No One Won in World War 1


On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, bells rang around the world.

The war was over. The fighting had stopped. The boys were coming home.

Bells across the globe will toll again Sunday, 100 years after the signing of the Armistice and the end of World War I

In many large cities across Europe there is a pompous monument to the victims of 1 World War. Usually, this is the largest church in the city or a monument.
ww1HungaryGermany.ww1LondonHungary.ww1TurkeyGreat Britain.ww1FranceTurkey.

World War I oversimplified:

Lady Godiva’s Tax Cut

Lady Godiva is an 1897 painting by English artist John Collier

You might associate the name “Godiva” with a brand of Belgian chocolates, but it was first popularized as part of a 900-year-old English legend. The original Lady Godiva was an 11th century noblewoman married to Leofric, the powerful Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry.

As the story goes, Godiva was troubled by the crippling taxes Leofric had levied on the citizens of Coventry. After she repeatedly asked her husband to lessen the burden, Leofric quipped that he would lower taxes only if she rode naked on horseback through the center of town.

Lady Godiva is a painting by Edward Henry Corbould

Determined to help the people, Godiva stripped off her clothes, climbed on her horse and galloped through the market square with only her long flowing hair to cover herself.  Before leaving, she ordered the people of Coventry to remain inside their homes and not peek.

From then till noon no foot should pace the street, 
No eye look down, she passing; but that all 
Should keep within, door shut, and window barr’d.

Lady Godiva, by Marshall Claxton (1850)

However, one lad, named Tom, couldn’t resist opening his window to get an eyeful. Upon doing so, “Peeping Tom”, hapless fellow overcome by curiosity, was struck blind. After finishing her naked ride, Godiva confronted her husband and demanded that he hold up his end of the bargain. True to his word, Leofric reduced the people’s debts.


Lady Godiva’s Prayer Painting by Edwin Landseer

While most historians consider her nude horseback ride a myth, Lady Godiva—or “Godgifu” as some sources call her—was indeed a real person from the 11th century.  Contemporary accounts of her life note that “Godgifu” was one of only a few female landowners in England in the 1000s, although they make no mention of a nude horseback ride.


Lady Godiva by Ethel Mortlock (c.1865–1928)

The story as we know it have first cropped up some 100 years after Lady Godiva’s death in a book by the English monk Roger of Wendover, who was known for stretching the truth in his writings now and again. The legend of  Peeping Tom became a part of the tale much later, in 16th century.

The Godiva myth was later popularized in paintings, songs and in verse by the likes of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who wrote a famous poem (quoted above) called “Godiva” in 1840.

And then they danced, and danced, and danced…

dance1In the Year of Our Lord 1374, a deadly disease swept dozens of villages along the Rhine River — a dance plague. Hundreds of people on the streets jumped and curled their knees with no beat or music, except, probably, that in the dancers’ head. They danced, sometimes for many days in a row, until their broken feet refused to hold them. Many died of exhaustion, stroke or heart attack.

Another instance of the dancing plague (or dance epidemic or dancing mania) occurred in StrasbourgAlsace, in the Holy Roman Empire in July 1518. Around 400 people took to dancing for days without rest and, over the period of about one month, some of those affected collapsed or died.danceInterestingly, the Strasbourg authorities first decided to let folks dance all they want, hoping for a spontaneous cure.  Two dance halls were opened in the city and a wooden stage was erected. Musicians were also invited to liven up the strange event.

Very soon it became clear that the measures undertaken did not lead to an improvement in the situation. In response, the authorities banned any and all entertainment in the city, save none, including gambling and prostitution.

Many theories were presented over time to explain the cause of the dancing plaque, most prevalent of which was severe food poisoning. The article in Wikipedia gives scientific names to every suspect poison.

