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National Geographic History

National Geographic History March/April 2021

See how National Geographic History magazine inflames and quenches the curiosity of history buffs and informs and entertains anyone who appreciates that the truth indeed is stranger than fiction with a digital subscription today. And that history is not just about our forebears. It’s about us. It’s about you.

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United States
National Geographic Society
6 Issues

in this issue

1 min
first baptist’s long history

THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH on Nassau Street, in Williamsburg, Virginia, served as the home for one of the oldest continuous congregations in the United States. The original structure, built around 1818, was destroyed in the 1830s when the African Baptist Church (as it was called then) had as many as 600 members. A new brick building (photographed in 1901, above) was dedicated in 1856. TODAY’S MEMBERS of the First Baptist Church regard the ongoing excavation and hoped-for restoration of its early 19th-century meetinghouse as “a symbol of healing,” said Connie Matthews Harshaw, who heads the foundation that works to preserve the church’s history. The brick building built in the 1850s not only served as the congregation’s home for a century but also played an important role in American history. In the…

1 min
a son’s guilt

The moment when Nero examines the murdered body of his mother, Agrippina, is described in several ancient historians’ accounts. In his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, the second-century Roman historian Suetonius related how Nero “rushed off to examine Agrippina’s corpse, handling her limbs, and, between drinks to satisfy his thirst, discussing their good and bad points . . . He was never either then or afterward able to free his conscience from the guilt of this crime. He often admitted that he was hounded by his mother’s ghost and that the Furies were pursuing him with whips and burning torches.” Painting by Arturo Montero y Calvo, 1887. Prado Museum, Madrid MUSEO NACIONAL DEL PRADO, MADRID…

1 min
white gold

Salt was a vital part of the livelihood for people who lived in the mountains around Hallstatt for millennia: The nearby city of Salzburg (“salt castle”) is even named for it. In the Bronze and Iron Ages, the mineral was extremely valuable for its ability to preserve fish and meat. At Hallstatt and Dürrnberg, around 40 miles away, salt was extracted via shafts 650 to 1,000 feet deep, lit by torches and reinforced with timbers. In addition to being the type site of a whole civilization, the miners’ cemetery at Hallstatt also yielded clues about whatworkers wore and carried, as their tools were often buried alongside them.…

17 min
the celts trade, art, and war

Near the mouth of the Rhône River, 2,600 years ago, Greek traders founded a colony called Massilia, today the site of the French city of Marseille. Venturing inland along the Rhône Valley, those traders encountered a people who spoke a tongue the Greeks did not recognize. Ruled by wealthy chieftains and hungry for luxury goods, they seemed fierce and warlike. A century later, Greek geographer Hecataeus of Miletus gave them a name—Keltoi, translated into Latin by the Romans as Celtae. Today, the word “Celtic” represents many things: a style of modern jewelry; a typeface; and an epithet of national pride among people of Scottish, Welsh, and Irish descent. In historical terms, however, “Celtic” is harder to define, in part because the Celts lived across such a wide area, inhabiting lands from…

5 min
mystery of the blue diamond—the final cut

Known by awed gemologists simply as “the Blue,” the world’s biggest blue diamond first vanished in a jewel heist during the turmoil of revolutionary Paris in 1792. Since then, it has resurfaced and disappeared several times around Europe and across the Atlantic. Historians and jewelers have finally ended this treasure hunt that lasted more than two centuries. Most diamonds are prized for colorlessness, but this remarkable gem stood out for its distinctive deep blue hue. Discovered in India and brought to France in the 17th century, the stone measured a whopping 115 carats—a rare heavyweight in gemological terms. The diamond came to the attention of France’s Louis XIV, who bought it in 1668. To craft a fitting symbol for the Sun King, Louis had it cut, reducing it to 69 carats but…

1 min
the vix treasure