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NORSE NICKNAMES – ALL-THING

Artist’s depiction of a Viking King

From Olafir Thick-Legged to Ragnar Fur-Pants, Viking nicknames were colorful, descriptive and fascinating

An American scholar did both his master’s thesis and his doctoral dissertation on old Norse nicknames as recorded in medieval literature to reveal a world of people with monikers like Wise of Dreams, Harm-Fart, Autumn Darkness, Toil-Skull, Grimacer and The Ridiculer. A nickname in Scandinavia during Viking times could be insulting or laudatory, derived from body parts or mythology, from places or accomplishments or from a number of other inspirations.

Aside from boxing’s Ray Boom Boom Mancini, Carl The Truth Williams, and Smokin Joe Frazier, modern nicknames such as Al or Annie seem prosaic compared to some of the monikers Vikings came up with to describe their contemporaries.

While modern people may use nicknames out of affection, in the Middle Ages in Scandinavia that wasn’t always the case. Take Eysteinn Harm-Fart, Hergils Button Ass Thrándarson, or Authun Coward, for example. One might wonder if Mr. Eysteinn, a settler in Iceland, was given to drinking copious amounts of beer.

A woodcut of Erik the Red from a 1688 book

A woodcut of Erik the Red from a 1688 book (Wikimedia Commons)

“Nicknames are universal, every human society has had or has them,” Paul Peterson, an expert on Scandinavia, wrote to Ancient Origins in e-mail. “Most other medieval societies had, or recorded, fewer nicknames, even though the practice of adopting family names or surnames is a bit late in the game (late medieval continental practice),” Dr. Peterson wrote. “Nicknames must have been everywhere, but only a tiny sample of them survives in writing.”

A table of Norse nickname sources from Dr. Peterson’s doctoral dissertation

A table of Norse nickname sources from Dr. Peterson’s doctoral dissertation

Though some nicknames were insulting, there are many examples of poetic or laudatory nicknames in old Norse literature. There are The Fair or The Handsome, Snowdrift, The Wise of Dreams or Dream Interpreter, Little Bear, The Learned and Autumn Darkness. Other poetic nicknames include Widow of the Heath, Traveler to Limerick, Sun of the Islands, The Quiet, The Amorous.

While world monarchs often had an informal appellation applied to them, such as “the Good,” “the Great,” “the Terrible” or “the Short,” some of the most expressive Norse nicknames were reserved for non-royalty.

Dr. Peterson did his master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation, which is available to read in its entirety here, specifically on old Norse nicknames. He received his doctorate in Medieval Germanic Studies from the University of Minnesota and is now a teaching fellow in Scandinavian and German at Augustana College in Illinois. He is a member of the International Council of Onomastic Sciences. Onomastics is the study of names.

In the 11th century, King Olaf II of Norway was known as The Holy; this image is from Trondheim Cathedral.

In the 11th century, King Olaf II of Norway was known as The Holy; this image is from Trondheim Cathedral. (Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Peterson wrote in his thesis:

Nicknames, which occur in all cultures and across all time periods, play a vital role in understanding and highlighting identity. They also provide a unique window into slang and popular culture less accessible through personal names alone. Their study encompasses wide-ranging interdisciplinary scholarship, including onomastics (name studies), historical linguistics, anthropology, history, and narratology. Old Norse nicknames themselves represent diverse forms of cultural expression from the lower levels of discourse, history, religion, and popular entertainment. They have left remnants across Northern Europe in place names, runic inscriptions, and the names of individuals in the saga corpus.

One of the best sources for Icelandic settlers’ nicknames is the 12th century Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements). Many of the nicknames listed in this article (but not all) are from this source.

Ivan the Terrible, an 1897 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov; other cultures had nicknames, but American scholar Paul Peterson says they are not as well-recorded as old Norse nicknames.

Ivan the Terrible, an 1897 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov; other cultures had nicknames, but American scholar Paul Peterson says they are not as well-recorded as old Norse nicknames. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nicknames that Dr. Peterson recorded in his master’s thesis and his doctoral dissertation include King Eirkr Blood-Ax, Olafir Thick-Legged, Ragnar Fur-Pants or Hairy Breeches and Bjorn the Wealthy. Still others include Thorbjorn Sour-Drink and Ketill the Silent or Ketill Creaking Noise.

Those nicknames were not necessarily insulting, but many old Norse nicknames were scathing.

“Negative nicknames are rather common, ranging from sexually-charged insults to unflattering physical characteristics, and several nicknames referring to private parts, perhaps the most sensitive areas in terms of insults and otherwise, are found in the corpus. Finnur Jónsson provides a list of these in the second section of his nickname list under the categories ‘penis, cunnus”’ and ‘anus,”’ Dr. Peterson wrote in this thesis. These nicknames include:

  • Arni Harm-Penis
  • Kolbeinn Butter-Penis
  • Herjolfr Shriveled-Testicle
  • Sperm Bjalfi
  • Butt-[Copulate] Bjarni
  • Helgi Seal’s Testicle
  • Ivarr Procreation Member
  • Jon Silky [Vulva]
  • Asni Ship Chest
  • Ass Bersi
  • Herjolfr Squatted Ass

Other nicknames that Dr. Peterson identified in his thesis that weren’t necessarily sexual but some of which were still insulting included:

  • Prince Fortress
  • Little Wolf
  • Little Blackbird
  • Halfdan Sigurdsonn Hook Nose
  • King Magnus Barefoot
  • Sigurd “Sow”
  • King Haraldr Sigurrdson Hard Rule
  • King Ólafr Tryggvason Thin-Legged (krakabein)

“The nickname krakabein, most famously held by King Ólafr Tryggvason, appears to have had some currency among earlier Scandinavians who raided and settled the British Isles where it is found in Old English as Cracabam, and it also appears in a 15th century Irish source called The Annals of Ulster as Graggabai. It is unlikely that the nickname refers to Óláfr Tryggvason,” Dr. Peterson wrote. Others include Iron-Knee, Wild Dog and Black Head.

