Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cisalpine IQ and human accomplishment: Part 1

Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan
An intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a score derived from one of several standardized tests designed to assess intelligence. 

Some can agree with it, disagree with it, but it remains as the current scientific method for accessing what's between our ears. Obviously someone could be immoral, amoral, evil, violent, twisted, perverted, a political zealot, an ideologue, a relative conformist, or just totally opposed to something normal or good.... and still have a high IQ.

I think, like anything else, it should be questioned. What is "intelligence?" Someone, for example, could attain advanced degrees due to having great memorizational ability; but they could be severely lacking in creative ability, problem solving skills, and sometimes even common "cause and effect" logic. Political figures are a good example of this. Still, IQ does tell us a lot. I wouldn't totally hang my hat on it, but it can be compared to global demographics, sources of technologies, and other factors; and it can at least be determined that IQ tells us much.

Quite frankly, the IQ of native Cisalpines is about 110... the highest in the world. Even then, that doesn't mean that every individual is up to that standard; nor does is mean that a Cisalpine society will always be the best. One good example of "a self-propelled milieu of ideas" (as opposed to an intercultural crossroads of ideas) is the early automobile industry; whereby urban industrial centers in north Italy, Germany, and Japan in particular were able to develop entrepreneurial-technological environments for development.

Germany--which has a slightly lower average IQ (about 105) than true Cisalpines--still maintains a higher standard of living, a slightly higher inherent technological ingenuity, and better infrastructure. What is interesting is that the German-speaking countries, which are of Alpine and Germanic stock; and the Cisalpine regions, which are of true-Mediterranean and Alpine stock with Germanic admixture.... have gotten the best technological results in Europe. Again, this does not guarantee a better society or even a higher standard of living.

Etruscan ruins
Still, this south-central European ingenuity and IQ is higher than the more Teutonic or Norse countries; or anywhere else in Europe for that matter. It seems to shatter the idea of a Mediterranean or Teutonic basis for human accomplishment. The ancient true-Mediterraneans led the world in every area of human endeavor; yet in recent centuries the more advanced societies have become much more oriented toward generally northern/western Europe or their colonies. However, despite these realities, this Transalpine/Cisalpine creativity and ingenuity--at least in the area of science and technology--remains a driving force in the world.

There are endless theories and quagmires regarding the comparing of collective or demographic IQs, so I think I will just avoid that part of it mainly due to the endless complexities and layers of bias. Suffice to say, IQ tells us a lot, but not everything. I think that an individual could have a high IQ and not be nearly as successful as a cunning person with an average IQ. I like to think that creativity and logic carry a little more weight than cold intelligence and ruthless cunning. Actually, it's all mixed together; but it's helpful to assess ourselves.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Gauls and Langobards drank mead: Part 2

Mead was covered here on an older post entitled 'Seeking a taste of the past? Get thee to a meadery' from a 2004 San Francisco Chronicle article. It's remarkable that wine is such a big part of local culture and industry, and yet mead is hardly known; especially considering its long history. In colder climates where wine was difficult to cultivate, they produced mead. It's associated with the Vikings in particular.

The website was designed to help promote the market and culture of mead... also known as "honey wine." Just searching around on the subject, I can see some of the local meaderies from the SF Chronicle article above are mentioned often. If you're close to a Bev and More, then finding a good honey wine shouldn't be any problem.

The Viking heritage website features a section about Viking-themed meads and meaderies. The following is from that main page...

Viking Brews and Booze

When it comes to drinking, no one can top the Vikings. No one. Which is why it is only appropriate that some modern day beverages are dedicated solely to Viking glory. In one of my more samaritan moods, I decided to compile a list of those drinks here, which is broken down into the following categories:

Barley Brews

Honey Brews

Distilled Options

Fruity Booze

Viking Booze Burial Mound

And a few short notes on the listings:

—First, everything is broken down by type of beverage as indicated in the submenu above (and also in the menu on the right-hand column), then alphabetically by title of brewery/distillery/etc. as indicated.

