The Number 200

“How can one conceive of a one-party system in a country that has over 200 varieties of cheese?” – Charles de Gaulle


English: This is a photograph of ants taking n...

A photograph of ants taking nectar from a dandelion.

A quarter of the world’s wealth is controlled by just 200 companies. Two hundred miles a day was the average daily distance covered by the Pony Express, the United States’ first east-west mail service.

Each dandelion flower head produces 200 seeds. Two hundred Japanese executives die on the golf course each year.

In Greek mythology, Typhon the Titan, “father of all monsters” had 200 fire-flashing eyes, two for each of his 100 heads.

200 monks

Jean-Antoine Nollet (1700-1770), the Abbot of the Grand Convent of the Carthusians in Paris, was also the first professor of physics at the University of Paris. His particular scientific obsession was electricity and he was able to combine his two professions in a huge experiment by arranging 200 monks into a circle, each of them linked by a metal bar.

He then ran an electric current through the circle. The monks’ near-simultaneous reaction demonstrated the high speed at which electricity moved.


The Roman Emperor at the time was Septimius Severus, the first Roman emperor to have been born in Africa. Although he was of Phoenician rather than black African descent, he was reported as having dark skin, and never lost his African accent. He died in York, 11 years later.

Born in the same year was the Greek mathematician Diophantus of Alexandria. A pioneer of algebra, he was the first to formulate the apparently insoluble proposition that became known as Fermat’s Last Theorem, after the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat noticed it in 1637.

Elsewhere in the world, the Japanese sent a huge fleet to invade Korea, who immediately capitulated, and the “classical” period of Mayan civilisation began in Central America.
The world’s human population is estimated to have been 257 million – less than the current population of the US (311 million).

200 years

In 1991, to celebrate the bicentenary of Mozart’s death in 1791, Triumph International, Japan’s second-largest lingerie company, made a musical bra with blinking lights which played 20 seconds of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Although their intentions were commendable, the company had made a common error in attributing the piece to Mozart. Although he had composed variations on the tune, the lyrics were written by London-based sisters Jane and Ann Taylor and the melody was originally a French folk tune.

200 years ago

English: Louis-Antoine_de_Bougainville portrait

Louis-Antoine de Bougainville

In 1811 the French admiral Louis-Antoine de Bougainville died, aged 81. In 1769 he had become the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe and the first person to do so accompanied by naturalists and geographers. One of these scientists, the botanist Philibert Commerçon, named the South American shrub bougainvillea after his captain. He also smuggled his mistress Jeanne Baré on to the ship by pretending she was his valet. Although later unmasked, she became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

De Bougainville’s mission was counted a success – he only suffered seven casualties in three years. His account of his travels caused a sensation when published in 1771, mostly as a result of his descriptions of Tahiti.

He portrayed an idyllic life of free love and prelapsarian innocence which reinforced the myth of the Noble Savage, described in the works of Voltaire and Rousseau.

200 foreskins

In one of the more striking passages in the Old Testament we are told that David bought his wife with a dowry of 200 Philistine foreskins. His prospective father-in-law Saul gave him the challenge, fully expecting David would be killed by the owners of the said foreskins.

The King James version of the story says: “And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king’s enemies.”

David and his men went out and killed 200 Philistines. He presented their foreskins to the king, who duly gave him his daughter Michal in marriage (1 Samuel 18:26) – though he later divorced the couple and married Michal off to someone else.

Private hospitals make millions of dollars every year selling excised foreskins to bioresearch laboratories and pharmaceutical companies.

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