“The use of the nicknames in the literature and how it shaped narratives or demonstrated medieval customs or values is also something that I am fascinated by,” Dr Peterson told Ancient Origins. “Quite a large number of the linguistic forms are rare and ‘frozen’ from older forms of the language, and that is interesting in and of itself, but the meaning of the words also gives modern people a window into the mindset of a medieval Scandinavian. Nicknames are often formed in a familiar context, that is, a small community of people who know each other well, so the references of nicknames are mostly local and personal. A huge number of them must go back to an inside joke or reference to an event lost to us, and because we cannot always know the origin of a nickname, it gives a modern reader room to speculate or guess the real origin.”

(These should be excellent for World-Building.)

HAUNTED CASTLE: DUNOON MASSACRE

HAUNTED CASTLE TOWARD: THE DUNOON MASSACRE

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

SEA PEOPLES ABANDONED?

Researcher casts doubt on sea peoples theory

The ancient city of Lachish was one of the 16 sites re-examined in the research project. Image: Mark A. Wilson/Wikimedia commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The ancient city of Lachish was one of the 16 sites re-examined in the research project. Image: Mark A. Wilson/Wikimedia commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

University of Tübingen doctoral candidate Jesse Millek has been honoured for his research, which questions the controversial theory of the “sea peoples”.

Mr. Millek has been awarded the Sean W. Dever Memorial Prize by the William F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem for a paper presenting his findings on the topic. He has been studying the control of resources during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in the Southern Levant. The research focuses on the fall in trade at the end of the Late Bronze Age in what is now Israel and Jordan.

The award winning work is entitled, “Sea Peoples, Philistines, and the Destruction of Cities: A Critical Examination of Destruction Layers ‘Caused’ by the ‘Sea Peoples,”  and deepens the understanding of what caused the decline of the Southern Levant at the end of the Bronze Age.

Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III, from the air. Image: Steve F-E-Cameron/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

More complex

Until now, an inscription in the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III – Medinet Habu – has been said to be evidence of an invasion by the “sea peoples”. The engraving, dating back to 1180 BCE, became the basis for the much-discussed theory which blamed the invasion for the collapse of the neighbouring Levantine kingdoms and the collapse of interregional exchange. Mr. Millek’s recent findings, however, indicate that the causes for a sharp decline in trade are much more complex and likely to have been related to internal, revolutionary processes of social change and an altered approach to handling resources.

Critical examination of 16 sites

Mr. Millek critically examined 16 sites in the Southern Levant said to have been destroyed by the “sea peoples” in a Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1070 paper. One example is the city of Lachish. Located 44 kilometres southwest of Jerusalem, it is one of the largest and most significant archaeological sites in the Southern Levant.

During early excavations, archaeologists uncovered the charred remains of a temple and building in the Late Bronze Age Destruction of Level 7. Subsequent research interpreted these finds as evidence of a military conflict with the “sea peoples.” However, a critical reassessment of the excavation reports indicates that several significant factors were missed in the initial interpretations.

Jesse Millek says that, “The Late Bronze Age building in Area S was most likely destroyed by a kitchen fire, as the area around the hearth showed the most destruction and was very likely the source of the fire. Even in the past, buildings could be destroyed and preserved in the archaeological record by a common place event like a kitchen fire. Moreover, the Fosse Temple appears to have been ritually terminated as all valuable or cultic items were removed from the temple before it was burned and there were no signs of vandalism. Additionally, the site remained sacred after it was burned as no later people built on top of it, or dug into its remains, which would again indicate the temple was ritually terminated.” The orderly de-consecration of sacred sites points towards changed handling of spiritual resources and a cultural reorganization of values within the society. Continuing research should determine in how far the fall in trade is linked to this change in values.

The head of project A06, Professor Jens Kamlah, emphasizes the significance of disproving the “sea peoples” theory. He says, “The goal of our research is to disprove the evidence supporting this old, extremely simplified, model. Mr. Millek’s work represents a significant contribution to this effect. The time period we are investigating is crucial for the rise of the Israel we know from the Old Testament of the Bible. Demonstrating the different reasons and complex economic relationships behind the decline in trade can provide new insights into this key epoch.”

‘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.

Political and Organizational History of the Cavaliers, Paladins, Rangers, and the Dragoons

Continuing with a post and description of my own gaming milieu and world, that of Iÿarlðma, or The Other World.

 

Political and Organizational History of the Cavaliers, Paladins, Rangers, and the Dragoons

Being a brief and basic political and organizational history of the Cavaliers, Paladins, Rangers. and Dragoons and a basic Organizational description of Dragoon Commands, Motivations, and Goals.

General Information/Basic History: The Cavaliers, Originally the Cohort of Holy Cavaliers was formed as a special guard for Pope Boniface I, the Pontiff of Rome in the year 419 AD. The Cavaliers served faithfully and were recruited from famous horsemen and officers drawn from the various provinces of the Roman Empire.

The Cavaliers were allowed to secretly exist by the emperors, who on occasion also employed them as personal guards or as special agents for various military, political, diplomatic and espionage missions. In time they came to be seen as a very powerful organization and elite military force in their own right. Many began to fear them, especially in the halls of civil government where the Imperial Guards considered the Cavaliers as a threat and a dangerous competition.

Eventually in the year 498 AD the Emperor Anastasius turned a blind eye to events in Rome as the Imperial Guards, some seditious prelates and the governor of Rome set up their own anti-Pope, Laurentius. This new pope threatened the existing pope Saint Symmachus, whose successor upon Symmachus’ death was forced to flee first to Sicily and then eventually into Gaul. Some of the most loyal Cavaliers then at Rome also fled with the newly elected but unordained pope Palladius (after whom the Paladins are named) as he left the city. Many others were arrested in secret by the Imperial Guards at night and executed. Some of the leaders of the Grand Cohort, as the Cavaliers were popularly known escaped initial arrest when the Italian Garrison refused to detain them, and fled the city accompanied by the remains of the Theban Legion (Thundering Legion) who had survived the pagan revival massacre and had continued to exist as an underground organization in service to the pope. Those who fled took ship and made their way first to North Africa and eventually east coming to Alexandria and then to the eastern Capital at Constantinople. Those Cavaliers serving along the frontiers, after hearing of the dissolution of their order and of the fate of their comrades deserted their ranks and melded into the local population or joined mercenary patrols under false names and backgrounds. The anti-Pope then formed his own personal guard of hand-selected Imperial soldiers as well as deserters and traitors from the ranks of the Cavaliers who were eventually to become known as the Dragoons. These Dragoons acted as a virtual Praetorian guard for the anti-Pope Laurentius and for several anti-popes to follow.

