The Romanovs

Romanov family tree
Romanov family tree

Romanov. That’s the name nearly all of us come up with when faced with the question of naming royalty in Russia. But why? The Romanovs only ruled Russia for a very brief period, and it is the female branch of the family that ruled the longest. This means that in countries, such as France or England, the name would have changed completely once the male line died out. Of course there is the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, but that’s a whole different story. In Russia though, the name went from Romanov to Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov. Why the difference?

It’s starts with Michael I, the first Romanov tsar of all Russia. He ruled from 1613 to 1645 and upon his death his son Alexis assumed the role of tsar. Alexis had two wives that produced a brood of children, four of which would rule. First was Feodor (or Fyodor) III who ruled for only 6 years and produced no children and his line died. Next came Ivan V and his half-brother Peter I, later to be known as Peter the Great. These two ruled together because as it turns out Ivan had some disabilities of the mind and body so he could not rule alone. To complicate matters was that when Feodor III died, Ivan V was 16 (and incompetent) and Peter I was only 9. Neither of them could rule Russia, so Ivan’s older sister stepped in as regent. Sophie ruled as regent for 6 years until Peter was old enough to assume responsibilities of the throne. Ivan died 14 years after his co-rule with Peter began.  Find out more about Peter in this post:

During Peter’s rule, his title changed from tsar to Emperor so that when he died, his wife ruled Russia as Empress. Catherine was not a Romanov, but her rule only lasted a little more than two years. Peter II, the grandson of Peter I and his first wife, now became emperor but only for three years before he contracted smallpox and died.

That’s it. 1613 to 1730 was the rule of the Romanov Dynasty. At least through the male line. Peter II died at age 14 without producing heirs, Peter I only had one son who survived infancy and Ivan only produced females.

But this is where Romanov history becomes quite enthralling.

Ivan V of Russia
Ivan V of Russia

The last male Romanov died in 1730 after only three years of being emperor of all Russia. The name had died but the family continued on through female descendants and it wasn’t pretty.

After smallpox took Peter II of Russia at the age of 14, his second cousin Anna was made Empress. Her husband died shortly after they married. She decided not to take another husband, which resulted in her having no heirs. She was faced with the difficult decision of who to name as her heir and it was all about the family tree.

Remember Alexis I from the beginning? The son of Michael, the first Romanov tsar? He only had descendants from two of his children- Ivan V from his first marriage and Peter I (Peter the Great) from his second marriage. Empress Anna just happened to be the daughter of Ivan and she wanted very much for the following rulers of Russia to come from Ivan’s line and not Peter’s.

Out of 14 children born to Peter, only three survived infancy- one boy and two girls. The boy was Alexei, who became Peter II’s father. Then there was Anna (a different one) who died before Peter II, and Elizabeth, who became Empress a little later in the story but had no children. Alexei had two children and both had died before Anna became empress. This leaves the only child Anna (the different one) had: Peter (yes, another one). That was Empress Anna’s only choice from Peter I’s side. Confused yet?

Now for Ivan V’s descendants. We know Empress Anna had no children. Anna’s sister, Praskovia, had a son who died before Anna was empress. Her other sister, Catherine, had one daughter, another Anna, and then particular Anna had a son named Ivan. Don’t you wish they had named their children different names? Anyway…

So, Empress Anna was to choose between Peter’s descendant named Peter and Ivan’s descendant named Ivan. She chose Ivan. But that would only prove to be bad luck for Ivan and his immediate family.

When Empress Anna died, little Ivan was only 2 months old and this is when Elizabeth comes back into play and things start getting heated. Since Ivan could not rule in his own right, his mother was regent. However, many people did not like her connects with Germany as she had married a German. Elizabeth, mentioned above as Peter I’s daughter, particularly detested the German connection and less than a year after Ivan took the crown he was overthrown. Elizabeth seized the crown for herself in December of 1741, but that was not the end of her plans. Ivan and his family were held under house arrest until 1744. At that time, Elizabeth ordered the entire family to be imprisoned. Anna and her husband had four more children, all of whom were imprisoned from birth. However, Ivan was held captive separately from his family and was raised alone except for the guards who were to watch him.

Ivan and his family were kept locked up until Elizabeth died in 1762 and Peter III ascended the throne. This was the last descendant from Peter the Great’s side of the family, and he took pity on the poor family who had not had freedom for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, Peter only held the throne for 6 months before dying under unknown and mysterious circumstances. Some believed he was assassinated, but of course, none of it has been proven. The assassination rumor was that his wife and successor, Catherine II (Catherine the Great) was the one who ordered his death.

