The Fear of Outsiders and Social Minorities in Medieval Europe

Of the many groups under pressure and persecution in this period were Jews, lepers, and homosexuals. Western Europe experienced a significant increase in discrimination against social minorities in the period conventionally labeled the long twelfth century.[1] This period was one of scholastic sophistication, urbanization, and consolidation of central secular and church power.[2] The very developments[…]

The Stone of Scone: Coronating Medieval Scottish Monarchs

Introduction The Stone of Scone (Gaelic: Lia Fail), also known as the Stone of Destiny or Coronation Stone, is a block of sandstone associated with the coronation ceremonies of the medieval monarchs of Scotland. These ceremonies were held at Scone, a prehistoric site in Perthshire. The Stone of Scone was removed from Scotland by Edward I of[…]

The Renaissance Queen Who Defied the Holy Roman Emperor

Queen Bona helps us understand how elite Renaissance women acquired, maintained, and negotiated power. Among the women of the European Renaissance, Bona Sforza is often stereotyped similarly to her aunt – the fabulous Lucrecia Borgia – as a dangerous and meddling femme fatale. Bona Sforza was the daughter of Gian Galeazzo Sforza, the Duke of[…]

Giving at Christmas Time in the Middle Ages

Christmas gifts were a well-established part of the medieval year. The traditions of giving to the less fortunate is alive and well today and many of us will receive leaflets about Christmas charity campaigns through our doors this festive, and witness charity fundraising events whilst out and about. One tradition which has a long heritage[…]

Trotula: Medicine and Women in the Middle Ages

The “Book on the Conditions of Women” was novel in its adoption of the new Arabic medicine that had just begun to make inroads into Europe. Introduction Trotula is a name referring to a group of three texts on women’s medicine that were composed in the southern Italian port town of Salerno in the 12th[…]

Medieval Medical Prescriptions in the 15th and 16th Centuries

Knowledge preserved in medieval books enjoyed a longevity that extended beyond the period of the manuscript book. Abstract This article examines a fifteenth-century remedy book, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson c. 299, and describes its collection of 314 medieval medical prescriptions. The recipes are organised broadly from head to toe, and often several remedies are offered[…]

The Advancement of Health Care in Medieval Venice

Venice’s embodied a unique combination that fostered innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity. When Venetians invented quarantine in 1348, the government proclamation was based on the fact that this cosmopolitan city could put two and two together. The Venetian Republic had based its thriving economy on trade by sea and it became obvious that when foreign ships[…]

Gothic Cathedrals: Architecture and Divine Light

The Gothic style was popular throughout Europe from the 12th century through the 16th century. By Hillary SmithHistorian Introduction Gothic cathedrals are some of the most recognizable and magnificent architectural feats. With soaring towers and softly filtered light streaming through stained glass windows, everything about the Gothic cathedral is transportive and ethereal, lifting the gaze[…]

Great and Gruesome Medieval Trials

The relatively sensible approach to crime found in Ancient Rome gave way to something much different in the medieval world. Introduction The year is 897, and Pope Stephen VI has ordered the eight-month-old corpse of his predecessor removed from its vault at St. Peter’s.  The former, and very dead, pope is clad in his old pontifical[…]

Dominating Castles in the Medieval English Landscape

Castles are best seen as an architectural expression of the social status of their owners. Introduction The traditional view of a medieval English castle is that it was designed for warfare, suggesting that medieval lords were perpetually either at war or preparing for it. Until recently castles were mostly studied by military men or at[…]

The Public Acceptance of Women as Leaders in the Middle Ages

It can be hard to estimate broad social trends in the Middle Ages, but some sources allow us to get pretty good samples. Inheritance vs. Appointment This is a question which people have struggled with for a very long time, as a case of disputed succession from fourteenth-century France shows. In 1341, the duke of[…]

Krak des Chevaliers: A Medieval Hospitaller Crusades Fortress

At its peak, Krak des Chevaliers housed a garrison of around 2,000, allowing the Hospitallers to exact tribute from a wide area. Introduction Krak des Chevaliers, also called Crac des Chevaliers, Ḥiṣn al-Akrād, literally “Fortress of the Kurds”), and formerly Crac de l’Ospital, is a Crusader castle in Syria and one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world. The[…]

Medieval Medicine of Western Europe

The Western medical tradition often traces its roots directly to the early Greek civilization. Introduction Medieval medicine in Western Europe was composed of a mixture of existing ideas from antiquity. In the Early Middle Ages, following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, standard medical knowledge was based chiefly upon surviving Greek and Roman texts, preserved in monasteries and elsewhere. Medieval medicine is widely[…]

Serfdom in Medieval Feudal Europe

As the Western Roman Empire collapsed, landholders gradually transitioned from outright slavery to serfdom. What Is Feudalism? Let’s imagine that you’re a poor European farmer in the Middle Ages. Here’s the political situation: you don’t own the land you live on. It’s rented from a baron or a duke. You and your neighbors share a[…]

