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11 Natural Disasters That Led to Wars

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1. Eruption of Thera, c. 1600 BCE

Some of the most important events of ancient history -- and Greek mythology -- resulted from one of the more spectacular disasters to ever strike the eastern Mediterranean: the eruption of the volcanic island of Thera, today known as Santorini, sometime around 1600 BCE.

This massive explosion sent an incredible 24 cubic miles of earth and rock into the air and sea and (perhaps in conjunction with an earthquake) triggered a tsunami that swept the Aegean Sea. The ancient Minoan civilization on the island of Crete was probably fatally weakened by the multi-pronged natural disaster. Not long afterwards the Minoans were conquered by the Mycenaeans, warlike raiders from mainland Greece who descended on the defenseless Cretans and a host of other civilizations around the eastern Mediterranean.

Indeed, contemporary records from Egypt tell of chaotic conditions in the natural and human world around this time, followed in the 14th century BCE by the first mentions of the “Sea Peoples” -- seaborne raiders who almost succeeded in conquering Egypt before they were finally repelled in the 13th and 12th centuries BCE. Although the identity of Sea Peoples remains mysterious, some of them were probably Mycenaean Greeks, who (according to legend) also attacked the city of Troy in Asia Minor around 1200 BCE. It’s pure literary speculation, but the sea monster Cetus, sent by Poseidon to attack Troy, might be a symbolic representation of the Aegean tsunami.

2. Earthquake at Sparta, 464 BCE

In addition to living in a geological hotspot, the ancient and classical Greeks faced numerous ethnic and social divisions -- and natural disasters could provide the catalyst for open warfare. This was especially true in Sparta, where a relatively small population of Spartan “equals” (full citizens) ruled over a vast population of indentured laborers known as “helots,” who had no rights and worked in conditions resembling slavery.

The Spartans always feared a helot rebellion, and with good reason. After a massive earthquake leveled the city of Sparta and killed many Spartan warriors in 464 BCE, the helots seized their chance and staged what became the most serious uprising in Sparta’s history. The situation was so dire, in fact, that the Spartans called on their Athenian rivals for help in putting down the rebellion -- but then changed their mind out of fear the democratic Athenians might be more sympathetic to the oppressed helots. The Athenians were furious about Sparta’s humiliating dismissal of the Athenian contingent, setting the stage for the Peloponnesian War (so that’s two conflicts resulting from one disaster!).

3. Central Asian drought, c. 350-450 CE

As nomadic pastoralists who relied on herd animals for food and clothing, the Huns of Central Asia were as vulnerable to drought as any settled farming population. So when a prolonged dry period hit their homeland and surrounding areas beginning around 350 CE, the Huns picked up and moved to more welcoming climes in Eastern and Southern Europe. There were some minor obstacles, of course, including the Germanic tribes and the Roman Empire, but the Huns never let this sort of thing get in their way. Armies of horse-mounted warriors swirling out of Central Asia subjugated various barbarian tribes, who became vassals of the Huns or sought protection from them across the border in the Roman Empire. However the Western Roman Empire couldn’t protect its own population, let alone the Germanic tribes. By 395 CE the Huns were raiding the Eastern Roman Empire and the Persian Empire, and during the reign of Attila (434-453 CE) they devastated Europe from the gates of Constantinople to the modern French city of Orleans. As noted the Huns’ depredations also triggered Germanic migrations, which ultimately resulted in the fall of Rome.

4. A "climatic event," 535-536 CE

While the Huns disappeared from the pages of history shortly after Attila’s death, the Germanic tribes invading the Roman Empire stuck around a bit longer -- and weird climatic events continued to result in violent conflict.

Although no one knows exactly what happened, the Byzantine historian Procopius recorded extreme weather events in 535-536 CE that indicate drastic cooling: “During this year a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness... and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear. And from the time when this thing happened men were free neither from war nor pestilence nor any other thing leading to death.” Irish chronicles covering the same period recount failed harvests, and evidence of cooling, drought, and crop failures has also been found in places as diverse as China and Peru.

