Category Archives: Medieval

BOGATYRI

Excellent Site:

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THE BOGATYRI

 

SAINT OLAF

Archaeologists in Norway discover church and altar of Viking King Olav Haraldsson

ARCHAEOLOGISTS IN NORWAY CLAIM TO HAVE DISCOVERED A CHURCH WHERE THE VIKING KING, OLAF HARALDSSON WAS FIRST ENSHRINED AS A SAINT.

Archaeologists working on a site near Trondheim have unearthed the foundations of a wooden stave church and the alter where Olaf may have been enshrined immediately after being declared a saint. The discovery gives credibility to Norse saga accounts surrounding important events of that era.

Director of the project, Anna Petersén said “This is a unique site in Norwegian history in terms of religion, culture and politics. Much of the Norwegian national identity has been established on the cult of sainthood surrounding St. Olaf, and it was here it all began!”

Olaf II Haraldsson, later known as St. Olaf, was King of Norway from 1015 to 1028 till his death in the Battle of Stiklestad. His younger half-brother, Harald Hardrada, was also present at the battle who also became King of Norway in 1047, only to die in a failed invasion of England at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066.

In his Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, the medieval Icelandic historian Snorri stated that “following King Olaf Haraldsson’s martyrdom in 1030, his body was buried in Trondheim, or Nidaros” (as it was known) and that the local populus soon reported portents and miracles attributed to the martyred king. A year after his death, Olaf’s coffin was dug up and opened in the presence of the bishop, revealing his miraculously well-preserved body. He was immediately declared a saint by popular acclaim and his body was enshrined above the high altar in the royal church of St. Clement’s church before being moved to the Cathedral some years later.

St. Clement’s church discovered

Archaeologists working for the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) have recently uncovered the stone foundations for a wooden stave church which they believe is the actual ruin of St. Clement’s Church from the dating evidence. Dating evidence and a study of the ruins places its construction at the time Olaf ruled.

During its excavation, the archaeologists uncovered a small rectangular stone-built platform at the building’s east end which is probably the foundation for an altar – probably the very same altar on which St. Olaf’s coffin was placed in 1031. In addition, a small well was also discovered which may be a holy well connected with the saint.

Niku

WYRDROAD

I have established a new Facebook Gaming Group.

I haven’t had much time to build up the membership yet because I’ve been busy but I have tried to build up some interesting content. The primary interest of the group is gaming, but like this blog it will cover history, archeology, warfare, science, technology, fantasy and science fiction, literature, pop culture, comics, etc.

You’re welcome to visit and to join. Just hit the links provided.

WYRDROAD

 

NornsOld4

IF I AM PROVEN WRONG

Although I continue to enjoy the story and the action I have to agree to a large extent.

My suspicion is, although this was mitigated to some degree by the past two episodes, that without Martin’s books as a general guideline and without his writings to more fully mimic (although the show long ago mutated from the books) the HBO show simply lacks the literary and historical background and allusions which made it so deep in ways other than mere action and fantasy. It has become, in essence, a thing separate and of its own.

It’s as simple as that. Although in the books Martin wanders incessantly and often needlessly so, the fact is that the books are filled with historical and literary allusions, sometimes of an almost Biblical or Shakespearean nature.

But without Martin’s books as a guide, and as the show outpaces and outraces the books, and strips the books to the bare story and skeletal plot outlines for the sake of the show, these allusions and this depth is mostly lacking.

That is my supposition at it’s simplest.

Although I am not a Geek (I am instead a Nerd) and these things (minutiae of this nature) do not upset me much (I will continue to watch) I no longer expect to encounter much in the way of historical or literary allusion or metaphor.

But if the show rallies and I am proven wrong, so much the better…

 

UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS

UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS

Below are to be found descriptions and entries I have created regarding unusual ways to begin Adventures, Campaigns, and Quests for various kinds of Role Playing and Tabletop Games.

Though they could also be used as the basis and genesis of other types of games as well, for example LARPS and Alternative Reality games.

I intend to provide beginning scenarios for various types and genres of games: Contemporary, Detective, Fantasy, Historical, Horror, Science Fiction, and Wargames. To name a few.

I will make such posts on every occasion I have the free time to develop them. Also these scenarios will be different from the scenarios I have developed specifically for my own Setting and World. Those will be listed separately under the Category – The Other World

Feel free to take the names of places and characters mentioned in these scenarios (or even the basic structures of the scenarios) and alter them to fit your own gaming worlds or situations. These are, of course, merely suggestions. I describe these scenarios to give DMs and GMs far better, more original and more unique methods of starting games than, “your party meets in a tavern,” or “you all hear a rumor.”

So modify and use these beginning scenarios as you will. They are meant to stimulate original situations and your imaginations, not to dictate terms and conditions.

Tonight I will begin with Four Fantasy Scenarios for beginning adventures or campaigns: Infiltration of the Fertilands, The Secret Missionaries, The Sky From Long Ago, and The Long Road to Disaster.

 

FANTASY

 

Infiltration of the Fertilands – The Senate of Alaria has decided to clear an area of land 7 and ½ leagues north of the city-state (an area called the Losharian fertilands) to provide timber and resources for a proclaimed public works building project, and to establish a new frontier’s garrison and outpost for the city to ward off raiding attacks by local barbarians. However three separate surveying teams and their armed recon in force escorts (at least for the second and third attempts) have disappeared when sent to the location.

The Senate has decided to send an expeditionary force of 1500 men to investigate and clear the area of potential hostiles, but before they can vote on the measure or dispatch the forces the chief architect in charge of the new building program approaches your party and asks you to undertake the task of infiltrating the target area in secret, to see if you can discover the cause of the disappearance of the previous teams. You are charged with secrecy in your mission (you can discuss it with no one) and if you are successful the architect not only promises that you will be richly rewarded in pay but that the Senate will award you tax free lands on which you may establish estates and villas of your own. He also hints at the possibility of awards (Champion of the City), public acclaim, and possibly even junior seats on the Senate.

However since the mission would be kept entirely confidential he can offer you no initial assistance other than to provide you with information on how to find the Losharian fertilands.

But he does offer you two pieces of advice. First, do not drink the waters of the fertiland even if it is rainwater which falls during a storm. And secondly, watch the rivers, creeks, waterways, and marshes at all times. They may hide dangerous enemies and hidden perils.

 

The Secret Missionaries – Your party is called to the Great Temple of the Sacred Hierophants after nightfall one evening. The Church of Adaltorn, the Last Hierophant, in the city of Ramara Passea has decided upon a missionary program of expansion Eastwards. They wish to convert the rich, independent merchant cities east of the river Venwaldros, which they feel would be very open to their doctrine. However to the south of the narrow strip of unclaimed no-man’s land of the Venwaldros lies the fierce (and some say cannibalistic) barbarian tribes of the Colmar Confederacy, and to the north of the river in this unclaimed area lies the Imperial outposts of the Srechalt. All of which are hostile to both the Church and to Ramara Passea. This narrow strip of land and the thin thread of the Venwaldros which passes through it is called Reedbrake (for its high and musical reeds, which go silent when anything passes through them)) and it is the only safe passage from Ramara Passea to the East.

The church has sent scouting teams of monks and priests along the river which have either had to turn back after being attacked or were simply lost, their true fates unknown.

The church is willing to produce an indulgence in the names of each of your party (meaning you will be free from both local taxes and tithes for a period of ten years), to pay you a stipend for three years, to Bless each member of your party, and to secure you Writs of Absolute Non-Hindrance from the city fathers if you can help them find a safe passage through the Reedbrake so that their monks and priests may travel securely and unmolested from Ramara Passea to the eastern merchant cities. They will also equip your expedition and provide you with river-craft, a barbarian scout (a recent convert) familiar with the Colmar, and three warrior monks as servants and men at arms to assist you.

