The 13 British colonies eventually joined to form the United States—but as colonies, they were often more different than they were alike.
The 13 British colonies that eventually became the United States in some ways were more different than they were alike. They were founded for a diverse range of reasons, from the pursuit of fortunes to the desire to create havens from persecution and model societies, and had differing systems of governance. The colonies’ inhabitants—an estimated 2.5 million when the Revolution began—varied greatly as well.
“Religiously, they included Congregationalists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, Dutch and German Reformed, Quakers, Catholics and members of other sects,” notes Benjamin Carp, an associate professor at Brooklyn College and author of the 2010 book Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party & the Making of America.
Although most of the white colonists were from the British isles, the colonies also included people from other European countries, particularly Germany. About 20 percent of the colonies’ inhabitants were enslaved African Americans, who came from a range of different ethnic groups and nations. Indigenous people also still lived within the 13 colonies’ borders—as they had long before the colonists’ arrival.
The 13 colonies supported diverse economies, from those in the northeast that focused on urban commerce, to the southern coastal colonies that exported huge amounts of tobacco and rice, explains Carroll Van West, a history professor at Middle Tennessee State University.
The colonies also had some key unifying factors. Economically, from the southern plantation to port cities of the north, they all were dependent in some way upon both slave labor and access to overseas markets, as West notes. Ultimately, the 13 colonies became united in their opposition to British rule and desire to govern themselves and make their own collective destiny.
Here are some facts about each of the 13 colonies.
1. Connecticut enacted the first constitution in America.
In the late 1630s, the settlements of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield began unifying under a rudimentary form of government that was composed of magistrates and representatives from each town. But they soon decided that they needed a more formal common government, and wrote a document called the Fundamental Orders, which often has been called the first constitution in any of the colonies.
According to ConnecticutHistory.org, It consisted of a preamble and 11 sections, which included rules for electing a governor, magistrates and a General Court that was authorized to adopt and repeal laws, impose taxes, and punish people who committed crimes, among other powers.
WATCH: The 13 Colonies
2. Maryland was founded as a haven for Catholics.
George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, was a government official in England who became interested in colonizing North America. His first foray, though, was in Newfoundland, where in 1623 obtained a royal charter for a plantation that he called “the province of Avalon.” After converting to Catholicism in 1625, he eventually moved to Avalon, where he battled both the French and some of his own colonists, who opposed him bringing Catholic priests to his settlement.
George Calvert eventually tired of all the strife, and in 1632, obtained a royal charter for territory north of the Potomac River, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. When he died shortly afterward without visiting his new land, the charter was taken over by his son, Cecil Calvert, who named the new colony Maryland, in honor of King Charles I’s wife Queen Henrietta Maria.
Another of George Calvert’s sons, Leonard Calvert, led an expedition of settlers on two ships, the Ark and the Dove, which landed at St. Clement’s Island in southern Maryland in March 1634. The Calverts eventually built a capital, St. Mary’s City, where they erected a church and school as well as government buildings. Maryland became predominantly Catholic, and in 1649 enacted a law that guaranteed religious freedom—at least for Christian believers.
3. Massachusetts was the birthplace of the American iron industry.
In 1644, John Winthrop established the Saugus Works, which had a dam to provide water, a smelting furnace, a forge, and a rolling and slitting mill. The facility produced two types of iron—cast iron that could be poured into molds to make a product, and pig iron, large lumps that could be remelted and used in manufacturing.
One of the main products manufactured by the Saugus Works was small pieces of iron that could be used to make nails for construction, according to University of Houston historian and engineer John H. Leonard. It was the start of a colonial iron industry that spawned 175 different plants across the 13 colonies, and produced a product that was so sought after in England that officials there eliminated customs duties in 1750.
4. Pennsylvania was created to pay a debt.
After the British monarchy was restored in 1660 and Charles II took the throne, British admiral Sir William Penn, used some of his own personal wealth to rebuild and feed the Royal Navy. That debt still hadn’t been repaid 20 years later, when the admiral’s son, William Penn, an aristocrat who had converted to the Quaker sect, petitioned Charles II for repayment. But instead of money, the younger Penn had a proposition. He wanted the king to give him a grant of land west of the Delaware River in America, where he envisioned starting a colony that would put into practice Penn’s beliefs about religious tolerance and a fairer judicial system.
In 1681, the king granted the charter. Penn had wanted to call colony New Wales, or else Sylvania, after the Latin word for woods. But Charles decreed that the name should be Pennsylvania, in honor of Penn’s father, according to the State Museum of Pennsylvania.
5. New Jersey had the alternate name of New Caesarea.
In 1664, King Charles II gave a charter for New Netherland, the land between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers, to his brother James, the Duke of York. James, in turn, sent a fleet to chase out the Dutch, who also had claimed the area, and then gave a lease for a portion of the land to Lord John Berkeley, Baron of Stratton, and Sir George Carteret, a British naval officer who had helped defend the island of Jersey and keep it in Royalist hands during the English Civil Wars.
In honor of Carteret’s services to the Crown, James insisted upon calling the colony New Jersey, with the alternative name of New Caesarea, after the Roman name for the island of Jersey.
6. Virginia’s most lucrative crop was tobacco, even though it was opposed by the king and the Virginia Company.
In the 1610s, a colonial official named John Rolfe began experimenting with tobacco, a plant that American Indians dried and smoked in religious ceremonies and as a health remedy for health problems ranging from ear aches to insect bites. People in England and Europe had picked up the practice of smoking as well, creating a market.