John Waller, professor of the history of medicine at Michigan State University,  does not agree with the poison version, however, since in both cases the symptom of the ailment was dancing rather than convulsions. In his book A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518 Waller proposes his own theory: the dancing plague were of psychogenic (due to mental trauma) nature, and the main cause of this mass mental trauma were fear and depression.dance2

The two outbreaks were preceded by famine, floods, loss of crop. The horror of the supernatural drew people into a state of trance. In such an atmosphere, it was enough for one madman of woman to start, and immediately infect hundreds of people around.

Drawing on fresh evidence, John Waller’s account of the bizarre events of 1518 explains why Strasbourg’s dancing plague took place. In doing so it leads us into a largely vanished world, evoking the sights, sounds, aromas, diseases and hardships, the fervent supernaturalism, and the desperate hedonism of the late medieval world.

At the same time, the extraordinary story this book tells offers rich insights into how people behave when driven beyond the limits of endurance. Above all, this is an exploration into the strangest capabilities of the human mind and the extremes to which fear and irrationality can lead us.

Filing stressed much? Fearful of floods, tsunami, hurricane, atomic war? Shall we dance?

Mail Me A Baby


The inauguration of a domestic parcel post service by Postmaster General Frank H. Hitchcock in 1913, greatly increased the volume of mail shipped nationwide, and motivated the development of more efficient postal transportation systems. (Wikipedia).

Many rural customers took advantage of inexpensive Parcel Post rates to order goods and products — food, clothing, grain, tobacco, medicines — from businesses located hundreds of miles away in distant cities for delivery by mail. Many college students and others used parcel post to mail home dirty laundry, as doing so was less expensive than washing the clothes themselves.  Image result for old pictures of postman

Mail was obliged to deliver not only fragile items, such as eggs, but livestock weighing up to 50 pounds. Under this category, the mailing of  baby chickens delighted the farmers and consumers across the land.chicks.PNGBut as it turned out, not only chickens fit this category, but little kids, weighing under 50 pound, too.

In January 1913, Mrs. and Mr. Jesse Beauge of Glen Este, Ohio, sent a parcel to Vernon Little, to be delivered to Mrs. Louis Beague, using the services of Rural Free Delivery.

The shipment cost them 15 cents paid for the postage stamp, while the content was insured for $50. The content of a parcel was the grandson of Mrs. Louis Beague. The kid’s parents figured out that sending a child by mail would be cheaper than taking him to his grandmother by any other means.

It was the first, but not the last child thus mailed.

On January 27, 1913, Mrs. and Mr J.W. Savis from Pine Hollow, Pennsylvania, “packed up” and mailed their daughter to James Beyrle of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania. The girl was safely delivered to the recipient on the same day. The shipment cost the parents 45 cents.

On February 19, 1914, three months before her sixth birthday, May Pierstorff was mailed by her parents from Grangeville, Idaho, to her grandmother who lived 73 miles away. The cost of this “parcel” was 53 cents. May’s weight was 48.5 pounds — less than the maximum permissible 50 pounds.

After this incident, parcel post regulations were changed to prohibit the shipment of humans.


This photo was published as an illustration to the USPS announcement that the mail will no longer accept humans for shipment.

But, as they say, the laws exist to be broken. A couple of months after the decree, a certain B.H. Knepper from Maryland mailed a 14 lb child to his grandmother in Clear Spring, some 12 miles away. Local newspapers claimed that the baby was sleeping peacefully throughout the entire trip.

In the same year, postal workers of Stillwell, Indiana, accepted a parcel marked “live baby”. The parcel — baby unharmed —  has changed hands through the post office window in South Bend, Indiana, baby’s divorced father on the receiving end. The shipment cost 17 cents.

And yet again, a year later, six-year-old Edna Neff  has been mailed by her mother from Pensacola, Florida, to her divorced father in Christiansburg, Virginia. The family fell on hard times with no money for travel. The shipment cost 15 cents. Edna’s weight was approaching the 50-pound mark. This was, distance wise, the longest registered transport of a child by parcel service.

1915 was a record year for mailing children. In September, three-year-old Mod Smith has been mailed by her grandparents to her mother, Ms. Selina Smith of Jackson, Kentucky. This case has been investigated by postal authority, and, apparently, was the last recorded instance of mailing children by USPS.