 

The Sky From Long Ago – The retired Sage Geirwovan (rumored to have once been the famous Wizard Taleorstir) has sent every member of your party a formal and very decorative invitation to visit his mansion six miles from the outskirts of the Ulorian borderlands.

When you accept and reach your destination you are shown to the Sage’s Tower and observatory where the ancient and bent Geirwovan greets you warmly and feeds and shelters your entire party. After a late dinner and entertainment by a very talented female bard (whom Geirwovan identifies as his personal Bard, the Lady Yurliel) you are ushered back to the Sage’s Tower where Geirwovan accompanies you to the roof. Briefly after sunset (far too soon after sunset) the entire sky is afire with stars but of very unusual constellations that you have never before seen. Some of these constellations seem to come alive, take on weird and fantastical shapes of creatures you have never seen before, and to move about and even battle one another. Stars flare and flash, changing colors or becoming briefly too bright to look upon. The moon rings like a giant gong. The tower itself seems to shake. Comets flash across the sky and explode by impacting one another. Then the entire sky goes absolutely black and a few moments after that returns to normal, as it would appear on any other cloudless and moonless night shortly after nightfall.

Geirwovan then takes you back into the tower where each of you feels weird and uncanny, as if you have just witnessed something unnatural, supernatural, and/or very spectacular and unnerving.

Geirwovan makes no comment and ignores all questions to explain and instead spreads out a series of complex maps upon an antique drafting table and begins to explain how rewarding it would be and how much you would all benefit by reaching a particular destination. One he repeatedly shows on the different maps. (The maps are also all filled with odd glyphs and scripts and indicated locales you have never heard of or seen mentioned before.)

Then Geirwovan tells you of the fabulous riches, both mundane and magical, that can be found at that destination though he will not describe the particulars nor disclose any details about what else may lay at the destination. He tells you that if you will go to that location then you will understand what he means and that you will understand what you saw in the sky. He asks only two things: 1. that when you arrive you do what is appropriate, and 2. return to him all that you find so that he may examine it and then he will keep only one article, a small silver coin of unremarkable design. You may keep all else that you find and there will also be another reward awaiting you upon completion of your expedition. If you agree then he will hand you one of the maps which he says will guide you unerringly to your destination but that you must never venture from the route it dictates for the map is untrustworthy otherwise and you may find yourselves lost in such a way that you will be unable to return. He also offers to allow you to take his bard Yurliel with you if you so wish.

 

The Long Road to Disaster – The Lord of Merchants and Commander of the Merchants at Arms have called your party to the Tent of Foreign Prizes in the Agora of Kroipos to discuss an urgent matter. They explain to you that they have recently (within the past year) opened up a new trade route to the Far South, through the desert of Samorah, that they call the Elidian Road. (Elidia being what some rumors declare to be a semi-mythical and legendary city of peculiar and unique wealth located in the Far South.)

Within the past six months no fewer than four separate and well-armed caravan trains have been ambushed and destroyed or lost. By what the Commander describes as a well-organized, large, ruthless band of experienced brigands, raiders, and thieves.

Searchers and follow up teams have only recovered small bits of debris or valueless remains from the ambushed caravans and the losses to merchants in the area have been sunstantial and heavy indeed. Armed scouting parties sent by the city have discovered nothing and have been of almost no help.

Only three survivors have escaped thus far, two from one caravan (the first attacked) and one from the second caravan. No other survivors have surfaced or are accounted for.

Both the Lord of Merchants and the Commander of Arms ask if you will entertain shadowing the next caravan to be dispatched along the Elidian Road to see if you can discover who is responsible for these raids and possibly help save the caravan from being plundered and destroyed. If not can you then follow the attackers to discover their identities and base of operations so that a military force can be dispatched to kill them all.

Neither wants you to be part of the armed military and merchant force of the caravan so that if the attackers arrive in overwhelming force you may survive and bring back invaluable Intel on the parties responsible. They only want you shadowing the caravan unless it is obvious you could actually safely protect and rescue the caravan if it is attacked. Both Merchants promise you will be richly rewarded for your efforts. Though neither will describe precisely how or in what form.

After the meeting the Commander of the Merchant at Arms leaves but the Lord of Merchants pulls your party aside in confidence and tells you that his nephew will be accompanying this caravan in order that he may be trained in commerce. As is the custom at his age. This being his Voyage of Initiation. The boy has instructions that if the caravan is attacked he is to flee to the safety of your group or if necessary you are to rescue him and flee after discovering what you can of the enemy. He promises to reward you separately for this action and he tells you that aside from his nephew and the head merchant of the caravan no one in the group will even know of your existence or that you shadow the train. So he says it is imperative that the caravan not discover your presence either. You must also never mention this side deal involving his nephew. Especially not to the Commander at Arms, who would consider such actions cowardly and dishonorable.

He also tells you that he has personally interviewed the three survivors of the previous attacks. One is now dead of unknown reasons, one is in a long sleep from which they will not awaken (coma), and one appears to be mad. But before these things happened the survivors described weird things occurring during the attacks and despite the Commander’s opinions to the contrary the Lord of Merchants is not at all convinced this is the work of brigands or caravan raiders. In fact he says that he does not believe any raiders are involved at all. But he will not elaborate on his suspicions.

He will only say that he once read a passage in a book in the Far South that said that long ago the skies were poisoned by an unknown creature so that ghosts and dead men rained upon the living.

 

Also, feel free to suggest your own ideas in the comments below, or tell me if you’d like to see Beginning Scenarios for certain types of games,  particular subject matters, or for specific gaming genres.

HIGH CRAFT – LOST LIBRARY

HIGH CRAFT

This article on Viking clothing reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to discuss for some time now. In my games and in my writings, Craft (and by that I mean High Craft), often plays a large and beneficial role in both individual matters and even in larger events.

Using boots and shoes as an example characters have both found and had created for them (by master craftsmen) footwear that is not magical but rather so well crafted that it provides real benefits, such as resistance to extreme temperatures, resistance to wear and replacement, comfort befitting improved endurance or resistance to things like trench foot or blistering, and when they concentrate upon certain tasks (such as running, hiking, climbing, jumping, or stealth) they give definite though temporary advantages.(The characters must concentrate upon the task, for instance, and declare or show evidence that they are trying hard to sneak, or paying attention to their climb – but then such boots give temporary but definite advantages).Such boots or other items and gear (weapons, clothing, tools, etc.) are not magical at all but rather of such high quality and clever construction that they give measurable advantages over other items not constructed by master craftsmen.

(Though really well constructed items of High Craft might very easily be discovered far more susceptible to being enchanted at a later date than more mundane items. That is to say items of High Craft can be far more easily enchanted or ensorceled and such magics will far more easily affix and permanently secure themselves to objects of High Craft than to less well made implements.)

 

The same could be said to apply in a larger sense to whole groups of people. Nations with master craftsmen or smiths or even entire shops, foundries, and industrial operations devoted to High Craft (and invention and innovation) can produce gear and weapons and armor and equipment that gives a particular army a real and measurable advantage over another less well equipped force. Maybe even, en masse, a very large advantage. Again, not a magical advantage but a qualitative advantage of High Craftsmanship.

Though in a Tolkienesque sense it could easily be argued that High Craft is a form of “magic.” That High Craft is precisely what much magic really is.

