The Vikings in Ireland

Screenshot from a video game called War of the Vikings showing fighting Vikings, with some of their ships visible, too. / Photo by John Rickne, Community Manager, Paradox Interactive, Wikimedia Commons What exactly motivated the Vikings to set sail for Ireland (or the British Isles in general) is subject to ongoing debate. By Emma Groeneveld / 12.11.2017 Historian In early[…]

Scribes and Scholars in Byzantium

From Lucian of Samosata by Nicolas Perrot d’Ablancourt, 1697 Byzantine manuscripts were created by and for educated men both in Constantinople and further afield. Georgi Parpulov explores the lives and works of some of these figures. By Dr. Georgi Parpulov Research Fellow, CATENA Project Department of Theology and Religion University of Birmingham In Antiquity and the Middle Ages, educated[…]

Book Collections and Libraries of Byzantium

Seventh ecumenical council, Icon, 17th century, Novodevichy Convent, Moscow / Photo by shakko, Wikimedia Commons Byzantine scribes and authors refer repeatedly to book collections and libraries. Georgi Parpulov outlines what private, monastic and imperial libraries were like in medieval Byzantium. By Dr. Georgi Parpulov Research Fellow, CATENA Project Department of Theology and Religion University of[…]

The Weapons of an English Medieval Knight

A silver seal of Robert Fitzwalter showing a mounted knight. 1213-1219 CE. Diameter: 73 mm. (British Museum, London) / British Museum Trained since childhood and practiced at tournaments, the skilled knight could inflict fatal injuries on even an armored opponent. By Mark Cartwright / 06.06.2018 Historian The weapons of an English medieval knight in combat included the[…]

The Dancing Plague of 1518

Detail from a 1642 engraving by Hendrik Hondius, based on Peter Breughel’s 1564 drawing depicting sufferers of a dance epidemic occurring in Molenbeek that year — Wikimedia Commons 500 years ago this month, a strange mania seized the city of Strasbourg. Citizens by the hundreds became compelled to dance, seemingly for no reason — jigging trance-like[…]

The Late Medieval Art of Domenico Ghirlandaio at the Church of Santa Maria Novella

Santa Maria Novella (Leon Battista Alberti was responsible for the façade, completed in 1470) By Dr. Sally Hickson / 08.09.2015 Associate Professor of Art History University of Guelph A treasure house of Renaissance art The Church of Santa Maria Novella, adjacent to the train station of the same name, is a treasure-house of Florentine art of[…]

How Cotton Textile Production in Medieval China Unraveled Patriarchy

Detail of the central embroidery work of a woman’s summer robe, c1875–1900. / Wikimedia Commons In China, as in much of the preindustrial world, women carried out most of the textile production. By Dr. Melanie Meng Xue / 06.27.2018 Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Economics Center for Economic History Northwestern University, Illinois Many societies suffer from the[…]

The Architecture of Medieval Synagogues in Toledo, Spain

View of Toledo, Spain with the Samuel Halevi Abulafia synagogue at the center and the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes in the background (photo: Yildori, CC BY-SA 3.0) By Dr. Diane Reilly / 04.06.2018 Associate Professor of Art History, Department Chair Indiana University By the time the first surviving synagogues were built in Spain, Jews had[…]

Bible Moralisée (Moralized Bibles) of the Thirteenth Century

Middle left (detail), Scenes from the Apocalypse, Paris-Oxford-London Bible moralisée, France, c. 1225-45 (The British Library, Harley MS 1527 fol. 140v) By Dr. Nancy Ross / 01.21.2016 Assistant Professor of Art History Dixie State College Utah One book, thousands of illustrations Top: Blanche of Castile and King Louis IX of France and below: Priest dictating to a scribe, Bible of Saint[…]

What Did Byzantine Food Taste Like?

