Blog Archives

THE MURALS OF DATONG

This interests me for purely archaeological, cultural, and historical reasons, but it also goes to show that in gaming and in writing fiction, authors and creators (and modern people in general) often overlook the near ubiquitous artwork and coloring that often existed in many Medieval and certainly a great many Ancient urban centers.

The answer seems self-evident to me if you think on it awhile. Lacking things like cinema and film and television, etc. then what would be your source of visual and imaginary stimulation in a world devoid of such things? Indeed, what would be your method of advertising your skill and craft and wealth compared to that of a neighbor or competitor? How would you communicate with foreigners? How would you establish yourself even after death?

Art work.

Impressed everywhere you could impress it as strikingly colorful and vibrant as you could make it.

I don’t think our ancestors were less impressed with visual imagery than we are, I think they were likely more conscious of it because they had less of an opportunity to render it in motion and in a way that was seemingly active and alive. They had to do so not “in the air” (images transmitted by carrier waves) but by time and by place as “solid images,” fixed by time and place. Art then was not shifting energy, but actual craft, and anything that called attention to that craft would have been a vital element of that craft. Color, skill, literary allusion or merit, design, complexity of composition, etc.

So they looked for every opportunity to do so that leisure or condition allowed.

This is why the Ancient world (especially) and any sufficiently advanced corner of the Medieval world looked as it did.

Writers, poets, game developers (even historians and non-fiction writers) would do well to note that in their own works. It would add real depth to their efforts…

Ancient Tomb Decorated with Vibrant Murals Found in China

Ancient Tomb Decorated with Vibrant Murals Found in China

The tomb’s entranceway is located on the south wall of the tomb. It was blocked off with bricks 1,000 years ago. Images of two servants can be seen flanking the entrance.

Credit: Courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

A 1,000-year-old circular tomb, whose walls are decorated with colorful murals, has been discovered in Datong City, in northern China.

Because the tomb’s entranceway is sealed off with bricks, archaeologists had to enter through a hole in the deteriorating arch-shaped roof.

The team, from the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology, found cremated human remains in an urn in the middle of the tomb. No texts were found in the tomb, but the archaeologists believe that the tomb likely belonged to a husband and wife. [See Photos of the Circular Tomb and Colorful Murals]

The murals on the walls show servants, cranes and numerous articles of clothing that hang on several stands, their colors still vibrant despite the passage of a millennia.

Colorful clothing abounds on the tomb’s murals. One clothes stand, painted on a mural on the west wall, has “sky blue, beige, bluish-gray, yellowish-brown and pink clothes,” wrote the archaeological team in a paper published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics. “The garment to the far right has a green-diamond grid pattern, each diamond of which has a small red decorative flower in it,” wrote the archaeologists, noting that another article of clothing has what appears to be a jade ring that “hangs at the waist.”

 

The murals on the west wall of the 1,000-year-old tomb depict articles of clothing as well as two servants.
The murals on the west wall of the 1,000-year-old tomb depict articles of clothing as well as two servants.

Credit: Courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

Additionally, the mural shows that “in front of the clothes stand there is a long rectangular table, on which are placed four round plates, black on the outside and red inside, holding, respectively, a headdress, bracelets, hairpins and combs,” the archaeologists wrote.

 

On the east wall of the tomb the mural shows another clothes stand. “On the stand hang beige, light green, bluish-gray, pink and brown clothes,” the archaeologists wrote. “On one of the garments hangs a ring-shaped pei pendant accompanied by a string of black beads.” Pei is a word that can mean “matching” or “accompanying” in English.

The team believes that the tomb likely dates to the Liao Dynasty (A.D. 907–1125). Historical records indicate that this dynasty, controlled by the Khitan, flourished in northern China, Mongolia and parts of Russia.

At that time, people in northern China were sometimes buried in tombs decorated with murals. In 2014, Live Science reportedon the discovery of another tomb containing murals, which was found decorated with images of stars as well as numerous animals, including a crane, deer, yellow turtle and even a cat playingwith a silk ball. That tomb was also excavated by a team from the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology.

