt, botanical roots, and herbs. Poppet dolls, candle magick, mojo bags, the use of personal concerns, foot track magick, crossroads and graveyard magick, along with the disposal of ritual content in places such as the crossroads, rivers, or graveyards are a part of traditional Hoodoo. The elements of Hoodoo are always symbolic of what you are trying to achieve with this style of magick. Today, Hoodoo is the blended folklore and beliefs of African culture, Native American, Protestant, Catholicism, and European culture. One can see the similarities of charms, mojo hands, gris gris bags, bottle spells, and other magickal crafted fetishes used in Hoodoo with magick and folk practices in African cultures. And medicines made from roots and herbs are similar to the practices in traditional Native American culture. The use of Psalms and Catholic Saints is mingled in Hoodoo, as many of the old conjure workers held Christian or Catholic beliefs. Family recipes and folklore are key ingredients to working Hoodoo and the influences on the practice of Hoodoo can vary from family to family and have regional area differences such as available botanical resources.

Hoodoo was born from magickal/spiritual practices brought to America through West African slaves. Because of the Great Migration, the ever growing and changing knowledge and teachings of Hoodoo spread through the U.S. and Hoodoo became popular and landed right into local pharmacies, allowing local African American customers to purchase medicinal and magickal products that they requested. Soon, Hoodoo was being marketed and was available across the U.S. via mail order. Most of the traditional African American folklore however, was underground, kept as an oral tradition. And many locals traveled hundreds of miles to visit famous root doctors such as Aunt Carolina Dye or Doctor Buzzard.

Hoodoo is not a religion. And it is not Voodoo or Vodou. It’s a system of magick that is practiced by someone who may be religious, magickal, and/or people with an interest in Occult mysteries. Traditional rootworkers work with bible prayers and psalms, they may petition Catholic Saints, along with other spirits, deities, and angels of many different kinds. Sigils and seals from Grimoires or Jewish Mystic Qabalah are sometimes used by rootworkers. They may use graveyard spirits, African spirits, ancestors, Catholic Saints, Native spirits, Hindu deities, plant spirits, animal spirits, Jesus, and God to aid the work. It’s become an ever growing practice, but at the core, Hoodoo is African American spirituality. The long history of Hoodoo has seen it’s transformation, however, traditional Hoodoo is still set apart in unique ways from new age and neo pagan practices.

The main materials used to craft Egyptian jewelry were copper and gold. The masses could mainly afford copper, while the gentry preferred gold. Both materials were mined in the deserts of Nubia and were in abundant supply. Silver jewelry is rarely uncovered during Egyptian excavations as silver was not readily available in ancient Egypt. Egyptian jewelers used gold that ranged in shades from gray to reddish brown to rose. The variation in colors came from the intentional and natural mixing of elements like silver, copper and iron into the gold.

More lavish Egyptian jewelry was inlaid with various gems and semiprecious stones. Some of the more prized and favored stones were lapis lazuli, turquoise, garnet, carnelian, obsidian and rock crystal. Of the stones native to Egypt, emeralds and pearls were most commonly used. Another commonly used material, faience, was made of ground quartz mixed with a colorant that was heated and molded to imitate more expensive natural stones. The most popular color was a blue-green imitation turquoise.

Machine guns needed 4-6 men to work them and had to be on a flat surface. They had the fire-power of 100 guns.

Large field guns had a long range and could deliver devastating blows to the enemy but needed up to 12 men to work them. They fired shells which exploded on impact.

The German army were the first to use chlorine gas at the battle of Ypres in 1915. Chlorine gas causes a burning sensation in the throat and chest pains. Death is painful – you suffocate! The problem with chlorine gas is that the weather must be right. If the wind is in the wrong direction it could end up killing your own troops rather than the enemy.

Mustard gas was the most deadly weapon used. It was fired into the trenches in shells. It is colourless and takes 12 hours to take effect. Effects include: blistering skin, vomiting, sore eyes, internal and external bleeding. Death can take up to 5 weeks.

Egyptian Protective Knife - History

Maat wearing feather of truth

Maat is depicted as a tall woman wearing a crown surmounted by a huge ostrich feather. Her totem symbol is a stone platform or foundation, representing the stable base on which order is built.