Goals & Ideals of the Dragoons: The annihilation of the Cavaliers and the destruction of any organization which might be considered a splinter group of the Cavaliers, such as the Paladins of the West, the Palademes of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Rangers of the West and the Vigilantes of the Eastern Empire. They also intend to depose the current Pope and install their own Anti-Pope. The basic history of the group is as detailed above, and their origin as a result of the Cavalier Purge is well known in educated political, military and church officiate circles, and among some few in the higher social classes. The more secretive history, as detailed in the Inner Workings section below is far less well known and is a closely guarded secret known by few. The Dragoons of all ranks and commands are a very secretive group, go to great lengths to hide their activities and have also gone to great lengths to make it appear as if their group has disbanded or simply faded out of existence in the past 100 years or so. Many of the Paladins and Rangers they hunt to death are not even aware of their existence until they are ambushed, poisoned, captured, tortured, or murdered. The Dragoons are less active in the East, being more numerous and driven in the West but do also occasionally send hunting parties into the Eastern Empire and even as far East as the Middle East and Persia. No matter where they operate their goals are the same.

The Dragoons have also spawned much smaller tactical operation teams and parties such as the Consociatio and often work in partnership with barbarian kings and even with organized crime syndicates such as the Keishon (the Black Hand) and with pirates and brigands. They tend to support their activities secretly with an underground financial organization of minor nobles, corrupt military and civil officials, and by engaging in various criminal activities, such as arms smuggling, tax interception and theft, and kidnapping/ransom/extortion operations.

Despite the vicious reputation of the order and despite the fact that by most every objective standard the group is indeed inclined towards evil and self-promotion the members of the Dragoons consider themselves completely justified in their actions and actually think of themselves as working for the good. They consider their Anti-Pope to be an ideal leader and they consider the eradication of the Paladins and Rangers to be a Holy Objective and Divine Purpose.

Leadership: The top ranks of the leadership of the Dragoons remains a secret and is unknown to any except the leaders themselves. Every rank has a leader as does every overall Command. These leaders also operate in secret with assignments and missions being passed down from higher level operatives and leaders through a secretive transmission and code/messenger system. On the local level the Dragoons are divided into small tactical commands which undertake missions, hunt Cavaliers and their descendants, steal tax monies, engage in criminal activities, smuggle weapons, corrupt and bribe officials and surveil any target of interest. The name of the current Antipope is unknown, as his identity is an enigma, however it is believed by some he may be a high church official stationed either at Rome or in Ravenna.

The names of the leaders of certain splinter groups, such as the Consociatio are known (his name is Leticus Cambrius) and such people and groups are even famous and well respected, however nothing is known about the shadowy and covert activities of these groups and men. The Consociatio is publicly known but is not known to have any ties to the Dragoons and the Dragoons intend that all such aligned groups are fronts for other activities and that their true intentions remain secretive and hidden.

Inner Workings: The antipope and the Imperator (Supreme General) of the Imperial Praetorian Guards for the Western emperors were unsatisfied with the initial purge of the ranks of the Cavaliers. Fearing that the survivors who had escorted the pope into exile and that those who had escaped to Africa would rise again to power and take revenge decided upon a hunting pogrom to fully eradicate any surviving Cavaliers and their families and associates. They also intended to capture and imprison the deposed pope. Those Imperial Guards who had best known the habits, training, and numbers of the Cavaliers, along with Cavaliers who had been tortured and disaffected from the pope’s service were formed into a new unit, officially known as the Cavaleem, whose public duty was to apprehend and arrest the outlawed Cavaliers. However their real duties were to hunt down and kill the remaining Cavaliers, as well as kill their families and seize any possessions they might have as tribute, and to capture and imprison the pope in exile.

The most powerful arm of the Cavaleem were organized at a secret training base in Hispania where they divided themselves into special units devoted to particular kinds of work and assignments. These Cavaleem, who called themselves the Dragoons were to become the most famous of all Cavaleem and eventually, would give their name to all Cavaleem, as the popular name for the Cavaleem soon became the Dragoons.

The Dragoons divided themselves into four Commands; 1) the Emeralds, who served as political police for the emperors and various other high officials in the civil government, and as Special Bodyguards for the antipope, 2) the Crimson which served as city detachments of political and civil police, both at Rome and in frontier cities, 3) the Argent who were a unit assigned to the regular legions as officers and informers to keep the civil authorities and the emperors informed of possible intrigue or insurrection, and 4) the Ebone, who served as special forces agents, usually operating alone or in small detachments. The Ebone Command were the most well trained unit of soldiers in the secret Cavaleem force, being experts at weapons, horsemanship, tracking and hunting, and unarmed combat. Often they were also trained as assassins proficient at killing men in secret, and in the uses of poison. The Ebone unit was the detachment assigned with the hunting down of and the eradication of the escaped or exiled Cavaliers. Because of their dedication in fulfilling this assignment the Ebone were also called the Cavacaedere, the Cavalier Killers, but they earned their most famous nickname later because of the enmity that developed between themselves and the Paladins. They became most popularly known as the AntiPaladins. After the official line of popes were restored some AntiPaladins, especially the Ebone agents, began to sell their services to others who wished to seize the papal seat and become new antipopes, or to those who wished to seize Imperial crowns or foment rebellions among the barbarians. Some even went to hire for the Arabs, Muslims, Persians, and others in the Orient where their reputations for ruthlessness and for espionage and insurrection were unmatched. A secret core of Dragoons remained in the Western Empire however, operating from Sicily, Hispania, North Africa, and Ravenna, determined to forever eradicate any remains of the Cavaliers and their descendants and to reestablishing an antipope favorable to themselves so that they might rise again to power in the West.