Archaeologists believe that both mural-decorated tombs will help shed light on  those who lived during the Liao Dynasty.

The tomb with the murals showing colorful clothing was excavated by the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology team in 2007. The team published a report on the tomb in 2015, in Chinese, in the journal Wenwu. That report was translated into English for publication in Chinese Cultural Relics.

Original article on Live Science.

MEDIEVALLICA – NOTHING ELSE MATTERS

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

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

5

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.

YEAH I WOULD and THE VIKINGS

Yes I would. Scandinavia was a hotbed of technological innovation and experimentation at that general time. Metallurgy, ship-building, social organization, navigation and exploration.

I consider it the early Northern Technological Renaissance.

Which reminds me, the premier of The Vikings is on tonight.

This is superb work by the way.

 

Norwegian Artisan Creates 3D Printed Replica of 6th-Century Sword

You probably wouldn’t consider 6th century Scandinavia a hotbed of anything, much less technological and artistic innovation, but that’s precisely what was happening in that region of the world as a result of increased migration in an era that’s actually called “the Migration Period.” From around 400 to 550 CE (Common Era), the northern migration of Germanic tribes, following earlier encroachment by the Romans, brought a great deal of change to Scandinavia–now Denmark, Norway, and Sweden–a region that was predominantly tribal and populated with small farms and settlements. This is the epoch that gave birth to the Vikings and it began with an influx of ideas from the south.

The hilt of the original, 6th-century sword.

One modern-day Norwegian paid homage to that long-ago period of awakening in his home country by replicating an artifact from that era of burgeoning technology and artistic mastery: Teacher, game developer, and 3D design- and printing enthusiast, Nils Anderssen used his expertise to produce a stunningly accurate reproduction of a 6th-century, double-edged, iron sword with a bronze hilt, which was originally crafted in Snartemo in Southern Norway. Anderssen used the cutting-edge technology of today to recreate a symbol of his country’s ancient, expert craftsmanship.

It has certainly been possible before 3D printing to undertake a project like Anderssen’s, but it has been more expensive and far more time-consuming. Also, Anderssen, who has many talents, is not a professional goldsmith, so he was willingly heading into uncharted territory when he began his Snartemo Sword project. What he did possess was an enthusiasm for history and historical artifacts and, of course, a maker’s curiosity and ingenuity, so he began his project, spending a couple of years figuring out how to go about using 3D printing to create a believable replica.

Eventually, Anderssen uploaded the results of his ongoing project on his website, which prompted the National Museum of Art in Oslo, Norway to approach him about creating a replica of the sword as a companion display to the real sword (which, as we understand it, is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo). The museum insisted, quite reasonably, that the copy should resemble the original as closely as possible. Visitors would be able to handle the replica, so it needed to feel like the original sword as well.

Equipped with photos and measurements of the sword, Anderssen used 3D Studio Max to create his 3D design. “In Studio Max,” he explained, “I have good control over the thickness and size of the patterns and therefore avoided problems in printing.” The sword’s sharp edges were easily modeled in 3D Studio Max. His secret was to use “almost exclusively…the basic features of the polygon modeling tools…”

3D printed hilt

Without the capacity to 3D print in bronze himself, Anderssen needed to find a 3D printing service to help him undertake this major part of the sword project. He did his research and opted to enlist i.materialize, whom, he found, could print larger sizes than most other companies. Not unlike the original process of crafting the sword, Anderssen’s replica was created in parts. After he received the 3D-printed bronze pieces from i.materialize, he smoothed them and then had them gilded. He did make one important change: With his design, the hilt was hollow and later filled with wood to make the finished piece more stable and to facilitate easier assembly.

It isn’t clear how and where the blade was produced, but the various pieces of the sword were assembled by Anderssen and the results were spectacular. He had the pleasure after completing the project of seeing his replica placed next to the original sword, by far the greatest test of his success. As the photo emphasizes, the similarities between the reproduction and the original really are remarkable. What a brilliant means of both preserving history without compromising the physical state of an ancient artifact and allowing those of us who want to appreciate such objects to do so in a more interactive way! We hope that this becomes a trend with museums and archives; 3D printing certainly makes it plausible and far more budget-friendly.

both swords

 

Let’s hear your thoughts on Anderssen’s work in the 3D Printed Replica Sword forum thread on 3DPB.com.