Maat or Mayet, thought to have been pronounced as was the Ancient Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice who is sometimes personified as a goddess regulating the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities, who set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation. Later, as a goddess in other traditions of the Egyptian pantheon, where most goddesses were paired with a male aspect, her masculine counterpart was Thoth and their attributes are the same.

Like Thoth, she was seen to represent the Logos of Plato. After the rise of Ra they were depicted as guiding his Solar Barque, one on either side.

After her role in creation and continuously preventing the universe from returning to chaos, her primary role in Egyptian mythology dealt with the weighing of souls that took place in the underworld, Duat.

Her feather was the measure that determined whether the souls (considered to reside in the heart) of the departed would reach the paradise of afterlife successfully.

Ma'at as a principle was at least partially codified into a set of laws, and expressed a ubiquitous concept of correct from wrong characterized by concepts of truth and a respect for, and adherence to, this divine order believed to be set forth by her at the time of the world's creation. This divine order was primarily conceived of as being modeled in various environmental, agricultural, and social relationships.

In addition to the importance of the Ma'at, several other principles within Ancient Egyptian law were essential, including an adherence to tradition as opposed to change, the importance of rhetorical skill, and the significance of achieving impartiality, and social equality. Thus, to the Egyptian mind, Ma'at bound all things together in an indestructible unity: the universe, the natural world, the state, and the individual were all seen as parts of the wider order generated by Ma'at!

During the Greek period in Egyptian history, Greek law existed alongside that of the Egyptian law, but usually these laws favored the Greeks. When the Romans took control of Egypt, the Roman legal system which existed throughout the Roman empire was imposed in Egypt.

The underlying concepts of Taoism and Confucianism resemble Ma'at at times. Many of these concepts were codified into laws, and many of the concepts often were discussed by ancient Egyptian philosophers and officials who referred to the spiritual text known as the Book of the Dead.

Later scholars and philosophers also would embody concepts from the wisdom literature, or seboyet. These spiritual texts dealt with common social or professional situations and how each was best to be resolved or addressed in the spirit of Ma'at - it was very practical advice, and highly case-based, so that few specific and general rules could be derived from them.

The goddess Ma'at was the goddess of harmony, order, and truth represented as a young woman, sitting or standing, holding a scepter in one hand and an ankh in the other. Sometimes she is depicted with wings on each arm or as a woman with an ostrich feather on her head.

Because it also was the pharaoh's duty to ensure truth and justice, many of them were referred to as Meri-Ma'at (Beloved of Ma'at). Since she was considered as merely the concept of order and truth, it was thought that she came into existence at the moment of creation, having no creator and made the order of the entire universe from the pandemonium.

When beliefs about Thoth arose in the Egyptian pantheon and started to consume the earlier beliefs at Hermopolis about the Ogdoad, it was said that she was the mother of the Ogdoad and Thoth the father.

In Duat, the Egyptian underworld, the hearts of the dead were said to be weighed against her single Shu feather, symbolically representing the concept of Ma'at, in the Hall of Two Truths. A heart which was unworthy was devoured by the goddess Ammit and its owner condemned to remain in Duat.

The heart was considered the location of the soul by ancient Egyptians. Those people with good, (and pure), hearts were sent on to Aaru. Osiris came to be seen as the guardian of the gates of Aaru after he became part of the Egyptian pantheon and displaced Anubis in the Ogdoad tradition.

The weighing of the heart, pictured on papyrus, (in the Book of the Dead, typically, or in tomb scenes, etc.), shows Anubis overseeing the weighing, the lioness Ammit seated awaiting the results so she could consume those who failed. The image would be the vertical heart on one flat surface of the balance scale, and the vertical Shu-feather standing on the other balance scale surface. Other traditions hold that Anubis brought the soul before the posthumous Osiris who performed the weighing.

Ma'at was commonly depicted in ancient Egyptian art as a woman with outstretched wings and a "curved" ostrich feather on her head or, sometimes, just as a feather. These images are on some sarcophagi as a symbol of protection for the souls of the dead. Egyptians believed that without Ma'at there would be only the primal chaos, ending the world. It was seen as the Pharaoh's necessity to apply just law, following Ma'at.