Portrait of Alexios III Komnenos in The Romance of Alexander the Great, 1300s, made in Trebizond, Turkey. Tempera, gold, and ink, 12 5/8 x 9 7/16 in. Image courtesy of the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Postbyzantine Studies, Venice, cod. gr. 5 An art historian embraces her foodie side to uncover the tastes of the Byzantine Empire.[…]

Islamic Spain in the 15th Century

The Great Mosque of Córdoba turned church after the Reconquista / Photo by Berthold Werner, Wikimedia Commons Was it a beacon of enlightened sophistication snuffed out by barbaric Dark Age Europeans, or the arena of a clash of eastern and western civilizations?  By Dr. Brian A. Catlos / 06.10.2018 Professor of Religious Studies University of Colorado at Boulder[…]

More than Blood and Bling: Our Many Visions of the Vikings

What does a 21st century Viking look like? Anthony Devlin/PA The Vikings have an enduring appeal in the popular and academic consciousness. By Dr. Steven Ashby / 03.06.2014 Professor of Archaeology University of York The Vikings have arrived at the British Museum. This exhibition, the first of its kind for decades, is notable for its scale and ambition. That[…]

The Real-Life Origins of the Legendary Kraken

Mary Evans Picture Library/Alamy The myth of a monstrous giant squid prowling the oceans has persisted for centuries but scientists have been able to reveal the truth behind the stories. By Dr. Rodrigo Brincalepe Salvador / 12.30.2015 Researcher, Natural Sciences and Paleontology Museum of New Zealand The Kraken is perhaps the largest monster ever imagined by mankind. In Nordic folklore, it was said to[…]

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A History of Monsters, from Werewolves to Hippogriffs

Warner Brothers In the world of Harry Potter, beasts are to be protected, not feared. But this concern for monsters is hardly modern. By Dr. Marta Cobb / 11.16.2016 Teaching Fellow in Medieval Studies University of Leeds Stories involving fantastic beasts are some of the oldest narratives we possess, but the threat posed by the beast is usually perceived as being[…]

Britannia, Druids and the Surprisingly Modern Origin of Myths

Sky Atlantic We think of the Druids as being embedded in British culture from the mists of ancient times. But what we think we know about Druids is of surprisingly modern provenance. By Dr. Matthew Kelly / 01.16.2018 Professor of Modern History Northumbria University, Newcastle The new TV series Britannia, which has won plaudits as heralding a new generation of British folk-horror, is clearly not intended to be strictly historical. Instead[…]

Ragnar Shaggy-Trousers and Eystein Foul-Fart: The Truth behind Viking Names

© MGM With Vikings on trend, it’s high time for a masterclass on the bizarre world of their names. By Keith Ruiter / 02.18.2016 PhD Candidate in Scandinavian Studies University of Aberdeen Vikings are pretty trendy of late. Marvel’s Thor films, for example, gave Viking mythology the Hollywood treatment and plonked its characters in contemporary America. There have been multiple Viking exhibitions, and[…]

The ‘Lawe of Nations’: How Diplomatic Immunity Protected an Elizabethan Assassin

Mary Queen of Scots was at the centre of numerous plots to kill Queen Elizabeth I. Pierre Révoil (1776–1842) When the Spanish ambassador to Elizabeth I’s court was implicated in a plot to kill her, he was protected by the fledgling laws of diplomacy. By Dr. Carol Rutter / 05.23.2018 Professor of Shakespeare and Performance Studies University of Warwick A foreign state sponsors a[…]

Why We Should Be Celebrating the Treatment of Women in Anglo-Saxon England

By Lynda Telford / 05.20.2018 Events and Projects Officer Richard III Society, Yorkshire Branch What was the way of life for most ordinary women during the early Middle Ages in England? The answer is surprising. In Anglo-Saxon England – before the Norman Conquest in 1066 – men and women enjoyed relatively equal rights and social,[…]

How Yersinia Pestis Evolved Its Ability to Kill Millions via Pneumonic Plague

How did Yersinia pestis bacteria start to target the lungs and become so deadly? National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, CC BY It’s a deadly bacterium that can spread like wildfire. New research suggests Yersinia pestisfirst developed its ability to cause lung infection and then evolved to be highly infectious.    By Dr. Daniel Zimbler (left) and Dr. Wyndham Lathem (right) / 06.30.2015 Zimbler: Senior Scientist, Microbiology[…]

The Hardworking, Homemaking Hedgehog of the Medieval Bestiary

A Hedgehog (detail) in a bestiary, about 1270, unknown illuminator, possibly made in Thérouanne, France. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, 7 1/2 × 5 5/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XV 3, fol. 79v. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program In the medieval bestiary, hedgehogs are portrayed[…]

The Corpse-Devouring Hyena of the Medieval Bestiary

A Hyena (detail) in the Northumberland Bestiary, about 1250–60, unknown illuminator, made in England. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 100, fol. 12v. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program. In a world of good versus evil, the hyena plays the role of the bad guy. By Jessica Sheppard-Reynolds / 05.10.2018 Notoriously hungry, the[…]