3D Print (Left), Original (Right)

GOT MAIL?

WE’VE GOT MAIL

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

We are selecting objects for a new permanent display of metalwork on the first floor (Lower Gallery). Whilst searching through the museum’s reserve collections at our off-site storage facility  we found this wonderful board mounted with different types of mail armour. Mail is often referred to as ‘chain mail’ – terminology introduced by Sir Walter Scott in his 1822 novel “The Fortunes of Nigel”.

This assemblage was collected – and possibly arranged – by General Pitt-Rivers himself. Pitt-Rivers collected from many sites in London during the 1860s, often as part of early ‘salvage archaeology’ excavations during groundworks for civic construction projects such as the London Underground and the Victoria Embankment.

C17th-centruy mail with rounded jumped (butted) rings and f
lat, welded rings. 1884.31.41. 5 © Pitt Rivers Museum

The pieces of mail are described in an early catalogue of 1874 as “Twenty fragments of Chain armour. European and Oriental”. The hand-written labels date some of them to the XVII (17th) century, and several are recorded as being recovered from the “Thames Embankment”. The board has clearly been put together as an exhibit rather than a cataloguing or storage device. We have no record of whether it was ever displayed at the Pitt Rivers Museum but it may well have been displayed in Bethnal Green Museum (now the V&A Museum of Childhood) and South Kensington Museums (now the V&A) where the General’s archaeological and ethnological collection was first shown to the public in London from 1874-1878 (Bethnal Green) and from 1878-1882 (South Kensington), before being donated to the University of Oxford in 1884.

The board was arranged to show a variety of different types and gauges of linkage variations within the single category of ‘mail armour’ – a neat demonstration of Pitt-Rivers’s concept of ‘typological’ arrangements. Some samples are of butted or ‘jumped’ mail, arranged in alternating rows with solid welded rings. Butted rings were the cheapest type of mail to make and buy, though the most vulnerable to a well-placed thrust from a sword or spear. Each ring is linked to four others in the European ‘4-in-1’ style.

There were also examples of what seemed to be imitation rivets – perhaps to give the illusion of quality or strength – plus large-gauge hooked mail with spiral links, which may have been worn by horses in conjunction with solid barding armour.

Mail with possible imitation rivets (left) and hooked mail, possibly for horses (right)
1884.31.41. 15 and 1884.31.41. 13 © Pitt Rivers Musuem

The different pieces of mail were fixed to the painted wooden board with metal staples. Many of the metal rings were suffering from corrosion and rust and some links were missing. When the items were sent to our Conservation lab, our conservator Andrew rearranged tangled links and cleaned the metal with a sponge and stiff brush.

Of the twenty small pieces, a handful demonstrating the different mail types were chosen for the new Metalwork display. One substantial piece of fine mail was arranged flat on the left side of the board, rather like a half-folded T-shirt, but in fact consisted of a tube that opened out into a flat piece. Perplexed, we consulted the experts. Staff at the Royal Armouries were very helpful and Thom Richardson, Keeper of Armour and Oriental Collections, suggested it was part of C17th-century pajama zereh (mail trousers), worn by an Indian Mughal warrior.

Half riveted mail armour, identified as being part of Indian pajama zereh (mail trousers), India. 1884.31.41. 3
© Pitt Rivers Museum

Next, Andrew considered how to create a mount that would both support the mail for display and illustrate how it would be positioned on the body. Using a template from the armour, and based on his own leg, he made a liner out of calico, and filled it with polyester wadding. After padding it out to form a rough leg shape, he then tacked the mail to the calico with cotton thread. Research indicated this is not too dissimilar to how the armour would have been worn, as it would originally have been sewn to fabric trousers. Mail armour can adjust to many shapes and is very heavy, so this mount should support most of the weight and hopefully help visitors understand how it was worn.