Ma'at themes found in Book of the Dead and Tomb Inscriptions

One aspect of ancient Egyptian funerary literature which often is mistaken for a codified ethic of Ma'at is Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead, often called the 42 Declarations of Purity or the Negative Confession. These declarations varied somewhat from tomb to tomb, and so can not be considered a canonical definition of Ma'at.

A section of the Egyptian Book of the Dead written on papyrus

Weighing of the Heart in Duat using the feather of Ma'at as the measure in balance

Rather, they appear to express each tomb owner's individual conception of Ma'at, as well as working as a magical absolution (misdeeds or mistakes made by the tomb owner in life could be declared as not having been done, and through the power of the written word, wipe that particular misdeed from the afterlife record of the deceased). Many of the lines are similar, however, and they can help to give the student a "flavor" for the sorts of things which Ma'at governed - essentially everything from the most formal to the most mundane aspect of life.

Many versions are given on-line, unfortunately seldom do they note the tomb from which they came or, whether they are a collection from various different tombs. Generally, they are each addressed to a specific deity, described in his or her most fearsome aspect.

Gypsy history

Well, to give people some sort of basis for their arguments about Gypsy culture (since at least one has admitted his knowledge of Gypsies mostly comes from bunco squads), I present here a history of the Gypsy peoples that I pieced together from varying (and sometimes contradictory) sources.

I admit freely that some of this may be wrong due to the fact that *good* sources for Gypsy history and culture are few and far between. If I have anything wrong, or if you can clarify anything, please feel free to e-mail me at: [email protected]

My sources are the same ones that I listed in a post earlier in this thread, so I won't repeat them here. E-mail me if you would like them.

I don't claim that I do doctorate-level work, but I am working towards my Masters' degree in Anthropology, so I have some knowledge of the discipline :-).

Stephanie G. Folse
[email protected]
University of Denver

Tracing the history of a non-literate culture

Linguists compare Gypsy languages to historical languages they look at words borrowed from other languages and when and where those words originally existed. It is possible to trace Gypsies back to their origin: the Sind area of India (today south central Pakistan -- the mouth of the Indus). Three separate emigrations occurred over the course of about four hundred years, traceable today in three identifiable linguistic populations: the Eastern Gypsy (Domari) in Egypt and the Middle East, the Central Gypsy (Lomavren) in Armenia and eastern Turkey, and the Western Gypsy (Romani) (Romany refers to the people, Romani refers to the language, Rom refers to a man or the people as a whole. Confused yet?) in Europe. This last group is the population most widely dealt with in reference works and literature, and therefore most of the information here pertains to them.

The first exodus was spurred by a ruler of Afghanistan, Mahmud of Ghanzi, who invaded the Sind area in A.D. 1001-1027. The second exodus arose out of attacks upon northwest India by Mahmud of Gorh (A.D. 1191-1192), and then the empire expansion of Genghis Khan (A.D. 1215-1227). The third took place during the reign of the khan Tamerlane in the late 1300's and early 1400's, when he attempted to repeat Genghis Khan's exploits.

The cultural group that would later become the Gypsies led a semi-nomadic life in India, and has been tentatively identified as the Dom, which has been recorded as far back as the sixth century. The Dom performed various specialized jobs such as basket-making, scavenging, metal-working and entertainment, traveling a circuit through several small villages each year. This is not a unique phenomenon the Irish Travellers, although completely unrelated genetically to the Gypsies, fulfill the same functions. Indian caste beliefs of the time may have been the original model for the strict purity and pollution ideology of the present Gypsies, modified over time through contact with other cultures. This semi-nomadic life allowed the Dom the opportunity to easily flee when battles threatened the area in which they lived, and apparently did so three times during the Middle Ages.