Those Cavaliers who escaped into exile with the pope would eventually form the basis of the Paladins of the Holy Roman Empire of Charles Martel (The Hammer) and eventually of Charlemagne in the West. Those Cavaliers who escaped to Africa and eventually to the east became the champions of the Eastern Church, the Palademes and War Monks of the Orient. Those frontiers Cavaliers who had deserted their post or who had become mercenaries also became very famous, especially in the Eastern Empire, as the legendary Rangers. The Rangers were often employed by the Eastern Empire and by the emperor as frontiers’ sheriffs, spies, infiltrators, bounty hunters, anti-insurgent operatives, and anti-raiding outpost defenders. Whereas the Paladins gained great public prestige and eventual political power as the servants of the church and the defenders of the civil order, the Rangers, because of their background, preferred to operate alone or in small groups and often in secret and/or in disguise. The Paladins became the new public face of the Cavaliers and were considered the champions of public law and the authorities and of urban life, while the Rangers became the heroes of the poor and the oppressed along the frontiers, the defenders of the land, and the champions of private justice. Eventually the Rangers in the East would take on a new title, the Vigilantes, and would keep law where no official law existed and the hand of no army could reach.

Whereas the AntiPaladins became almost fanatical in their hatred of and hunting of the Paladins, because they greatly feared the rising political and civil power of the Paladins, the Rangers never forgot the original purge of the Cavaliers and held a fierce and secret hatred for the Dragoons, of all commands, but especially against the Ebone Dragoons. So while the AntiPaladins covertly hunted the Cavalier survivors and the Paladins, the Rangers and Vigilantes, with their own secret plans, hunted the AntiPaladins.

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.

THE BYZANTINE IMPERIAL ARMY

THE COLLEGES TO COME?

Following up on the LARPful post. This could be an excellent stimulus for the imagination. Especially for writers. artists, actors, and perhaps even scientists who wanted a free-flowing environment to conduct chemical and physical experiments and make observations in a fun environment.

I can also see this being transformed easily into a Vadding Experience (the exploration of both modern and older ruins), that is LARPing could be used an an environment to train Vadders.

And finally this could also be easily used as a platform to develop ARGs (Alternate Reality Games and LARPs) and could even be used to train participants in Real World Skills (TSS: Transferable Skill Simulations) and in subjects such as ancient technologies and history.

So this could also easily become a GPAD, a Game of Personal Advancement and Development.

Anyway as far as the current Crowdfunding Project goes Claus, Good Luck and Godspeed. To you, your partners, and participants.

 

LARPFUL, LARK-LESS

I admit, I’ve always had a prejudice against LARPing. I’ve always considered it the sort of live-action joke of acting, and the running gag of gaming.

But I also gotta admit. It’s come a long, long way in recent years. Some of this looks really interesting, and would be especially so if you were a kid.

Live Action Role-Playing has a way of sinking its (metaphorical) claws into you. Consider American journalist Lizzie Stark, who in 2011 visited the Knudepunkt conference in Denmark, the most influential larp gathering of its kind. There, she climbed into the rabbit hole and never came out. I know, because I gave her a hug not two hours ago at this year’s conference. She’s still a journalist, and recently published a stunning book on breast cancer, but she’s also an avid larper and game designer in her own right.

“Discovering the Nordic scene felt like reading James Joyce or Gertrude Stein after spending a lifetime on fairy tales,” she wrote in her 2012 book about larping, Leaving Mundania. What would turn a critical American journalist into a die-hard larper? Good question, but let’s step back a bit here. Larp is organized pretend play. During a larp, participants dress up as characters and leave their normal lives behind for a while. A larp can be about cowboys in 1886, witches and wizards at a magical college, or an advertising agency from hell. Instead of watching or listening, you’re an active part of the experience. It’s like stepping into a TV show or novel. Or kids playing. Both descriptions are accurate.

The author as a general commanding 200 soldiers at Warlarp. Photo: Anders BernerNordic larp, the type that gets the most press, and the one in which I participate, evolved out of the scenes in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland (but not Iceland, the other Nordic country). Not only does some of the most outrageous and mind-blowing stuff happen there (want to play soulless ad execs or tortured prisoner for fun? Nordic larp is for you), the Nordic larp movement has also spawned the world’s most celebrated larp conference. It’s called Knudepunkt (“Nodal Point”) and has taken place annually since 1997. It’s a 100 percent volunteer-driven event, where larp enthusiasts of all stripes come together to discuss, play, and party.

The event has slowly grown from around a hundred participants from the four Nordic countries (sorry, Iceland) to almost 600 this year from almost 30 different countries. It’s a magical playground like no other, where devoted hobbyists and academics stay up late at night to rant about subjects like realistic characters, psychological safety, and techniques to simulate rape.

Simulated rape? Really? Yeah. I started out larping for shits and giggles, and while I still do that, I sometimes also larp for more serious purposes these days. I’ve played a prisoner in a not-that-long-after-tomorrow prison and have been tortured using genuine Gitmo techniques. I’ve been a jealous husband in an 1829 Jane Austen romantic comedy. And I’ve played a heartless peacekeeping soldier, who couldn’t care less about the locals. Not all of this has been “fun,” but all have been experiences I treasure and which have helped form me.

Maybe that’s why I love this hobby, and especially this conference, so much. At one moment, I’ll be at a lecture where a Finnish Ph.D. in Game Studies is earnestly telling us all why we need to rethink our definition of “games,” and at the next moment, I’ll be knee-deep in a Russian presentation about larps in the 90’s, and hear a story of how some deranged madman thought he was actually the “Son of Sauron”—yeah, that Sauron, the bad guy from Lord of the Rings. I know, Sauron wasn’t big on sons, but this guy wasn’t big on reason, either.