Andrew at work in the Conservation lab making a new display mount for the pajama zereh leg armour
© Pitt Rivers Museum

You can see just how much work has to go into preparing just a few objects. You will be able to see the mail armour, alongside up to 200 other objects, in the new Metalwork display on the first floor this summer. In the meantime, you can still find examples of full mail shirts, plus various other armours (plate, lamellar, brigandine) upstairs on the Upper Gallery or here on our Arms and Armour site.

Helen Adams
VERVE Project Curator

THE UNNOTICED MAJESTY

In his book, Gothic Wonder, Professor Paul Binski explores a period in which English art and architecture pushed the boundaries to produce some of Europe’s most spectacular buildings and illuminated manuscripts. Binski’s research sets into context the whole gamut of human endeavour: from awesome cathedrals to playfully irreverent grotesques.

The British are modest about their achievements in art. My aim is to show to readers here and abroad just how inventive and versatile our arts really were at this time.

Paul Binski

“I greatly disdain piddling little buildings (plerumque indignor pusillis edificiis),” wrote a forthright Flemish monk called Goscelin of Saint-Bertin in a book dated around 1080. He went on to declare that: “I would not allow any buildings, however much they were valued, to stand unless they were, in my view, glorious, magnificent, tall, vast, filled with light and thoroughly beautiful.”

Goscelin, who dedicated his life to documenting the lives of saints, could have been describing the great Gothic cathedrals built to proclaim Christianity in the 12th and 13th centuries, when they played a pivotal role in medieval life.  These masterpieces of structure and style remain extraordinary examples of human ingenuity in moulding materials into places that still inspire awe and wonder.

Piddling is not a word you would choose to describe the cathedrals of Ely, Norwich or Canterbury. These magnificent stone buildings dwarf the ancient streets that cluster around them and even today dominate the skyline. Size (magnitude in Latin) mattered to the architects, builders and patrons of these Gothic masterpieces: the bigger and taller the building, the greater its political and spiritual punch.

A league table of lengths of European cathedrals appears in the first few pages of Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice and the Decorated Style 1290-1350, a book by Paul Binski, Professor of Medieval Art at Cambridge University, that looks afresh at a remarkable flowering of English creativity.

Top of the list in the size stakes is Cluny Abbey in Burgundy, begun in 1088, at approximately 172 metres, setting a standard that challenged the English to think big and bold. Winchester Cathedral ranks second, measuring 157 metres from its great west door to its east end, with London’s St Paul’s Cathedral (155 metres) close behind.

In early medieval England, most people lived in dwellings constructed from local materials. Amid the humdrum and struggle of daily existence, something extraordinary happened: teams of workers overseen by highly skilled craftspeople challenged ideas of what could be accomplished in art and architecture and told compelling stories about all manner of earthly and heavenly matters.

Size is just one measure of the majesty of a building. Another measure, equally important to the makers of Gothic buildings in the race for maximum visual and sensual impact, was variety (varietas). The interiors of Salisbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey gleam and dazzle with semi-translucent alabaster obtained from Nottingham, white marble quarried in Purbeck (Dorset) and richly-veined marble imported from southern Europe.

Marble was the ‘must-have’ material of the world of Gothic architecture. The word itself comes from the Greek marmairo, to shine. In a world where natural light was augmented only by candles, the sparkle and gleam of marble, and its similarity to skin tones, appealed to the senses. The allure of this exotic material contributed to what Binski calls the ‘soft’ power of the building, its subtlety, whereas sheer scale is a form of ‘hard’ power.

The transportation of stone across land and sea was costly, dangerous and difficult. The efforts of man pitted against nature, and emerging as winner, were heroic in the same way as literary epics which spoke of the human capacity to conquer difficulties in war or peace.  Similarly, craftsmanship sought to create objects of supreme beauty, imitating and surpassing the complexity found in the natural world.

