Of all of humankind’s early inventions there are few that are still commonplace in the modern home, the fan assisted oven has replaced fire and I doubt any of us would even recognise a racloir. There is, however, one of invention of the Palaeolithic that nearly every person in the world has in their home right now: The Knife.

The sheer genius underlying the knife design is proven by the diversity of its forms; there is a knife for every occasion. Slicing, skinning, stabbing, all these needs have produced knifes with their own unique morphology;as seen in the image below.

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(The first person to email us with the correct name for every blade in this picture will win a special prize)

The secret of the knife’s longevity, like all great designs, lies in its simplicity. The thin, sharp edge allows the relatively weak human to exert over 1000psi of pressure, sufficient to cut wood, hide and, most importantly; human flesh.

This ability - to pierce human flesh with ease – was a real game changer. It opened up a vast new realm of murderous possibilities, with a knife in hand even a weaker member of the tribe, with a little cunning, could make a bid for leadership. It is also why history has so often teetered on a knife edge.

1. The 1st Knife

When: 75,000 B.C. (Around 37,000 Years Ago).

Where: Blombos Cave, South Africa.

2-Stone_Knife

The worlds oldest knife, made from pressure flaked silcrete.

The species that we belong to, Homo Sapiens, is a relatively young one. We have only been on the planet for a modest 200,000 years. Civilization as we know it has only existed for around 7,000 years and agriculture around 10,000 years. For 95% of our existence we were essentially beasts who had the ability to out think a lion and, thanks to nature’s gift of opposable thumbs, manipulate our environment with unparalleled precision.

It would be wrong to think of the Stone Age as uniform, far from it, as is the case with any technology there were advancing levels of sophistication. Humans inherited a fairly primitive tool kit from the earlier hominids; heavy stone axes and fire hardened wooden spears. These were the main weapons used in humankind’s battle against the animals. These weapons provided compensation for humans small statue and weakness (humans have the lowest muscle density of all mammals, a 3ft chimpanzee can rip your arms off) but were hardly the decisive technology needed to keep those uppity animals in their rightful pace place.

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"No, I do not care for a free hug"

After around 50% of our species life time had passed (100,000 years) one bright fellow, most likely tired of his family members being eaten by giant animals, hit upon a bright idea, a heated axe head would become brittle; he could then tap the edges off to make a razor sharp sliver of rock, this long haired brainiac had just invented the first knife.

4-Glypodont

Would you take this on this beast armed with only a fire hardened stick?

This technique is called Pressure Flaking, it allowed humans to produce blades of superb quality and really take the fight to the beasts. Before the emergence of agriculture humans, using their new pressure flaked blades had hunted the following to extinction: mammoths (all kinds), mastodons (all kinds), ancient horses, Irish dear, giant sloths, cave lions, woolly rhinos, the glyptodon (see above) and cave bears, anything that was really big and scary.

The knife, truly a world shaking innovation, one that placed us firmly above the beasts and ensured that we’d never kowtow to a bear again, wonderful.

Source

2. The Knives of the Roman Senate

When: The Ides of March (15 march) 44 BC (2055 Years Ago).

Where: Rome, Capital of the Roman Republic, Italy.

5-Roman_Knife

Forged from Noric Steel, the wide blade makes killing wounds.

The knife you see above is the standard side arm of a Roman legionary: the Pugio. The Pugio was also a common accessory for Roman officials, it was easy to conceal and provided a last line of personal defence, as they rose through the governmental ranks the knife they carried would become more ornate, the one above is a replica of one belonging to a cavalry officer.

The Pugio was made from iron, a metal of which the Romans were masters. Whilst earlier civilizations had only used iron from meteorites in small quantities (it was considered to be worth 40 times it weight in silver) it was the Romans, in their typically organised fashion, which produced iron on an industrial scale. They churned out over 80,000 tones of the stuff per year, a figure only surpassed by the Britain in 1875 during the industrial revolution, 18 centuries later.

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Britain was one of Rome’s most important Iron producing regions

This lust for iron was driven by the need to equip Rome’s legions. At the height of its power Rome had nearly 180,000 legionaries under arms, each man required around 40kgs of iron for weapons, armour and equipment.

Although the iron blade of the Pugio changed many lives for the worse whilst in the hands of the legions its real world altering power lies in the fact that is was the assassin’s favourite. It was the Pugio that the Roman senators held in their hands when they committed one of the most infamous assassinations of all time: the killing of Julius Caesar.

Julies Caesar was assassinated for a simple reason; members of the senate had grown jealous of his popularity and they were afraid he would be elected king by the Plebs, they saw a chance for a pre-emptive strike to save Rome from tyranny.

We’ve managed to discover some CCTV of the incident.

First the conspirators ushered Caesar into a side room of Pompey's theatre after watching some gladiatorial combat.

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Look out behind you...

Tillius Cimber presented Caesar with a petition to recall his exiled brother, Caesar was suspicious of Tillius’s closeness and how the other senators crowded round to support his supplication.

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"OH NOES, I HAVE BEEN DUPED!"

Once they had him fully surrounded the senators descended upon Caesar, he attempted to defend himself by wrapping his toga around his arm, but was finally overcome, suffering a total of 23 stab wounds.