I was 13 when I started larping. My friend Jeppe and I used a bizarre-looking club as a shared weapon, and our costumes were bed sheets with a hole cut out at the head. The club included materials like “crappy stick,” “lumps of felt,” ”newspaper” and was a bright orange colour. Bright orange. And nobody cared—least of all people from the outside.

The author at a young age at the Knudepunkt 2000 conference. Photo courtesy Claus Raasted.Now I’m 35, and my latest larp project was a four-day event about witches and wizards held at an honest-to-Gandalf fairytale castle. It got featured in People and TIME and on MTV, Fox News, and Good Morning America. And they didn’t talk about us like we were freaks and weirdos. “You guys, they have a castle for this larp. A real, freaking castle,” one journalist wrote. Granted, the author does write for Nerdist, which, needless to say, is on the nerdy side of the media spectrum. But the strange thing was the writer for Teen Vogue magazine was just as enthusiastic.

“Hello, I live in San Diego, California,” an email from a would-be participant began, “and I saw your website published on Teen Vogue.”

WTF!?

I’ve been participating in larps for two decades, and even though I’ve been part of the avant-garde Nordic larp movement for more than a decade, I can say for sure that this one caught me flatfooted. When I was a teenager larping was a hobby for the weird, the bright, and the creative. We definitely didn’t read Teen Vogue, and I swear by Spock’s ears that Teen Vogue didn’t write about us.

But all that has changed. The Interwebz is good for many things, and only 90 percent of them are porn. One thing it’s great at is connecting communities. I remember watching a documentary about Star Wars stormtrooper fans some years back. There was this guy from Mexico (or somewhere equally populated, but remote) who was the only dude in his village who thought Star Wars was cool. But due to the power of the electronic superhighways, he found kindred spirits all over the world. He was no longer alone, and now his story has been told to millions of people around the world because of that documentary.

I wasn’t that stormtrooper, but I know a bit about how he felt. When I started larping in 1993, we were maybe a thousand larpers in Denmark. Now, more than 100,000 Danes larp, and I’ve had sit-downs with Danish ministers (plural) about why larping is something they should be aware of. We’ve come a long way, and one of the reasons we’ve gotten to where we are today is because some people got together at the first Knudepunkt conference in 1997 and talked about their hobby in a serious way.

The author being tortured at Kapo in 2011. Photo by Peter Munthe-Kaas.So why do we do it? We do we take games so seriously? Isn’t it just about having fun? Well, sure. But “fun” can mean many things. I’m also quite sure that no one will mock Johnny Depp for taking his acting seriously even in comedic roles. If creative expression was only about getting a few laughs and making people feel good, there’d be no Schindler’s List, no Oedipus, and definitely no Passion of the Christ.

And now I’ve got to go. Because I need to explain to some critical firebrands that we shouldn’t be afraid of the girl from Teen Vogue who wants to pretend she’s a witch in a magical castle. We should remember that all journeys of the imagination begin somewhere, and that the easiest way to get people to understand the rabbit hole is to make them want to jump into it.

After all, if we’re to come out of the shadows and into the light, we have to show the world that while we may sometimes pretend to be vampires who dislike the sunlight, we do it in cool and interesting ways.

Claus Raasted

Claus Raasted has made his living doing larps since 2002, and is the author of 17 books on the subject. His most famous project is the Harry Potter inspired larp “College of Wizardry”, which made its rounds on global media in December 2014. When he’s not busy with projects, he’s happily married and is the proud owner of 100 kgs of LEGO.

THE DOLMENS ARE COMING, THE DOLMENS ARE COMING!

Never underestimate the power of the Mighty Dolmen. I’ve had many a Real Life adventure at just such a spot.

And they make great Gaming Adventure locales as well. You never know what will arise from under, or out of, the Dolmen. Just ask the Irish.

 

MEDIEVAL MISDIRECTION

Common misconceptions, and their associated tropes, but if you ask me the way the Real World existed was much more interesting. The fantasy is rarely as complex, fascinating, or interesting as the Reality.

And you have to keep in mind both the differences in the eras (time periods – 5th century life was very different from late Medieval period life), and, of course, the differences in locale.

The Medieval Byzantine Empire was a wholly different place, for the most part, from the Medieval Holy Roman Empire, or from Medieval Scotland, or Medieval Scandinavia, or Medieval Syria or Egypt.

Differences in time and place always matter.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You’d Get From Fantasy Books

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You'd Get From Fantasy Books123

Some tropes are so ingrained in Medieval-inspired fantasy stories that it’s tempting to think that they represent real aspects of Medieval life. But often these stories are just reinforcing myths and misconceptions about life in the Middle Ages.

Top image from the Dragonlance series, which I love, but is steeped in pseudo-Medievalism.

One thing that it’s important to remember when talking about the Medieval period is that it spans a long time — from the 5th century CE to the 15th century CE — and involves a great number of European countries. You’ll notice that a great deal of the debunkery here involves 14th century England, thanks to works like The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer and the works of Joseph Gies and Frances Gies (although another source, Misconceptions About the Middle Ages, covers a bit more ground). But the point here is that the Middle Ages were, in fact, far richer than the Medieval-like settings of many swords and sorcery stories would lead you to believe.

Do fantasy novels need to be historically accurate? Certainly not. Part of the fun of worldbuilding is inventing new ideas, or combining elements of different cultures and time periods, and even integrating historical myths and misconceptions. But If you read a lot of books or watch a lot of movies with pseudo-Medieval settings, you may come away with a mistaken impression that you know what life in the Middle Ages was like. Plus, real history offers new ideas that you might want to incorporate into your own stories in the future.

And this is not to say that all Medieval-esque settings slip into these myths; only that many, many do.

This post was inspired by this fascinating thread on reddit’s r/AskHistorians, which we highlighted a while back. Here are the misconceptions, with debunkery below:

1. Peasants were a single class of people who were more or less equal to one another.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You'd Get From Fantasy Books

It’s easy to think that people in the Middle Ages were easily divided into very broad classes: royals, nobles, knights, clergy, and toiling peasants at the very bottom. But just because you didn’t have “king,” “lord,” “sir,” “father,” or “brother” (or their female analogs) in front of your name doesn’t mean you weren’t concerned with your own social standing. There are vast classes of people whom, today, we might generally refer to as “peasants,” but there were actually various classes of people within that broad category.