While Norman and Romanesque buildings were ponderous with their rounded arches, relatively small windows and wooden roofs, the architects of Gothic buildings sought to create what Binski calls a “wondrous heightening” in their playful treatment of light and shade and exploitation of the plasticity of materials to create decorative effects, such as wall arcading, that enriched the interiors of these buildings.

In many instances, Gothic was a process of ‘improvement’ that saw earlier buildings dismantled, adapted and enlarged to make room for expanding pilgrimage and religious activities. In the 14th century old buildings underwent makeovers which gave architects in the Gothic style an opportunity to study and emulate the achievements of their forebears.

To non-specialists, ‘Gothic’ is shorthand for pointed arches, elaborate window tracery and daringly vaulted roofs – though, curiously, the word itself emerged during the Renaissance as a term of abuse for northern European art.  But Binski’s latest book is much more than a generously illustrated exploration of style. In his introduction, he explains that his emphasis is on human agency – why we do things and how we do them – expressed in all manner of arts and crafts.

His motivation, he says, stems from the question of “why aesthetic decisions were made in the light of beliefs about how and to what ends art creates experience”. In other words, Binski is interested in the power of things to manipulate thoughts and feelings – “art as the rational education of desire” is how he puts it – and how Gothic works of art were wrought through supreme human effort in order to convey unshakable statements about belief, control and sovereignty with God, the Church, royalty and man enmeshed in an entire social and artistic network.

In tackling these fundamental and often trickily complex themes, Binski explores not just architecture but also the decorative arts and especially manuscript illumination and painting, in the great age of ‘marginalia’ when English devices amused those who encountered them all over Europe. Among the weirdest are the grotesques found in the famous Luttrell Psalter of around 1340. Human and animal body parts are mixed in bizarre combinations: a human head pops out of a pair of goatish legs; an archer has a horse’s body and long swishing tail; a man is swallowed by a fish that has sprouted legs.

These hybrids and monsters, with their saucy sense of humour, fed into the literature of the time, providing a rich fodder of witty and disturbing imagery. The writer Geoffrey Chaucer called them ‘japes’. “Amusement was part of the point,” says Binski. “The tendency to see ‘marginal’ art as always subversive or political has obscured the pleasures that marginal art, often apolitical and nonsensical, created for viewers.” 

The impact of Gothic buildings, whether in their scale or the intricate detail of their decoration, cannot be overemphasised. Impressive to us today, 650 years ago they were powerful embodiments of the greatness of their patrons – whether bishops, abbots or kings – with greatness being a virtue measured in terms of magnificent conduct and charitable largesse.  And English Gothic architecture surpassed European in the sophistication and complexity of its designs for window tracery and the patterning of stone vaults.

The silhouette of Ely Cathedral broods over miles of Cambridgeshire fenland. One of the most striking of the 300-plus plates in Gothic Wonder is a photograph taken from the cathedral’s nave crossing looking up into the Octagon tower that was built after the collapse of the earlier campanile tower which came crashing down one February night in 1322, just after the singing of Matins.

Ely was a desolate place, surrounded much of the year by water, but the crafting of its cathedral’s Octagon Tower and Lady Chapel suggest that this tiny city was locked into a network of trading and cultural connections that extended far and wide – right to southern France. The inside height of the Octagon Tower is 43 metres, making it almost the same height as the Pantheon in Rome, and its lantern-shaped top directs beams of light in much the same way as the circular opening in the Pantheon’s vast dome.

Whether religious or secular in purpose, buildings are about the assertion of political power. In the wake of the Norman Conquest, tensions ran high between the incoming Normans and the subjugated English. In 1097-1099 William Rufus (son of William 1) ordered the construction of the palace hall at Westminster. By far the largest hall in England, measuring 73 metres by 21 metres, it was designed for events such as banquets, court meetings and other displays of consumption and control.

Reactions to the lavish scale and splendour of the hall were divided. In his Historia anglorum, Henry of Huntington described that, on entering the hall, some people said “that it was a good size and others that it was too large. The king said it was only half large enough. This saying was that of a great king, but it was little to his credit”.William of Malmesbury, on the other hand, regarded the new hall as an example of William Rufus’s liberality rather than his pride. The king, Malmesbury wrote “provided some examples of real greatness (magnanimitas)”.