—Second, most of these beverages are, by some sick joke of the norns, rather hard to find, and I have not yet succeeded at apprehending most of them myself at the local booze stores. Fy fan!

—Third, I hope to keep this list as complete as possible. If you know of any appropriate beverages not listed here, please let me know! My email is on the FÅQ page. I can also be reached on facebook and myspace.

Happy browsing and drinking. Skål!



If the Greeks and Romans drank wine, then the Vikings and Gauls drank mead. I don't necessarily know that there is any type of really interesting documentary on the history of mead, as it was just part of the scenery.. part of those cultures. It was sold and traded on the market just like any other product. Even before Roman expansion, the Gauls had a system of roads that linked various tribal settlements, and even to Celtic nations outside of Gaul. They traded with Celtiberians, Vikings, Etruscans, Germans, Bohemians, and probably Greeks, Slavs, and Phoenicians. I can imagine that a good northern mead, perhaps produced by ancient Belgian-Celts, would have been a good sell at a trade-market along the southern coast of Gaul. Actually, mead can be produced even more readily in warmer climates.

Somewhere about 1300 A.D., the Italian voyager Marco Polo (1254-1324) returned from the Spice Islands with sugar cane. This inexpensive source of sugar became dominant and honey went underground - well almost. The tradition of mead was sustained in the monasteries of Europe. The need for ceremonial candles made of beeswax necessitated managed bee colonies and surplus honey was used to make mead, which was enjoyed by the monks in their more secular moments. [from]


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Gauls and Langobards drank mead: Part 1


Mead (pron.: /ˈmiːd/; archaic and dialectal "medd"; from Old English "meodu" Ukrainian: Мед or Russian: Медовуха or Lithuanian: Midus), also called honey wine, is an alcoholic beverage that is produced by brewing a solution of honey and water. It may also be produced by brewing a solution of water and honey with grain mash, which is strained after fermentation.  Depending on local traditions and specific recipes, it may be flavored with spices, fruit, or hops (which produce a bitter, beer-like flavor). The alcoholic content of mead may range from about 8% ABV to 18%. It may be still, carbonated or naturally sparkling, and it may be dry, semi-sweet or sweet.

Mead is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, although archaeological evidence of it is ambiguous. Its origins are lost in prehistory. "It can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks," Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat has speculated, "antedating the cultivation of the soil."

Claude Lévi-Strauss makes a case for the invention of mead as a marker of the passage "from nature to culture." Mead has played an important role in the beliefs and mythology of some peoples. One such example is the Mead of Poetry, a mead of Norse mythology crafted from the blood of the wise being Kvasir which turns the drinker into a poet or scholar.


The earliest archaeological evidence for the production of mead dates to around 2000 BC. Pottery vessels containing a mixture of mead, rice and other fruits along with organic compounds of fermentation were found in Northern China. In Europe, it is first attested in residual samples found in the characteristic ceramics of the Bell Beaker Culture (ca. 2800 – 1800 BC).

The earliest surviving description of mead is in the hymns of the Rigveda, one of the sacred books of the historical Vedic religion and (later) Hinduism dated around 1700–1100 BC. During the Golden Age of Ancient Greece, mead was said to be the preferred drink. Aristotle (384–322 BC) discussed mead in his Meteorologica and elsewhere, while Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79) called mead militites in his Naturalis Historia and differentiated wine sweetened with honey or "honey-wine" from mead. The Spanish-Roman naturalist Columella gave a recipe for mead in De re rustica, about AD 60.

Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius of this water with a pound of honey. For a weaker mead, mix a sextarius of water with nine ounces of honey. The whole is exposed to the sun for 40 days, and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rain water, then boil spring water.
Around AD 550, the Brythonic-speaking bard Taliesin wrote the Kanu y med or "Song of Mead." The legendary drinking, feasting and boasting of warriors in the mead hall is echoed in the mead hall Dyn Eidyn (modern day Edinburgh), and in the epic poem Y Gododdin, both dated around AD 700. In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, the Danish warriors drank mead. Later, taxation and regulations governing the ingredients of alcoholic beverages led to commercial mead becoming a more obscure beverage until recently. Some monasteries kept up the old traditions of mead-making as a by-product of beekeeping, especially in areas where grapes could not be grown, a well-known example being at Lindisfarne, where mead continues to be made to this day, albeit not in the monastery itself.