I didn’t know, did you?



Justice For Jesus

christ.jpgJesus was condemned by the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Israel (an assembly of twenty-three to seventy-one men appointed in every city in the Land of Israel) for proclaiming himself the Son of God, the Messiah. Since, according to Sanhedrin and the Romans,  Jesus was not the Son of God, the ruling and the sentence was fair — perfectly in keeping with the times. However, the verdict handed down by the Sanhedrin and executed by the Romans wasn’t without a number of procedural errors.

  • The hearing took place at night, although the law explicitly forbade the convocation of the Sanhedrin after dark.
  • Jesus was condemned during the Easter holidays, while during the Passover every official activities were strictly forbidden. 

Interesting that in 1948, an appeal to overturn Jesus Christ’s conviction was filed with the newly created Supreme Court of the State of Israel. The Court, however, declared itself incompetent to rule on appeal.christ.PNGMore recently, in August of 2013, the Kenyan lawyer Dola Indidis attempted to get justice for Jesus yet again. He urged the International Court of Justice at Hague to hear the 2000 year old case of the founder of Christianity and  completely exonerate Jesus Christ.

Is the “justice for Jesus” quest has merit?

“In this case, it is not clear what international law might have been violated and, even if there was such a violation, it is not clear that the relevant states have consented to the ICJ (the International Court of Justice) having jurisdiction over the dispute.” (Columbia law professor Anthea Roberts.)

One Million Buddhas: Wat Phra Dhammakaya

million Buddhas In order to familiarize yourself with all the temples of Thailand one need more than one day, one week or even a month. There are about 40 thousand temples, each with its own peculiarity. Perhaps one of the most interesting  is the Buddhist temple of  Wat Phra Dhammakaya.million Buddhas2 Located in Khlong Luang district, only 16 km from the Bangkok international airport, the temple is famous for its enormous size. However, very few people know about it.Buddhist monks pray at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok on Makha Bucha Day

Buddhist monks pray at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok on Makha Bucha Day February 14, 2014. Makha Bucha Day honours Buddha and his teachings, and falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj (THAILAND – Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) *** Local Caption *** Biarawan Buddha berdoa di kuil Wat Phra Dhammakaya, provinsi Pathum Thani, Thailand, pada Hari Makha Bucha, Jumat (14/2). Pada Hari Makha Bucha, umat Buddha memperingati Buddha dan ajaran-Nya, dan jatuh pada hari bulan purnama di bulan ketiga penanggalan bulan. ANTARA FOTO/REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/ox/14.

million Buddhas95Wat Phra Dhammakaya is more than impressive no matter which way you look at it, with its huge dome at the center of the monastery adorned with a mind boggling three hundred thousand golden Buddhas. This is a lot more than the number of statuettes that made famous the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (Man Fat Tsz), is a Buddhist temple in Sha TinHong Kong.

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Another 700,000 Buddhas displayed inside the temple. The golden dome is surrounded by a platform for meditation, serving as a memorial in honor of the founder of the sect, Phramonkolthepmuni.million Buddhas91

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is the center of the Dhammakaya Movement, a Buddhist sect founded in the 1970s and led by Phra Dhammachayo (Phrathepyanmahamuni). million Buddhas1

The temple was established in February of 1970, and the main chapel was completed in 1982. The leaders of the movement were accused of commercialization of religion, since Wat Phra Dhammakaya, worth $1 billion looked more like a giant spaceship, stadium or  a flying saucer rather than a traditional Buddhist temple.  million Buddhas94In 1999, however, and again, in 2002, it became the center of a scandal on a national scale. Wikipedia article has all the details of the controversy and ensuing allegation of embezzlement and money laundering. 

The author of the fabulous photographs used in this post, except for the Reuters/Damir Sagolj and National Geographic, is Aleksej Pitalenko (Алексей Питаленко.)