The Gothic buildings that rose above the English landscape are the outcome of a flow of cultural traffic not just from Christian Europe but also from the Islamic world where similar values about magnanimity held sway. It was a cultural flow that went both ways. Artists identified as English or working in the English style can be traced to Trondheim in Norway, to  Santes Creus in Catalonia, where the architect of a cloister is described as an ‘English mason’, to Papal Avignon, and even as far away as Cyprus.

“I think that to understand the true achievement of English Gothic art, we need to travel far afield, as far as Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, to follow the activities of English architects and artists and their ideas. Even Popes took an interest, whether in English carving or embroidery,” says Binski.

Binski’s particular focus is the half century from 1300 to 1348, the date that marked the onset of the Black Death (bubonic plague) in England. This period saw the first flowering of Gothic art and architecture, sowing the seeds of a style that has endured for centuries. Many of England’s most splendid and most visited buildings incorporate in their fabric and spirit strong elements of Gothic style.

“Gothic as a style has proved the most successful of all ways of building since classical times, shaping our cities and our ideas of what impressive public buildings should look like,” says Binski. “The much-admired Gothic Revival architecture of St Pancras station and the Midland Grand Hotel is just one of many examples.”

Great buildings are a result of the work of great people. Among them is Alan of Walsingham, who became sacrist (church official) of Ely in 1321, just months before the cathedral’s original tower collapsed into a pitiful pile of rubble. A passage in the Ely chronicon (chronicle) describes how, immediately after the disaster, Alan set about the task of removing the debris and, “with architectural art”, made meticulous plans for a replacement tower even more splendid than the one that had fallen.

“And at once in that year, the most artful wooden structure of the new campanile, conceived with the highest and most wonderful ingenuity of mind … was started, and with great and burdensome outlay especially for the huge timbers needed for assembling the said structure, sought far and wide and at length found with great difficulty and purchased at great cost, carried by land and by sea to Ely, and then carved, wrought and assembled for that work by cunning workmen; with God’s help it was brought to an honourable and long-wished-for conclusion.”

“The British are modest about their achievements in art,” says Binski. “My aim is to show to readers here and abroad just how inventive and versatile our arts really were at this time.”

Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice and the Decorated Style is published by Yale University Press. Paul Binski will talk about the book at the 2015 Heffers Lecture at Heffers Bookshop, 20 Trinity Street, Cambridge CB2  1TY, on Thursday, 29 January, 6.15pm. For details contact Francé Davies fc295@cam.ac.uk

Inset images (all cropped): Lady Chapel wall arcade, Ely cathedral, begun 1321; Ely Octagon, designed 1320s; Pantheon, interior, Rome; Westminster Hall, late 14th century; boss depicting a woman fending off a laundry thief, Norwich Cathedral cloister, east walk (all taken from Gothic Wonder).


– See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/heavenly-matters-earthly-delights#sthash.gJcnrCgF.dpuf

HOW YA REALLY DO IT

MEDIEVAL COMBAT STUDIES

An excellent page and resource, useful for both Real World and Gaming situations


https://www.facebook.com/Swordfighting.Medieval.Combat.Studies/photos/a.842956425723963.1073741827.242033529149592/922622041090734/?type=1&fref=nf

DWINE

The man is a True Artist

Dwine – Broadseax

Dwine – intransigent verb \ˈdwīn\

: to waste or pine away: languish

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 

Between the words in old sagas, between the rhyme and meter, I sense a presence—the words not said, the gods not named. I imagine these characters, the unspoken ones. One of them is called Dwine. In the world of mythology there is balance, what is lost in one place is found somewhere else. As the warrior diminishes, something else grows. His name is like the sound of bare branches in the wind. The second half of life is his domain. The force and wrath and strength of the young, that drains away as time passes goes somewhere. It goes into Dwine.