Peter II of Russia, the last male Romanov
Peter II of Russia, the last male Romanov

Nonetheless, once Peter had died, Catherine became Empress and that did not bode well for Ivan. Let me state here that Ivan’s identity has been kept secret from everyone. No one, not even his guards, knew who he was. He was referred to as “a certain prisoner” or “the nameless one”. One clever guard learned Ivan’s story and made an attempt to free him. Unfortunately, this signed Ivan’s death warrant. This brave guard did not know of the orders made by Catherine to Ivan’s personal guard stating that if anyone attempted to free him, Ivan was to be murdered immediately. That is exactly what happened on July 16, 1764. Ivan was murdered by his guard after being in solitary confinement for nearly his whole life. All those who were a part of the attempt to free him were also murdered.

But the story isn’t over yet.

The rest of Ivan’s family was kept in prison until 1780. Catherine decided they should be released but only to house arrest. By this time, Anna and her husband had already both died but all four children were still alive. The two girls and two boys were kept segregated until the last of them died in 1807. This wiped out the Brunswick-Bevern side of Ivan V’s line, the only family left from his side.

This left only the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov line, which is Peter III’s line.

And speaking of Peter III, we are not done with him yet either. After his rumored assassination, some believed that he was not killed but still alive and being held against his will. Then pretenders began showing up on the scene. Four fake Peter’s actually, all who gained support and led uprisings and revolts and all were crushed by Catherine. Catherine the Great is remembered for reforming Russia and making it great again- except if you were descended from the Romanov’s.


References available upon request

September 11 Memorial and Museum

Inside the 911 National Memorial Museum with the last standing column of the twin towers
Inside the 911 National Memorial Museum with the last standing column of the twin towers

In memory of those who lost their lives on September 11th 2001. May your stars shine forever as a beacon of hope for the future.

Construction workers arrived at the site of ground zero on March 16, 2006 to begin building what would become the memorial site for the events that took place on September 11, 2001. An unfinished site was opened to the public on September 12, 2011 but on May 25, 2014, the entire construction site was complete.

Located in the footprints of the twin towers are two reflecting pools, roughly 1 acre in size each and made of solid granite. An engineering feat within the pools themselves are the two largest man-made waterfalls in North America. Mounted on the outside of the granite pools are bronze panels inscribed with the victims names from not only the World Trade Center but also the victims on each of the four hijacked planes, those who perished in the Pentagon and even those who died in the previous 1993 bombings of the World Trade Center.

Surrounding the pools are another 6 acres of land known as the World Trade Center memorial

Reflecting pool at the World Trade Center memorial site
Reflecting pool at the World Trade Center memorial site

site. Close to 400 swamp white oak trees were arranged and planted within the 8 acres of land to represent rebirth and create an atmosphere of calm reflection beyond the noise of the city. One lone Callery pear tree stands apart from all the others, known as the “survivor tree”. This tree was found at ground zero in October of 2001 with extensive burning and broken branches and roots. The survivor tree was brought to a nursery after its discovery and after years of recovery the tree was returned to the World Trade Center memorial site in 2010.

The 8 acres of the World Trade Center memorial site
The 8 acres of the World Trade Center memorial site

On May 21, 2014 the National September 11 Museum opened its doors to the public after a dedication ceremony that was held on May 15. The museum itself is located underground housing the last standing column of the twin towers as the center of the building. Inside, visitors are able to view 23,000 images and 10,300 artifacts from the site, as well as multimedia displays and narratives. The museum focus does not solely reflect the victims but also celebrates the survivors of the attacks in the archaeological heart of the World Trade Center site.


Historical Inaccuracies in Gladiator

Bust of Roman Emperor Commodus
Bust of Roman Emperor Commodus

I can understand why creative license is taken in film and television. We just do not know every tiny detail that happened throughout history. Sometimes creative license is taken to condense the events to fit into the relatively short time frame of movies and television. However, sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why major changes were made. Things have been unchanged needlessly and the real story is not given its due.

Gladiator was a box office hit with all-star cast as well as being loaded with fighting, action and blood galore; a mixture for pure success. But what happens when that particularly popular movie tells the story of Ancient Romans and is not quite accurate enough to be the truth? You are left with Gladiator and people believing what the writers, directors and producers of the film want you to believe.

Most people understand that Russel Crowe’s character, Maximus Decimus Meridius, is a completely fictionalized creation, but most people do not realize that the character Commodus, while very real, was not exactly the man the movie portrayed him to be.