The Curious History Of Stripes

stripes9In 1310, in French town of Rouen, one hapless shoemaker was sentenced to death for having been caught wearing a striped garment. This unusual case shows how the striped clothes were treated in the Middle Ages.

Michel Pastoureau, one of the best specialists in medieval symbolism, wrote a lively study of stripes, The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric, a unique and engaging perspective on the evolution of fashion, taste, and visual codes in Western culture.stripes.jpg

The Devil’s Cloth begins with a medieval scandal. When the first Carmelites arrived in France from the Holy Land, the religious order required its members to wear striped habits, prompting turmoil and denunciations in the West that lasted fifty years until the order was forced to accept a quiet, solid color.

The medieval eye found any surface in which a background could not be distinguished from a foreground disturbing. Thus, striped clothing was relegated to those on the margins or outside the social order—jugglers and prostitutes, for example—and in medieval paintings the devil himself is often depicted wearing stripes. The West has long continued to dress its slaves and servants, its crewmen and convicts in stripes. (Columbia University Press.)

Carmelites were, at worst, stoned and, at best, met with whistles and all sorts of intimidation. The conflict came to the attention of Pope Alexander IV, who forbade wearing of striped robes by the Supreme Decree. The stubborn Carmelites did not abide by the papal prohibition. The Vatican persisted and the final bull of Pope Boniface VIII forbade wearing strips by all Catholic monastic orders in the world, without exception .

Scene of court life with musicians playing viola

GERMANY – CIRCA 2002: Scene of court life with musicians playing viola, dulcimer, fife, drum and bagpipes, miniature from Manesse Code, manuscript, 1304, Germany. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

In the preface to his book, Pastoureau writes that preserved since XII-XIII century, abundant documentation shows that striped clothing was considered shameful, degrading and downright diabolical. Striped attire was worn by executioners and prostitutes. In medieval Europe striped suits were worn by all sorts of outcasts — circus performers, jesters, lepers, cripples, heretics and illegitimate children.
stripes2To this day, there is no consensus about the origin of stripes’ bad reputation. Pastoureau suggests that it came from the free interpretation of biblical quote  Do not put on two tunics (Mark 6:9.) Another hypothesis, secular one, is more “practical”: striped clothing conceal the silhouette, and this alone could be regarded as an attempt of camouflage. However, neither the first nor the second hypothesis can explain the reasons for the medieval Europeans’ hateful attitude toward striped garments.stripes3Diabolical nature of strips extends to the striped animals as well. Not only black, but striped cats, tigers, snakes and hyenas were considered to have diabolical traits. Although in the Middle Ages only very few Europeans knew of the existence of  zebras, Catholic naturalists ranked zebras as “devils of animals.” Unsuspecting zebras were relinquished to this category until the age of Reformation when the new generation of zoologists dispelled this belief.
stripes4The strips shed its diabolical designation at the end of the XVIII century. Revolution occurred not only in France and the New World, but also in the minds of ordinary people. Stripes were no longer seen as taboo. A fashion for striped fabric, from clothing to furniture upholstery and walls, took off with vengeance.
stripes5However, in 19th century, coming a long way from the Middle Ages, the fear of stripes in society was embodied in the striped prison uniforms.  Around this time, the black-and-white stripes familiar from old movies came into vogue, marking the men in a way that would remain embedded in public memory. stripesSlowly, as time went on, prisons began to eliminate the stripes for more neutral colors and the familiar worker-like jumpsuits. New York switched to grey in 1904 because, according to an article in Slate, the stripes were “a badge of disgrace.” Many states kept the stripes longer; North Carolina kept them until 1958.


cendari.PNGThe CENDARI (Collaborative European Digital Archive Infrastructure) is a 4-year, European Commission-funded project led by Trinity College Dublin, in partnership with 13 institutions across 7 countries, to facilitate access to archives and resources in Europe for the benefit of researchers everywhere.