Because Native Americans in Virginia planted a variety that English smokers found too harsh, Rolfe tried planting a variety from the West Indies, according to Encyclopedia Virginia. It became a big success. King James I vehemently opposed the use of tobacco and the Virginia Company wasn’t keen on colonists growing it, fearing that it would lure them away from planting corn, a crop the Virginia Company felt was more important. Nevertheless, tobacco cultivation caught on, and just before the start of the Revolutionary War, Virginia was producing 55 million pounds of tobacco a year, thanks to the labor of enslaved people and indentured servants who were purchased with profits from the crop.
7. New Hampshire offered parcels of land in exchange for one ear of corn each year.
After the end of the French and Indian War in 1762, Governor Benning Wentworth, an appointee of King George III, felt it was time to increase the colony’s population. He arranged a deal in which a group of 12 influential citizens, known as the Masonian Proprietors, acquired a large amount of land on behalf of the colony, and then began recruiting settlers for it. In a 1762 degree, Wentworth specified that those who received one-acre lots were required to pay a “Rent of one Ear of Indian Corn only, on the twenty-fifth day of December annually, if lawfully demanded.” Additionally, they were also charged a nominal annual fee, at the rate of one shilling for every 100 acres of land, with the payment due adjusted up or down depending on the actual quantity.
8. Georgia was founded as a new home for impoverished people and debtors.
In the 1730s, James Oglethorpe, a retired British army officer, decided to make it his mission to help the impoverished and debt-ridden inhabitants of London get a fresh start in life. He thought the best solution was for them to resettle in America. In 1732, Olgethorpe’s plan came to fruition, when 20 trustees received funds from Parliament and a Royal charter, authorizing them to enact their own taxes and laws and hand out land grants to settlers.
The corporation created to establish Georgia was a charity, and none of the trustees themselves could receive any land or pay. In order to prevent any of the settlers from becoming too wealthy, they set a 500-acre limit on individual land holdings, and speculators were kept out by banning settlers who’d received free land from selling or borrowing money against it. Settlers, though, eventually grew disenchanted with the lack of self-government and restrictions on how much land they could acquire, as well as with the colony’s ban on slavery, according tothe Library of Congress.
9. New York became the first target of British trade restrictions—for exporting fur hats.
The Hudson Valley’s hatters produced beaver-pelt headwear that became popular in Europe, according to Perkins. British hatters took notice and persuaded Parliament in 1732 to pass the Hat Act, which made it illegal to export hats from the colonies, on the grounds that it endangered jobs in the mother country. The Hat Act also put limits on the number of workers and apprentices who could be hired by colonial hatmakers, and banned the use of enslaved people in the hat business.
As damaging as the Hat Act was to American hatmakers, it was followed by an even more potentially ruinous 1733 law, the Molasses Act, which sought to protect British sugar planters from price competition from the Dutch, French and Spanish West Indies. That outraged colonial merchants, who began smuggling sugar and molasses in response.
10. South Carolina benefited from the demand for blue dye.
In the mid-to-late 1700s, one of the colony’s most important agricultural products was indigo, a plant originally from India that was used to produce blue dye used in the British textile industry. The indigo plant also flourished in the climate of the American southeast, according to Charleston County Public Library. South Carolina’s settlers had little use for the plant except as a product for export, since extracting the dye from the plant was costly, time consuming and labor intensive, and the only real demand for it was on the other side of the Atlantic, where conflict with France and Spain made it difficult to obtain indigo.
A South Carolina merchant named James Crokatt, who had moved back to England, convinced the government there to pay a cash incentive of six pence per pound of indigo to purchasers of South Carolina indigo.
11. North Carolina was sold back to the British crown.
The Lords Proprietors, a group of eight men who received a royal charter in 1663 for what is now North and South Carolina, originally had the dream of creating a feudal society in which they would rule like absolute monarchs over the settlers, and even envisioned a class of hereditary serfs who would be bound to the land. That bizarre fantasy turned out to be unworkable, and in the half-century that followed, the colony was plagued by problems ranging from corruption and incompetence to pirate attacks and conflicts with Native Americans.
The proprietors couldn’t manage a colony with far-flung settlements, and in 1712, they officially split into South and North Carolina. The British government, tired of the proprietors’ incompetence, converted South Carolina to a royal colony in 1719, and 10 years later, seven of the eight proprietors agreed to sell their shares of North Carolina to King George II as well. The one holdout, John Carteret, insisted on keeping his one-eight share of the colony’s land, though he lost his say in its governance.
12. Rhode Island played a big role in the slave trade.
It wasn’t just the southern colonies who were involved in slavery. Rhode Island saw its first slave ship arrive in Newport harbor in 1696, and the colony went on to play a key role in the slave trade during the 1700s. Ships set sail from the colony on about 1,000 triangular voyages. Cargoes of rum were exchanged for captives in Africa, the captives were then transported to the West Indies and traded for sugar and molasses produced by enslaved people. Those raw materials went back to New England, where they were used to make the rum.
Rhode Island also had the highest percentage of enslaved Africans in New England, with captives making up 11.5 percent of the colony’s population by 1755. Some in the colony were troubled by its dependence upon the cruel institution, and legislators passed a number of laws in an effort to limit it, including a 1783 law that emancipated the children of enslaved women once they reached adulthood. While slavery gradually died out, Rhode Island didn’t make it illegal until 1842.