Emperor Commodus

The movie would have you believe that Marcus Aurelius, Commodus’ father and Emperor, did not claim Commodus as the heir to the empire. As a result, Commodus kills his father because of his grief and claims the title of Emperor for himself.

In reality, Commodus and Marcus Aurelius co-ruled together after a rumor spread of Aurelius’ death. The Syrian Governor, Marcus Cassius, was hailed as emperor by his men and accepted as he did not want Commodus ruling the Empire. Well, Cassius learned that Aurelius had only fallen ill and survived but since he had already been hailed as emperor in the east he was determined to keep it. Aurelius needed to act against Cassius so he began preparations to go east and deal with the usurper but never left since news that Cassius was killed by his own men reached Aurelius before he left. Aurelius knew that this meant his son’s accession to the throne was not secure and the best course of action was to make him co-emperor; this happened in 177 CE.

The two co-ruled together for the following three years until Aurelius’ death. He was not murdered by his son, in fact he was not murdered by anyone. Instead what really happened was that he simply died of a ‘plague’ (either the measels or smallpox) that was killing people all over the empire. Further, he didn’t actually die of this plague but of starvation after learning he had this disease.

Now, uncontested, Commodus became Emperor Commodus in 180 CE. He is the emperor hailed by some historians to be the one who started the fall of the Roman Empire.

Gladiator would also have you believe that Commodus was murdered in the Colosseum by the gladiator Maximus.

This is a little closer to reality but still very far from how Commodus met his end. Marcia, Commodus’ mistress and former friend of his sister, found her name on the top a list to be executed. To save her skin, Marcia decided to take matters into her own hands. She and Commodus’ sister had been involved in a plot to assassinate him in 181 A.D. Interestingly enough, but this time it had to work.

Relaxing in his bath, Commodus was unsuspecting as Marcia brought him a glass of wine. Commodus eagerly drank the poisoned wine but immediately began vomiting everything back up. The plotters involved were worried that he wouldn’t die because he would expel the poison so a wrestler, Narcissus, was brought in to finish the job. Commodus also ruled for a little over 12 years, another difference from the movie.

These are only a few of the disparages of Commodus’ portrayal in Gladiator, and only just skimming the surface of inaccuracies within the film in general. I beseech you to share what you had noticed that was historically inaccurate about the film to share with others while bestowing the true history of Rome during Commodus’ reign.


Arthur Miller

12743606_224716101203813_5319711502640944680_nArthur Asher Miller, the American playwright, was born October 17, 1915 in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents. Their family was effected by the depression when the family’s garment business failed and Arthur found a number of odd jobs around the city in order to pay for his tuition to college. In 1934 Miller left New York to attend The University of Michigan where he wrote his first two plays that he received high accolades and awards for.

Upon graduation, Miller returned to New York and became a freelance writer for a number of years. It wasn’t until 1944 that Miller released his first play, “The Man Who Had All the Luck”, which debuted on Broadway but the reviews were less than favorable and only lasted four performances before it was cancelled. Following the Broadway disaster, Miller wrote two books, “Situational Normal” and “Focus” in 1944 and 1945 respectably. His second attempt at Broadway occurred in 1947 with “All My Sons” and was a success earning two awards. “Death of Salesman” followed in 1949 and “The Crucible” in 1953.

Miller’s personal life was a little more chaotic and less successful. Arthur was married three times, he and Mary Slattery married in 1940 and divorced in 1956. Later that same year, he married Marilyn Monroe which resulted in divorce in 1961, and finally to Inge Morath in 1962 until the time of her death in 2002. Miller became engaged to Agnes Barley, an artist, shortly following Morath’s death but he passed away on February 10, 2005 after battling cancer, pneumonia, and a heart condition before the couple were able to be married.

The Crucible is the telling of events in Salem, Massachusetts that occurred in 1692. The story begins with a girl who is thought to have been affected by witchcraft. Following this incident, one person after another were accused and tried as witches. The story ends with a walk to the gallows for one unfortunate person found guilty of witchcraft. Miller wrote the play not as a factual retelling of what occurred during the Salem Witch Trials, but as a response to the politics of the time and The Crucible was his vehicle to do so.12742675_224716117870478_6308168865934507074_n

Miller started his research in Salem in 1952 and within a year completed his writing. The Crucible was completed in 1953 and even though he spent excessive time researching the events surrounding the trials, the story was written to be loosely based and a partly fictionalized version of those events. Miller stated that “The play is not reportage of any kind …. [n]obody can start to write a tragedy and hope to make it reportage …. what I was doing was writing a fictional story about an important theme.” The theme was unjust persecution, it just happened to be that Miller used the persecution of the alleged witches to discuss and hide the persecution of communists and communist supporters in America in the 1950s. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities were prosecuting suspected communists during the time that Miller was writing and researching the trials.

