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The past two weeks have looked at the rise of Russia and its colonial expansion across the Urals. As explained last week, though its drive eastwards was immensely successful, Russia’s efforts to combat other European rivals proved less fruitful, apart from its conquest of much of what is today the Ukraine. But, even as it continued to expand its territory, Russia stagnated politically. That is, until the rise of the Romanovs, and, especially, the rise of Peter the Great.

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Peter the Great, as depicted posthumously by Paul Delaroche in 1838. Public domain. Current version uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:Trzęsacz.

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On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom  and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. John 2:1-11

I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. Matthew 26:29

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Last weekend, we looked at the rise of the Russian state. This weekend, we will learn about the early expansion of Russia and its colonial efforts, up until about the time of Peter the Great. Before we proceed, however, it would be useful to explain what “colonialism” actually is. “Colonialism” is more than just a particular state extending its power over another – imperialism does that as well. The terms are related, but colonialism is particular form of imperialism. The key difference between “colonialism” and “imperialism” in general is the method of control: Imperialism tends to control another state or people group directly – it may grant the subject country significant autonomy, but it still holds direct control. Colonialism operates similar to this, but it does it chiefly through colonies – groups of settlers from the parent state who settle in a new region.

When discussing the history of Russia and its conquests, defining Russia as a colonial power is controversial and complicated. Russia used colonial methods, but melded these with more traditional style imperial conquests. Also, typically colonial empires expanded across oceans and along coasts, whereas Russia expanded almost entirely across land (and expand it did – every year from 1551 to 1700, the Tsardom gained roughly 35,000 square kilometers). But, they settled areas with populations tied to the home state, and so, even though did not actually call these settlements colonies, they functioned in a similar enough manner that they can be defined as colonies. With that taken care of, let us now explore the history of Russia’s early colonial efforts.

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“Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” Daniel 4:27

Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which had conquered most of the Middle East. This included the Kingdom of Judah (Israel had already been conquered by the Assyrians, whom the Babylonians supplanted). Daniel was a Hebrew, and thus a captive of the Empire. But he was an important political official, and the king relied on him to interpret dreams, since God gave Daniel prophetic power. The above passage is at the end of Daniel’s interpretation of a dream: Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of much of the known world, would be humiliated. But, if he follows Daniel’s advice, he might be spared.
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For the next few weeks, I’m going to look at a big topic: Russian colonialism. Russia is a country that spans eleven time zones, since it stretches across most of Eastern Europe and all of North Asia. During the era of the Soviet Union, it controlled even more territory than it does now. Yet nearly all of this territory is contiguous – unlike most colonial empires, Russia mostly expanded over land. How did this happen? That’s what we will learn over the next few weeks. This weekend, we’ll look at the rise of Russia as a country.

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Proverbs 31:30-31: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”

The other night, I came across an article talking about women in the alt-right movement. One of the things mentioned in the article was how much importance these women place on beauty. And that perspective is not right, and deeply saddens me.

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Rope is strands or yarns of fibers twisted together into a stronger form, and is a staple for everyday life all over the world. But how did it originate? What are some things that it has been used for? This weekend, let’s examine the history of this extremely important and useful tool.

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A bundle of rope. Released under a CC0 license.

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Fire and Steel

The flames rise high, over withered fields
as burning sun glints off sword and shield
Who will carry victory, who will yield?
Is destiny fluid, or is their fate sealed?

Writing is a form of communication that involves expressing language and emotions through the recording of signs and symbols, usually in a way that complements spoken language. But when did writing start? Which culture was the first to introduce writing?

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The Narmer Palette, one of the oldest examples of Egyptian writing. Credit: Public domain, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:Nicolas Perrault III

Exactly which culture first developed writing we do not know, and writing was invented by different cultures at different times. The earliest examples of writing that have been found so far are the Dispilio Tablet, found in Greece and dated to 5260 ± 40 BC, and, possibly, the Tărtăria tablets that were found in Romania. These tablets are dated to approximately 5300 BC, but the claim the the inscriptions on the tablets constitute writing is disputed, and there are recent claims that the tablets themselves are forgeries.

Conventionally, the first writing systems are credited to the Sumerian and Egyptian cultures, who both were practicing writing by 3200 BC. Whether Egypt developed writing independently or learned it from the Sumerians is debated. The Sumerians, who lived in what is now Iraq, would keep track of trade and industry by pressing marks into a clay tablet using a stylus. Originally, these styluses were round or sharp-edged, and engraved pictures of the items being recorded. Eventually, scribes started using a wedge-shaped stylus, and made simple marks into a tablet, rather than pictures, creating a writing script known as cuneiform.

Egyptian writing used a system of pictures known as hieroglyphs. Whereas Sumerian writing developed out of accounting and record keeping techniques, Egyptian writing emerged out of an artistic tradition. Writing in Egypt was an elite practice, and only select people were allowed to train to be scribes.

Some other writing systems that developed elsewhere independently are Chinese writing, the earliest examples of which are from 1200 BC during the late Shang dynasty, Mesoamerican writing, the earliest example of which is attributed to the Olmec/La Venta culture from the period 1200 BC to 900 BC, and, possibly, the Indus Valley Civilization (the earliest writing there dates to 2600 BC, but there is debate as to whether this culture learned writing from Mesopotamia).

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My graduate application process is almost over, so it’s high time that I got back into this series. Today, for St. Patrick’s Day, I will look at the Celts, since Ireland is one of the few places where Celtic languages are still spoken today.

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Illumination of the Book of Kells, an example of Celtic art. Credit: Public domain, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:PKM

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