The English word mead derives from the Old English meodu, from Proto-Germanic meduz, from Proto-Indo-European *médʰu (honey, fermented honey drink). Slavic med / miod , which means both "honey" and "mead", (Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian: med vs. medovina, Polish 'miód' pronounce [mju:t] - honey, mead) and Baltic medus "honey"/midus "mead", also derive from the same Proto-Indo-European root (cf. Welsh medd, Old Irish mid and Sanskrit madhu).


Mazer Cup International Mead Competition and Tasting Event -- Sponsored by, this event is held every year in March in Boulder, Colorado. It is the largest mead event in the world, with over 300 home meads and over 200 commercial meads in competition. There is a Friday tasting event with the gold medal winning commercial meads from the previous year, plus feature meads from around the world.

Real Ale Festival in Chicago, Illinois, includes categories for mead as well as cider and perry.

Woodbridge International Mead Festival - Sponsored by local residents, it claims to be the only mead festival east of the Mississippi. While few types of mead are available, all are home-brewed and go through a rigorous judging process.

In literature

Mead is featured in many Germanic myths and folktales such as Beowulf, as well as in other popular works that draw on these myths. Notable examples include books by Tolkien, George R. R. Martin and Neil Gaiman. It is often featured in books using a historical Germanic setting and in writings about the Viking era. Mead is mentioned many times in Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel, American Gods; it is referred to as the drink of the gods. Also, in the books of the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, it is often drunk by Eragon Shadeslayer at feasts in honor of him. Mead is also referenced in The Kingkiller Chronicle novel series by Patrick Rothfuss. The protagonist Kvothe is known to drink metheglin. The non-existent "Greysdale Mead" is also drunk, although it is merely water.

[See above link for distribution, varieties, and local variants; see also Mead of poetry]


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

1958 Ferrari sells for $8.25 million

1958 Ferrari sells for $8.25 million

This Ferrari, along with nine other top-selling cars at the 2013 Scottsdale collector car auctions, together raked in about $39 million.

Peter Valdes-Dapena - 'Fortune' magazine - January 23, 2013


Sold for: $8.25 million
Auction house: Gooding & Co.

Watch: The Ferrari California Spider - A car collector's dream

At the annual Scottsdale, Ariz. auto auctions last weekend, the biggest headlines were about the Batmobile, which sold for $4.6 million. But that was only the third-highest price paid at the auctions and it wasn't even close the top dollar amount.

That honor went to this beautiful 1958 Ferrari painted in Bleu Sera Metallizzato which sold at the Gooding & Co. auction. Only 50 long-wheelbase versions of this car were ever made and this is number 13. It has its original upgraded V12 engine.

All the prices in this gallery, as collected by the collector car insurer Hagerty Insurance, include commissions which usually amount to 10% of the "hammer price."


Monday, February 11, 2013

Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, ready for takeoff

Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, ready for takeoff: Motoramic Drives

Lawrence Ulrich - Motoramic - February 5, 2013

Gunning the Lamborghini Aventador Roadster down a straightaway at Homestead Miami Speedway, I manage a quick glance at the speedometer: 147 mph, just in time to bend into the NASCAR oval that forms a section of the winding infield road course.

This convertible version of Lamborghini’s latest 12-cylinder flagship could go much, much faster. But the Italian pace driver ahead checks my speed along the steep 20-degree banking, making sure the day isn’t spoiled by anyone introducing their $445,300 baby to the unforgiving track walls. Fair enough: The Lamborghini’s 691-hp howl and skull-snapping acceleration – including 3 seconds flat from 0-60 mph, and a quarter-mile in just 10.7 seconds at 136 mph – are entertainment enough.