CENDARI will provide and facilitate access to existing archives and resources in Europe for the study of medieval and modern European history through the development of an “enquiry environment”. This environment will increase access to records of historic importance across the European Research Area, creating a powerful new platform for accessing and investigating historical data in a transnational fashion overcoming the national and institutional data silos that now exist.cendari.jpg

CENDARI will leverage the power of the European infrastructure for Digital Humanities (DARIAH) bringing these technical experts together with leading historians and existing research infrastructures (archives, libraries and individual digital projects) within a programme of technical research informed by cutting edge reflection on the impact of the digital age on scholarly practice.

I copied the above passages from the CENDARI announcements on several participating sites. In layman terms, CENDARI brings together multitude of historians and scientific institutions, thus becoming a kind of response to academic and archival activities to the requirements of the electronic age.
Data for CENDARI were aggregated from library Europeana, giving unlimited access to the metadata of 3.5 million newspapers and 90 million catalog records of national and research libraries of 48 countries.
Users can create and edit archival descriptions, search by language, library categories, geographical area and even neighborhoods, exact location and subject.
A large number of documents that belong to a number of cultural institutions not directly involved in  CENDARI has been integrated into Europeana library. ww1i

This is a Russian WW1 card. The rhyming inscription says, roughly, “Don’t  violate our neutrality. Alas! Teutons used to respect only cannons.” (From the collection of the University of Noth Carolina at Chapel Hill.wwi2


Satirical map of Europe, Berlin, 1914.

Those materials  could be seen visiting  Europeana 1914-1918, focusing on untold stories and official histories of WW1, exploring stories, films and historical material about the First World War.  Europeana 1914-1918 mixes resources from libraries and archives across the globe with memories and memorabilia from families throughout Europe. “Discover. Learn. Research. Use. Share,” urges Europeana.

The same can be said about the entire CENDARI project — Discover. Learn. Research. Use. Share. It’s just that there is sooooooo much to discover, learn, research, use and share… Even if you are a kindergartner right now, there is very little time already… So hurry!

Seven Wives of Ivan the Terrible

ivan-grozny-vasnetsovIvan IV Vasilyevich (1530 – 1584)  commonly known as Ivan the Terrible Tsar of All the Russias from 1547 until his death in 1584, was a controversial historical figure: Tyrant and a reformer, a monster and a strategist. He was given to sexual excess and was marrying often. Officially, Tsar Ivan IV had 7 wives. Unfortunately, not one of them lived long enough to enjoy golden years. By coincidence or by design, most of them met their Maker when still young, sometimes very shortly after the wedding bells and coronation.

In this respect, Ivan the Terrible of Russia was no better (or worse) than England’s poly-amorous Henry VIII  (1491 — 1547), born 40 years earlier, who was married 6 times.

1 - Анастасия Захарьина

Wife No 1 — Anastasia Zakharyina.

When it came time to marry, a young Tsar Ivan IV, 17 at the time, conducted a search and a rigorous selection among potential brides. His choice fell on Anastasia Zakharyina. According to the chronicles, she was Ivan’s only true love.  Anastasia died in 1560. This was by far the longest marriage of Ivan’s life, lasted more than a decade.  Some historians claim that Tsarina Anastasia was poisoned by the Tsar’s enemies envious of the Anastasia’s influence on him.

2 - Мария Темрюкова

Wife No 2 — Maria Temrykova

The same year he lost his first wife, however aggrieved, Tsar Ivan sent ambassadors to look for a new wife. And soon enough, they found one. She was the daughter of the Kabardin Prince Temryuk, Maria. It was said that her beauty was mysterious, dangerous and mesmerizing. In addition to her many attractions, the new Tsarina  shared at least one of Ivan’s interests — she loved to witness executions, the more gory and elaborate affair they were the more they delighted exotic Tsarina.

She often whispered into her husband’s ear the names of those she didn’t like. Those unfortunate people would eventually become next victims of Ivan’s terrible temper and Maria’s love of blood and gore. Maria died of a rather mundane cause —  succumbed to pneumonia.