With me however, at least in games, I usually use Magic as something “added to” or above and beyond even the Highest of Crafts. Though in my writings and novels High Craft and Magic are sometime synonymous and interchangeable or fungible, depending upon the particular circumstances of precisely what is being discussed.

I know that some use craft as a part of their game(s) and writings and some do not, but if you do, then what are some of the ways you use High Craft as an advantage on any level?

How do you use and employ High Craft in your own creations?

 

The Vikings Used Comfortable Shoes

Osberg Ship Viking Shoe One of the original boots found in the Oseberg Burial Mound dating back to 834 AD. (Photo:skinnblogg.blogspot.no)A number of complete Viking Age shoes found in Scandinavia and England have the same characteristics. They are flexible, soft and mostly made of cattle hide, but also other kinds of leather was used.There are complete shoes found in the Oseberg ship burial mound in Norway, Hedeby trading center in Denmark, and Coppergate (York, Viking Age Jorvik, Editor’s note) in England.

All three of these discoveries show a similar construction and form typical for the Middle Ages.

The shoes found in the Oseberg ship consists of two main parts, soles and uppers, and are so-called “turn shoes”.

(Article continues)

Reconstructed Oseberg Viking Shoes

Reconstructed boots found in the Oseberg burial mound, by Bjørn Henrik Johansen. (Photo: Bjørn Henrik Johansen/ skinnblogg.blogspot.no) 

The shoemaker stitched the shoe together inside out, and then turned right side out when finished. This hides the main seam, prolongs the life and prevents moisture from leaking in.

Viking Age shoes (793 – 1066AD) were well suited for use in wintertime by using thick, felted wool socks and fur inside.

Materials and Tools

Studies of the leather shows that mainly cattle hide was used from the 9th to mid-11th century and was typically 1 – 3 millimeter thick.

(Article continues)

Coppergate Viking Shoe York

Anglo-Scandinavian Shoe found in Coppergate, York, England. (Photo: definedlearning.com via Pinterest)

A bristle or metal needle was used stitching flax, hemp, or a combination of the two. Shears or blades were used to cut the leather, and a simple awl to punch the holes.

At Coppergate twelve examples of iron shears were found.

Tanning and Color

Vegetable tan was the primary method for tanning, but also alum tans and oil tans were used in luxury leathers.

(Article continues)

Reconstructed Coppergate York Viking Shoe

Reconstructed Anglo-Scandinavian Shoe found in Coppergate, York, England by Bjørn Henrik Johansen.  (Photo: by Bjørn Henrik Johansen/ skinnblogg.blogspot.no)

Modern vegetable tans are much stiffer due to industrialization and shortening of the process and are unsuited for turn shoes.

Like today, elaborately made clothing and shoes were visible proves of high social status.

Scientists have concluded that the better-quality shoes and boots had much more color than can be seen from archaeological discoveries.

KITS GALORE – LOST LIBRARY

THE KITS AND THE KITS AND THE KITS

You know, it makes an awful lotta sense that, especially in the early stages of their career, and in a world in which such things were common, there would develop pre-designed “kits” for various professions. Just as existed for soldiers.

Of course such kits would vary by race certainly, likely by geographic region (terrain, weather patterns, availability to water and shelter, limes and outpost proximity, etc.), and perhaps even by nationality or economic strength or technological capability or even just by preferred design modes. Or by such factors as item or material availability.

And absolutely such kits would vary with experience and exposure. My gear and equipment kits and carries have changed considerably over time as I have learned what gear is likely to be needed, what is likely never to be needed, what is truly useful, as equipment designs have changed, as far better tools and multi-tools have developed. And in certain situations I know I will need certain kits and stocks, and in other situations I will need different kits and tools, though overlap almost always occurs with some items. (You will always need a lighter, always need binocs, always need a knife, etc.) And I have encouraged both my players (and those I have known in real life) to develop their own kits specific to their own experiences and professions and to develop complimentary kits so that people in a team avoid redundancy or over-burdening themselves to no real point. (If one or two guys carry a hatchet then not every team member need do so as long as they do indeed work as a team and remain cohesive. One machete a team is usually sufficient, but everyone carries water and a knife.)

But this is, if you ask me, as excellent idea (and I know previous versions of different games have toyed with similar ideas in other forms), basic starter kits for various professions (not just tool sets) followed by highly individualized and special function kits as one gains experience.

(For instance a Ranger’s Urban Kit, used while tracking an assassin in a city would be quite different from his Wilderness Kit while tracking foreign raiders involved in frontier skirmishes. Money would likely be plentiful in an urban kit to pay bribes and develop informant networks, money is practically useless on the frontier.)

So you could have all kinds of Kits, such as General Profession Kits (Combatant Starter Kits, Magic User Starter Kits), down to Class Kits (Paladin’s Kit and Barbarian’s Kit) to Special Function Kits (Urban versus Wilderness Kits) to Highly Specialized Specific Mission Kits of the very experienced Adventurer and Team Member and even all the way down to the Sole or Single Operative who might act as an Undercover Operative, an Agent, or a Spy.

Then again you could have Special Gear and Special Weapon Kits designed for very refined purposes, such as thieves tools, medical and first aid kits, field chemical kits, firestarting kits, business kits, inscribing kits, disguise kits, instrument kits, weapon kits, even kits to be used against specific opponents (tactical kits).

Kits like this (of all kinds and of different levels of complexity) would be extremely useful. Especially Emergency Kits deposited at known locales, at dead-drops, and at safe houses to be recovered as needed.

HAUNTED CASTLE: DUNOON MASSACRE

HAUNTED CASTLE TOWARD: THE DUNOON MASSACRE

DUAL AND MULTIPLE USE EQUIPMENT – ALLTHING

DUAL AND MULTIPLE USE EQUIPMENT: MUNDANE AND MAGICAL

A friend of mine and I were having a discussion last night and this morning on primitive bow-making and historical facts. She informed me that ancient men and later frontiersmen used their bow staves as primitive one stringed lyres (or musical bows) and their arrow shafts as primitive bows to play very basic music. See one reference below.

This idea only makes great sense and you can easily see how this would have led to to the development of primitive musical bows and lyres specifically for music.

Anyway this gave me both a gaming and literary idea. In gaming you would have a bow specifically designed for Bards (or that they create themselves as part of their unique gear – like a warrior who forges his own sword) that can easily serve as a modified musical instrument that would allow him to both enchant enemies and opponents and entertain or in some way heal or bless allies and companions. A magical version would then have both combat and Bardic advantages, and it is so very natural since such equipment could easily serve dual or even multiple functions (it might also serve as a 4 to 5 foot pole or as a climbing rod/tool when unbent or in stave form).

As a literary device for my novels it could serve the same basic functions but, of course, would not be described in that way. There is a Welsh bard in one of my novels who would naturally easily employ such a bow.

This is hardly the first device or weapon or piece of gear or equipment I’ve made use of for dual or multiple purposes (either in real life, games, or in literature or poetry) but it is a rather fascinating and new employment for me. Bow staves as musical instruments.

Now all of that being said what items do you use in your games or writings or even in real life as dual-use pieces of equipment or gear?

Further Reference: Work Songs, Plutarch, and the Scythians

GODSLAYER

How to destroy gods

In the year 1168 a Danish bishop destroyed three pagan gods. The story is told in Gesta Danorum, by Saxo Grammaticus, which has recently been entirely translated into English for the first time.

Bishop Absalon topples the god Svantevit at Arkona - created by Laurits Tuxen (1853–1927)

Saxo Grammaticus was a Danish cleric and historian who around the year 1188 began writing the first full history of Denmark. Stretched over 16 books, the Gesta Danorum goes back to the time before Jesus Christ to relate the mythological beginnings of the Danes. It has long been popular reading for the tales and legends it gives relating to the pagan past of this region, as well as for covering the rise of important leaders such as Cnut the Great.