13. Delaware wasn’t really formed until 1776.
Delaware started out as a Swedish colony in 1638, when explorer Peter Minuit established a settlement near what is today Wilmington. Then, in 1655, Dutchman Peter Stuyvesant conquered the Swedish colony, which he renamed the Colony of New Netherlands.
But the Dutch held the colony for less than a decade before they were chased out by the British, who absorbed it into the former Dutch colony they renamed New York. Then, in 1682, the Duke of York (who would later become King James II), gave what is now Delaware to William Penn, who wanted it so that his new colony of Pennsylvania would have access to the sea.
In an epic, double-overtime game on Christmas Day 1971, Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian booted the Kansas City Chiefs from the playoffs.
Third in a series on iconic NFL games.
The longest game in NFL history featured 13 future Hall of Fame players, two future Hall of Fame head coaches, starting quarterbacks who would finish their careers with a combined three Super Bowl titles and an unlikely star for the losing team. But the 1971 Christmas Day playoff game between the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs was decided by a 5-foot-7, 170-pound, balding, Cyprus-born kicker/tiemaker who became best known for one of the greatest Super Bowl bloopers of all time.
Final score: Dolphins 27, Chiefs 24 in two overtimes. Elapsed game time: 82 minutes and 40 seconds. Garo Yepremian, a left-footed, soccer-style kicker, booted the winning field goal to put the Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game and end the Chiefs’ season.
“Christmas 1971. Santa Claus came to Kansas City,” a deep-voiced narrator said during an NFL Films retrospective on the game years later. “But for the Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins, their AFC playoff game seemed more like Labor Day.”
Labor Day, indeed.
“That game was a struggle, and you had to concentrate so much on the fact of the struggle, and to keep renewing your enthusiasm and determination just to hang on and not let [the Chiefs] take it,” Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka recalled. Players appeared to be on the “edge of exhaustion” following the game, a reporter wrote.
Except for the little kicker who won it all.
Who Was Dolphins Kicker Garo Yepremian?
Led by Don Shula, future Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese and a running game with future Hall of Famer Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris, the Dolphins were a rising power. Miami finished the regular season with a 10-3-1 record.
Yepremian, peeved because Chiefs kicker Jan Stenerud was chosen over him to represent the AFC in the Pro Bowl, was one of the team’s most compelling characters. The first NFL game he saw was the first one he played in, for the Detroit Lions, when he was 22. He didn’t even how to put on shoulder pads. After a kickoff, the former soccer player ran to the wrong sideline.
In his spare time, Yepremian, the son of Armenian-born parents, made colorful neckties—”wild and woolly ones, with bright, abstract patterns that remind you of the kind of visions people must have on acid trips,” the New York Times reported in 1972. “[S]ome people who see the fabric think it looks pretty ridiculous,” Yepremian said. “But they wind up loving the neckties.”
The Chiefs, led by head coach Hank Stram, future Hall of Fame QB Len Dawson and a stingy defense, also finished the regular season with a 10-3-1 record. Against the Dolphins, Kansas City was a three-point favorite.
Not everyone was thrilled with this Christmas Day showdown. Days before the game, lawmakers in Missouri announced their intention to introduce legislation that would ban NFL games on the sacred holiday.
Future Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud Misses Kicks
In rickety Municipal Stadium, 50,374 fans witnessed an epic performance by Ed Podolak, the Chiefs’ leading rusher during the regular season but hardly a star. He finished with 350 all-purpose yards, still an NFL record for a playoff game.
“We still haven’t figured a way to stop Podolak,” Shula said years later.
“Every time I got the ball,” Podolak recalled, “there was a huge hole.”
Thanks to two Podolak touchdowns, the Chiefs led 24-17 late in the fourth quarter. Then the Dolphins tied the score on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Marv Fleming.
On the ensuing kickoff, Podolak returned the ball deep into Miami territory, setting up a potential winning field goal by Stenerud with 35 seconds left. But the future Hall of Famer missed the 31-yard attempt to the right, and the game went to overtime. Earlier, Stenerud missed a 29-yard attempt, and in the first overtime, his 42-yard attempt was blocked.
“That sudden death is horrifying,” Dawson told reporters afterward. “One bad break and you’re out of the game.”
Neither team scored in the first overtime. With seven minutes and 20 seconds left in the second overtime, Yepremian kicked a 37-yard field goal to end it, triggering a raucous celebration by the Dolphins. “After I kicked the ball,” Yepremian told reporters, “I look up at the sky and thank God for giving me the chance to kick it.”
The significance of playing in the longest game in NFL history barely registered with the no-nonsense Shula. “…I could care less,” he said. “I’m only interested in the score.”
“Fantastic, unbelievable,” Stram called the game.
Inside the Chiefs’ locker room, Podolak wept. Teammate Curley Culp, a star defensive lineman, smashed helmets into a wall, and the Norwegian-born Stenerud despaired. “I have the worst feeling anyone could have,” he told the Kansas City Star. “I have no idea what I’m going to do now. I feel like hiding. … it’s unbearable. Totally unbearable.”
Outside the dingy Dolphins locker room a crowd formed. Then a man carrying a black bag approached. “Please make way for the doctor,” he said, according to the Star. As the crowd parted, someone said, “From the sound of things in there, they don’t need a doctor. They need a bartender.”
