22 December: Gregor MacGregor

Even as a young man, Gregor MacGregor seems to have been obsessed with appearances.
Even as a young man, Gregor MacGregor seems to have been obsessed with appearances.

Name: Gregor MacGregor

Tagline: A Scotsman who, after a stint in the Napoleonic Wars, went off to South America to join the wars of independence.

Claim to Fame: Perpetrating several plots to enrich himself at the cost of others, including twice selling off land in a non-existent province. Continue reading 22 December: Gregor MacGregor

20 December: Carsten Niebuhr

Carsten Niebuhr dressed and ate like the natives of the countries he passed through - as opposed to his travelling companions, who most likely tried to hold on to European sensibilities.
Carsten Niebuhr dressed and ate like the natives of the countries he passed through – as opposed to his travelling companions, who most likely tried to hold on to European sensibilities.

Name: Carsten Niebuhr

Tagline: As a young man with a knack for cartography, Niebuhr was selected for the Danish king’s expedition to the “Arabia Felix”. After his travelling companions died in the early stages of the trip, he travelled alone throughout the Middle East, returning to give the world a much better understanding of the Arabian Peninsula.

Claim to Fame: Literally writing the book on the “Happy Arabia”.

Carsten Niebuhr was born in 1733, Niebuhr was originally planning to become a surveyor, but attended university instead. He caught the eye of an academic, who recommended him as a participant for the Danish king Frederick V’s Danish Arabia Expedition.

The expedition set sail in January 1761, sailing first to Marseilles and Malta, before going to Istanbul and Alexandria. After arriving in Egypt, the expedition went to Cairo and to Sinai. Then they crossed the Red Sea and entered Mocha.

And this is where the story turns a bit bleak. Cause this is where the first member of the expedition died on May 25th, 1763. A month and a half, the next member died on the way to Sana, the capital of Yemen. After an audience with the Imam of Yemen, the remains of the expedition set off to sea towards Bombay. On the 29th and 30th of August, two more members of the expedition died at sea. And finally, shortly after the ship landed in Bombay, the second-to-last member of the expedition died.

Niebuhr was a cartographer and surveyor, and prepared maps of the places he visited. This one is of Yemen.

Which left Niebuhr all alone. He spent 14 months in Bombay, before travelling home by land, visiting many countries and cities on his way.

On his way, Niebuhr spoke to many, many of the local people he met. Not only that, he dressed like them, ate with them, and integrated himself with them to a large extent.

And of course he brought home notes and samples of all kinds of things. Apparently, his drawings were essential to cracking the old Cuneiform script, and he is considered one of the founding fathers of Assyriology.

I would posit that he can also be considered a founding father of ethnography. He was a keen observer of people, and understood to describe them more or less on their own terms.

How would I use him: Niebuhr is a stellar example of an explorer. He goes around, meets people, has adventures, and reports it all to his home. Use him as a mold for a fantasy game about bold adventurers – or maybe try moving him into space.

The whole expedition also offers a great opportunity for a story of intrigue and politics on an expedition. There was a lot of drama connected with the beginning of the expedition, which I don’t have time to go into – and while it’s not such a mystery why so many of Niebuhr’s travelling companions died (they were ill adjusted to the climate, and didn’t have resistance to the many tropical diseases they encountered), it would be easy to make a mystery out of their deaths.

There is also a great case to be made for using Niebuhr as a precursor. In the Cthulhu game, he is the one who wrote the tome on the weird rituals of certain cults. Or maybe something followed him home, hidden in some object sent home to Copenhagen … getting ready to awaken …

19 December: Erich Mielke

Mielke in 1976, almost 20 years into his tenure as head of Stasi. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R0522-177 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Mielke in 1976, almost 20 years into his tenure as head of Stasi. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R0522-177 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Name: Erich Fritz Emil Mielke

Tagline: Joining the communists at an early age, Erich rose in the hierarchy of the newly formed GDR.

Claim to Fame: Head of the East German secret police (Stasi) throughout most of its existence and one of the fathers of the Berlin Wall. Continue reading 19 December: Erich Mielke

18 December: Artemisia of Halicarnassus

Artemisia ruled her city on behalf of her son.
Artemisia ruled her city on behalf of her son.

Name: Artemisia I of Halicarnassus

Tagline: Warrior Queen of the Greek city-state of Halicarnassus, satrap (Persian governor) of the satrapy of Caria, fought for the Persians against the Greeks during the second Persian invasion of Greece, 480 BC.

Claim to Fame: Artemisia of Halicarnassus was the only Persian naval commander to come out of the disastrous battle of Salamis with both life and honour largely intact. She was also the only Persian commander in the invasion to give the Persian King Xerxes honest advice rather than flattery. Continue reading 18 December: Artemisia of Halicarnassus

17 December: Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen

You can almost see this guy's duplicitous nature shining from his eyes.
You can almost see this guy’s duplicitous nature shining from his eyes.

Name: Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen, nicknamed ‘The Professor of Cunning.’

Tagline: played a father and son against each other in a regicidal drama.