In North Africa, as Procopius noted, the effects included another round of strife, as defeated Vandals, Moors and mutinous Roman soldiers rebelled and began plundering the countryside after their demands for land were rebuffed. Although the rebellion spread across North Africa, the Byzantines eventually defeated the rebels, who according to Procopius were “battling hunger” while also fighting the Romans. Contemporary scholars speculate that the events of 535-536 CE were caused by atmospheric dust from a huge volcanic explosion or a comet or meteorite hitting the earth.

5. Fiery dragons (?), 8th century CE

While it’s once again hard to know exactly what was happening (the early medieval period was not known for accurate meteorology), the first Viking raids apparently resulted from a similar sequence of unusual climatic events leading to bad harvests and, finally, desperate violence. The unfortunate victims of these raids lived in England, where the Anglo-Saxons had ruled since the end of the Roman Empire. In 792 CE, the inhabitants of Northumbria were terrified by “excessive whirlwinds and lightning storms” (along with “fiery dragons” – see previous parentheses). Meanwhile, archaeological evidence suggests that across the North Sea in Norway harvests failed in 792-793 CE. So it’s probably not a coincidence that one of the first Viking raids, the plundering of the famous Lindisfarne monastery, came in January 793. And this was just the beginning, as droughts blanketed Western Europe again in 794 and 797.

One possible explanation: contemporary scholars speculate those “fiery dragons” may have been meteor showers, which kicked up atmospheric dust, resulting in another bout of cooling; Chinese chronicles recount repeated meteor showers in this period.

6. Central American drought, 9th-10th centuries

Severe climate changes were also probably to blame for much of the warfare that apparently accompanied the collapse of Classic Mayan civilization beginning c. 800 CE. Although the Mayans lived in the midst of lush rain forests, there were actually very few sources of freshwater that were available year-round: the Mayan city-states relied on advanced techniques for collecting and storing rainwater for both agriculture and human consumption, making them especially vulnerable to repeated droughts. And that’s exactly what happened at 50-year intervals in 760, 810, 860, and 910, according to scientists who studied sediment core samples from the Caribbean Sea to determine the amount of rainfall during this period.

These four droughts correspond to distinct phases in the decline and eventual collapse of the Mayan civilization. However drought was far from the only culprit, with adverse environmental conditions triggering other negative trends in a cascading or “snowball” effect. This included intensifying warfare, as rival city-states battled each other for diminishing resources, city-states dissolved in civil war, and populations migrated in search of food. Mayan written records and archaeological evidence both point to escalating conflict during this period, as war was waged more often, with a larger proportion of the population participating, and by more brutal methods. Archaeological evidence includes fortifications built around even small villages, skeletal trauma resulting from combat, and the sudden appearance of foreign objects, suggesting invasion by outsiders.

7. Central Asian drought, 1212-1213 CE

Central Asian droughts are just bad for civilization. The same basic phenomenon that drove the Huns to invade Europe also played a role in the devastating Mongol invasion of China led by Genghis Khan in 1212-1213 CE. Archaeological evidence points to a long period of severe climate change in Mongolia and other parts of northern Asia lasting from 1175-1300 CE, with a drastic drop in temperatures resulting in less forage for herd animals as well as fewer wild animals for hunting. Luckily for the conquered population of northern China, a Chinese administrator was able to convince the Mongols to drop their plan to turn wheat fields into pastures for Mongol horses -- a move that would have resulted in the deaths of millions of Chinese from starvation.

Interestingly, Genghis Khan decreed a number of environmental protections in the Mongol homeland (but not necessarily in conquered areas) including forbidding the cutting down of trees and hunting wild animals during their breeding season. It’s also worth noting that half a century after the first Mongol invasions of China, Karakorum -- the new imperial capital in Mongolia -- was entirely dependent on food shipments from China, giving Kublai Khan leverage over rival Mongol princes.

8. Southern Africa drought, c. 1800 CE

The rise of Shaka Zulu, one of Africa’s greatest warriors, was tied to a period of devastating drought in southern Africa. After the discovery of the New World, the introduction of corn to southern Africa by European colonists triggered a population explosion, even as -- unbeknownst to native farmers -- corn cultivation was also leaching minerals from the soil. When a prolonged drought hit around 1800, the food supply collapsed, leading to fierce competition for resources among native tribes.