And honestly, while the nearly 3,600-lb. Aventador handles the course reasonably well, this is less a tool for tracks than a supercar fantasy for Wyoming-style, wide-open roads. Or open runways, as Lamborghini showed, blasting five candy-colored Aventadors down a Miami International Airport runway at 210 mph, just shy of the car’s 217-mph top speed. That’s faster than any jet has traveled on Miami’s tarmac, where takeoff speeds peak around 175 mph. That record-setting run was recorded by Miami-Dade Sheriff’s officers, in what has to be history’s happiest encounter between police radar and a Lamborghini.

The FAA-approved stunt, along with a 50th anniversary parade of 50 new and historic Lamborghinis along South Beach’s Collins Avenue, perfectly fit the gonzo mentality of a company that’s been blowing minds since 1964. And from the 350 GT V-12 of 1964, through the ‘70s Countach and the more-recent Gallardo and Murciélago, the mind blowing begins with styling. Like its sensational closed-roof cousin, the Roadster doesn’t disappoint: Aggressive and geometric yet fluid, the Aventador looks like a sexed-up Klingon warship by way of Sant’Agata Bolognese, Lamborghini’s northern Italian home.

Bragging points begin with a chassis and passenger tub made entirely of lightweight carbon fiber. And when it came to the carbon fiber convertible roof, Lamborghini freely admits sacrificing some ease-of-use for beauty: “We told the designer, you can do whatever you want – it just has to look the best,” says Stephan Winkelmann, Automobili Lamborghini’s elegant chief executive.
The result? No bulky folding hardtop or shapeless cloth pup tent to break up those suggestive body lines. Instead, two glossy, ridge-backed panels of carbon fiber, weighing just 13.2 pounds each, pop into the roof -- and take up nearly the entire under-hood cargo space when not in use. Storing or fitting the roof takes some practice and steady hands. Owners will want to keep a sharp eye out for sudden thundershowers.

Locked into place, the top actually forms a structural element that boosts chassis stiffness to 24,000 Newton-meters. And including some additional carbon fiber to beef up door sill areas, the Aventador Roadster weighs just 110 pounds more than its closed-roof cousin.

Viewed from above, the black, pointy-eared roof panels look remarkably like Batman’s mask, creating a two-tone effect with Lambo’s wide selection of body colors. Those include Bianco Canopus, a matte white that’s paired here with an edible-looking, chocolate-leather interior. Or, Verde Ithaca, a shade that proves that Lamborghinis are among the only cars that look good in bright green (Aside from a ‘60s Hemi ‘Cuda, perhaps).

With the top stored and the separate rear glass window rolled down, we’re ready for beautiful machine music, courtesy of the 6.5-liter V-12 that’s visible beneath clear, insect-wing composite panels. Those stacked shelves feature huge gaps to extract heat from the Aventador’s pulsing, 8,250-rpm heart.

The 691 horses and 509 pound-feet of torque are unchanged from the hardtop version. But the Roadster’s V-12 does have new tricks up its aluminum sleeve: Half the twelve cylinders shut down under steady cruising, trimming fuel consumption by up to 20 percent, and 7 percent overall. An engine stop-start system uses a fast-charging supercapacitor to restart the big V-12 at stop lights with remarkable smoothness, and in just 50 milliseconds. The roughly 15 mpg average will still cost American buyers a $3,700 gas-guzzler tax, though that’s not likely to dissuade people who have a line on one of the world’s most exclusive sports cars.

How exclusive? Consider that just 582 Americans landed a Lamborghini last year. Even that number represented a 50 percent jump from 2011, when Lamborghini found 387 American buyers.

Like many other sports car purveyors, from Porsche to Aston Martin, Lamborghini is clawing back from a recession that cut sales virtually in half. Here in America, 12,000 wealthy buyers treated themselves to a “super sports car” in 2007, Winkelmann says, in a market that moved more than 16 million cars overall. But those 12,000 sales tumbled to 6,100 just two years later.

The Aventador is leading the comeback, with 922 buyers worldwide in 2012, more than double the Murciélago’s best-ever year.

