Comets, Omens, and Fear: Understanding Plague in the Middle Ages

In medieval times natural phenomena, such as comets and eclipses, were regarded as portents of natural disasters, including plagues. Introduction On August 30 2019, a comet from outside our solar system was observed by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Crimea. This was only the second time an interstellar comet had ever[…]

The Rus’ Khaganate in the Early Medieval Era

The Annals of St. Bertin refer to a group of Vikings, who called themselves Rhos (qi se, id est gentem suam, Rhos vocari dicebant). Introduction The Rus’ Khaganate was a polity that flourished during a poorly documented period in the history of Eastern Europe (roughly the late eighth and early to mid-ninth centuries C.E.).[1] A[…]

Medieval Factors That Set the Stage for the Renaissance

Exploring some changes in European life that led to the Renaissance. Introduction Much of the power in Europe from the 1300s to the 1600s lay in three major areas: the city-states of Italy, the Papal States, and the Holy Roman Empire. During these years, Italy was not the unified country it is today. Instead, it[…]

Life in Medieval Towns and Villages

Exploring trade and commerce, homes and households, disease and medicine, crime and punishment, and leisure and entertainment. Introduction At the start of the Middle Ages, most people lived in the countryside, either on feudal manors or in religious communities. But by the 12th century, towns were growing up around castles and monasteries and along trade[…]

Common Misconceptions about Medieval Arms and Armor

Some misconceptions are due to lack of education and experience, and some are utter nonsense and historically vapid. Introduction The field of arms and armor is beset with romantic legends, gory myths, and widely held misconceptions. Their origins usually are to be found in a lack of knowledge of, and experience with, genuine objects and[…]

Infantry in the Middle Ages

The relative inexpensiveness of the infantryman, combined with a shortage of manpower, provided incentives for expanding their use. Introduction Despite the rise of knightly cavalry in the 11th century, infantry played an important role throughout the Middle Ages on both the battlefield and in sieges. From the 14th century onwards, there was a rise in[…]

The Roman Catholic Church in Medieval Europe

Exploring the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe during the High Middle Ages, from about 1000 to 1300 C.E. Introduction The Church was the center of life in medieval western Europe. Almost every community had a church building. Larger towns and cities had a cathedral. Church bells rang out the hours, called people[…]

Innovations and Adaptations in the Medieval Islamic Renaissance

They improved ways of doing things that influenced the Scientific Revolution in Europe centuries later. Introduction In the Middle Ages, Muslim people developed a rich culture. Here are many contributions made by Muslims to world civilization. By 750 C.E., Muslims ruled Spain, North Africa, the Middle East, and much of central Asia. Over the next[…]

Medieval Christian Saints and Magical Charms as Protection from Animals

Saints were sometimes associated with protecting animals, particularly in magical texts or ‘charms’. St Francis of Assisi (1181/82–1225) is traditionally known as the patron saint of animals and the natural environment. During the Middle Ages, however, other saints were sometimes associated with protecting animals, particularly in magical texts or ‘charms’. One such charm is found[…]

The Fake Medieval Donation of Constantine

The document’s validity had been contested since 1001 CE until finally proven to be a forgery. Introduction The Donation of Constantine is a forged Roman imperial decree (Diplom) by which the 4th-century emperor Constantine the Great supposedly transferred authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the Pope. Composed probably in[…]

The Decline of Feudalism in the Medieval World

Exploring the key events that contributed to the decline of feudalism in Europe from the 12th through the 15th centuries. Introduction In England, several political changes in the 12th and 13th centuries helped to weaken feudalism. A famous document known as Magna Carta, or Great Charter, dates from this time. Magna Carta was a written[…]

The Development of Feudalism in Medieval Western Europe

Exploring the political and economic system that developed in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Introduction Historians divide the Middle Ages into three periods. The Early Middle Ages lasted from about 476 to 1000 C.E. The High Middle Ages lasted from about 1000 to 1300. The Late Middle Ages lasted from about 1300 to 1450.[…]

Events and Impacts of the Medieval Crusades

Christians mounted violent campaigns against Jews and heretics in addition to the wars in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Introduction The Crusades were launched by European Christians to reclaim Jerusalem and other holy sites in the Middle East from Muslims. Christians mounted these religious wars between 1096 and 1291. A major purpose was[…]

Religion in Medieval England

The Church had a close relationship with the English state throughout the Middle Ages. Introduction Medieval Religion Unlike religion in the modern world, medieval religion had deep significance and central importance in the lives of most individuals and nations. There was hardly any concept of a secular nation where religion did not play any role[…]