Germanic peoples during the migration period carried elaborate swords with pattern welded blades and bright ornamented scabbards and hilts. They also carried big knives, which grew larger over the period. These were brutal unlovely things; the blades had a strange looking humped back with a straight edge. Archeologists call this family of knives seaxes, after the Germanic word for ‘knife’.

 

Swords embody a world of stories, of dragon slayers, leaders, and noblemen whose ancestors are gods and kings. The knife has a different story and like the gods I imagine, it is untold. It’s an implied story, unlovely as the blades themselves. The characters are common folk, not descended from kings, yet their story is older. The seax cut hearth wood and slave-taker, it protected crops not castle walls. The gnarled-handed people who held these knives called on names that weren’t recorded.

 

 

I forged the blade for this Seax as a demonstration at a smith’s moot called CanIron VIII with help striking from my friend and fellow swordsmith Jeff Helmes.

The blade is constructed from five strands, the four spine strands are nine twisted layers each and the edge bar is 700 layers of folded steel.

 

I’ve been exploring seax hilts on paper for years. It’s a challenging form to design with few examples of intact hilts. Petr Floriánek has been doing allot of work in exploring ancient Germanic aesthetics, especially as it relates to the seax. His work has inspired me to look deeper into this form.

I decided to follow my sense of the grimness of these blades. I chose oak for the grip and leather for the sheath. Oak has commonness; it’s the wood of the spade handle, the door lintel. It’s a peasant wood with roots in the oldest myths. It’s the wood of Thor and Taranus and Zeus— lightning gods and unpredictable protectors.

 

Blank faces look out from the ferules, turning away from the centerline of the knife to be clothed in expression along the edge and spine, where the blade speaks its knife language.

The sheath is woven with dream creatures, neither man nor beast, twisting in and out of sense.

 

 

The grip is carved from oak with skeletal beaked serpents.

 

 

I carve the fittings from wax and cast them into bronze.

 

 

Finally I assemble the parts, capture the light they reflected yesterday and collect words together, try to describe what I was doing, what the grim faces mean, but this story is not told in words.

blade – 32 cm / 12 3/4″

hilt – 24.2 cm / 9 3/8″

blade width – 4.5 cm / 1 3/4″

overall length – 56.2 cm / 22 1/8″

 

“One look in his eye

everyone denies

ever having met him.”

-Tom Waits

OLD SARUM

Old Sarum survey reveals new information about medieval city layout

Aerial view of Old Sarum. Image: English Heritage

Aerial view of Old Sarum. Image: English Heritage

Archaeologists from the University of Southampton have revealed for the first time the plan of a network of buildings in a once thriving medieval city at the historic site of Old Sarum, near Salisbury (south England).

A research team of students and academics carried out a geophysical survey of the ancient monument, scanning ground at the site with state-of-the-art equipment to map the remains of buried structures. They concentrated their survey around the inner and outer baileys of what was once a fortification, with its origins in the Iron Age and the Roman conquest.

Students surveying Old Sarum. University of Southampton

Features

Their investigations reveal the layout of a settlement including structures from the late 11th century, contemporary with the construction of a cathedral and castle. The city was inhabited for over 300 years, but declined in the 13th century with the rise of New Sarum (Salisbury).

The project findings mainly concentrate on the medieval period and highlight:

* A series of massive structures along the southern edge of the outer bailey defensive wall, perhaps suggesting large buildings of a defensive nature.

* An open area of ground behind these large structures, perhaps for mustering resources or people, or as part of a circular route through the city.

* Residential areas in the south east and south west quadrants of the outer bailey alongside the inner bailey ditch.

* Evidence of deposits indicating industrial features, such as kilns or furnaces.

* Features suggesting quarrying at the site after the 1300s and following the city’s decline – indicating a later period of habitation at the site.

Archaeologist Kristian Strutt, Experimental Officer and Director of Archaeological Prospection Services at the University of Southampton, says: “Archaeologists and historians have known for centuries that there was a medieval city at Old Sarum, but until now there has been no proper plan of the site.

