Time Capsule #1: The Inaugural Edition

On pre-historic invasions, the Soviet prison system, the Grande Armée, and existentialism.

Hello! Welcome to the 1st edition of The Time Capsule. I am excited to see where this newsletter can go, look forward to many more issues in the future.

The Time Capsule is a newsletter focusing on the many great historical and philosophical stories and ideas of the past — every week you’ll get 5 stories on events and ideas, each from a different time period. With a photo of the week, book recommendation, and quote to top it off, you’ll be ready to conquer the world like Alexander the Great (the known world of course).

Without any further ado, let’s jump right into this first edition!


I — Pre-History

The Bronze Age Collapse: The Bronze Age, taking place roughly between 3300 and 1200 BCE, was a period that saw some of the earliest features of urban civilization. The discovery of bronze enabled people to create tools and weapons that were stronger and more durable than previously possible. During this time, humans made major technological advances, including the invention of the wheel and the first writing systems. The Bronze Age in the Middle East, North Africa, and Mediterranean Europe would, however, come to an abrupt collapse around 1200 BCE. The major Bronze Age civilizations — Mycenaean Greece, the Hittite Empire, Egypt, Cyprus, Assyria, and Babylonia — were crushed almost overnight, and the reason for this is not entirely clear. It has been suggested to be due to failed political and economic systems, climatic changes, and/or an invasion by a group known as the Sea Peoples heralding from an unknown location. The Bronze Age Collapse is among the greatest disasters of ancient history — you can watch a great video on The Bronze Age Collapse on YouTube here.

II — Classical

The Antonine Plague: The coronavirus pandemic has consumed us for the past year, changing the way we live and interact with the world. However, this is hardly a new phenomenon and could have been a lot worse; the Antonine Plague, or the Plague of Galen, occurred between 165 and 180 AD (that’s right, a 15-year pandemic) killing an estimated 5 million people. The Greek physician Galen, whom the plague is named after, described the illness as one of long duration, causing fever, diarrhea, pharyngitis and possibly even eruptions of the skin. Scholars have suggested it may have been smallpox, however, the exact diagnosis is unknown. With no vaccine development pipeline or scientific method to discover and identify treatments, we can consider ourselves lucky to not be born in the year 165 AD. For a working vaccine to be developed for a disease that has only on the scene for less than a year is nothing short of a manmade miracle.

III — Middle Ages

Battle of Agincourt: Henry the V orchestrated great victories during the Hundred Years’ War, and the Battle of Agincourt brought him closer than ever to the French throne he sought upon acceding to power in 1413. Landing at the port town of Harfleur in August of 1415, Henry laid siege with his English army until its eventual surrender in late September, however, this left him on enemy soil with very little campaigning season left. Marching his army toward Calais, he found his path blocked near Agincourt by a large French army roughly twice the size of his own. Suffering from dysentery, with little remaining rations and time not in their favour, Henry V would offer battle on 25 October 1415. Henry V would go on to win a stunning victory against the French, inflicting over 10x more casualties than he sustained and bursting open the path to Calais — he would be received on 23 November in triumph in London. Retellings of this battle are found in Shakespeare’s play Henry V and the movie The King (2019).

IV — Early Modern

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

~ Napoleon Bonaparte

The Corps System: Napoleon’s Grande Armée was one of the most feared and effective opponents on the 19th-century battlefield. What made his army so superior to its adversaries was, in part, the development and utilization of the corps system, which has now become a fundamental organizational structure of the modern military system. Armies at the time moved and fought as one unit, and as a result were slow and inflexible both on the march and on the battlefield. The corps system sub-divided the traditional military force into 5-7 smaller functional, self-contained corps containing all the force and support elements of the larger army. Further division of the corps into divisions, brigades and regiments resulted in a highly functional, self-sufficient, and mobile modular fighting force. The unique organizational system of Napoleon’s army allowed him to quickly exploit the mistakes of his enemy, and use his superior maneuverability and speed to overwhelm and outflank his opponents. The superiority of the corps system was on fabulous display at the Battle of Friedland in 1807.

V — Modern

“Existence Precedes Essence”: At the Club Maintenant in Paris, Jean-Paul Sartre addressed the reproaches made against existentialism in a famous lecture that has now become a foundational book of existentialist philosophy. The idea that existence precedes essence postulates that man first and foremost exists, with no predetermined nature or purpose, and through the course of his life creates himself.

…man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards.

~ Jean-Paul Sartre

To those who say existentialism promotes quietism and denies the seriousness of human affairs, he argues that existentialism is actually humanism — we are free to make our own choices in life, to create our own values, to construct our own beings. In making the individual wholly responsible for himself, he is simultaneously made responsible for all of mankind — the conscious and aligned man would not act in a way in which he would not want another to act. Through our actions, we create an image of man as we would have him to be.

Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of, and value of it is nothing else but the sense that you choose.

~ Jean-Paul Sartre

To take responsibility for one’s actions is the first step on the path to maturity.


Photo of the Week 📸


Book of the Week 📖 — The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s magnum opus details the horrors of the Soviet system of incarceration and exile during the early and mid 20th century, which resulted in the imprisonment and death of millions of people. Drawing from his personal experience that of those who he met throughout his life in the gulags, he takes the reader from the point of arrest, a critical moment of terror and disbelief, through the interrogation room to the labour camp system, and ultimately to the graveyard. It is a riveting and necessary reminder of the dangers of totalitarianism and state repression. It is a massive account, over 2000 pages long in the full version, however, the abridged version by Edward Ericson Jr (linked above) is a great alternative for those who may not have the time or patience to trudge through such a massive work.

This book is required reading in Russian schools but should be required reading in all schools. It is necessary to educate future generations on the capacity for human evil in order to avoid such horrors in the future.


Quote of the Week 💭

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

~ Winston Churchill


That’s all for today. Thanks for being a part of The Time Capsule newsletter.

I will see you next week!

Cheers,

Alex


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