Groups of people would dance in Strasbourg and elsewhere for days on end, without stopping. After a few days or weeks, they fell over from exhaustion, with some even (according to later sources) having a heart attack or a stroke. How could this happen? What was this Dancing Plague phenomenon?

Engraving by Hendrik Hondius showing three women suffering from the dancing plague — Reproduction by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Public Domain — wiki)

Many readers may not be familiar with choreomania. Choreomania is a pathological urge to dance and is also referred to in medical jargon as St. John’s disease, dance craving, or dance frenzy. During the Middle Ages, this disease occurred several times in the Holy Roman Empire. The ultimate outbreak was the famous Dancing Plague that broke out in July 1518 in the city of Strasbourg and Alsace.

Multiple dance bouts, symptoms, and likely causes

Yesterday, two Swedish prisoners took two guards hostage for nine hours and demanded a very special kind of ransom. They first demanded a helicopter flight, but then changed their minds and demanded 20 pizzas. After long negotiations and pizza delivery, the hostage-takers let the guards go. The perpetrators have since been arrested.

Photo by Ivan Torres on Unsplash

Yesterday afternoon, two prisoners convicted of murder managed to break into a guard’s room in Sweden’s heavily guarded Hällby prison. It was the start of an extraordinary hostage drama in Eskilstuna, a town west of Stockholm.
The two prisoners barricaded the room and held two guards hostage for nine hours. The police called in a negotiator to end the hostage-taking without injury. The two hostage-takers first demanded a helicopter flight, but several hours later they changed their demand. They asked for 20 pizzas, according to the popular Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

“Yes, the pizzas have been delivered,” says a prison spokesperson…

The man-eater of Colorado

Alferd Packer

Alferd Griner Packer was born in Pennsylvania in 1842. During the American Civil War, he left his job as a shoemaker to serve in the army of the Northern states. After eight months, he was honourably discharged for medical reasons. Packer occasionally has epileptic seizures. The American then moved to another state where he joined another company. Not much later, he was discharged again, again for epilepsy.

Alferd Packer does not owe his place in the history books to this unglamorous career in the army. …

The story of the assassination attempts on Rommel's life by the SAS

Erwin Rommel in North Africa, 1942 (CC BY-SA 3.0 de — Bundesarchiv — wiki)

During the First World War, the then young Oberleutnant Erwin Rommel (1891–1944) had already shown great tactical insight. During the German-Austrian campaign on the Italian front in 1917, this talent earned him a promotion to Hauptmann and the prestigious award Pour le Mérite. However, this same talent would later make Rommel the target of two assassination attempts by the British Special Air Service forces, the SAS.

A look at what preceded during the interwar period

Student revolt in Beijing (1989)

And the Tiananmen Square Massacre

The 1989 student uprising in Beijing was the first mass protest against the Communist Party of China. A large group of students, intellectuals and reformists marched on Tiananmen Square on 17 April. They did so shortly after the death of Hu Yaobang, former secretary-general of the Communist Party of China. Hu Yaobang was loved by the students. Not so with the Communist Party, which removed him from office in 1987 for acting too meekly, among other things during earlier student protests. …

What happened with Mary Toft (1703–1763)?

The portrayal of the “Miraculous History of Mary Toft” (Public Domain — William Hogarth — wiki)

The English housewife Mary Toft caused quite a stir in Britain at the beginning of the eighteenth century. According to herself and the people around her, she regularly gave birth to rabbits. One day, she is even said to have miraculously given birth to a pig. The English newspapers loved these stories. Until the English king, George I (1660–1727) intervened and exposed Mary Toft as a fantasist.

The beginning of a strange story

The Roman and Chinese empires during the first century. Source: Gabagool via Wikimedia Commons

What was their image of this distant empire?

The short answer is: yes, the Romans knew of the existence of China. They called it Serica, meaning ‘the land of silk’, or Sinae, meaning ‘the land of the Sin (or Qin)’ (after the first dynasty of the Chinese empire, the Qin Dynasty). The Chinese themselves were called Seres. But, what image did the Romans have of the Chinese, and what did they write about them?

From about the beginning of the first century to about the end of the third century AD, the four great empires of Eurasia were in contact with each other through the Silk Road.


The story of the only German aircraft carrier during World War 2

Graf Zeppelin (Public Domain — U.S. Navy)

The “Graf Zeppelin” was the only aircraft carrier ever built by Germany during the Second World War. It was named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin but was never fully completed and therefore played no role in the course of the war.

An ambitious project

Atomic weapons test in 1946 on the atoll Bikini

What are the effects of nuclear weapons on naval vessels?

Under the code name “Operation Crossroads”, the US Navy conducted the first series of nuclear tests in the summer of 1946 at the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. It was the beginning of an unprecedented nuclear race. Let’s take a look at the events of the time.

What happened before

Already on 16 July 1945, American scientists detonated an atomic bomb near Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert. Scarcely three weeks later, on 6 August 1945, “Little Boy”, a nuclear bomb of 15 kilotons of TNT made of enriched uranium, was dropped over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. …

How a Russian soldier wanted to reinstate the Mongolian Empire and fought a heroic but doomed struggle

Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg after his arrest.

A homicidal psychopath who had his way in the unravelling and chaos of the Russian civil war, or an eccentric visionary who fought a hopeless battle against both Soviet communism and Chinese expansionism? Who was Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, the still-imaginative Russian warlord who briefly ruled Mongolia 100 years ago?

End of the Tsarist Empire

Freiherr, or Baron, Roman von Ungern-Sternberg was an officer in the Tsar’s army and descended from an old Baltic-German family from today’s Estonia, then a province of the Russian Tsarist Empire. He grew up in Reval — today’s Tallinn — and on his family’s estate on the Baltic island of…


Interested in almost everything but especially history, science and technology

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