Yepremian was asked if he could understand Stenerud’s pain. “It happens to everybody,” he said. “It happens to the best. And for that, I felt sorry for him.”
Then he paused and smiled. Still,” he said, “I was glad he missed.”
Yepremian Has His Own Flub in Super Bowl VII
The following week, the Dolphins defeated the Baltimore Colts in the AFC Championship Game but lost Super Bowl VI two weeks later to the Dallas Cowboys, 24-3. In the next year’s Super Bowl, Yepremian had his own low moment, one preserved forever on YouTube and cemented on “Most Embarrassing Plays in NFL History” lists.
In a 14-7 win over Washington, sealing the Dolphins’ 17-0 season, Yepremian’s 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked. He picked up the ball, and tried to throw it—an act of high comedy for a 5-foot-7 kicker among NFL giants. But the “pass” was snatched in mid-air by Mike Bass, who ran 49 yards for Washington’s only score. The play was ruled a fumble.
“We lose this game, I’ll kill you,” Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti told Yepremian on the sidelines, according to the Miami Herald.
Yepremian was so stressed by his gaffe that he left the team’s post-game party early and took an ice bath in his hotel room.
“I honestly thought my life was over,” he told Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote years later about the play.
But Yepremian, who died in 2015, eventually made light of the play.
“Every airport you go to, people point to you and say, ‘Here’s the guy who screwed up in the Super Bowl,’” he said. “After a while it bothers you. If it was anybody else, he would go crazy, but fortunately I’m a happy-go-lucky guy.”
In 1964, the fighter was up for the music honor for a comedy album. Twelve years later, he was nominated again.
The accomplishments of Muhammad Ali are renowned: Olympic gold medalist, heavyweight boxing champion, humanitarian, civil rights activist. But would you believe he also was a Grammy Award nominee in 1964 and 1976?
Trading in his boxing gloves and shorts for black tie and tails, Ali cut a comedy album inside the Manhattan studios of Columbia Records in early August 1963. A live audience hooted and hollered as the fighter unleased a volley of jabs and right hooks, but the punches really thrown by the 21-year-old Ali during the recording were of the verbal variety.
The pugilist who stepped before the microphone was not yet heavyweight champ. He wasn’t even Muhammad Ali at that point. Still known as Cassius Clay, he may only have been a contender for the heavyweight title, but he was already a world-champion entertainer.
“Ali’s genius for marketing was off the charts,” says Jonathan Eig, author of the biography Ali: A Life. “He figured out early on that being an entertainer was good for the boxing business. If he could generate more publicity for himself, he would attract more people to his fights and get an earlier shot at the heavyweight championship.”
Ali’s Rhyming Couplets Land Him Music Industry Deal
With quips as quick as his fists, Ali had earned his “Louisville Lip” nickname. He wielded rhyming couplets like weapons to stagger opponents before bouts and to bolster his fight game.
“The rhythm of my poetry gives me an unprecedented rhythm in the ring,” Ali told the media. Before a March 1963 fight against Doug Jones in New York, the loquacious boxer even took to the stage of a dimly lit Greenwich Village coffeehouse for a poetry battle against seven of the city’s top beatnik poets, a fight he won by popular acclaim.
Ali’s entertaining doggerel and growing fame led Columbia Records to sign him to record a spoken-word album entitled—naturally—“I Am the Greatest.” The tracks, rechristened “rounds” for the album, opened with the sound of a ring bell and featured a blend of stand-up comedy, rhyming verses and comedic sketches. The live audience clapped and cackled as if it were open-mic night at a comedy club as Ali spouted braggadocio such as “This kid fights great; he’s got speed and endurance/But if you sign to fight him, increase your insurance.”
Ali mercilessly taunted the reigning heavyweight champion Charles “Sonny” Liston throughout the album. His track “Will the Real Sonny Liston Please Fall Down” is a masterclass in trash-talking. “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Liston, not to praise him,” the “Bard of Boxing” told the audience. “He can’t fight,” Ali said of Liston. “I watched him shadow boxing and his shadow won—in the first round.”
The boxer wasn’t afraid to turn his humor upon himself and give a wink to the audience to let them in on the joke. “Mr. Clay, have you ever been in love?” asked an audience member with a planted question. “Not with anyone else,” the fighter quipped.
Although Ali had a quick wit, he wasn’t freestyling on the album. Columbia Records hired veteran comedy writer Gary Belkin to assist Ali as a ghostwriter. The album’s original liner notes listed Belkin as a producer, but he wasn’t credited as a co-writer until a 1999 re-issue of the album.
Belkin later claimed that he wrote most of the album’s content, but Ali told the Miami News he never paid anybody to write a poem for him—although he conceded Columbia Records could have.
“He put in some of the comedy, some skits,” Ali said of Belkin. “But all my poems are mine.” Evidence submitted to a Senate subcommittee probing boxing corruption in March 1964 suggested otherwise. Included in payments made by Ali’s backers is a $600 expense to Belkin for crafting a poem for Ali’s appearance on the “Jack Parr Show.”
No matter who wrote the material, Ali’s critics weren’t impressed. “Cassius, if you look under the surface, is merely loud-mouthing to build a big gate against the retirement into which Liston will blast him,” wrote United Press International sportswriter Oscar Fraley.