Passeth the Cranb’rry Sauce! The Medieval Origins of Thanksgiving

Dutch painter Pieter Claesz’s Still Life with Turkey Pie (1627) features a cooked turkey that’s been placed back inside its original skin, feathers and all. Wikimedia Commons Most of the flavor combinations and traditions we’ve come to associate with the holiday date back to the Middle Ages. By Dr. Ken Albala / 11.25.2015 Professor of History Chair of Food Studies University of the Pacific How[…]

Medieval Science and Mathematics

Examining early medieval approaches to various types of knowledge we might consider today to be ‘scientific’ and early universities. Introduction The idea of science in the early Middle Ages is a broad one that encompasses many subjects. To understand this, we should think of the root of the word ‘science’, which comes from the Latin[…]

European Science in the Middle Ages

Roman and early medieval scientific texts were read and studied, contributing to the understanding of nature in the light of reason. Introduction European science in the Middle Ages comprised the study of nature, mathematics and natural philosophy in medieval Europe. Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the decline in knowledge of Greek,[…]

Till Eulenspiegel: Traveling Trickster of Medieval German Literature

There is a suggestion that the name is in fact a veiled pun on a Low German phrase translating to “wipe-arse”. Introduction Till Eulenspiegel is the protagonist of a German chapbook published in 1515 (a first edition of c. 1510/12 is preserved fragmentarily) with a possible background in earlier Middle Low German folklore. Eulenspiegel is[…]

Legends, Folklore, Magic, and the Common People of Early Modern Europe

The people of early modern Europe sought to use magic to manipulate the world around them. By Ian TempleHistorian The sensationalism of the witch hunts dominates much of what one considers when exploring issues of magic during the early modern period, but the witchcraft trials was not the only area in which magic played a[…]

Medieval Legends and Folklore

The word “folklore” was coined in 1846 CE by the British writer William John Thoms to replace the more awkward phrase “popular antiquities”. Introduction Medieval folklore is a body of work, originally transmitted orally, which was composed between the 5th and 15th centuries CE in Europe. Although folktales are a common attribute of every civilization,[…]

An Introduction to Medieval Europe

Characterizing the Middle Ages as a period of darkness is misleading. Introduction So much of what the average person knows, or thinks they know, about the Middle Ages comes from film and tv. When I polled a group of well-educated friends on Facebook, they told me that the word “medieval” called to mind Monty Python[…]

Æthelstan: First Medieval Ruler of a United English Kingdom

Æthelstan was the first ruler of the whole kingdom of England. Æthelstan was the grandson of King Alfred of Wessex  (reigned 871–899) and the son of King Edward the Elder (reigned 899–924). Nothing is certain about his mother, but Continental and later writers suggest she was of lower social status. At some point, Æthelstan was[…]

Tournaments, Weapons, and Armor in Medieval Jousting

Jousting fell out of fashion by the end of the Middle Ages, but there were occasional revivals up to the 19th century. Introduction Jousts were, from the 13th to 16th century CE, a popular part of the European medieval tournament where knights showed off their martial skills by riding against one another with wooden lances[…]

Musical Imagery in the Global Middle Ages

Texts and images produced throughout the medieval world reveal that harp music could elicit powerful responses. Infernal Noise In the Hell panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights triptych, an anthropomorphic, fully clothed hare blows a hunting horn, the hunted aping the hunter. A naked man, penetrated by a recorder, carries an oversized shawm[…]

Redeeming Classical Antiquity in the Middle Ages

The culture of antiquity played an important role in the literary and artistic endeavors of the Middle Ages. By the Department of Medieval Art and The CloistersMetropolitan Museum of Art Introduction The classical heritage flourished throughout the Middle Ages in both the Byzantine Greek East and the Latin West. The Byzantines, who called themselves Rhomaioi,[…]

Saints in Medieval Christian Art

The powers of saints were believed to extend to their images. By Dr. Wendy A. SteinResearch AssociateDepartment of Medieval Art and The CloistersMetropolitan Museum of Art Since early Christian times, hundreds of men and women have been revered in the Church and identified as saints. Their lives were held up as models of exemplary behavior,[…]

Hieronymous: Saint Jerome and the Lion

The Golden Legend often blends traditional stories about the saints with historical facts, as seen in the account of St. Jerome’s life. Everyone loves a picture of a medieval lion. The Twitter hashtag #notalion celebrates how amusingly unrealistic they often look, frequently resembling cuddly housecats more than the king of beasts. In medieval manuscripts, lions[…]

Pilgrimage by Proxy: A Medieval Guidebook for Pilgrims to the Holy Land

The text is a detailed account of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Mount Sinai, originally written by the Franciscan friar Niccolò da Poggibonsi. A recent addition to our digitised collections [at the British Library] is a unique 15th-century guidebook for pilgrims to the Holy Land. Almost like a late medieval Lonely Planet guide for a[…]

Darkness Visible: Dante’s Clarification of Hell in the ‘Divine Comedy’

Dante primarily intended to explain biblical justice through his contrapasso. By Joseph KameenArtist and Educator Contrapasso is one of the few rules in Dante’s Inferno. It is the one “law of nature” that applies to hell, stating that for every sinner’s crime there must be an equal and fitting punishment. These punishments, however, are rarely[…]