As it moves into the twelfth century, the focus of the work concentrates on the rule by various Danish kings, most notably Valdemar I, who was King from 1146 to 1182. While Denmark had long been a Christian country, some of its neighbours in the Baltic Sea region were still pagan, including the Wends, a people who inhabited the island of Rügen, which lies just off the coast of northeastern Germany.

After years of pirate attacks by the Wends, King Valdemar was persuaded by Absalon, the Bishop of Roskilde and the chief royal advisor, to launch a crusade against the people. In the year 1168 the Danes landed on Rügen and besieged the capital city of Arkona. Once Valdemar’s forces set fire to the walls and buildings of the city, the residents of Arkona made a deal to surrender.

Once King Valdemar took control of Arkona and received hostages from the leaders of the Wendish people, he ordered the statue of local deity a god named Svantevit. Saxon writes that the men:

found themselves unable to wrest it from its position without the use of axes; they therefore first tore down the curtains which veiled the shrine,  and then commanded their servants to deal swiftly with the business of hacking down the statue; however,  they were careful to warn their men to exercise caution in dismantling such a huge bulk, lest they should be crushed by its weight and be thought to have suffered punishment from the malevolent deity. Meanwhile a massive throng of townsfolk ringed the temple, hoping that Svantevit would pursue the instigators of these outrages with his strong, supernatural retribution.

After much work, the men cut down the statue:

With a gigantic crash the idol tumbled to earth. The swarths of purple drapery which hung about the sanctuary certainly glittered, but were so rotten with decay that they could not survive touching. The sanctum also contained the prodigious horns of wild animals, astonishing no less in themselves than in their ornamentation. A devil was seen departing from the inmost shrine in the guise of a black animal, until it disappeared abruptly from the gaze of bystanders.

While the god in Arkona was being destroyed, the Danes received word from the people of Karenz – another important town on the island – they were ready to surrender. Absalon traveled to the town along with 30 men, where they were met by 6000 warriors. However, the Wends prostrated themselves to the Christians and welcome the bishop.

Karenz was the home to three pagan deities – Rugevit, Porevit and Porenut – which were believed to be the gods of war, lightning and thunder. Bishop Absalon came to destroy these gods, and Saxo Grammaticus (who may have been an eyewitness) describes the scene of coming across the the first of the three pagan temples:

The largest shrine was surrounded by its own forecourt, but both spaces were enclosed with purple hangings instead of walls, while the roof gable rested only on pillars. Therefore out attendants tore down the curtains adorning the entrance area and eventually laid hands on the inner veils of the sanctuary. Once these had been removed, an idol made of oak, which they called Rugevit, lay open to the gaze from every quarter, wholly grotesque in its ugliness. For swallows, having built their nests beneath the features of its face, had piled  the dirt of their droppings  all over its chest. A fine deity, indeed, when its image was fouled so revoltingly by birds! Furthermore, in its head were set seven human faces, all contained under the surface of a single scalp. The sculptor had also provided the same number of real swords in scabbards, which hung on a belt at its side, while an eighth was held brandished in its right hand. The weapon had been inserted into its fists, to which an iron nail had clamped it with so firm a grip that it could not be wrenched away without severing the hand; this was the very pretext needed for lopping it off. In thickness the idol exceeded the width of a human frame, and its height was such that Absalon, standing on the toes of its feet, could hardly reach its chin with the small battleaxe he used to carry.

The men of Karenz had believed this to be the god of war, as though it were endowed with the strength of Mars. Nothing about the effigy was pleasant to look at, for its lineaments were misshapen and repulsive because of the crude carving.

Bishop Absalon soon ordered his men to begin destroying the gods:

Every citizen was possessed by sheer panic when our henchmen began to apply their hatchets to its lower legs. As soon as these had been cut through, the trunk fell, hitting the ground with a loud crash. Once the townsfolk beheld this sight, they scoffed at their god’s power and contemptuously forsook the object of their veneration.

Not satisfied with its demolition, Absalon’s workforce now stretched their hands all the more eagerly towards the image of Porevit, worshipped in the temple close by. On it were implanted five heads, though it had been fashioned without weapons. After that effigy had been brought down, they assailed the sacred precinct of Porenut. Its statue displayed four faces and a fifth was inserted in its breast, with its left hand touching the forehead, its right the chin. Here again the attendants did good service, chopping at the figure with their axes until it toppled.

After the idols had been broken, the Danish bishop wanted to inflict a more permanent destruction on the pagan gods:

Absalon then issued a proclamation that the citizens must burn these idols the city, but they immediately opposed his command with entreaties, begging him to take pity on their overcrowded city and not expose them to fire after he had spared their throats. If the flames crept to the surrounding area and caught hold of one of the huts, the dense concentration of buildings would undoubtedly cause the whole mass to go up in smoke. For this reason they were bidden to drag the statues out of town, but for a long time the people resisted, continuing to plead religion as their excuse for defying the edict; they feared that the supernatural forces would exact vengeance and cause them to lose the use of those limbs they had employed to carry out the order. In the end Absalon taught them by his admonitions to make light of a god who had not power enough to rise to his own defence, once they had become confident of being immune from punishment, the citizens were quick to obey his directions.

As the remains of the pagan gods were being dragged away, Sven of Arhus, another bishop who came with Absalon, added insult to injury:

So that he might show them the idols deserved disdain, Sven made it his business to stand high on top of them while the men of Karenz were heaving them away. In so doing he added affront by increasing the weight and harassed the pullers as much with humiliation as with the extra burden, when they viewed their deities in residence lying beneath the feet of a foreign bishop.

As this was being done, Bishop Absalon went about preparing the area to be Christian. He first consecrated three burial sites in the countryside just outside Karenz, and after celebrating a mass baptized the people. Saxo then adds, “Likewise by constructing churches in a large number of localities, they exchanged the dens of an esoteric superstition for the edifices of public religion.”

The island of Rugen came to accept Christianity – and Danish rule. Bishop Absalon would become the Archbishop of Lund in 1178, serving until his death in 1201. Saxo Grammaticus would finish his Gesta Danorum in the early thirteenth-century, covering his account of Denmark’s history up to year 1185.

Gesta Danorum: The History of the Danes, has been edited and translated by Karsten Friis-Jensen and Peter Fisher and was published in two volumes earlier this year by Oxford University Press. Click here to visit the publisher’s website for more details.

THE MANUSCRIPTS – THE FORGE

THIS WEEK IN MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS

 

 

 

THE MEDIEVAL FORGE

Discoveries, Donations and Digs: Medieval News Roundup

A couple dozen items to share with you as we get caught up with the medieval news from the last few weeks…

Finally, we wanted to show you this beautiful video of a 16th century Irish castle…

GONE A’VIKING

The Viking women who disappeared

By Cathinka Dahl Hambro

Women played an important part in Viking Age society, and their role far exceeded that of mother and the “housewife”. Why, then, are they barely mentioned in the history books?

Ingeborg - Norse mythology - painting by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892)

“The standard specialist literature within the field is pervaded with Viking expeditions, kings, weapons, and battles,” says Viking researcher Nanna Løkka.

“If women are mentioned at all they are placed within an everyday context, with children, handicraft and domestic life. Thus, when the characteristics of the Viking Age are described, women are either left out completely, or they are given their own little paragraph, as they appear neither very exciting nor spectacular.”