Ali’s Album Soars Up the Charts
When Ali fought Liston on February 25, 1964, he was a 7-1 underdog. Even inside Columbia Records doubts surfaced. “Get the money/Before Clay fights Sonny,” an aspiring poet tacked on a company bulletin board. After pummeling Liston in verse, Ali knocked him out in the ring to become heavyweight champion.
According to Columbia Records, sales of “I Am the Greatest!” after the fight topped those of Barbra Streisand and even the Beatles. The record company rushed the new champion back into the recording studio to croon a cover of the Ben E. King hit “Stand by Me” and a version of “The Gang’s All Here” with assistance from singer and friend Sam Cooke.
“Ali used to hang around the rhythm-and-blues clubs in Louisville and was a great fan of pop music. He even had a record player in his car,” Eig says. “If he had a chance to become a singer, he would have loved it.”
A quickly issued single featuring a re-worked title track from “I Am the Greatest!” and “Stand by Me” sold 100,000 copies in its first week. Critical acclaim followed as “I Am the Greatest!” received a Grammy Award nomination for best comedy performance alongside comedians such as Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and The Smothers Brothers. All lost that year to Allan Sherman’s recording of “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.”
A second Grammy nomination followed for Ali in 1976, after he returned to the recording studio to take on a tougher foe than Liston—tartar. In “The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay,” the boxer known for his mouth promoted good oral hygiene to kids. The album, which also featured the voices of Frank Sinatra and sportscaster Howard Cosell, received a Grammy nod for best children’s recording.
Although Ali never won a Grammy, his musical legacy endures. His swagger and rhymes have been cited as precursors to the exchange of lyrical blows in modern-day rap battles, and the heavyweight champion has been credited as a hip-hop pioneer by artists such as Chuck D.
The vibrant network opened up exchanges between far-flung cultures throughout central Eurasia.
The Silk Road wasn’t a single route, but rather a vibrant trade network that crisscrossed central Eurasia for centuries, bringing far-flung cultures into contact. Traveling by camel and horseback, merchants, nomads, missionaries, warriors and diplomats not only exchanged exotic goods, but transferred knowledge, technology, medicine and religious beliefs that reshaped ancient civilizations.
The term “silk road” was coined in 1877 by Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen, a German geographer, who focused on the flourishing silk trade between the Chinese Han Empire (206 B.C. to 220 A.C.) and Rome. But modern scholars recognize that the Silk Road (or Silk Roads) continued to enable cross-continental trade until large-scale maritime trade replaced overland caravans in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Here are eight of the most important trade goods that fueled centuries of Silk Road cultural exchange:
It’s called the Silk Road for a reason. Silk, first produced in China as early as 3,000 B.C., was the ideal overland trade item for merchant and diplomatic caravans that may have traveled thousands of miles to reach their destinations, says Xin Wen, a historian of medieval China and Inner Asia at Princeton University.
“Your carrying capacity was very limited, so you brought whatever was most valuable, but also the lightest,” says Wen, whose upcoming book is titled The King’s Road: Diplomatic Travelers and the Making of the Silk Road in Eastern Eurasia, 850–1000. “Not only does silk fit these characteristics exactly—high value, low weight—but it’s also extremely versatile.”
The Roman elite prized Chinese silk as a luxuriously thin textile, and later, when silk-making technology was brought to the Mediterranean, artisans in Damascus created the reversible woven silk textile known as damask.
But silk was more than clothing, says Wen. In Buddhist cultures it was made into ritual banners or used as a canvas for paintings. In the important Silk Road settlement of Turfan in Eastern China, silk was used as currency, writes historian Valerie Hansen, and in the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 A.C.), silk was collected as a form of tax.
Horses were first domesticated in the steppes of Central Asia around 3700 B.C. and transported nomadic tribes that hunted and raided across vast territories that bordered China, India, Persia and the Mediterranean. Once the horse was introduced into agrarian societies, it became a sought-after tool for transport, cultivation and cavalry, writes historian James Millward in Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction.
The silk-for-horse trade was one of the most important and long-lasting exchanges on the Silk Road. Chinese merchants and officials traded bolts of silk for well-bred horses from the Mongolian steppes and Tibetan plateau. In turn, nomad elites prized the silk for the status it conferred or the additional goods it could buy.
Wen says that horses, by providing their own transportation, were the ultimate high-value, low-weight commodity on the Silk Road, and were “a very unique luxury item for the elite of the Eurasian world.”
It’s not surprising that the famous tomb of the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang (259–210 B.C.) not only contains 8,000 terra cotta warriors, but also lifelike statues of 520 chariot horses and 150 cavalry horses.
Paper, invented in China in the second century A.C., first spread throughout Asia with the dissemination of Buddhism. In 751, paper was introduced to the Islamic world when Arab forces clashed with the Tang Dynasty at the Battle of Talas. The Caliph Harun al-Rashid built a paper mill in Baghdad that introduced paper-making to Egypt, North Africa and Spain, where paper finally reached Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, writes Millward.
On the Silk Road, travelers carried paper documents that served as passports to cross nomadic lands or spend the night at a caravansary, a Silk Road oasis. But the most important function of paper along the Silk Road was that it was bound into texts and books that transmitted entirely new systems of thought, especially religion.
“It’s not a coincidence that Buddhism spread to China around the same time that paper became prevalent in the region,” says Wen. “Same with Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism. One of the central significances of the Silk Road is that it served as a channel for the spread of different ideas and cultural interactions, and much of that relied on paper.”