He was not able to discuss communism outright for fear of being accused of being a communist himself so he needed another story to mask his true purpose. The Salem Witch Trials was the perfect way in which to do this because of how much puritanical New England resembled the anti-communist sentiments in America during the 1950s. Just as being accused of witchcraft in the 17th century was serious enough to warrant arrest and trial, being accused of communist sympathies in the 1950s could have the same end result.

The play was not well received in the first year but with a change in producers, the second year was a success. It was easy to see the underlying meaning of the play when it was on Broadway but in the 1990s a movie was made and was not a success. The added elements of McCarthyism was lost on the audiences in the 90s and the film suffered because of it even though it nearly mirrored the sensational play from forty years earlier.


John Dee

John Dee Ashmolean
John Dee Ashmolean A 16th-century portrait by an unknown artist

Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne and with her came a personal adviser, Dr. John Dee. Dee was considered one of the most learned men in England, being educated in a vast array of areas. He was born in Tower Ward, London on July 13, 1527 to a minor courtier. At 15, Dee was sent to St. John’s College in Cambridge where he studied everything he could. The most important subjects Dee studied were mathematics, astronomy, astrology, navigation, geography, optics, and medicine, all of which he would later use to some extent to make his mark in history. He stayed at St. John’s until 1548 where he earned a master’s degree.

After earning his degree, Dee traveled throughout Europe where he studied the occult at the University of Louvain in the Netherlands, as well as lecturing in Paris on Euclid at 24. While in Paris he was offered a position of a mathematics professor at the University of Paris in 1551 but declined the position and returned to England. While in England, he became a consultant and astrologer to both Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth.

In 1555, under the reign of Queen Mary I, Dee was arrested and charged with having read the horoscopes for both women and again charged with treason against Queen Mary. He was not imprisoned for long and the charges against him were dropped.

He led a quiet life until Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne and he became her scientific, medical, and astrological adviser. Dee even consulted the stars to determine the date in which Elizabeth should be crowned. His educational background would prove him useful in various areas, including navigation where he aided in the expeditions to Canada from 1576-1578 and again in 1583 to search for the Northwest Passage, which never came to fruition. With his skill and experience in mathematical navigation, it was Dee that coined the phrase “British Empire” when he commissioned a foundation for colonizing North America.

For a period of time Dee was depressed and allegedly suicidal for his inability to conjure spirits and a lack of complete understanding of natural knowledge. In 1581 he met Edward Kelley, a convicted counterfeiter who had his ears clipped for counterfeiting coins, and the two began voyaging together. The two held séances in an attempt to speak with angels where Dee would perform the rituals and Kelley would look into a crystal ball, they attempted these séances in England, Poland and the Czech Republic. Some sources say that Dee was successful in speaking with angels but they were angry at the fallen state of humanity and commanded Dee and Kelley to present their vision of a New World Order to try and help humanity. One aspect of the New World Order was for everyone to share possessions, including their wives, which apparently actually occurred. Other sources say that Kelley conned Dee and made everything up. Then more sources state that Dee and Kelley did not contact any spirits, Angels or not.

Dee returned to England after his adventures after he and Kelley parted ways but all was not well. A plague swept through London taking his wife and five of his eight children but even worse, he was blamed for bringing the plague with him as a result of conjuring spirits. He was left lonely but found some solstice in being appointed by Elizabeth I as Dean Warden of Manchester College in 1596 until 1605 upon which time he returned to his home at Mortlake. Dee spent his final years in great poverty and extreme loneliness selling off his book collection and casting charts.

While Dee had many accomplishments in his life that overshadowed his personal life, there is some that we know from a diary that Dee kept. He was married three times, first to a woman named Katherine Constable in 1565 until her death in 1574. The second marriage was to an unknown woman from 1575 to 1576 when she died. The last marriage was the only one that provided children; Jane Fromond and Dee married in 1578 (he was 51 and she was 23) until she died of the bubonic plague in 1604. They had 8 children together, 4 sons and 4 daughters: Michael, Theodore, Arthur, Rowland, Katherine, Madinia, Frances and Margaret.

There is no exact date of John Dee’s death as his gravestone is missing, as are the Parish records during that time. It was long believed that he died in December of 1608 at Mortlake but new evidence has been brought to light that he may have died in March of 1609 in London at the home of a friend, John Pontois.