In the recently published anthology Kvinner i vikingtid (“Viking Age Women”), sixteen women and one man challenge this standard saga inspired account of the early Norwegian Middle Ages, which is characterized by raiding kings and chieftains. Løkka has edited the book in collaboration with Nancy Coleman.

Kvinner i vikingtid examines the various roles of women in a society where not only men possessed political power and influence. The book shows that the role of women was not always a domestic one. On the contrary, they actively participated within various aspects of public life such as trade, textile production, medicine, and religious practice.

Kvinner i vikingtidNone mentioned, all forgotten

Both the sagas and the schoolbooks tell us show many benches the master builder Torberg Skavhogg built for the rowers when he equipped the hull of King Olav Tryggvasson’s legendary longship Ormen Lange (“The Long Serpent”). The women who were responsible for weaving the sail, however, are not mentioned by name.

“The Vikings wouldn’t have reached England unless someone had equipped the ships with sails. It is a well-known fact that the Vikings were far ahead of their European neighbours in terms of maritime techniques. In an episode of the TV series Vikings, they make a big fuss about the ship’s anchor, but the sail is not mentioned with a single word,” says Løkka.

The textile production was probably organised hierarchically, where women supervised other women in extensive collaborative work. Løkka adds, “The larger Viking ships used 100 square meter sized sails. In order to produce that, the women needed 200 kilos of wool from approximately 2000 sheep, and it required hundreds of working hours. We are talking about more than just a small-scale family business.”

High school textbooks are the worst

According to the researcher, the models applied to understand the Viking Age ignore the women’s impact and contribution. This is particularly visible in the high school history books. Løkka found that only one among the six most popular history books from the 1990s and 2000s provides its own paragraph on women.

“If women appear at all in the general literature on the field, they are usually depicted as the stereotypical “housewife” who is tied to the farm and the home, not as someone who participates in important social processes,” says Løkka.

In the standard accounts of the Viking Age, the farm is regarded as the smallest, yet most significant unit. Other important institutions in the Viking society are the family, the chiefdom, and the Thing.

The woman is usually associated with the farm and the private sphere, whereas the man is connected to public life. Hence, the gender roles are often described in terms of “inside” and “outside” in order to distinguish between men and women’s responsibilities.

“I’m not saying that the stereotypical representation isn’t feasible at all, but it contributes to a description of the Viking Age based solely on male activities. Most probably the Viking society consisted of other dividing lines and hierarchies where women to a larger degree ranked on top,” Løkka adds.

Nanna Løkka - photo courtesy University of Oslo

The “housewife” as business manager

For example, recent research shows that being a “housewife” might involve major responsibility and hard work, particularly if the farm was of some considerable size. The chieftain’s home at Borg in Lofoten, which is the largest known chieftain’s farm, was more than eighty metres long. That is only twenty metres shorter than the Nidaros Cathedral. A typical chieftain’s farm may have had a longhouse of approximately fifty metres. A banquet on such a large farm could easily involve 150 people, all of them expecting to be served food and drinks.

“Running a farm like that is like managing a medium size business. Thus, these women should rather be regarded as business managers than mere housewives,” says Løkka.

With this in mind, one may therefore ask whether this type of feast actually belonged to the so-called private sphere. At these banquets, contracts and deals were made, politics was developed, and alliances were formed.

If the food or drink was unsatisfactory it could cause diplomatic crisis or disgrace. Therefore, the women who cooked and served the meals held an important public function. According to Løkka, categories like inside/outside and private/public have probably become antiquated due to recent research.

Malevolent Viking women

It doesn’t make things better that the women who did position themselves at the top of the male warrior hierarchy were often severely condemned by the later saga writers. This was the case with Queen Gunnhild, who according to tradition received training from Sami magicians. Allegedly, she took over the leadership of her sons’ army when her husband Eirik Blodøks (Eric Bloodaxe) was driven into exile and subsequently killed.

Alfiva, the de facto Norwegian ruler in the beginning of the eleventh century, received an equally bad reputation, becoming highly unpopular after introducing new legislation and a new tax system.

Viking reverie as nation building

Nanna Løkka emphasizes that in many ways the term Viking Age is a nineteenth century construction, which was formed along the lines of the era’s prevailing national romantic ideals.

For instance, historian Jørgen Haavardsholm has noted that the term Viking Age can be connected to a political process in which the goal was to create a nation with a proud and common past where the Vikings served as masculine and unyielding heroes and adventurers.

“An entire period and society has been connected to the Viking raids. In reality, however, only a small number of the men actually went on Viking raids. It has nevertheless added masculine value to the era, and consequently the female half of the population has been neglected,” says Løkka.

Farewell to the Viking Age?

The national romantic heritage is one of the reasons why a new generation of historians preferred to use the more neutral and European term Early Middle Ages in the four-volume history work Norvegr from 2011. Archaeologists, on the other hand, have mainly preferred the term Late Iron Age.

Lokka explains, “I ended up using the term Viking Age primarily because I want people to understand what I am working with. Moreover, the Viking Age sells and attracts attention. But there is definitely an ambivalence there.”

See also: Viking Women: Not as Different as You Might Think

TOP 10 SWORDS

Top 10 Most Famous Swords of the Middle Ages

Though I would have included different swords in a couple of instances not a bad list at all.

THE LADIES SPEAK

Five Great Ladies Who Refused to Be Quiet

By Danièle Cybulskie

In the Middle Ages, the ideal woman was meant to be either a helpmeet in marriage, or a cloistered nun, obedience being paramount in both roles. Human nature being what it is, however, not every woman found it easy to fill one of those narrow roles in society. Although my list could be much, much longer, here are five great women who refused to sit down and be quiet.

1. Empress Matilda (1102 – 1167 CE)

Empress Matilda

Matilda, the daughter of England’s Henry I, was the heiress to the throne, as well as Empress of Germany by marriage. Despite this, her cousin Stephen usurped her throne upon her father’s death, but Matilda did not take this lying down. Unwilling to concede defeat, she gathered her forces and returned to England, deposing Stephen and taking back her inheritance. Unfortunately, the pith and vinegar that gave Matilda the impetus to march in and take over managed to alienate her allies within England itself, and soon enough Stephen was placed back on the throne. Although she was the rightful queen, she was never acknowledged as such, and is remembered as Empress Matilda instead of a queen of England.

2. Eleanor of Aquitaine (c.1122 – 1204 CE)

eleanor

Eleanor is remembered as one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages, and with good reason. She was Duchess of Aquitaine, Countess of Poitou, and Queen of France when she and Louis XII divorced over claims of consanguinity. Not long after the divorce, Eleanor married Henry II of England without bothering to ask for permission from Louis, likely because he would have refused the marriage: with Eleanor’s land, Henry II owned more of modern France than Louis did. Passionate love may easily have been a part of Eleanor and Henry’s courtship, and passionate dislike (if not outright hatred) was certainly a part of their long and tempestuous marriage. Refusing to be a quiet and obedient wife, Eleanor exerted a huge influence over her sons, encouraging their longing for more autonomy in ruling pieces of the kingdom. Henry was so convinced that she was behind the civil wars that erupted between himself and his sons that he kept her imprisoned (comfortably) far from court for many years. The rift between father and sons was never able to be healed, and Henry II died after submitting to Richard (I – the Lionheart) and John. Eleanor’s hand in raising Richard was most likely the reason he was much more enamoured with Aquitaine than England itself, which he barely ever set foot in, as well as the reason the courtly love tradition began to flourish in England.