Spices from East and South Asia, like cinnamon from Sri Lanka and cassia from China, were exotic and coveted trade items, but they didn’t typically travel the overland routes of the Silk Road. Instead, spices were mainly transported along an ancient maritime Silk Road that linked port cities from Indonesia westward through India and the Arabian Peninsula.
Across the Silk Road, spices were valued for their use in cooking, but also for religious ceremonies and as medicine. And unlike silk, which could be produced wherever silk worms could be kept alive, many spices were derived from plants that only grew in very specific environments.
“That means there’s a clearer origin for spice than for some of the other luxury items, which adds to their value,” says Wen.
Millennia before there was such a thing as the Silk Road, China traded with its western neighbors along the so-called Jade Road.
Jade, the crystalline-green gemstone, was central to Chinese ritual culture. When jade supplies ran low in the 5th millennium B.C., it was necessary for China to establish trade relations with western neighbors like the ancient Iranian Kingdom of Khotan, whose rivers were rich with hunks of nephrite jade, the best variety of jade for carving intricate figurines and jewelry. The jade trade to China flourished throughout the Silk Road period, as did trade in other semi-precious gems like pearls.
Westerners often assume that most Silk Road goods traveled from the exotic Far East westward to the Mediterranean and Europe, but Silk Road trade went in all directions. For example, archeologists excavating burial mounds in China, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines have found Roman glassware among the prized possessions of the Asian elite. The distinct type of soda-lime glass made in Rome and fashioned into vases and goblets would have eagerly been traded for silk, which Romans were obsessed with.
The taiga is the vast stretch of evergreen forest that runs through Siberia in Eurasia and continues into Canada in North America. In the days of the Silk Road, writes Millward, the taiga attracted hardy bands of trappers who harvested fox, sable, mink, beaver and ermine pelts. This northern “fur road” supplied luxurious coats and hats to Chinese dynasties and other Eurasian elites. Millward writes that Genghis Khan cemented one of his earliest political alliances with a gift of a sable coat. By the 17th century, in the waning days of the Silk Road, rulers from the Chinese Qing Dynasty could buy furs from both Siberian and Canadian trappers.
Enslaved people were a tragically common “trade good” along the Silk Road. Raiding armies would take captives and sell them to private traders who would find buyers in far-flung ports and capitals from Dublin in the West to Shandong in Eastern China, writes Silk Road historian Susan Whitfield. The slaves became servants, entertainers and eunuchs for royal courts.
Wen says that while enslavement was pervasive in premodern Eurasia along the Silk Road, none of these kingdoms or societies could be classified as “slave-based” in the same way that the African slave trade operated in the New World.
“Slaves were more like an ornament of the life of the Silk Road elite,” says Wen, “Not a major economic source.”
In 1960, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik’s ‘perfectly legal’ hit on the New York Giants’ star resounded beyond the playing field.
Second in a series on iconic NFL games.
The Philadelphia Eagles-New York Giants rivalry intensified during the 1960 season. Intent on ending New York’s two-year reign atop the NFL’s Eastern Conference, Philadelphia carried a half-game lead on its big-market adversary going into the teams’ November 20 meeting. One non-scoring play in that game—Chuck Bednarik’s “perfectly legal,” knockout tackle of Frank Gifford, a future TV star—made this matchup one of the defining games in NFL history.
More than 60 years later, Bednarik’s fourth-quarter hit at Yankee Stadium lives on more so than Philadelphia’s 17-10 victory. The Eagles’ linebacker—the NFL’s last player to play on offense and defense—and Giants halfback—the 1956 MVP and one the country’s most popular athletes—combined for 16 Pro Bowls. Each is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, enhancing the play’s mystique.
Stationed on less successful teams compared to Gifford’s Giants for most of his career, Bednarik announced his retirement after the 1959 season but backtracked on it. That proved to be seminal decision.
“Everything that ever happened good—everything—happened to me in 1960,” Bednarik said in 2000.
Collision Changes Stars’ Trajectories
An October 1960 injury to linebacker Bob Pellegrini prompted Eagles coach Buck Shaw to reinstall Bednarik as a two-way player, at age 35. But Bednarik spent most of the second half against the Giants at center, his offensive line position. After the Eagles erased a 10-0 halftime deficit with a tying field goal with a little less than five minutes remaining, Shaw reinserted Bednarik at linebacker. That decision not only swung the 1960 NFL season; it keyed a frightening scene and one of the NFL’s indelible images.
After Bednarik sliced into the Giants’ backfield and forced a fumble that Eagles defensive back Jimmy Carr returned 38 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, New York backup quarterback George Shaw orchestrated a last-ditch drive with just more than two minutes left.
Shaw passed to Gifford, his leading receiver that day (five receptions for 89 yards), at the Eagles’ 30-yard line. As the all-purpose halfback sprinted toward the sideline to get out of bounds to stop the clock, he did not see Bednarik lurking. The 235-pound linebacker leveled Gifford, causing a fumble that Eagles linebacker Chuck Weber recovered to seal Philadelphia’s pivotal win.
While not a dirty play for the era, Bednarik’s full-body clothesline silenced Yankee Stadium and horrified Gifford teammates. The hit knocked the 197-pound Gifford unconscious. The 30-year-old back left the field on a stretcher and departed the stadium in an ambulance. Giants team physician Dr. Francis Sweeney called the injury a “deep concussion.” Giant teammates Sam Huff and Pat Summerall later said they feared Gifford was dead.