Our survey shows where individual buildings are located and from this we can piece together a detailed picture of the urban plan within the city walls.”

sarum2

A new layer to the story

The research was conducted as part of the Old Sarum and Stratford-Sub-Castle Archaeological Survey Project, directed by Kristian Strutt and fellow Southampton archaeologists Timothy Sly and Dominic Barker. Old Sarum is under the custodianship of English Heritage, who kindly granted permission for the investigation to take place.

Heather Sebire, Property Curator at English Heritage, comments: “Having the team of archaeologists on site over the summer gave our visitors a chance to find out more about how important historic landscapes are surveyed. The use of modern, non-invasive surveying is a great start to further research at Old Sarum.

From this work we can surmise much about the site’s past and, whilst we can’t conclusively date the findings, it adds a new layer to Old Sarum’s story. We welcome the chance to find out more about our sites, and look forward to exploring ideas for further research in the future.”

The team used a variety of techniques to examine the outer and inner bailey of the site. These included the use of topographic survey methods and geophysical survey techniques – comprising of magnetometry, earth resistance, ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electric resistivity tomography (ERT) survey.

Kristian Strutt concludes: “Our research so far has shown how the entire outer bailey of the monument was heavily built up in the Middle Ages, representing a substantial urban centre. Results have given us compelling evidence as to the nature of some of the structures. It is clear, however, that there is more non-intrusive work that could be carried out to further expand our understanding of the site.”

A training exercise

The team hopes to return to complete the survey of the inner and outer baileys and survey the Romano-British settlement to the south of Old Sarum in Easter 2015. The project fieldwork in 2014 was used as a training season for undergraduate and postgraduate archaeology students at the University, continuing a long tradition of research-led teaching at some of the most impressive archaeological sites in the south of England. Previous fieldwork has been conducted by students at Portchester Castle, Netley Abbey and Bishop’s Waltham Palace in Hampshire, and at Bodiam Castle in East Sussex.


WOMEN SCIENTISTS OF THE MIDDLE AGES

An excellent article recommended me by an old friend. It is well worth your read and it has superb gaming applications for female characters in Medieval and fantasy games. As well as for fiction writings. You can read the entire article by following the link.

Women Scientists of the Middle Ages & 1600s

Alana Merritt Mahaffey, M.L.A. Candidate

Mentors: Drs. Marck L. Beggs, Bill Gentry, and Gary Simmons

Until the women‟s movements of the 1800s and 1900s, the limitations set by society for women

in the West hardly evolved since the Middle Ages. It is well known that most women in the

Middle Ages were restricted in their roles as citizens, limited by social status, by economic

constraints, and by a well established and unquestioned sexism prevalent in church, politics, and

family. A woman was defined, especially during the Middle Ages, by how the men with whom

she associated defined her. These men were most often her husband or her father. As Christaine

Klapisch Zuber points out in Medieval Callings, “Men of the middle ages long conceived of „the

woman‟ as a category, but only late in the period did they distinguish variations in the behavior

expected of women by applying criteria such as professional activities to their model. Before she

was seen as a peasant, the lady of a castle, or a saint, ‘the woman’ was defined by her body, her

gender, and her relations with family groups. Wife, widow, or maid, her juridical persona and

the ethic by which she lived in her daily life were portrayed in relation to a man or group of man” (285).

By this standard, the average Medieval woman had as much chance of acquiring independent

wealth, receiving a well rounded education, or making significant contributions to society as her

husband‟s cattle. Therefore, it is all the more remarkable that history yields to us several

outstanding women of the Middle Ages and 1600s whose accomplishments in the fields of

science and writing are still recognized today as valid and significant.

The status of the woman living in the Middle Ages broadened only by necessity. Many men

needed the help of their wives to sustain the family, and so men began bringing their wives into

the same trade guilds of which the men were already members. Women in these guilds were

expected to learn their husbands‟ trades and, in many cases, were given “masters status” in these

trades. (Gies 180). In the event of her husband‟s death, the widow was able to take an apprentice

herself. The natural evolution of allowing wives into guilds was the emergence of all female

guilds, which usually catered to women in the tapestry and candle trades…

 

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