3. Isabella of France (1295 – 1358 CE)

Retour_d_Isabelle_de_France_en_Angleterre

Isabella was a princess of France, married to Edward II of England. Marriage to Edward was difficult for Isabella, however, as he was a weak king, in the habit of alienating the aristocracy by elevating his favourites (it’s very likely these men were also his lovers) and showering them with outrageous gifts and status. Eventually, Isabella had had enough of Edward’s ineffectual rule, and led an open rebellion against him, placing her son (Edward III) on the throne. Not only did she manage this through her vast influence, but she also held power enough that she was able to keep a lover, Roger Mortimer, without needing to keep the scandal too carefully under wraps. Eventually, Edward III separated them and executed Mortimer, but he never held his mother to the same account. Isabella’s French influence was felt long after Edward’s rule, as it was she (and through her, Edward III) who held a claim to the French throne, a major factor in the Hundred Years’ War.

4. Joan of Arc (c.1412 – 1431 CE)

Jeanne d'Arc

I mention Joan here because she was absolutely remarkable in her refusal to ever back down. A peasant girl from Domrémy, Joan managed to convince the local population, then high aristocrats, then the Dauphin himself that she was not a heretic, but rather a chosen vehicle for God’s work. Rumour of her visions alone might have been enough to reignite the French army’s low morale, but Joan actually put herself on the front lines of battle, again and again, despite this being absolutely contrary to all convention. Unfortunately for Joan, her obstinacy split the army between the path of her visions and the plan of experienced commanders, and she found herself excluded from strategy sessions and forays against the enemy. By the time she was captured by the English, her influence in France had waned, but Joan held to her convictions. She was treated badly by the English, and told she would escape burning if she would only confess to being a heretic. In a moment of weakness, she signed a confession, but the next day she took it back. Joan was duly burnt at the stake, only being canonized a saint many years later.

5. Christine de Pizan (1365 – c.1430 CE)

christine-de-pizan

Christine was a contemporary of Joan of Arc, and she is said to be the first professional female writer. Widowed young with little children to care for, Christine used the education she had received at the insistence of her father to write poetry and prose for the French court. She wrote essays promoting peace, songs about her experience as a woman, and even a piece in praise of Joan. Most stunningly, however, Christine wrote The Book of The City of Ladies, a careful argument which takes apart all of the conventional arguments men made about women at the time. She wrote it in reaction to The Romance of the Rose, the content of which she strongly, vocally disagreed with. In The City of Ladies, Christine uses biblical stories, legends, and conventional wisdom to prove that women are smart, strong, loyal, and worthy of more respect than they get. Her careful logic and tact kept the book from being banned, and herself safe from prosecution throughout her long life. Unfortunately, The City of Ladies was not considered a vital part of historic study for centuries, which (in its own way) proves Christine’s very point.

Although I don’t have a book recommendation for Empress Matilda’s life, I’d recommend Alison Weir’s biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine (she also has written a novel on Eleanor) and Isabella of France. For Joan of Arc, check out Nancy Goldstone’s The Maid and the Queen for a great look at both Joan and another influential great lady: Yolande of Aragon. As for Christine de Pisan, I highly recommend reading The Book of the City of Ladies for yourself (this is a good edition).

You can follow Danièle Cybulskie on Twitter @5MinMedievalist

‘WARE THE SKOT AND THE SKOTLANDS

Vikings ‘were warned to avoid Scotland’

Scotland is full of dangerous natives who speak an incomprehensible language and the is weather awful. That was the verdict of a series of 13th century Viking travel guides that warned voyagers to visit at their peril.

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Vikings on street: Vikings 'were warned to avoid Scotland'

Revellers at the Up Helly Aa Fire Festival in Shetland Photo: GETTY

The medieval chronicles, set down on yellowed calf vellum eight centuries ago, describe Scotland – or Skotland, as it was known – as an unwelcome and inhospitable country offering rewards only to the bold.

“Icelanders who want to practise robbery are advised to go there,” says one saga. “But it may cost them their life.”

Another saga tells the story of Icelandic merchants who sailed into a west coast sea loch where they met 13 ships bristling with what they called “Vikings” – more an occupation than a nationality – but were actually natives.

A Scot identified in the saga as Grjotgard, a kinsman of Melkolf, king of Scotland (Malcolm II), told them: “You have two choices. You can go ashore and we will take all your property, or we’ll attack you and kill every man we lay our hands on.” The merchants were terrified, the saga says, but presumably lived to tell their tale.

The chronicles have been interpreted by Gisli Sigurdsson, a historian at Reykjavik University, who believes the sagas – part fiction, part fact – reveal how the ancient Norse were far from the fearless pirates of legend.

As the Norsemen became as keen on trade as marauding, they were particularly nervous about sailing up the west coast sea lochs they referred to as the “Scottish fjords”. “The only places the Norse could have expected a safe reception was Orkney and Shetland, where the people were basically the same as them and where they would be greeted as kin,” Mr Sigurdsson said.

The Norse Viking age peaked between the 9th and 12th centuries, when Scandinavian seafarers conquered new lands, settling Orkney, Shetland, Iceland and Greenland, and establishing colonies in Scotland, England, Ireland, France, North America and Russia.

The Icelandic sagas, written in the 13th century but based on earlier oral stories, were often used as route guides for raiders, traders, crusaders and explorers, effectively a road map of medieval Europe and the Middle East. They have proved remarkably accurate, even helping archaeologists to pinpoint the remains of a Norse village in Newfoundland.

Orkney is described as a handy base camp for pillaging Scotland. But the Norse had other bases too, some of which would feature high up in a modern guide for tourists. If you are planning to raid Scotland, one saga reads, you could do worse than base yourself in Fort Skardaborg. That’s today’s Scarborough.

Mr Sigurdsson believes the Norse Vikings were particularly nervous about the Gaels of Ireland and west Scotland.

Orkney historian Tom Muir said: “They picked weak targets, like monasteries. Some of the monasteries were basically unguarded banks of cash with a sign above them saying ‘free money’. The truth is that there were raids both ways and that the Norse had every reason to fear their Celtic neighbours. There are well-documented accounts of Gaelic-speaking Lewismen raiding Orkney.”

The Norse eventually lost their hold in Scotland. But Celts and the Vikings must ultimately have started to get along. DNA evidence suggests many Scots and Icelanders interbred and settled in both countries.

THE UNKNOWN RUINS

Nice. Extremely nice. Although I am familiar with some of these sites, some of these will also make good new research investigations for me and material/sites for my novels.

 

 

Done Pompeii, Ephesus and Angkor and still thirsting after archeological marvels? The founder of Timeless Travels magazine recommends 10 less well-known sites that can usually be savoured without the crowds

CE7J30 Ancient khmer pyramid in Koh Kher, Cambodia.
Ancient Khmer pyramid in Koh Kher, Cambodia. Photograph: Alamy

Koh Ker, Cambodia

Lost to forest and abandoned for over a thousand years, you’ll find this little-visited site in northern Cambodia. It’s less than two hours’ ride from its more famous cousin, Angkor Wat, and well worth a visit to see more than two dozen temples emerging from the jungle. A highlight is a seven-tiered pyramid, 40 metres high, which is thought to have been the state temple of Jayavarman IV and is often compared to Mayan temples. The site was the capital of the whole Khmer empire from 928-944AD.
A new road means day trips to Koh Ker are possible from Siem Reap, but there are also now a few basic guesthouses and an ecolodge for those who want to stay longer

Choquequirao, Peru

Choquequirao is a ruined Inca city in south Peru

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Photograph: Zachary Bennett/Corbis

Little sister to the better-known Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is one of the most-rewarding travel destinations in the Americas. Only a few hundred people visit during the dry season (May to October), compared with thousands each day at Machu Picchu. At 3,000m, the site sits on a cloud-forest ridge, 61 miles west of Cusco in the remote Vilcabamba range. The city was built by Topa Yupanqui, son of the man who built Machu Picchu, Pachacuti, some time in the 15th century. It’s a two-day trek to Choquequirao from the town of Cachora (though a cable car link is planned), and exploring it and the outlying sites of Capullyoc, Hurincancha and Casa de Cascada with a guide will take several days.
Buses run from Cusco to Ramal, close to Cachora, where guides and pack mules can easily be hired

Ani, Turkey

The ruined church of Saint Gregory in Ani, Turkey.