Only one video documents the play, and it fails to fully illustrate the tackle’s impact. Gifford later said whiplash from his landing on a semi-frozen field knocked him out, not the collision with Bednarik. No penalty was called, and the NFL did not suspend Bednarik.
“I feel sorry for the guy,” Bednarik said after the game. “But at the same time, I feel justified. It was a good, perfect tackle.”
Gifford spent 10 days at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and did not play again that season. Media initially reported Bednarik sent a card and a fruit basket to Gifford’s hospital room, but the New York Post noted decades later a friend of Bednarik’s made that gesture. Bednarik said days after the game he tried to visit Gifford in the hospital but was not granted access.
Eagle’s Celebration Creates Controversy
While Gifford did not play again for nearly two years, Bednarik—a World War II veteran already known as a fearsome player—saw that reputation enhanced. Bednarik also spent the rest of his life explaining why the New York takedown’s lasting image—Bednarik standing over an unconscious Gifford with a closed fist—misleads.
“He stood on the field pointing at Giff and laughing. It was a disgraceful performance by a guy who’s supposed to be an old pro,” Giants starting quarterback Charlie Conerly, who missed the game with a knee injury, wrote in a November 21 first-person newspaper column.
Conerly and Sweeney shouted at Bednarik after the hit, and Sweeney indicated Bednarik shook his fist at him as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“As soon as I saw Frank fumble, I turned to follow the ball. When I saw Charley Weber recover for us, I started jumping up and down, yelling ‘We got it; it’s our ballgame,’” Bednarik said after the game, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. “I remember waving my fist as a victory signal. I always do that on a play that means the game.”
After missing the Giants’ final three games in 1960, Gifford retired in February 1961. The future “Monday Night Football” broadcaster accepted an offer to begin his media career, breaking in as a WCBS radio analyst. Gifford later said he did not retire because of his injuries suffered on the hit, which also included skull and neck contusions. He returned to the Giants in 1962, as a flanker.No plays from Gifford’s first or second stint with the Giants endure like the infamous tackle.
‘Concrete Charlie’ Rides Momentum to NFL Immortality
The Eagles’ seventh straight victory led to their Week 10 home game against the Giants selling out before game day for the first time in franchise history.The Giants did not exact revenge in the rematch, blowing a 17-point lead in a 31-23 loss. They finished 6-4-2. The Eagles won the Eastern Conference at 10-2 and became the only team to defeat Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in a championship game, beating the West champs, 17-13, in Philadelphia.
Bednarik delivered a storied performance, lining up on 139 of the game’s 142 plays to close out his sixth and final All-Pro season. The revered Eagle and offseason concrete salesman thwarted the Packers’ final push, stonewalling Green Bay running back Jim Taylor at Philadelphia’s 9-yard line as time ran out.
The Eagles’ ascent proved short-lived. Quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, the NFL Most Valuable Player in 1960, retired at season’s end, and the Giants traded for future Hall of Fame passer Y.A. Tittle in 1961. New York won the next three Eastern titles. Gifford contributed to Tittle’s late-career resurgence and made his final Pro Bowl in 1963. Bednarik retired after the 1962 season; Gifford’s 12-year career wrapped up in 1964.
Safety Measures Remain Decades Away
While the NFL has passed numerous recent rule changes to protect players, it did not act on this front after Bednarik’s blow. Concussions did not seriously alter the rulebook for decades. The league introduced the personal foul penalty to minimize head and neck contact in 1980, but sweeping changes did not emerge until the CTE crisis gripped the league in the 21st century. The NFL did not enact a concussion protocol for players during games until 2013.
Bednarik was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, in 1967, and voters greenlit Gifford’s enshrinement 10 years later. Linked in perpetuity, the two crossed paths often. Bednarik was ever eager to discuss his signature play, but Gifford was not. In their retirements, the ex-rivals appeared together on TV, at banquets and in golf tournaments. Bednarik participated in a roast of Gifford in the 1980s.
Gifford—who died in August 2015, nearly five months after Bednarik—forgave his fellow Hall of Famer. He called the scary sequence that ended the halfback portion of his career a clean shot and “perfectly legal.”
“We had a long talk; we had a few beers,” Gifford told the New York Daily News following Bednarik’s death. “A lot of stuff was blown way out of proportion. I feel sorry for him. He took a lot of blame.”
The 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State, 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma and 1987 Miami-Penn State showdowns were among the most anticipated games of all time.
For at least the first half of the 20th century, college football was more popular than the professional version. So, when powerhouses met then, the games often had a larger-than-life quality. On rare occasions, the combination of blueblood programs, high stakes and intense media coverage created a matchup that transcended all others. Those games were billed by the media as a “Game of the Century.” Here is a look at seven such games from the 20th century and what made them so special.
1. November 2, 1935: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame
What made it special: This was the first game the media called “The Game of the Century,” and despite the fact that it was contested in the midst of the Great Depression, demand for tickets was off the charts. Some tickets sold for $50 each, and rumors of counterfeit tickets abounded.
The 81,018 in attendance at Ohio Stadium in Columbus saw Notre Dame rally to win a battle of unbeaten teams, 18-13—all 18 of the Irish’s points came in the fourth quarter. Grantland Rice, then the most famous sportswriter in the country, wrote: “Notre Dame came out of the maw of hell to beat Ohio State 18 to 13 today before 81,000 and with the greatest football victory in the long and brilliant history of the Blue and Gold.”