The European Gypsies are perhaps the original refugees from Mahmud of Ghanzi's wars, for all sixty Romani dialects contain Armenian words, suggesting that they passed through Armenia in the early 11th century on the way into the Byzantine Empire. The impetus to continue on and enter Byzantine Anatolia was most likely provided by the Seljuk Turks attacked Armenia during the 11th century and spurred the Gypsies onward

The earliest currently known reference to Gypsies is in a Life of St. George composed in the monastery of Iberon on Mt. Athos in Greece in 1068. It relates events in Constantinople in 1050, when wild animals plagued an imperial park. The Emperor Constantine Monomachus commissioned the help of "a Samaritan people, descendants of Simon the Magician, who were called Adsincani, and notorious for soothsaying and sorcery," who killed the beasts with charmed pieces of meat. (I wonder if the concept of "poison" never occurred to these people?) "Atzinganoi," the Byzantine term for Gypsies, is reflected in several other languages: the German "Zigeuner," the French "Tsiganes," the Italian "Zingari," and the Hungarian "Cziganyok."

During the next 200 years, the Gypsies slowly advanced southwest into Arabia, Egypt and North Africa, northwest into the Byzantine Empire and established themselves in the southern Balkan countries (Serbia, Moldavia, Bulgaria, Hungary and the surrounding area) before 1300. It seems likely to me that this movement was slow due to the westward pressure of the Mongolian Empire all of Eastern Europe's population was in turmoil and Russian refugees were fleeing west at the time. Once Khubilai Khan died in 1294, the Mongolian Empire began its decline and the borders crept back east, easing pressure on Europe and allowing the Gypsies to expand more rapidly than the previous two centuries. They entered Dubrovnik (modern-day Yugoslavia) before 1362, and had blanketed the Balkans by 1400.

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries came as close to a Gypsy Golden Age as there had ever been. Gypsies covered Thrace, Macedonia, Greece, Yugoslavia and Rumania long before the Ottoman Turks conquered those lands. There was a large population at the seaport of Modon in the 1300's, on the most popular route to the Holy Land, settled in the Gypsy Quarter, a tent-city just outside the city walls sometimes called Little Egypt. This exposure to pilgrims and the attitudes and privileges accorded to them may have led the Gypsies to adopt pilgrim personas once they spread into Western Europe.

The Gypsies seemed to prefer Venetian territories such as Crete and Corfu, perhaps because those lands were relatively safe from the constant Turkish incursions. The population, and therefore their annual dues, in Corfu increased enough to form an independent fief conferred in 1470 onto the baron Michael de Hugot, which lasted until the nineteenth century. In the town of Nauplion, in the eastern Peloponnese, the Gypsies apparently formed an organized group under a military leader, one Johannes Cinganus (John the Gypsy). The Venetians expected to be given military aid in the case of increasing Turkish raids, and may have hoped the Gypsies would cultivate depopulated land.

Gypsies a little farther north, in the Balkans, were not quite as lucky. They certainly had economic importance, valued as artisans practicing such trades as blacksmithing, locksmithing and tinsmithing, and also filled the niche between peasant and master, but to prevent escape the government declared them slaves of the boyars. They could be sold, exchanged or given away, and any Rumanian man or woman who married a Gypsy became a slave also. Liberty was not fully restored to them in Moldo-Wallachia until the nineteenth century.

During the fifteenth century, the nature of the Gypsies' hesitant travels into Western Europe changed. Before that time, they were quiet, unobtrusive and loosely organized, but afterwards they moved in a purposeful way, courting attention, claiming to be pilgrims and demanding subsidies and letters of dispensation. During the two decades after 1417, there are some interesting observations to make. The Gypsy bands seemed to have some unity of action and connection with each other, telling the same tales and displaying similar supporting documents (papal letters and such). A surprising fact is that well into the sixteenth century there is no mention made of Gypsies having their own language, and no apparent difficulty in communicating with the inhabitants of countries they were visiting for the first time. These groups were organized under leaders with noble names and titles, sometimes exchanged with other chiefs. This is unusual in that many of the countries of central and eastern Europe made sure that Gypsies did not rule Gypsies.