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The ruined church of Saint Gregory in Ani. Photograph: Alamy

There are some wonderful treasures in the far east of Turkey and one of them is the site of Ani. Capital of the Armenian Bagratid dynasty until the 11th century, and situated on key trade routes, it flourished for over 400 years and at its peak was larger than any contemporary European city, with a population of over 100,000. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1319, and today its ruins are spread over a wide area, with the remains of spectacular churches, a Zoroastrian fire temple, palaces and city walls. Take a picnic and spend a day exploring the site.
Ani can be reached by taxi or hire car from the town of Kars, 46km away and served by internal flights from Ankara or Istanbul

Conimbriga, Portugal

Roman ruins (House of fountains), Conimbriga

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Photograph: Getty Images

This is one of the largest Roman settlements in Portugal – roughly halfway between Lisbon and Porto, near the village of Condeixa-a-Nova. It was a prosperous town in Roman times and, while not the largest Roman city in Portugal, it is the best preserved. Although only a small section of the site has been excavated, there are baths, luxurious houses, an amphitheatre, a forum, shops, gardens with working fountains and city walls to explore, with many wonderful mosaics still in situ. In its centre is one of the largest houses discovered in the western Roman empire, the Casa de Cantaber, which is built around ornamental pools in superb colonnaded gardens and has its own bath complex and heating system. There is also a good museum, cafe and picnic site. Pick up a guidebook from the museum and have a few euro coins in your pocket to make the fountains work.
Easyjet and Ryanair fly to Porto and Lisbon from about £50 return

Han Yangling, China

Terracotta figures at Han Yang Ling Museum.

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Terracotta figures in the Han Yangling museum. Photograph: Alamy

A smaller version of the Xi’an terracotta warriors, this often-overlooked site is the the tomb of E mperor Jing Di , who died in 141BC, and his Empress Wang. The site, 20km north of Xi’an, is well laid-out, with glass panels over the burial pits so you can see everything in situ, and there is also an excellent museum. The warrior figures here have individual faces; their arms were made of wood and they wore clothes. Sadly, both have disintegrated now, though examples can be seen in the museum. The pits are filled with figurines of courtiers and animals, and you can see the fossilised remains of wooden chariots.
Han Yangling is easily reached by taxi, from Xi’an international airport (25 minutes)

Pella, Jordan

Ruins in Pella, Jordan

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Photograph: Corbis

Frequently bypassed for the larger sites of Jerash and Umm Qais , Pella, in the north Jordan valley, is a multi-period site, occupied since neolithic times. It has some stunning Roman/Byzantine remains, and recent excavations have unearthed a Canaanite temple dating from 1700BC and early-bronze-age city walls dating from 3200BC. Take the time to climb to the top of Tell Husn, the southern mound overlooking the dig house, and you will be rewarded with a fantastic view across the excavations and the Jordan valley.
The site is 45 minutes by road from the city of Irbid (two hours from Amman). Buses run from Irbid to the present-day village of Tabaqat Fahl

Vatican Necropolis, Italy

Roman necropolis in the Vatican.

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Photograph: AGF/Rex

Beneath the Vatican City lie the ancient streets of Rome and an ancient burial ground, the Vatican necropolis – originally a cemetery on the southern slope of Vatican Hill. Saint Peter is said to be buried here, after he was martyred in the nearby Circus of Nero. Emperor Constantine I built a basilica above the apostle’s grave in the fourth century AD, and excavations in the 1940s did find a number of mausoleums. To walk at ancient street levels through the necropolis is an exciting experience for those who love to step back in time.
Visits must be booked with the Vatican Excavations Office. Tours, in groups of about 12, last 90 minutes

Takht-e Soleyman, Iran

Takht Soleyman

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Photograph: /Getty Images

Takht-e Soleyman, meaning Throne of Solomon, is a breathtaking site built around a mineral-rich crater lake 30km north of Takab in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province. The earliest remains date from the Sasanian period, from 224 to 651AD. Set in a vast, empty landscape 2,000 metres above sea level, the site includes the remains of a Zoroastrian fire temple complex and a 13th-century Mongol palace. It is surrounded by an oval wall with 34 towers and two gates. The lake is 60 metres deep and so filled with minerals that it contains no life and is undrinkable. Don’t miss the small museum, housed in an Ilkhanid (a 13th-century building), with fine examples of tile, ceramics and stucco decoration.
The site is about two hours by taxi from the city of Zanjan, which is served by buses and trains from Tehran

Fatehpur Sikri, India

Fatehpur Sikri, India

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Photograph: /Corbis

This surprisingly intact walled and fortified Mughal city is 40km west of Agra and the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh. Built by Emperor Akbar in 1571, it was the Mughal capital for 14 years before being abandoned for lack of water. A stunning royal complex of pavilions and palaces include a harem, a mosque, private quarters, gardens, ornamental pools, courtyards and intricate carvings. It is the best-preserved collection of Mughal architecture in India. Don’t miss the Rumi Sultana palace, the smallest but most-elegant structure in the complex, and the secret stone safes in the corner of the Treasury, which also houses a museum opened just last year.
The complex is an easy day trip from Agra: take a bus or train to Fatehpur station, 1km from the site

Pula, Croatia

Ancient Amphitheater Pula, Croatia

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Photograph: Getty Images

The amphitheatre of Pula is the only Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and all three levels preserved. Built between in 27BC and 68AD, it is one of the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the world, and the best-preserved ancient monument in Croatia. Overlooking the harbour in the north-east of the town, it seated 20,000 spectators. In summer there are weekly re-enactments of gladiator fights, and it is also used for plays, concerts and the September Outlook festival. Look out for the slabs that used to secure the fabric canopies that sheltered spectators from the sun.
Ryanair flies to Pula from Stansted from £117 return

CAIRNS OF THE DEAD

Excellent gaming and story background materials.

 

Forgotten monuments of Northern Sweden

The larger of the Spir Mountain Cairns from NW. Photo by Carl L. Thunberg 2014-06-26. (CC BY-NC)

The larger of the Spir Mountain Cairns from NW. Photo by Carl L. Thunberg 2014-06-26. (CC BY-NC)

Carl L. Thunberg
Carl L. Thunberg is a Swedish archaeologist and historian, born in Stockholm 1963, with master’s degrees completed at the Universities of Gothenburg and Uppsala. His two main areas of specialisation are ancient Scandinavian monuments and the transitional period between the Viking Age and the Nordic Middle Ages. Academia Page

The Spir Mountain cairns are located near to the Swedish city of Örnsköldsvik in Norrland. These two exceptionally well preserved Early Bronze Age cairns are arguably the finest examples of this region, and aesthetically, they are equal to the best prehistoric monuments that Sweden has to offer.

The Spir Mountain; the view in a southeasterly direction. Photo by Carl L. Thunberg 2014-06-26. (CC BY-NC)

Forgotten monuments in a wild landscape

Norrland’s ancient monuments are often – in comparison to southern Sweden – relatively inaccessible, and to reach these particular examples one must climb a rugged mountain covered with pine trees.