Those buyers are getting a car that’s hotter, faster and more approachable than the departed Murcielago. The seating position is more natural, steering feel is improved and ergonomics are unexpectedly good for an Italian supercar – including a slick Audi navigation system and climate controls, courtesy of Lamborghini’s position within the VW/Audi empire. Even the view out the back is more generous than in V-12 Lambos of old. On the track or on winding roads, the fast windshield and bulky front roof pillar do make it hard to get a good, long-distance look around curves.

Still, there are a few unexpected compromises for a car that can easily sneak past the half-million dollar mark. Lamborghini’s dual clutch ISR transmission is steadily improving, but the car’s three performance modes – which also adjust throttle, stability control and other parameters — have a Goldilocks issue: In the street-oriented Strada mode, shifts are slow, syrupy and distressingly vague. Bump it up to Corsa mode, and shifts are crushingly hard for most situations outside the track. The middle Sport mode proves best for street operation, whether we’re stuck in Miami traffic or romping it wherever possible.

Giorgio Sanna, Lamborghini’s chief test driver and sports-car racer, insists that the seamless shift feel of, say, Porsche’s PDK transmission isn’t right for Lamborghini drivers – who still, apparently, like a buck in the back to remind them they’re driving one of Lamborghini’s famed fighting bulls.

“We want our customers to perceive an emotion,” Sanna says.

No such problem with the brakes: The Aventador’s massive Italian meats, including 20-inch alloy wheels in front and 21-inch beauties out back, are gripped by standard carbon composite brakes with good pedal feel.

While the Aventador comes alive on open roads, our return to South Beach brings us rudely back to reality: As the Aventador crawls down dull, congested Florida roads – a caged, impatient fighting bull – other drivers seem to have more fun than I do, rolling down windows to flash thumbs-up and cell phone cameras alike.

And that’s the odd thing about owning such a spectacularly over-the-top machine in a place like this. Winkelmann affirms that outside of the Los Angeles area, South Florida and Texas are the American hot beds for Lambo buyers.

South Beach owners, apparently, don’t need to go 217 mph to have fun in a Lamborghini. In fact, trolling Collins Avenue at 21.7 mph works much better for see-and-be-seen status – an impression that’s only aided by the open-roofed version of the Aventador.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Tuscan Orient Expeditions: Part 1

[Introducing new contributor 'Etrusco-Umbro-Gallic'. He was trained in the sciences, and well versed in matters concerning the anthropology and history of N/C Italy and the Western World. Any questions or comments can be directed to him, or if you would like to e-mail him directly, please send them to, and they will be forwarded to him. Thank you.]

 The Tuscan Orient Expeditions: Part 1

      Tuscany. No question about it, this is the Western Man’s Kosovo. It’s a microcosm of Western civilization, even surpassing Rome in importance. It is not just the home of Puccini, Of Michelangelo, of Dante, of Galileo, of Bocelli, but also of lesser known characters whose impact on the course of Western civilization was just as monumental. How about Francesco Redi,  Amerigo Vespucci,  Eugenio Barsanti and Felice Matteucci? Tuscany’s influence on the Western World is as immense as it is historically consistent in nearly all important aspects. This essay and its sequels will explore in a chronological manner the encounters, of both individual Tuscans and Tuscany as a whole, with the Orient, that is to say, the Islamic Mediterranean world. Such encounters are a recurring theme in Western history and, in many ways, define who we are as Westerners, as people of European descent.

      After the fall of Rome, Saracen armies went on to conquer the entire Eastern and Southern Mediterranean thanks to their zeal and unorthodox tactics as well as the plagues, political corruption and economic crises which hit the region hard. It was a dark time for Europe, indeed, with Saracen fleets prowling the sea unchecked, plundering settlements (even Rome was almost sacked once), stealing slaves and treasures in the process. According to the insightful, yet obscure and underappreciated historian Henri Pirenne, it were these events, rather than the invasions of the so-called barbarians (who were actually Romanized within century and never really constituted a majority in the former Roman empire anyway) that precipitated the so-called Dark Age.