What was behind this curious behavior? It may have been the Turkish invasion of the Balkans in the early 1400's Wallachia capitulated to Turkish rule in 1415, two years before the first Gypsy bands were recorded in Western Europe. The Gypsies themselves would probably not have been affected in the long run under Turkish rule (ignoring the immediate fires, sacking and battles), due to the Turkish habit of leaving civilian populations free as long as they paid taxes to their conquerors, not an unfamiliar state of affairs for Gypsies. Many people stayed and embraced Islam, but there are records of other refugees including nobles wandering west in groups and subsisting on charity. One traveler who visited Modon attributed the Gypsy migration to lords and counts who would not serve under the Turks. It seems that the self-interest of barons of Gypsy fiefs who stood to lose quite a bit under Turkish rule was the impulse behind the organized incursions into Western Europe, and at least during the first few years the men who claimed to be barons, counts and dukes were telling the truth.

Whatever the impetus, the Gypsies exploded into central Europe. The usual scam involved a group claiming to be from Egypt or Little Egypt (perhaps referring to Modon?) showing up in a city and informing city officials that they were Christians doomed to wander for a period of years to fulfill a penance imposed upon them for the sin of neglecting their religion. They would collect food, money and letters of protection from the city and then continue to the next town. By 1417, Gypsies were recorded in Germanic cities. In 1418, several thousand Gypsies under a leader called Count Michael showed up in Strassbourg. Gypsies were entering Brussels and Holland by 1420, Bologna in 1422, and showing up in Rome in July of that same year. They travelled into Spain by 1425 and Paris by 1427. By the middle of the century, rulers and town governments started banning Gypsies, usually citing theft, fortunetelling, begging and sometimes espionage as the reasons. Europeans also recognized as lies the Gypsies' claims to be pilgrims in exile from Egypt, but there are a few instances of alms being given into the sixteenth century, apparently by slow learners.

At this point their meteoric expansion westward stopped for almost a century. Groups traveled east from the Balkans into Russia, establishing themselves in Siberia by the early sixteenth century but they did not enter Great Britain until 1514, probably because a completely separate ethnic group, the Tinkers, already occupied Britain and performed the same roles Gypsies did in other countries: nomadic entertainers, knife-grinders, pot-menders, woodworkers, transient field employees and so forth. The impetus to enter the British Isles was probably given by late fifteenth century Spanish policies ruling against and banishing Gypsies. With nowhere else to go, they entered Britain, then finally Norway in 1544 and Finland in 1597.

Why stay nomadic for so long?

From an anthropological point of view, I would say that this transient, fully nomadic lifestyle developed in response to the constant fighting pushing them west. Originally refugees from India, they may have thought they would return to their homeland as soon as Mahmoud of Ghanzi's fighting stopped. Refugees quite often stay ready to return to their point of origin for many years once pushed out of their native lands. (A modern example: some Cuban refugees still keep bags packed in anticipation of returning at any time.)

When the Dom people left the Sind, they probably planned to live on the road for a few years and then return to their home territory. Normally, the second generation would have settled down in this "temporary" new area, but they were semi-nomadic to begin with, and then the Seljuk Turks invaded and pushed them farther west. After that the Mongolian expansion kept pushing them, and eventually the idea that there was a "back home" was lost. They retained their original semi-nomadic lifestyle in the midst of sedentary cultures, keeping their language and strict pollution ideology in order to maintain their unity as a people as well as clinging to something familiar in the midst of strange new cultures. They were mostly successful until the nations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries grew powerful enough to force the majority to settle. Their identity as a separate people is still strong enough for them to remain the brunt of prejudice and hatred, a fact hammered home by the killing of half a million Gypsies by the Nazis during World War II. Now, it may only be a few generations until any idea of nomadism is leached out of almost all Gypsies.


  1. Kay

    Interesting. We are waiting for new messages on the same topic :)

  2. Geoff

    Mudrenee morning evening.

  3. Conor

    In my opinion. Your opinion is erroneous.

  4. Sabar

    They are wrong. Write to me in PM, discuss it.

  5. Mika'il

    Bravo, magnificent phrase and is duly

  6. Zavier

    you are not similar to the expert :)

  7. Aleksander

    It seems to me an excellent thought

  8. Meztisho

    I think mistakes are made. Write to me in PM.

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