2. December 1, 1945: Army vs. Navy
What made it special: In an era when both service academies were also football powerhouses, Army came into the game ranked No. 1 and Navy No. 2. World War II had ended three months earlier, and President Harry S. Truman attended.
Despite plenty of patriotic fervor and the presence of the commander-in-chief at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, the game didn’t live up to the hype. Army jumped to a 20-0 lead after one quarter, and Navy, while it played much better for the final three quarters, could never draw close. Army won, 32-13.
Grantland Rice, though he acknowledged Army’s greatness, almost seemed more impressed by Navy in defeat, writing, “While Army proved its greatness in vital spots, Navy was the day’s big surprise and deserves enduring credit for the showing it made against a bigger, better and more experienced squad.”
3. November 19, 1966: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State
What made it special: This was another matchup of the top teams in the country, one in which 10 future NFL first-round draft picks dotted the rosters, and 31 future pros in all participated. A television audience of 33 million and the crowd in East Lansing, Michigan, however, was left wanting more at the end.
With the score tied at 10, top-ranked Notre Dame got the ball back at its 30-yard line with 1 minute, 24 seconds remaining. Fighting Irish coach Ara Parseghian had his team run the ball on six straight plays, including a fourth-down conversion from Notre Dame’s own 39-yard line. Michigan State fans booed the conservative strategy, and famed Sports Illustrated college football writer Dan Jenkins famously wrote that Parseghian had decided to “tie one for the Gipper.”
In the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, Michigan State defensive co-captain George Webster summed up the feelings of many when he said: “I’d like to play another half—right now.” In the final Associated Press poll of the season, Notre Dame was No. 1 and Michigan State No. 2.
4. December 6, 1969: Texas vs. Arkansas
What made it special: The game did a 50 share on television, meaning that half the TV sets in the United States were tuned in. President Richard Nixon attended, braving the cold and rain of Fayetteville, Arkansas, with 40,000 other fans. He declared beforehand that he would give a plaque to the winner proclaiming it the nation’s top team, to the great annoyance of third-ranked, unbeaten Penn State and its fans.
Top-ranked Texas was on an 18-game winning streak, and Arkansas had won 15 in a row. The Razorbacks held a 14-0 lead heading to the fourth quarter, but Texas rallied with 15 unanswered points to win, 15-14, and receive that plaque from the president.
As for those angry Penn State fans, well, the president seemed amused by the furor his pregame comments caused, saying with a grin that he was amused “Penn State has given me a lot of flak this week.”
5. November 25, 1971: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma
What made it special: The Cornhuskers were the defending national champions and had a 20-game winning streak, as well as the nation’s top-ranked defense. Second-ranked Oklahoma, which used a run-heavy Wishbone offense, was on its way to averaging an NCAA-record 472 rushing yards per game. A then-record 55 million viewers watched the game on ABC.
Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers, who would win the Heisman Trophy the following year, delivered the game’s iconic play in Norman, Oklahoma, breaking several tackles on a 72-yard punt return for the opening score. The teams traded scores, with a late Nebraska touchdown providing the 35-31 final margin
In the immediate aftermath, the contest was regarded as the greatest college football game played, a distinction it still holds with many historians. Wrote Dave Kindred of the Louisville Courier-Journal: “They can quit playing now, they have played the perfect game.”
6. January 2, 1987: Miami vs. Penn State
What made it special: This Fiesta Bowl clash in Tempe, Arizona had it all—it featured the nation’s best teams and it was moved moved to January 2 instead of its traditional slot before the Rose Bowl on January 1 to further highlight the stakes. Under head coach Joe Paterno, Penn State had cultivated a clean-cut, gritty image. Meanwhile, Jimmy Johnson’s Hurricanes deplaned in Arizona wearing military-style fatigues, giving this game a “good-versus-evil” theme for the media.
Dave Wannstedt, then a first-year defensive coordinator for Miami, recalls that his team was focused despite all the attention surrounding the Hurricanes’ attire. “Nobody at Miami overreacted,” he says. “The players were getting ready to go and win a national championship, and they knew it was going to be a battle.”
Wannstedt’s defense certainly did its job, holding Penn State to 162 yards, but seven turnovers—including five Vinny Testaverde interceptions—doomed the favored Hurricanes, and Penn State won, 14-10, to earn the national title.
7. November 13, 1993: Florida State vs. Notre Dame
What made it special: Much like the Miami-Penn State showdown in 1987, there was a “good-versus-evil” element that much of the media played up. But David Haugh, who covered the game as a columnist for the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, says the label didn’t quite fit Florida State.
“It was difficult to cast them as the villain because they had the world’s friendliest, most cordial coach in Bobby Bowden, who was telling jokes at every turn,” he recalls. Florida State also had quarterback Charlie Ward, whom Haugh remembers as charismatic and eloquent.
Haugh says that animosity toward the Seminoles could not even being ginned up after their players toured the Notre Dame campus wearing green hats featuring shamrocks and gold Florida State initials.
“They relished being sort of the villain,” Haugh says of Florida State. “They did play into that a little bit more. But it seemed like this was a team that was trying hard to be dislikable, but they were kind of hard to dislike.”
Ultimately, the game lived up to the hype. Ward’s attempt at a late rally fizzled when Notre Dame’s Shawn Wooden batted down a pass to the end zone, sealing a 31-24 victory for the Irish.