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"Hip Hip Hooray! we have killed the tyrant"

Caesar lies dead on the floor of the senate; the killers rush out to tell Rome that they are free of the tyrant. Marc Antony has already informed the mob of what has occurred, the populace begin to riot. On learning their actions have been seen in an unfavourable light all 60 either flee Rome or commit suicide, ironically, using their Pugios. The face of old patrician at the back of the senate says it all.

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"A pox upon these n00bs."

Caesars death plunged the Roman republic into the Liberators’ civil war. The victors of that war, Marc Antony and Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian Augustus then fought another two civil wars. Augustus is eventually victorious, the Roman Republic is abolished and the Roman Empire erected upon its bloody ruins.

The implications of Caesars survival are world shattering. Not only would the Roman Republic have been spared the horror of three more civil wars, the Empire might never have been born. Caesar was about to turn east and invade the Parthian empire (Iran, Persia); backed by the strength of a united Rome he would have been unstoppable, perhaps even achieving Alexander the Great’s dream of uniting Europe and Asia.

The Pugio, the knife whose stab kept Europe and Asia divided to this day.

Source (Images of real Roman Pugios)

Source (Assassination of Ceaser)

3. The Knifes of the Assassins

When: 1092 – 1265 (Around 1000 years ago).

Where: Syria, Iran, Crusader States, Middle East.

11-Hasahanin

Today the term Assassin is used to describe a professional murderer, it conjures up images of black cloaked rascals jumping from roof top to roof top, book depositories and sniper rifles. However the word is a very old one, its origins stretch back in time to the medieval Middle East and a fascinating religious sect...

In 1122 A.D. they were described as hashishi, meaning outcasts or rabble, by the Caliph of the Islamic empire, it is from this term we derive our modern word assassin. The rabble he was referring to were a group of Nizari Ismalilis who practiced a heretical, esoteric form of Islam. This particular group has been founded by a charismatic cleric named Hasan-i-Sabbah, his motivation for assembling such a group is unclear although, given human nature, it seems likely it was a desire for personal gain, political power and vengeance against his enemies. Why else would one set up a cult of utterly loyal ideologically brainwashed killers, for charity work perhaps?

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Hasan-i-Sabbah - A man not to mess with.

Of course every club needs a hide out and Hasan had set his eyes on a prime piece of real estate in North Western Iran, a small fortress named Alamut (it means eagles nest – ring any  bells?) which he captured using a very cunning plan (it’s a little to long to relate here but worth a read). Once he has secured this stronghold he set about expanding the order which, in classic cult style was defined by a strict hierarchy of ranks.

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As is usual in hierarchical groups it was only the lowest rank, the Adherents or Self-Sacrificing agents who would actually perform the killings. Their preferred method of execution was a public stabbing to ensure maximum distress and intimidation. Their first recorded victim was Nizam-al-Mulk, grand vizier and de facto ruler of the Seljuq Empire, he was stabbed in broad daylight whilst travelling from the capital of Persia, Isfahan to the capital of Iraq, Bhagdad.

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An Assassin goes about his Business (In this case ending the life of a slightly overweight man)

Originally they only targeted those who persecuted or massacred members of their community. However once groups of heavily armed and very angry Christian knights started to arrive in the holy land and, no doubt speaking slowly and clearly in their own language, started to proclaim, “GOODDAY INFIDEL! THIS LAND HERE BELONGS TO JESUS, I.E. THE POPE. NOW, LETS SEE THAT HEAD BANGING THE FLOOR OR I START CHOPPING FINGERS OFF.” The arrival of the Europeans threw petrol onto the already smouldering politics of the region and the Assassins started to take contacts and handsome payments from all sides. Business was so good they even set up a small branch office in the mountains of Syria to be better able to serve their customers.

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Do not go on holiday here.

By the time of the 3rd crusade (1190 – about 70 years after the founding of the Assassins) the Assassin outpost in Syria (image above) was run by Rashid ad-Din Sinan, or, as he was otherwise known, The Old Man of The Mountain. Saladin, leader of the Islamic forces opposed to the Christian crusaders was determined to destroy the assassins and laid siege to The Old Man of the Mountain’s castle. One night during the siege Saladin was awoken by the smell of freshly baked scones, pinned to the scones by a poisoned dagger was a note from the assassins.

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Mmmm Murderlicious.

Saladin realised that defeating such a cunning adversary would be a very costly affair and decided to cut a deal with the assassins. It is alleged that Saladin and Richard the Lionheart then used the Assassins to kill Conrad of Montferrat who was about to be crowned King of Jerusalem and become their mutual political rival. Conrad was stabbed to death in the street by two assassins.

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This thoughtful fellow was also killed by an assassin.

The Assassins operated successfully for around 170 years before the last of their strongholds were destroyed at the hands of the Mamluk and Mongol armies. The surviving members of the sect underwent the process of Taqiyya (concealment). To ensure its survival the religion became secret one, its adherents allowed to practise the faith of their rulers to elude detection. It is unknown if the sect survives to this day, but who knows, the person closest to you could be a secret Assassin…

Between the 11th and 13th centuries the knives of the assassins took the lives of generals, kings high officials and religious leaders, no other minority political group has ever used violence with such success - their blades didn’t just change the history, they made it.

Source
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