Mortimer points out that, in 14th-century England, for example, you have your villeins, people bonded to a particular lord’s land. Villeins were not considered free folk, and they could be sold with the lord’s land. And free folk were of a variety of social and economic classes. A freeholder, for example, might become successful enough to rent a lord’s manor, essentially acting as a lord himself. And, in a village, a few families might hold the majority of the political power, supplying most of the local officers. We may tend to think of these people as “peasants,” but they had much more complicated ways of thinking of themselves, with all the class anxiety that goes with that.

2. Inns were public houses with big common halls below and rooms above.

There are few images as firmly rooted in pseudo-Medieval fantasy as the tavern inn. You and your party enjoy a few flagons of ale in the main room, hear all the local gossip, then go up to your private rented chamber where you’d sleep (alone or with a lover) on a lumpy mattress.

That image isn’t wholly fiction, but the truth is a bit more complicated — not to mention interesting. In Medieval England, if you combined a city inn with an alehouse, you’d probably get something resembling that fantasy inn. There were inns where you could rent a bed (or, more likely, a space in a bed), and these inns did have halls for eating and drinking. But these were not public houses; innkeepers were generally permitted to serve food and drink only to their guests. And, Mortimer points out, you would likely find a single room with several beds, beds that could fit up to three people. It was only in the most upscale inns that you’d find chambers with just one or two beds.

There were establishments for drinking in these cities as well: taverns for wine and alehouses for ale. Of the two, alehouses were the rowdier establishments, more likely to function as your Medieval Mos Eisley. But ale and cider were often made at home as well; a husband might expect his wife to be skilled in brewing. The Gieses note in Life in a Medieval Village that a tavern in an English village was often someone’s home. Once your neighbor opened up a fresh batch of ale, you might go to their house, pay a few pennies, and sit and drink with your fellow villagers.

There are other options for accommodations as well. Travelers could expect the hospitality of people of equal or lesser social class, enjoying their food and beds in exchange for tales from the road and a tip. (Mortimer says that, if you were lucky enough to stay with a 14-century merchant, the digs were much nicer than any inn.) Or you might go to a hospital, which was not just for healing, but also for hospitality.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You'd Get From Fantasy Books

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3. You would never see a woman engaged in a trade such as armorer or merchant.

Certainly, some fantasy stories will cast women in equal (or relatively equal) positions to men, carrying out the same sorts of trades that men might carry out. But in many fictional stories, a woman who makes armor or sells good would seem out of place — although this does not universally reflect Medieval reality. In England, a widow could take up the trade of her dead husband — and Mortimer specifically cites tailor, armorer, and merchant as trades open to widows. Some female merchants were actually quite successful, managing international trading ventures with impressive capital.

Women engaged in criminal activity as well, including banditry. Many criminal gangs in Medieval England consisted of families, including wives with their husbands and sisters with their brothers.

Image from the Holkham Bible Picture Book, via the British Library Board.

4. People had horrible table manners, throwing bones and scraps on the floor.

Sorry, even in the Middle Ages, members of polite society, from kings to villeins, followed certain etiquette, and that etiquette involved good table manners. In fact, depending on when and where and with whom you were eating, you might have to follow very strict procedures for eating and drinking. Here’s a tip: If a lord passes you his cup at the dinner table, it’s a sign of his favor. Accept it, backwash and all, and pass it back to him after you’ve had a sip.

5. People distrusted all forms of magic and witches were frequently burned.

In some fantasy stories, magic is readily accepted by everyone as a fact of life. In others, magic is treated with suspicion at best or as blasphemy at worst. You might even hear the Biblical edict, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

But not all claims of magic in the Middle Ages were treated as heresy. In her essay “Witches and the Myth of the Medieval ‘Burning Time,'” from Misconceptions About the Middle Ages, Anita Obermeier tells us that during the 10th century, the Catholic Church wasn’t interested in trying witches for heresy; it was more interested in eradicating heretical superstitions about “night-flying creatures.”

And in 14th-century England, you might consult a magician or a witch for some minor “magical” task, such as finding a lost object. In Medieval England, at least, magic without any heretical components was tolerated. Eventually, the late 15th century would give rise to the Spanish Inquisition, and we do see witches hunted down.

Witch burnings weren’t unheard of in the Middle Ages, but they weren’t common, either. Obermeier explains that, in the 11th century, sorcery was treated as a secular crime, but the church would issue several reprimands before it would resort to burning. She puts the first burning for heresy at 1022 in Orleans and the second at 1028 in Monforte. It’s rare in the 11th and 12th centuries, but becomes a more common punishment in the 13th century for relapsed heretics. However, it depends where you are. In the 14th century, you probably won’t be burned as a witch in England, but you may very well get the stake in Ireland.

6. Men’s clothing was always practical and functional.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You'd Get From Fantasy Books

Yes, Medieval people of various classes were interested in fashion, and sometimes fashion — particularly men’s fashion — got pretty absurd. Early clothing is more functional, but during the 14th century, men’s fashions in England were both body-bearing and rather experimental. Corsets and garters were common for men, and increasingly, popular fashions encouraged men to show off the shape of their hips and legs. Some aristocratic men wore gowns with sleeves so long they were in danger of tripping on the cuffs. It became fashionable to wear shoes with extraordinarily long toes — one such shoe, imported from Bohemia, had twenty-inch toes that needed to be tied to a man’s garters. There was even a fad of wearing one’s mantle so that the head went through the arm hole rather than the head hole, with the sleeves functioning as a voluminous collar.

Image: Selection of Medieval leather shoes from the Museum of London.

It’s also important to note that fashions would trickle down from royalty, through the aristocracy, and down to the common folk. In the seasons after a fashion appeared among the nobility, a less expensive version would appear among those of lesser stations. In fact, sumptuary laws were passed in London to prevent people from dressing above their stations. For example, a common woman in 1330s London was not permitted to line her hood with anything but lambskin or rabbit fur, or risk losing her hood.