3 - Марфа Собакина

Wife No 3 — Marpha Sobakina

Another wife gone, and the Tsar was open for marriage again. This time, 2,000 beauties participated in the pageant. 24 remained after the first round of selection, then the pool was thinned down to 12. The contenders were subjected to a number of scrupulous checkups and humiliating  scrutiny by courtiers and doctors. Marpha Sobakina met every criteria. However, almost immediately after the wedding, she became unwell and died two weeks later. Rumors abound, however, no one could say for sure whatever befell otherwise healthy and vivacious young woman.

4 - Анна Колтовская

Wife No 4 — Anna Koltovskaya

Be that as it may, Tsar Ivan married again. So many church weddings in such a short time was against the church rules. The priests agreed to conduct a ceremony very reluctantly, on pain of death.

The 18-year-old Anna Koltovskaya was the darling of the people, but wasn’t held in high esteem by the boyars (ranking courtiers.) A few slanderous accusations too many against the young Tsarina and Ivan couldn’t stand it any more. Eventually, he sent Anna to a convent, christening her Daria in nunnery. She lived the rest of her life in an underground monastic cell.  This was the last of his weddings, authorized by the Church. Later, former Anna, Tsarina of Russia, was   canonized as Saint Daria.

5 - Анна Васильчикова

Wife No 5 — Anna Vasilchikova

Soon thereafter, the Tsar remarried. A pretty young girl he choose was the daughter of Prince Peter Vasilchikov, Anna, age 16. This time, the church stood firm and did not recognize the marriage that lasted — alas! — all but 3 months. Young and healthy before the nuptials, Anna suddenly died. Her death was eerily similar to the demise of Marpha Sobakina, wife No 3, not that this curious fact went unnoticed. Anna’s  body was taken out of the palace secretly, in the dead of the night.

6 - Василиса Мелентьева

Wife No 6 — Vasilisa Melentyeva

Vasilisa Melentyeva was happily married when Tsar Ivan cast his roving eye upon her. Immediately after the Tsar took liking of Vasilisa, her husband died for “no apparent reason.” What luck!  Historical records indicate that with the appearance of Vasilisa in Ivan’s life he became somewhat less “terrible.” He stopped his sexual escapades and orgies, send away from his chambers all his “spare” women and  settled into a happy married life.

It lasted for two years. Then, one fine afternoon, Tsar Ivan caught his wife with a lover. The terrible ways swiftly returned to Tsar Ivan. His punishment, indeed, was swift and terrible. Both Vasilisa and her lover were buried alive.

7 - Мария Нагая

Wife No 7 — Maria Nagaya

Tsar Ivan’s last wife was Maria Nagaya. She was a melancholy woman given to dark moods and bouts of sadness. His new wife’s frequent tears and moodiness unnerved the Tsar a great deal. Ivan was ready to devise ways to get rid of Maria and already started looking for a new Tsarina, but died suddenly, while playing chess, of stroke. The year was 1584. Ivan IV was 54.

Pictures From The Harem

гаремThe Europeans imagine harem (if they must, that is) as the sort of an abode for the young and beautiful women of the Arabian fairy-tales of the One Thousand and One Nights. The series of remarkable photos, taken by Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, the real Shah of Iran in the late 19th century, might as well smash all the stereotypes.shah-2

This dashing man is Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, the fourth Shah of Iran. He came to power in 1848 and ruled for 47 years — the longest reign in the 3000-year history of Iran.

According to historians, Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar was well educated for his time and established a reputation of a sybarite, so much so that it angered and annoyed his subjects.

One of Shah Qajar’s the many passions was photography. He loved taking pictures since his boyhood, when in 1844, at 13, he saw the camera for the first time. When Nasser al-Din came to power, he set up the first official photo studio in his palace.

“We were lucky that the king fell in love with photography because it was the king who started taking pictures. The Islamic clerics could not oppose him.” (Bahman Jalali, a veteran photographer and the former director of the Golestan Palace museum, a former royal home.)

In the 1870s, Russian photographer Anton Sevryugin opened his photo-studio in Tehran, and soon became the Shah’s court photographer. Sevryugin’s photographs are nothing less than a chronicle of Iranian life. For his services to the court of Iran he was awarded an honorary title.

