Boyar Dracul #1

Transylvania

John Haker’s blog, post #1: Travels in Transylvania

I never saw myself writing a blog. To be honest with you, I’ve only ever been an infrequent user of social media. It just goes to show how much has changed in the past few weeks. Of course, none of it will mean anything to you unless you know something about me. I’m in my twenties or thirties, work for a niche corporate law firm in the city and to date nothing much exciting has happened to me. Does that sum it up well enough? I suppose you can tell I’m not keen to give too much away about myself. This is my first blog post after all!

Now imagine this for a turn of events. Right now, as I type, I’m sitting in the airport lounge waiting to board a flight to a place I’ve barely heard of, let alone thought about visiting. The Transylvanian Alps, somewhere in Romania. I’m travelling for business, not pleasure, and have absolutely no idea how long for. That’s right. It’s an open-ended business trip and I’m crossing every finger I’ve got hoping it won’t all be board meetings (bored meetings?) and tax planning.

I suppose it would be wrong to go any further without explaining the purpose of my travel. I’m going to advise a high net worth foreign client on some general matters of our corporation law. Not particularly gripping stuff for the uninitiated, I imagine. This is a very personal adventure for me. I’m happy to admit I was unscrupulous in acquiring this opportunity, but it’s best not to go into detail. Suffice to say this one trip could give my career the jumpstart it needs.

But that is nothing to the excitement I feel at the prospect of meeting the client himself, the real prize in this adventure. You see, I consider myself to be something of an amateur historian. I don’t readily delve into the unfamiliar without first doing all I can to learn and understand what it is I’m getting myself into. In the last few days of research, lukewarm at first but almost feverish in my appetite to discover more as my eyes were opened to this fascinating man, I’ve become something of an expert in the life and personal history of Boyar Dracul.

The first thing you should know about the man, the living legend to put it better, is that boyar is a title in that part of the world. Its equivalent would be our duke or count. Not to say my client holds such a title, though records indicate he comes from a long aristocratic line stretching back through imperial courts, local insurrections and bloodsoaked wars against invaders from the East. Boyar is his given name and I wonder what his noble parents expected of their son, hanging such a lofty title before a child’s eyes to chase after with all his strength.

It seems he has done just that, through sheer tireless will if not through virtue. Boyar Dracul’s name smears the cover of every local news website, blog and gossip column on a fairly regular basis, as far as I can read them. Those available in English paint a picture of a man for whom scandals and smear campaigns are things to be courted, rather than shied away from. His name even crops up in the occasional national spread, hints thrown out in evasive suggestion that his presence can be felt in some recent upsurge in organised crime, a new wave of local government corruption.

Pictures show a man in his sixties, dressed in dour clothes more often than not, but always surrounded by every possible trapping of wealth and success. Ah, but the real measure of the man can be found in his eyes, if I’m not mistaken. There’s clearly something in them, a fire which never dies. An insatiable thirst for life which defies his apparent age.

Of course, I may have utterly misjudged the man, but time will tell. For now, my flight is being called and I’d rather not miss it.

Follow the links to find my books on Kindle:  Servants of Infamy – Vikingr Firequeen

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Defending Prehistory

Prehistory is murky and often ignored. It lacks the appeal of the nearer, written past. We prefer to make use of Ancient Rome or Greece, China’s Confucius or the Founding Fathers of the United States to illuminate the present through the window of the past. The reason for this is that historians are building on the discoveries and conclusions of previous generations of scholars and there are two great problems with this approach.

Crickley Hill, a prehistoric fortification
Crickley Hill, a prehistoric fortification

Firstly, we now have a vast amount of data available to us which earlier scholars simply were not aware of. Secondly, those earlier historians’ view of the past was coloured by the prevalent prejudices of the time. For an early Western scholar, any culture in the past or present which lacked the defining characteristics of contemporary Western civilisation (advanced technology, complex social hierarchy, rational scientific thought and visually attractive art) was inherently uncivilised. Lacking the wealth of data now available to us, they drew on presumptions based on prejudice, rather than inferences grounded in fact.

Ethnicity
Anthropology: glimpses of prehistory in the present, or glaring prejudices of the past?

Our concept of civilisation’s birth has now advanced to the border between history and prehistory. The Bronze Age, with its Homeric heros, palatial  settlements and recognizable cultural groups stands as the first beacon of what would become a modern, civilised humanity. What came before this age of civilisation’s conception, before writing or metallurgy, was dark.

Agamemnon
Mask of Agamemnon, a prehistoric artefact from Bronze Age Greece which trumps historical accounts by any measure

This is the same narrative of darkness which pervades histories of the later Dark Ages, when mankind supposedly fell into a lull in terms of technology, social complexity, science and art. The Middle Ages are seen as an age of savagery and superstition, even if this period saw continued advances in metallurgy, astrology, social revolutions such as the rise of Protestantism and an artistic flowering which paved the way for the so-called Renaissance.

Christ Pantocrator, a "Dark Age" mosaic in the Byzantine style from Norman Sicily
Christ Pantocrator, a “Dark Age” mosaic in the Byzantine style from Norman Sicily

The lesson here is that any narrative which attempts to portray the past in terms of periods of light and dark, civilised and primitive is fundamentally flawed and short-sighted. Previous historians saw past societies with no writing systems and compared them with contemporary illiterate societies: hunter-gatherers, pastoral herders and nomads. They have described these as primitive ways of life, either portraying prehistory as chaotic and barbaric or noble, peaceful in its savagery.

Irish Neolithic axe-heads. Tools or weapons? Does it matter?

The wealth of archaeological and anthropological evidence now available to us defies any and all of these presumptions. It is highly likely that the pre-literate groups observed and recorded by early scholars were not backwards remnants of a prehistoric human condition, but rather societies which at some point made a conscious choice to live beyond the frontiers of “civilisation” or else were marginalised by the expansion of more “advanced” cultures. Roaming tribes of hunter-gatherers are characteristic of life beyond the frontiers of settled human societies and there is no reason why this should have been any less true of prehistory.

Future archaeologists may use this image of a cowboy to speculate that the 1800s USA was a nomadic, pastoral culture
Future archaeologists may use this image of a cowboy to speculate that the USA in the 1800s was a nomadic, pastoral culture

The myth of “civilised” and “barbarian” societies is as outdated as the xenophobic Ancient Greek cultures which coined those terms. Tentative attempts to trace civilisation further back into the deeper human past have already established the Agricultural Revolution of the Neolithic as standing among the two most important developments in human history, the other being the Industrial Revolution. But it is difficult to persuade modern people living in industrial, non-agrarian societies of the importance of this fundamental shift in the human experience.

Title page
More about the Agricultural Revolution here

There is an overwhelming need to push deeper into this shadowed backdrop of human history, exploring the many other ways in which the hallmarks of civilisation pre-date any cultures to which its birth or conception has previously been attributed. 

Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic city in Anatolia which defies the timeline of civilisation
Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic city in Anatolia which defies the timeline of civilisation