Gradually rising from a lowly position to leadership of the Zulus, Shaka’s innovations with new weapons and fighting techniques allowed him to unite rival tribes through diplomacy and conquest. But he also became notorious for his paranoia and brutality. Indeed the Zulu expansion resulted in a huge upheaval -- the Mfecane, or “scattering,” which saw huge numbers of deaths and massive movements by refugee populations across southern Africa from 1815-1840. While the precise death toll will probably never be known, some scholars estimate that as many as two million people perished during the Mfecane.

9. Haiphong typhoon, 1881 CE

One of the deadliest typhoons on record also facilitated European imperialism in southeast Asia, leading to the French conquest of Vietnam. On October 8, 1881, a massive Pacific typhoon hit the northern Vietnamese city of Haiphong, which serves as the main port for the country’s capital, Hanoi. Although its name means “coastal defense,” the city was completely unprepared for the huge storm, as sustained winds of 115 miles per hour generated a 20-foot storm surge that totally swamped the low-lying city; according to one contemporary account, “there were six feet of water in the houses three and four miles distant from the sea shore.” Over 300,000 people died in this catastrophe.

Adding insult to injury, the typhoon weakened the native government and provided a convenient pretext for the French conquest of northern Vietnam, as the French argued that the Vietnamese emperor was incompetent and unable to protect his own people. In 1882-1883 French forces marched into Haiphong, Hanoi, and the central Vietnamese city of Hue, completing their takeover of the country. However they still had to fight off Chinese mercenaries, while native resistance continued in rural areas, with guerrilla tactics foreshadowing the later Vietnam War.

10. East Pakistan cyclone, 1970

What is today the independent nation of Bangladesh used to be part of Pakistan: these predominantly Muslim areas were originally a single country, which split from Hindu-majority India following independence in 1947. But a terrible natural disaster in the form of a huge cyclone helped precipitate a civil war, leading to the independence of “East Pakistan.”

By 1970 tensions were already simmering between East and West Pakistan, as East Pakistan complained of oppression by West Pakistan; the populations of the two sections came from different ethnic backgrounds and spoke different languages, and the Bengali people of East Pakistan felt they were discriminated against by the government. Then on November 12, 1970, the huge Bhola cyclone hit East Pakistan with sustained winds of 115 miles per hour and a storm surge 34.8 feet high, coinciding with high tide. Up to 500,000 people were killed by the storm and flooding, leading to intense anger at the government and military, which were criticized for failing to heed warnings about the storm and bungling relief efforts in its aftermath.

Popular anger reached new heights when the government said it would go ahead with elections scheduled for December, even though most parts of East Pakistan were in no condition to participate. Civil war broke out in March 1971, and quickly widened into a regional conflict when India intervened on the side of Bengali rebels in East Pakistan. The war finally concluded with a resounding defeat for West Pakistan, and independence for the new nation of Bangladesh, in December 1971.

11. Darfur drought, 1983-present

Although it only came to the attention of the Western world in the first years of the 21st century, the brutal conflict in Darfur traces its roots back to the early 1980s, when drought conditions first triggered competition among tribal groups for scarce resources. These conflicts were intensified by shifting geography, as desertification increasingly pushed nomadic and settled groups into each other’s territory, along with the breakdown of traditional forms of conflict resolution (tribal councils) due to government interference. The mounting tension finally erupted into all-out civil war and genocide in 2002, when settled “African” tribesmen formed the rebel Sudan Liberation Army to protect themselves against the “Arab”-dominated central government (actual ethnic identities are more fluid than these terms might suggest). The central government responded by encouraging the nomadic “Arab” janjaweed to form militias, and the situation soon escalated from combat to mass murder. To date the United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur, although the true death toll may be higher.