Claim to fame: Pahlen is a source of inspiration for weasels everywhere. A combination of duplicity and luck led him nearly unscathed through the murder of Russian Emperor Paul and the accession of Alexander. Continue reading 17 December: Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen

[FTAWTTT] 10 December: Corfitz Ulfeldt

Corfitz UIfeldt in his glory days.
Corfitz UIfeldt in his glory days.

Name: Corfitz Ulfeldt

Tagline: Starting out as the king’s valet, Ulfeldt was a rising star, but ended up as a hated man, exiled from two countries.

Claim to Fame: Ulfeldt is widely known as the greatest traitor Denmark has ever known. Continue reading [FTAWTTT] 10 December: Corfitz Ulfeldt

7 December: Heinrich Schleiman

Heinrich Schliemann in his maturity

Name: Heinrich Schliemann

Tagline: A German businessman and archaeologist, who was certain the Illiad was based on reality.

Claim to Fame: Think Achilles and Odysseus wiped out Troy? Nope – it was this guy.

Heinrich Schliemann was a controversial figure, even in his own time. He was a passionate archaeologist, but his methods were destructive, and he probably put too much emphasis on gold and too little on potsherds.

Schliemann started out in business, however. He was apparently a polyglot, who claimed he could master a language in six weeks. By the end of his life he could converse in more than ten languages.

That came in immensely handy in his life in business. At 22, he was employed by a company in Amsterdam, who sent him to St. Petersburg. When his brother died in California in 1850, he went there, and started a bank. He quickly made a lot of money trading gold dust, but a controversy emerged around him, so he moved back to Russia. There, he made several very successful business deals – including cornering the market for sulphur, saltpetre and lead right as the Russian army needed ammunition for the Crimean War.

Thus it came about that he could retire at the tender age of 36, and devote his time to his passion: archaeology. Specifically, finding the location of historic Troy.

Schliemann spent some time trying to find the right location, before ultimately settling on a location in Turkey. Along the way, he earned a PhD from the University of Rostock for a thesis he submitted on the topology of Ithaca. The thesis was supposedly partly translated from another author, partly rewritten from poetic descriptions by the same author.

Schliemann began work in 1871. Now, most people think of people with bent backs wielding spoons and brushes when they think of Archaeologists at work. But not Schliemann. His favourite tool was a stick of dynamite.

See, he figured that the Troy of the Illiad was the deepest layer. And he was anxious to get to the good stuff. And so he blew his way through nine layers of previous settlements – down to something that predates historic Troy by around four hundred years, and through the actual remains of historic Troy, making it impossible for later generations to study them.

Schliemann’s wife, Sophia, wearing “The Jewels of Helen”.

Once there, Schliemann knew what he was interested in: gold! And he did, in fact, discover several golden treasures, calling it “Priam’s Treasure”, though it was much too old to have been connected with Troy. He claimed that he had sent his men away when he found it, and that he and his wife had excavated it themselves. Only problem? She was far away in Athens at the time.

Speaking of wives, Schliemann had two. His first was a Russian woman whom he married when he was in Russia the second time, and with whom he had three children. The marriage was not a happy one, however, and when Heinrich moved to Paris, his wife refused to move with him. So he moved to Indiana for three months, and gained a divorce there by lying about his intention to stay there.

Later on, in Greece, he was looking for a new wife, and was introduced to the 17 year old Sophia, whom the 47 year old Schliemann decided to marry. They had two children, whom Schliemann named Andromache and Agamemnon. He was indeed possessed by the Illiad.

Heinrich Schliemann is something of a tragic figure. His obsession with Troy and his strong beliefs in his own rightness caused him to destroy the thing he loved, and has caused him to be reviled in modern archaeology.

His obstinacy also brought him to his death. In November, 1890, he developed a terrible ear infection, and received an operation. But instead of following his doctor’s orders, he travelled on, eventually collapsing on Christmas day, and dying on the 26th of December.

How I would use him: Schlieman is equally at home as a villain in a pulpy, Indiana Jones story, or in a Lovecraft story. He is so focused on digging up treasures (that belong in a museum) that he is likely to dig up something weird and foul.

Ironically, he could also be a figure out of a Greek tragedy. He is oblivious to his own failings, making him exacerbate the issues.

6 December: Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas is apparently also a major saint in the Russian Orthodox Church

Names: Nicolaos of Myra, Hagios Nikolaos, Sanctus Nicolaus, Nikolaos ho Thaumarturgos (Nicolaus the Wonderworker).

Tagline: Born in the Roman province of Asia Minor, Nicolaus was made bishop at a young age. He took part in the Council of Nicaea, which set down many of the foundations of the Christian church, and received a rumor as a miracle worker.

Claim to fame: Look, he’s the guy who became Santa Claus, alright? Continue reading 6 December: Saint Nicholas

5 December: Edward Drinker Cope

Edward Drinker Cope

Name: Edward Drinker Cope

Tagline: A dedicated paleontologist who published more than 1,400 articles and discovered and named more than 1,000 species, Cope is probably most (in)famous for being one of the parties involved in the so-called “bone wars”.

Claim to Fame: On top of his massive work, he was part of something called the bone wars – and if that isn’t enough, he left his brain behind, so it could be measured against his rival! Continue reading 5 December: Edward Drinker Cope