The Poetic Verbal Contest between Odin and Thor in Norse Mythology

They verbally duel in a so-called mannjafnaðr, a comparison of men, both trying their superiority. By Irina Manea Introduction The poem called The Lay of Greybeard (Old Norse: Hárbarðsljóð) is one story from Norse mythology that relates an intriguing verbal fight between two of its essential gods, Thor and Odin. The poem consists of 60 stanzas and is found complete in the 13th-century CE[…]

What Was Life Like for Women in the Medieval World?

A glimpse of the everyday challenges and triumphs medieval women faced during the Middle Ages. By Erin Migdol, Elizabeth Morrison, and Larisa Grollemond Introduction While depictions of the Middle Ages often revolve around knights, dragons, and fairy tales, the stories of how real people lived during this tumultuous time are often even more fascinating—particularly the[…]

The Medieval Holocaust: Plague and Jewish Persecution in Germany, 1348-1349

The persecution and destruction of the Jews of Germany at the time of the Black Death. Introduction The Jews of Germany have suffered a great deal from persecutions over the centuries. The Holocaust of the 1940s, for example, ranks among the most brutal events in recorded history, but there were many other instances of oppression[…]

Samurai: The Rise of the Warrior Class in Medieval Japan

The era of the samurai lasted for 700 years, until the emperor was restored to power in 1868. Introduction During the Heian period, Japan experienced a golden age. That period was followed by civil war. In this chapter, you will learn about the rise of a powerful warrior class in Japan—the samurai . Minamoto Yoritomo[…]

Heian-kyo: The Heart of Japan’s Medieval Government

Introduction The culture of medieval Japan was rich and varied due to exchanges with other Asian peoples. In this chapter, you will see how a unique Japanese culture flowered from the 9th to the 12th centuries. As you may know, Japan is close enough to the mainland of Asia to be affected by cultural ideas[…]

Secular Learning and Sacred Purpose in a Medieval Carolingian Manuscript

This quadrivium miniature has often been cited as evidence for the prescience of the Carolingian educational reforms. Introduction Of the early medieval copies of Boethius’s De institutione arithmetica, by far the most sumptuous is a ninth-century manuscript that is presently housed in the Staatsbibliothek in Bamberg.[2] (Figure 1 above) Unlike other versions of the treatise,[3][…]

Medieval Mental Illness and Care: The Case of Emma de Beston in 1383

Cases of people classified as mentally ill reveal medieval attitudes to mental illness, disability, and incapacity at a communal level. Introduction What happened in the medieval period when people became mentally ill? Modern advances in diagnosis and treatment, and a monolithic view of pre-modern culture, might entrench opinions that former attitudes to people undergoing the[…]

Tower Mills since the Thirteenth Century

It represented a modification or a demonstration of improving and adapting technology that had been known by humans for ages. Introduction A tower mill is a type of vertical windmill consisting of a brick or stone tower, on which sits a wooden ‘cap’ or roof, which can rotate to bring the sails into the wind.[1][2][3][4][5][…]

Windmills and Their Technology since the Middle Ages

Windmills were used throughout the high medieval and early modern periods. Introduction A windmill is a structure that converts wind power into rotational energy by means of vanes called sails or blades, specifically to mill grain (gristmills), but the term is also extended to windpumps, wind turbines and other applications. The term wind engine is[…]

Rights and Responsibilities under the Medieval System of Feudalism

Feudalism is the most distinctive and significant factor of the early and central middle ages. What Was Feudalism? Before the period known as the Middle Ages, the Roman Empire controlled most of Western Europe. Under Roman rule, Europe was organized and unified region. But in 400 A.D., the Roman Empire was split in two: the[…]

Viking Prophecy: The Poem Völuspá of the Poetic Edda

Every god has a specific enemy with whom they will do battle and many will be slain, including the chief god Odin. By Irina Manea Introduction The Völuspá (Old Norse: Vǫluspá) is a medieval poem of the Poetic Edda that describes how the world might have come into shape and would end according to Norse[…]

Competing Theories of the Medieval ‘Black Death’

Several possible causes have been advanced for the Black Death. Introduction Theories of the Black Death are a variety of explanations that have been advanced to explain the nature and transmission of the Black Death (1347–51). A number of epidemiologists since the 1980s have challenged the traditional view that the Black Death was caused by[…]

The Medieval West African Trading Empire of Ghana

The early West African societies of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai all created empires that gained much of their wealth from trade. Introduction The kingdom of Ghana lasted from sometime before 500 C.E. until its final collapse in the 1200s. It arose in the semidesert Sahel and eventually spread over the valley between the Senegal and[…]

What Did People Believe about Animals in the Middle Ages?

Lions, tigers, and dragons, oh my! By Erin Migdol, Elizabeth Morrison, and Larisa Grollemond During the Middle Ages (which lasted from the years 500–1500), people were as fascinated by animals of all stripes as we are—from snails to elephants to mythical beasts like unicorns and dragons. Animals represented themes and lessons from Christianity and were[…]

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[…]