7. Servants were all low-class people.

Actually, if you were a high-ranking individual, chances are that you had high-ranking servants. A lord might send his son to serve in another lord’s manor — perhaps that of his wife’s brother. The son would receive no income, but would still be treated as the son of a lord. A lord’s steward might actually be a lord himself. Your status in society isn’t just based on whether or not you were a servant, but also your familial status, whom you served, and what your particular job was.

Something you might not expect about servants in English households in the late Middle Ages: they were overwhelmingly male. Mortimer points to the earl of Devon’s household, which had 135 members, but only three women. With the exception of a washerwoman (who didn’t live in the household), the staffers were all men, even in households headed by women.

8. Medicine was based on pure superstition.

Admittedly, if you’re looking outside of Game of Thrones, a lot of healing in fantasy novels is just plain magical. You’ve got your cleric class who gets their healing from the gods, and otherwise you might have someone on hand who can dress a wound or make a poultice.

And yes, a lot of Medieval medicine was based on what we would consider today mystical bunk. A great deal of diagnosis involved astrology and humoral theory. Blood letting was a respected method of treatment, and many of the curatives were not only useless — they were downright dangerous. And while there were medical colleges, extraordinarily few physicians were able to attend.

Still, some aspects of Medieval medicine were logical even by modern standards. Wrapping smallpox in scarlet cloth, treating gout with colchicum, using camomile oil for an earache — these were all effective treatments. And while the notion of a barber-surgeon is a horrifying one to many of us, some of those surgeons were actually quite talented. John of Arderne employed anesthetics in his practice, and many surgeons were skilled in couching cataracts, sewing abscesses, and setting bones.

10 Worst Misconceptions About Medieval Life You'd Get From Fantasy Books

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From John Arderne’s De arte phisicali et de cirurgia, via Wikimedia Commons.

9. The most powerful military force consisted of armored knights riding into battle.

James G. Patterson, in his essay “The Myth of the Mounted Knight” from Misconceptions About the Middle Ages, explains that while the image of the mounted knight might have been a popular one during Medieval times, it didn’t match the reality of warfare. Armored cavalry, he explains, can be incredibly useful — even devastating — against untrained revolutionaries, but they were far less useful against a trained foreign infantry. Rather, ground forces, including knights on foot who frequently served as officers, were invaluable in battle. Even during the Crusades, when the image of the mounted knight seemed synonymous with glory in battle, most the actual battles involved sieges.

In the 14th century, English warfare focused increasingly on archery. In fact, Edward III prohibited football in 1331 and then again in 1363 in part because people were spending too much time playing football and not enough time practicing their archery. The English archers were able to repel many a French cavalry force.

10. Only men’s sexual pleasure was important.

A common belief during the Middle Ages was that women were more lustful than men. A lot more lustful, in fact. Rape was a crime in 14th century Medieval England, but not between spouses. A wife could not legally refuse her husband’s advances, but a husband could not refuse his wife’s advances either. The popular belief was that women were always longing for sex, and that it was bad for their health not to have intercourse regularly. A woman’s orgasm was also important; another common belief was that a woman could not conceive without an orgasm. (Unfortunately, this also made rape impossible to prosecute if the victim became pregnant; Medieval English scholars believed women’s bodies had a way of, in the modern parlance, shutting things down.)

So what was an unmarried woman to do? Well, if she couldn’t find a husband, the English physician John of Gaddesden recommended that she find a midwife who could get the job done manually.

THE MEDICINAL TATTOO

Absolutely fascinating. I mean the entire case, and the murder scenario, which I’ve followed for years now, but these recent discoveries about the tattoos, especially those. That really gives me a lot of ideas, both for gaming scenarios and spells and charms, etc., and for fictional stories.

 

Scan finds new tattoos on 5300-year-old Iceman

January 22, 2015
Examination. (Credit: ©South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Eurac/Samadelli/Staschitz)

Aaron Deter-Wolf for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

A new study has used advanced imaging techniques to identify previously unknown tattoos on the ribcage of the 5300-year old man known as Ötzi, bringing his total number of tattoos to 61.

But first, some context

In September of 1991 hikers in the Ötzal Alps along the border of Austria and Italy happened upon the mummified corpse who became an archaeological celebrity. After Ötzi died at the hands of unknown attackers one late spring or early summer around 3500 BC, his body and belongings were left in a small gully where they were entombed beneath an alpine glacier. A combination of glacial meltwater and extreme cold resulted in natural mummification of his body.

Thanks to more than two decades of analysis, scientists arguably know more about Ötzi’s health and final days than those of any other ancient human. He died at around 45 years of age after being shot in the back with a stone-tipped arrow and bludgeoned. In the 12 hours preceding his death he climbed into the mountains from an Italian valley, and ate a last meal consisting of grains and ibex meat. Ötzi suffered a variety of ailments, including advanced gum disease, gallbladder stones, lyme disease, whipworms in his colon, and atherosclerosis. Researchers have sequenced Ötzi’s entire genome, identified a genetic predisposition to heart disease, and determined that he has 19 surviving male relatives in his genetic lineage. However, a new study shows the Iceman still has secrets left to reveal.

Now for the tattoo part

Ötzi was tattooed, and offers the earliest direct evidence that tattooing was practiced in Europe by at least the Chalcolithic period. However, until now it has been difficult to conclusively catalog all of his marks. Ötzi’s epidermis naturally darkened from prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures as he lay beneath the glacier, and as a result some of his tattoos became faint or invisible to the naked eye. Consequently previous studies have identified between 47 and 60 tattoos on the Iceman’s body.

For several decades scientists have recognized that advanced imaging techniques, and particularly the near-infrared spectral region, can be used to reveal faint or invisible tattoos on ancient mummified remains. These techniques are effective because the carbon that comprised most ancient tattoo ink absorbs certain wavelengths differently than the human epidermis. Therefore when mummified skin is illuminated using those wavelengths, carbon-based tattoos appears much darker than the surrounding untattooed skin.