Main entrance to the Golestan Palace. Picture by Anton Sevriugin.

The main entrance to the Golestan Palace. Photo by Anton Sevryugin.

Russian photographer was permitted to take pictures of the Shah himself, Shah’s male relatives, courtiers and servants.

Anton Sevryugin sets up a photo-shoot with the Shah.

Anton Sevryugin sets up a photo-shoot with the Shah.

A privilege of taking pictures of his harem of about 100 concubines, Shah bestowed only upon his own person. An ardent photographer, Shah developed and printed his photos in the palace photo-laboratory, kept them in satin albums stashed in an earthquake-resistant and bulletproof room at Golestan Palace.

These are a truly extraordinary photos, and for more reasons than one. Firstly, according to the Shiite law at the time, it was forbidden to make pictures, photograph and paint images of the peoples’ faces, especially visages of women. Only the most powerful man in the realm could afford to break the law.

Secondly, these pictures were remarkable because… well, because of their subject — the women of the Shah’s harem! Let’s take a look.wife-09

This is the Incomparable Anis al-Doleh — the favorite wife of the Shah.

Anis al-Doleh must’ve been truly beloved — she was the most frequent subject of the Shah’s photo shoots.


Anis is the one with a child on her lap with another woman of the Shah's harem.

Anis is the one with a child on her lap with another woman of the Shah’s harem.


The Incomparable Anis al-Doleh making music and showing a glimpse of her legs.

Interesting that the ladies of the harem on the photos look quite modern for their time. Their stares into the lens are calm and confident, neither timid nor flirty.

Anis, the Soulmate of the Realm, is the one sitting.

Anis, the Soulmate of the Realm, is the one sitting.


Some of the Shah’s wives on a picnic with a cleric.

It is even conceivable that the women in the harem have been friendly with one another, judging from their group photos.wife-111On the picture above and numerous others, the Shah’s wives are captured wearing short skirts, not unlike a lush tutus — these skirts called shaliteh.wife-08There is a story behind it. In 1873, Shah Qajar received an invitation from the Russian Tzar Alexander II to visit Saint Petersburg. During his visit, Shah attended a ballet performance. He was mighty fascinated by the Russian ballerinas and, upon his return, declared that the women of his harem must wear tutus — shaliteh. The headscarves, however, must have stayed on.

More tutus.

More tutus.

Thе photo below, taken by Shah Qajar, comes the closest (even if that) to the fairy-tale image of a harem concubine, complete with black eunuch and a calian.

Young concubine with calian.

Young concubine with calian.

Boris Dolgov, a senior fellow at the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies, has the following to say about the photos (translation is mine):

“These are, indeed, pictures of women, and not hermaphrodites or males, as many might imagine. Clearly, such population (males and/or hermaphrodites) might have been kept in harems as well, but hidden away, since Koran does not allow such perversions.  As for the “beauty” factor… Well, as we all agree, tastes differ a great deal from culture to culture and from person to person. Dark thick mustaches, adorning women’s upper lips, is rather typical for this ethnic group. It is also quite possible that the owner of a harem had special predilection for mustachioed ladies. Bushy eyebrows were fashionable at the time, and full figures were synonymous with beauty. Women in harems were fed fattening diets and their lifestyle wasn’t especially conducive of exercise or even active movement.” (Russian original is here.)

More to the story: Other sources say that it wasn’t Russian Anton Sevryugin after all, but a French photographer, Francis Carlhian, who set up the first official studio at the Shah’s palace. Also, this same article says that it has been Shah’s trip to Paris, not Saint Petersburg, where he went to see the ballet and then invented a new dress code for his wives.

In defense of the Russian source regarding ballet: The Shah’s trip to Saint Petersburg to visit the Russian royal court of Alexander II is well documented, complete with the record of the Shah’s attendance of a ballet.

However, one way or another, it doesn’t make much difference, does it? We are here for the pictures, aren’t we?