      Situated on the southern shores of Europe, it was only natural that, one way or another, Tuscany, too, was in the crosshairs. The Tuscan coast was repeatedly harassed by the Saracen pirate-marines and long stretches of it were abandoned. Such was not the case with Pisa, a former Roman municipium which was, by that time, the most important city in Tuscany. In the 9th century, spurred by constant Saracen attacks, Pisa began to expand its fleet. In 828, Pisan ships already made headway by taking the fight to the enemy, by assaulting the North African coast. In 871 they took part in the defense of Salerno, then a Lombard-rule principality in Southern Italy, from the Saracens.

      In 970, the Pisans were operating in Calabria, probably making war on its Muslim occupants in order to secure safe passage for their merchants through the Strait of Messina that separated Muslim Sicily from the peninsula. Pisan annals also record a Muslims naval attack on Pisa in 1004 and a Pisan victory over the Muslims off Reggio in 1005. The Muslim assault of 1004  may have originated in Spain, or it may have been a typical pirate raid. The Pisan attack of 1005 was likely a response, and perhaps a serious attempt to put an end to Muslim piracy, for which Reggio served as a perennial base. This victory greatly expanded Pisa’s maritime power.

      In 1011, an expedition from what is today southern Spain went on to wreck havoc on the Tyrrhenian coastline, clipping the Pisa region. The fleet most likely came from the Umayyad port of Denia, then ruled by the emir Mujahid, or Musetto, as he was called in Tuscan. By the time Musetto took power, the Emirate of Denia had established a foothold in the Balearic islands. An ambitious emir, Musetto decided to island-hop to Sardinia. As with most Saracen expeditions, it began with intensive coastal raids and the establishment of tactically important beachheads. The then-acting Pope John VIII was alarmed since Sardinia lay directly across the Tyrrhenian Sea from Rome and urged the Christian lay powers to expel the Saracens from the island. It was no trivial concern since Rome was nearly sacked by Saracen pirates in 846 (St. Peter’s basilica did end up being looted, though, since it was outside the walls). Well, Pisa and Genoa answered that call. Not many details are known, but what is known is that Musetto’s large scale attempt to invade the island in 1015 was thwarted.

      The persistent Musetto returned to Sardinia in 1016, however, intending a more thorough conquest of the island. After defeating the local Judges, as the local Sard rulers were called, Musetto immediately set about building cities using the local Sards for slave labour, which was the economic backbone of early and later Islamic caliphates. It was also that year that Musetto’s pirate-marines raided the Lunigiana, a picturesque area separating Tuscany and Liguria, in an in-your-face fashion. Once again, the wasp had awakened the boar. Once again, the pope called for an expedition and the combined Pisan-Genoese fleet scored---this time for good. With the Saracens expelled from the island, Pisans and Genoese began to bicker over the newly conquered territory, hence initiating their bitter rivalry which was to last unabated for two more centuries.

      Pisa’s fortunes continued to multiply and between 1030 and 1035, Pisa went on to defeat several rival towns in Sicily, conquer Carthage and sack Bona (now Annaba) in North Africa. In 1051–1052 the admiral Jacopo Ciurini conquered Corsica. During this time that Pisa’s rivalry with Genoa continued to grow.

      In 1085 Pope Gregory VII had granted suzerainty over the Balearic islands, off the coast of Iberia, to Pisa. Twenty-eight years later, in the fall of 1113 a Pisan fleet making an expedition to Majorca was put off course by a storm and ended up near the coast of Catalonia, which they initially mistook for the Balearics. The Pisans met with the Count of Barcelona and signed a treaty. Among other things, the treaty called for a military cooperation, the chief goal of which was to suppress Islamic piracy plaguing their coasts and to free Christian slaves. In 1113 Pisa and the Pope Paschal II set up, together with the count of Barcelona and other contingents from Provence and Italy (Genoese excluded), a war to free the Balearic Islands, which were at that time held by the Moors.  To make a long story short, the expedition was a success and the ruler of Majorca was brought in chains to Tuscany. Even though the Almoravids, the dynasty ruling much of Iberia at the time, soon reconquered the island, this was not really a major setback for Pisa. The booty taken helped the Pisans in their magnificent building program, especially its cathedral.  More importantly, Pisa still maintained its dominant military and mercantile role in the Western Mediterranean.