In the main, the information concerning the most northerly Swedish prehistoric sites is outdated, and was brought together in the 19th and early 20th centuries (e.g. Ekdahl 1827-1830; Sidenbladh 1864, 1867, 1868; Olsson 1911, 1914). However, these inventories are often the only references available, as can be seen from the FMIS system of the Swedish National Heritage Board.

Monuments to the dead

Map over the Spir Mountain (Spirberget) with the cairns marked. Through the FMIS system by Carl L. Thunberg 2015-02-28. (CC BY-NC)

The vast majority of the cairns appear to have been built as monuments to the dead, mainly during the southern Scandinavian Bronze Age; circa 1800-500 BC. They occupy prominent positions overlooking the surrounding area, and some researchers speculate that they had a function as tribal markers for family group territories (Baudou 1959, 1968; Burenhult et al 1999).

Unlike the cairns from the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age which appear to contain cremation burials, the Early Bronze Age examples like one of the Spir Mountain cairns (RAÄ Grundsunda 109:1), have internal burial chambers with cists containing skeletal remains, accompanied by various grave goods. In some cases the cairns have been used repeatedly, and have been expanded out from their original structures (ibid).

Many of the cairns were constructed near or overlooking what was once the sea shore; some 30-50 metres above present sea level (ibid), and it is interesting to note that Spir Mountain had once been an island within a bay during the Bronze Age.

Norrland’s coastal cairn-zone is usually considered to extend from northern Uppland to Piteå in Norrbotten, a distance of about 860 kilometres. The coastal cairn-zone in Ångermanland is particularly rich, and includes about 700 registered sites.

Carl L. Thunberg by the larger of the Spir Mountain Cairns. Photo Sven Käll 2014-06-26. (CC BY-NC)

Two remarkable structures

During the investigations of prehistoric sites in Ångermanland, the project reached the Spir Mountain and its cairns in 2013. The first visit was an overwhelming experience, standing before two remarkable structures of dry stone masonry with spectacular views across the surrounding landscape. The larger of the cairns (13m in diameter) is exceptionally well preserved, and almost perfectly circular. The stone required for construction must have required an immense investment of labour. The smaller cairn is just to the east and is 6m in diameter.

There are few known settlements that can be associated with the coastal cairns, but it is likely that the area’s inhabitants must have had an economy based on fishing and seal hunting (Baudou 1968). In Västernorrland there are cairns dating from the Earlier Bronze Age through to the Iron Age, with some still in use as late as the Viking Age, long after the tradition disappeared in many other places in Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia (Baudou 1959, 1968; George & Vinberg 2006).

Although the groups of coastal cairns in Norrland, with their contextual continuity, must represent the cultural remnants of a resident population, until further modern research takes place in this landscape it is difficult to fully interpret the sites and identify the cultures that created them.


Link to map and satellite photoshttp://www.hitta.se/karta/partner?s=014c725f

Link to the archaeological search engine of FMIS: http://www.fmis.raa.se/cocoon/fornsok/search.html

Link to the RAÄ page for Carl L. Thunberg and the Spirmountain Cairns: http://www.raa.se/aktuellt/vara-evenemang/arkeologidagen/till-arrangemangen/angermanland/spirbergsrosena-en-majestatisk-fornlamningsplats-i-ornskoldsvik/

Link to Carl L. Thunberg’s Academia.edu page: http://gu-se.academia.edu/CarlLThunberg

References

  • Baudou, E. 1959. Till frågan om de norrländska kuströsenas datering. Fornvännen: Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research (1959): 161-176. KVHAA.
  • Baudou, E. 1968. Forntida bebyggelse i Ångermanlands kustland. Arkeologiska undersökningar av ångermanländska kuströsen. Arkiv för norrländsk hembygdsforskning XVII. Härnösand.
  • Burenhult, G (ed.). 1999. Arkeologi i Norden. Bokförlaget Natur & Kultur. Stockholm.
  • George, O. & Vinberg, A. 2006. Arkeologisk undersökning av gravröse vid Älandsfjärden. Rapport 2006:10. Länsmuseet Västernorrland & RAÄ. Härnösand.
  • Ekdahl, N. J. 1827-1830. Berättelse till Kongl. Witterhets, Historie och Antiqvitets Academien om de Wettenskapliga Forskningsresor, som blifvit företagna åren 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830 i Norrland … (etc). Antikvarisk-topografiska arkivet: N. J. Ekdahls samlingar.
  • Olsson, E. 1911. Berättelse öfver arkeologiska undersökningar i Ångermanland. KVHAA.
  • Olsson, E. 1914. Översikt av de fasta fornlämningarna i Ångermanland. Fornvännen: Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research (1914): 49-80. KVHAA.
  • Sidenbladh, K. 1864. Några fornminnen i Norra Ångermanland, antecknade sommaren 1864 av Karl Sidenbladh Phil.stud.Norrl. KVHAA.
  • Sidenbladh, K. 1867. Berättelse till Kongl. Witterhets, Historie och Antiqvitets Akademin om de antikvariska undersökningar gjorda under 1867. KVHAA.
  • Sidenbladh, K. 1868. Fornlemningar i Ångermanland och Medelpad 1864-1868. KVHAA.

BLACKLIST AND VIKINGS

I have a feeling that both the Blacklist and Vikings will be superb tonight.

Here we go…

GONE A’VIKING

I’m not going to Ireland to do this, but you gotta admit, it looks like a fun gig.

Looking for some extra work? ‘Vikings’ need 8,000 extras for filming in Ireland

Ever fancied joining a viking army? Now you can. Here’s how to apply…

Vikings, the hugely successful History Channel production that is filmed in Ireland, has announced a casting call to find a minimum of 8,000 extras to work on its forthcoming season, which will be filmed here.

The Canadian/Irish production recently began its third season and will begin filming the fourth in Ireland in April. The producers have today announced they are looking for extras to take part, and the selection process will be held in Dublin, at the Film Base in Temple Bar, and at the Grand Hotel, Abbey St, in Wicklow.

We covered the application process last year, and you can learn a bit more about what life as an extra on Vikings is like HERE

The work is casual and temporary, but with 8,000 spots to fill it would appear you’ll have a good chance of getting the call sometime between April and December, when filming wraps up.

Those interested can attend the open casting days, with the events page on the Vikings Extras Facebook page offering the following advice to applicants turning up to stake a claim.

They are mainly looking for adults aged 16+
People from all ethnic backgrounds are required
You do not need an appointment
You only need attend one day of auditions
Each person who attends will fill out an application and have a photo taken
The process will take roughly 20 minutes
When you head along, have your measurements to hand. E.g. Height, chest, dress, shoe size etc. (You’ll need them for the application form)
No need to bring a CV or headshots, but the team will accept them if you do have them with you
There’s a long list of specific skills and appearances they’re looking for, including: Fishermen, carpenters, skilled swords people, bowmen and women, ship hands, Latin speakers, tree surgeons, and males with long hair and beards (you can find a full list of these – and there are plenty more – on the Vikings Extras Facebook page).

Full listing

There will be 3 x Extras Open Casting days in 2015 – 2 days will be held in Dublin and 1 day will be held in Wicklow. Details are below

Dublin

FILMBASE, Curved St, Temple Bar, D2

Tuesday 31st March 2015 between 9.30am -4.30pm

Wednesday 1st April 2015 between 9.30am – 5pm

Wicklow

The Grand Hotel, Abbey St, Wicklow Town

Wednesday 7th April between 10am – 6pm

Check out the Vikings Extras Facebook page for more information

And if you haven’t seen Vikings, here’s a taster

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