The new examination of Ötzi by Marco Samadelli, Marcello Melis, Matteo Miccoli, Eduard Egarter Vigl, and Albert R. Zink consisted of non-invasive multispectral photographic imaging performed on the Iceman at his home in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. The researchers first slightly thawed Ötzi’s body, which is ordinarily kept at 21.2 °F, in order to eliminate the ice layer from his skin. On reaching 29.2 °F, he was photographed from all sides using a modified 36 MP digital SLR camera outfitted with filters to capture images in ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths. These images were then processed using specially-designed software capable of distinguishing and analyzing seven wavelength bands for every recorded pixel. This method, which the authors call “7-Band Hypercolorimetric Multispectral Imaging,” allows for detection of color differences even in the non-visible spectral range.

Samadelli and colleagues were able to detect a previously unrecorded group of tattoos on Ötzi’s lower right rib cage. Those marks consist of four parallel lines between 20 and 25 mm long and are invisible to the naked eye. According to the authors, these make up “the first tattoo … detected on the Iceman’s frontal part of the torso.”

The researchers also created a complete catalog of Ötzi’s tattoos. These include 19 groups of tattooed lines, for a total of 61 marks ranging from 1 to 3 mm in thickness and 7 to 40 mm in length. With the exception of perpendicular crosses on the right knee and left ankle, and parallel lines around the left wrist, the tattooed lines all run parallel to one another and to the longitudinal axis of the body. The greatest concentration of markings is found on his legs, which together bear 12 groups of lines.

And no, they weren’t a tribute to his girlfriend

While the different combinations of lines in Ötzi’s tattoos may have held some underlying symbolic meaning, it appears that their function was primarily medicinal or therapeutic. Previous research has revealed that 80% of the Iceman’s tattoos correspond to classic Chinese acupuncture points used to treat rheumatism, while other tattoos are located along acupuncture meridians used to treat ailments such as back pain and abdominal disorders, from which Ötzi also suffered. In his 2012 book Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoos and Scarification, anthropologist Dr. Lars Krutak documents an experiment in which Colin Dale of Skin & Bone Tattoo in Copenhagen determined that hand-poked tattoos applied to acupuncture points using a bone needle “could produce a sustained therapeutic effect,” successfully relieving ailments such as rheumatism, tinnitus, and headaches.

Samadelli and colleagues note that Ötzi’s newly-identified tattoos are not located above a joint, and suggest that this particular group of lines was therefore not related to the treatment of lower back pain or degenerative joint diseases. However, after reading the article Krutak was intrigued by the possibility that the new tattoos might be located on or near other classical acupuncture points or meridians, and if so “Perhaps these could be traced to Ötzi’s known pathological conditions, such as gallbladder stones, whipworms in his colon and atherosclerosis.”

Krutak consulted Gillian Powers (M.Ac., L.Ac.), a licensed acupuncturist in Washington, DC, who reported that acupuncture points near the newly-recorded tattoos “can be used to treat the symptoms associated with whipworms (abdominal pain, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea) and gallstones (abdominal pain, nausea/vomiting, etc.), as well as breathing issues.” Powers also noted that the location of the new tattoos is in close proximity to the gallbladder itself, and therefore could have additional effects on gallstone pain.

The new study was published online this week in the Journal of Cultural Heritage.

Aaron Deter-Wolf is a Prehistoric Archaeologist for the Tennessee Division of Archaeology and an adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University, where he teaches the Anthropology of Tattooing. In 2013 he co-edited the volume Drawing with Great Needles: Ancient Tattoo Traditions of North America You can follow his research at http://tdoa.academia.edu/AaronDeterWolf.

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Read more at http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113319184/scan-finds-new-tattoos-on-5300-year-old-iceman-012215/#i2td7wjDmPPE7UBa.99

 

NOTHING LESS

I would have expected nothing less…

 

Gold mine of cheeky medieval doodles show ancestors just as silly as us

By Jake Wallis Simons, for CNN
updated 10:00 AM EST, Mon November 3, 2014
They survived for so long partially because they were made of parchment, which lasts far longer than paper. They survived for so long partially because they were made of parchment, which lasts far longer than paper.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Doodles from 700 years ago feel like they were drawn yesterday
  • Rare “stowaway” manuscripts are found hidden in medieval book bindings
  • Modern scholars are able to learn new things about the medieval period

(CNN) — My personal favorite is this. At the top of a page of angular medieval text — full of theological extrapolations and religious devotion — is a cartoon of a deadpan dog.

“It’s amazing to think that people doodled in medieval times in a similar way to how they doodle today,” says Dr Erik Kwakkel, a book historian at Leiden University, Holland.

“When you see the monks expressing their personalities, their sense of humor, it makes you feel like you’re traveling back through time. It’s like you’re going through the keyhole and sitting right next to them.”

Indeed, that dog would not be out of place in The Simpsons.

READ: The spacesuit inspired by medieval armor

It makes you feel like you’re traveling back through time.
Dr Erik Kwakkel, book historian, Leiden University, Holland

‘Medieval eye candy’

Dr Kwakkel is making an unlikely name for himself on the internet by posting “medieval eye candy” that he comes across during the course of his research.

And the doodles are by far the most popular.

“Normally, scribes would doodle or write snatches of lettering after cutting their nibs, to make sure they were the correct width,” he says.

“These pen-tests ranged from the sort of scribbled lines that people still do today to words, names, full sentences, or simple drawings. Sometimes we even find pretty good drawings.”

These include funny faces with long beards, big hats or noses, as well as animals, unidentifiable creatures, and even caricatures of teachers and colleagues.

In the majority of cases, the doodles were never intended to be seen. They were drawn on the outside of the first and last pages of a book, which were later glued to wooden covers.

But although the glue has obliterated a great many doodles and pen-tests, a variety has survived the test of time.

“They offer a rare glimpse into the informal or private world of medieval monks,” says Dr Kwakkel.

“Personally, I love the thumbprint, which was left by a careless scribe who spilled ink on his work. It seems so fresh and human, yet it happened 700 years ago.”

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