      It was also during this time that Pisa helped pave the way for the First Crusade, a long overdue, yet small-scale effort to roll back some of the conquests and stem the tide of Islamic attacks against the then Christian world. In 1087, prompted by a wave of pirate attacks on the Tyrrhenian coast orchestrated by the Zirid ruler of Mahdia (a city in present day Tunisia), the Pisans, augmented by the Genoese and Amalfitan forces, captured and plundered the city. The Muslim fleet stationed in the harbor was burned during the fighting. As in the Balearic campaign, Mahdia was soon reconquered but, once more, the ever resourceful Pisans used the money gained from plunder to further beautify and enrich their city. By burning the Muslim fleet, the Pisans helped secure the European Western Mediterranean coast which was to become a launchpad for Levant-bound Crusader fleets only 10 years later. Now, the Pisans did not simply initiate the First Crusade. In fact, they actually helped ensure its victorious outcome: the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. Some 120 Pisan ships took part in the First Crusade, no small number for the time.

      Through all of this, several important developments had taken place. By about 1100, thanks largely to the courage of Tuscan marines (along with those from Liguria, Provence, Catalonia, of course), Western Europeans were no longer afraid to go for a boat ride on their own beach. Well, the threat of Saracen piracy was still very much looming and would continue to do so until the French conquest of the Barbary Coast in the 1800s, but the bully’s nose was badly bloodied, so to speak. The pirates were no longer seen as an insurmountable obstacle, but as an inevitable inconvenience. Big difference. Additionally, since Pisa and the other maritime republics/states like Genoa had the ability to field powerful armed fleets, they could now escort their merchant navies safely to the bazaars of the Orient, and to, once again, obtain those now exotic goods, once commodities during the Roman era. Naturally, this wealth trickled down from the Arno Valley to the rest of the European continent over the decades and centuries that followed. 

      The Levant and North Africa were bustling hubs of intellectual activity in the Classical Era. To be fair, yes, a fair amount of that knowledge was preserved under the new Saracen overlords, but few original contributions were made by them to the major disciplines: medicine, philosophy, alchemy, and mathematics. Nevertheless, the region was a treasure trove of old manuscripts pertaining to those subjects and, by way of trade, Pisan travelers and merchants could now bring them back to the Occident. Perhaps the best such example is Leonardo Fibonacci, a forerunner of his fellow Tuscan namesake Leonardo Da Vinci, really. Leonardo was born in 1170 to a Pisan merchant operating in Algiers. As a young man, he was an avid traveler and had perused many mathematical manuscripts during that time. He was exposed to “Arabic” numerals (in quotes because they were actually developed in India and had reached the Mediterranean by way of conquest) and introduced the system to the Western world. He also developed a new notation of expressing fractions, similar to that used today. His name is most strongly associated with what is known as the Fibonacci sequence, where the first two numbers are 0 and 1, and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, etc. Leonardo arrived at this sequence from a hypothetical situation involving an immortal rabbit population undergoing reproduction. Interestingly, the ratio of two sequential numbers of the Fibonacci sequence approaches the famous Golden Ratio the further along in the sequence that pair of numbers occurs. The Golden Ratio is commonly associated with art and, yes, has inspired many artists during the renaissance, but it has many applications in the financial market world, too. 

      Fibonacci may have been unique in his intellectual ability, but certainly not in his travels and not in bringing back the most valuable of all commodities, long denied but finally available to all Western Europeans thanks to the courage of his Tuscan countrymen: knowledge. And this knowledge was not destined to simply gather dust and be deemed blasphemic. In Europe, it was elaborated and expanded upon, criticized and corrected. Consequently, new knowledge was generated and systematically recorded and circulated, and this exponential process repeated itself many times over. Nothing like this has ever happened in all of mankind’s history and on no other continent. And here I am writing this on my laptop computer, itself a fruit of this process, much like the nearly microscopic components of its circuitry.