See Also: 11 Wars That Led to Natural Disasters

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6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
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Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

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11 Haunting Facts About Beloved

Toni Morrison—who was born on February 18, 1931—made a name for herself with The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Beloved, about a runaway slave haunted by the death of her infant daughter, that her legacy was secured. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1993. All the awards aside, Beloved is a testament to the horrors of slavery, with its narrative of suffering and repressed memory and its dedication to the more than 60 million who died in bondage. Here are some notable facts about Morrison’s process and the novel’s legacy.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

While compiling research for 1974's The Black Book, Morrison came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who escaped with her husband and four children to Ohio in 1856. A posse caught up with Garner, who killed her youngest daughter and attempted to do the same to her other children rather than let them return to bondage. Once apprehended, her trial transfixed the nation. "She was very calm; she said, 'I’d do it again,'" Morrison told The Paris Review. "That was more than enough to fire my imagination."

2. MORRISON CAME UP WITH THE CHARACTER BELOVED AFTER SHE STARTED WRITING.

The book was originally going to be about the haunting of Sethe by her infant daughter, who she killed (just as Garner did) rather than allow her to return to slavery. A third of the way through writing, though, Morrison realized she needed a flesh-and-blood character who could judge Sethe’s decision. She needed the daughter to come back to life in another form (some interpret it as a grief-driven case of mistaken identity). As she told the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Magazine: "I thought the only person who was legitimate, who could decide whether [the killing] was a good thing or not, was the dead girl."

3. SHE WROTE THE ENDING EARLY IN THE WRITING PROCESS.

Morrison has said she likes to know the ending of her books early on, and to write them down once she does. With Beloved, she wrote the ending about a quarter of the way in. "You are forced into having a certain kind of language that will keep the reader asking questions," she told author Carolyn Denard in Toni Morrison: Conversations.

4. MORRISON BECAME FASCINATED WITH SMALL HISTORICAL DETAILS.

To help readers understand the particulars of slavery, Morrison carefully researched historical documents and artifacts. One particular item she became fascinated with: the "bit" that masters would put in slaves' mouths as punishment. She couldn’t find much in the way of pictures or descriptions, but she found enough to imagine the shame slaves would feel. In Beloved, Paul D. tells Sethe that a rooster smiled at him while he wore the bit, indicating that he felt lower than a barnyard animal.

5. SHE ONLY RECENTLY READ THE BOOK HERSELF.

In an appearance on The Colbert Report last year, Morrison said she finally got around to reading Beloved after almost 30 years. Her verdict: "It’s really good!"

6. THE BOOK INSPIRED READERS TO BUILD BENCHES.

When accepting an award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988, Morrison observed that there is no suitable memorial to slavery, "no small bench by the road." Inspired by this line, the Toni Morrison Society started the Bench by the Road Project to remedy the issue. Since 2006, the project has placed 15 benches in locations significant to the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the point of entry for 40% of slaves brought to America.

7. WHEN BELOVED DIDN’T WIN THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN 1987, FELLOW WRITERS PROTESTED.

After the snub, 48 African-American writers, including Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., signed a letter that appeared in the New York Times Book Review. "For all of America, for all of American letters," the letter addressing Morrison read, "you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people."

8. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS.

Between 2000 and 2009, Beloved ranked 26th on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. A recent challenge in Fairfax County, Virginia, cited the novel as too intense for teenage readers, while another challenge in Michigan said the book was, incredibly, overly simplistic and pornographic. Thankfully, both challenges were denied.

9. MORRISON ALSO WROTE AN OPERA BASED ON GARNER’S LIFE.

Ten years ago, Morrison collaborated with Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour on Margaret Garner, an opera about the real-life inspiration behind Beloved. It opened in Detroit in 2005, and played in Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York before closing in 2008.

10. MORRISON DID NOT WANT IT MADE INTO A MOVIE.

Although she publicly claims otherwise, according to a New York magazine story, Morrison told friends she didn’t want Beloved made into a movie. And she didn’t want Oprah Winfrey (who bought the film rights in 1988) to be in it. Nevertheless, the film came out in 1998 and was a total flop.

11. THERE'S AN ILLUSTRATED VERSION.

The Folio Society, a London-based company that creates fancy special editions of classic books, released the first-ever illustrated Beloved in 2015. Artist Joe Morse had to be personally approved by Morrison for the project. Check out a few of his hauntingly beautiful illustrations here.

This article originally appeared in 2015.

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