The Legacy of the Roman Empire

Rome’s influence lives on in many ways today – in art, architecture and engineering, language and writing, philosophy, law, and citizenship. Introduction “All roads lead to Rome,” boasted the ancient Romans. For 500 years, from about 27 B.C.E. to 476 C.E., the city of Rome was the capital of the greatest empire the world had[…]

The Medieval (and Not-So-Medieval) History Behind Netflix’s ‘Cursed’

Looking for history in the latest version of King Arthur. Introduction For those of you watching Cursed, there are spoilers ahead.  The elusive Lady of the Lake from the legends of King Arthur is the leading character, Nimue, in Netflix’s new action-and-magic-packed series Cursed. Based on the 2019 graphic novel of the same name, Cursed[…]

Magic in Medieval England: A Service Industry Used by Rich and Poor Alike

In medieval England using magic was a bit like drug use today: against the law and seen as immoral, but still widespread across society. Introduction Chances are that when you hear the words “medieval magic”, the image of a witch will spring to mind: wizened old crones huddled over a cauldron containing unspeakable ingredients such[…]

Fourteenth-Century England, Medical Ethics, and the Plague

The plague remained endemic for 300 years, returning every so often to cull the population. Introduction In the 20th and 21st centuries, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the threat of bioterror attacks have raised questions about the role of the physician in response to epidemics. Modern medical ethics, with its[…]

Charms, Magical and Religious Remedies in the Medieval World

Medieval people firmly believed in God and occult powers. By Véronique SoreauPhD Student in English and Anglo-Saxon Languages and LiteratureCentre d’Etudes Supérieures de Civilisation MédiévaleUniversité de Poitiers Introduction Charms are incantations or magic spells, chanted, recited, or written. Used to cure diseases, they can also be a type of medical recipe.[1]  Such recipes were often[…]

The Medieval Russian Army

Tribal militia formed the basis of the army in Kievan Rus’ before the Mongol invasion. Introduction The Medieval Russian army, from the foundation of Kievan Rus’ till the reforms of Ivan the Terrible, can be roughly divided into the Kievan Rus’ period, between the 9th to 13th century, mainly characterized by infantry armies of town[…]

A Brief History of Medieval Russia from the 9th to 15th Centuries

From Kievan Rus to the adoption of Christianity and Ivan the Great after the Mongol invasion. Introduction Background The first state-like formations, in the present-day territory of Russia, emerged around Novgorod and Kiev in the 9th century. Russia was then dominated by Vikings. After 250 years of Mongol supremacy, from the 13th century, Moscow became[…]

Economic Growth in Medieval China

During this period, China’s huge cities dwarfed the cities of medieval Europe. Introduction The Song period was a time of great prosperity in China. Changes in agriculture, especially a boom in the production of rice, fueled the growth of the economy. Trade and business flourished. These developments had started during the Tang dynasty. Under the[…]

Medieval China’s Contacts with the Outside World

Exploring how the Chinese both welcomed and rejected foreign contacts. Introduction At times, the Chinese welcomed foreign contacts. Great cultural exchange resulted as new ideas and products flowed into and out of China. Buddhism, which originally came from India, reached its height of influence during the Tang dynasty. A Chinese monk, Xuan Zang (zhwoo-AN ZANG),[…]

Ottonian Art Style in the Gospel Book of Otto III

Double page opening: Provinces Bringing Tribute (f.23v.) and Ruler Portrait of Otto III (f.24) Gospels of Otto III, c. 1000, each page 33.4 x 24.2 cm, ink, gold, paint, parchment (Munich, Bayerische Stattsbibliothek, Clm.4453) By Dr. Andreas Petzold / 08.08.2015 Professor of History of Art MPW London The double page opening of the ruler portrait of Otto III (f.24,[…]

Medieval Judgment Art and Architecture at the Church of Saint Trophime

Saint Trophime, Arles, 12th – 15th century (photo: Elliot Brown, CC BY 2.0) By Christine M. Bolli / 08.08.2015 PhD Candidate in Art History University of California, Santa Barbara The Provençal city of Arles in the south of France, is home to the medieval church, Saint Trophime. First impressions When I first saw the church, somewhat inconspicuously wedged[…]

The Church and Reliquary of Sainte-Foy, a Symbol of Medieval Pilgrimage and Ritual

Church of Sainte‐Foy, Conques, France, c. 1050–1130 (photo: jean françois bonachera, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) By Dr. Elisa Foster / 08.08.2015 Lecturer John V. Roach Honors College Texas Christian University On the road Imagine you pack up your belongings in a sack, tie on your cloak, and start off on a months-long journey through treacherous mountains, unpredictable[…]

The Ebbo Gospels, Fit for a King (Charlemagne)

Saint Matthew, folio 15 recto of the Coronation Gospels (Gospel Book of Charlemagne), from Aachen, Germany, c. 800-810, ink and tempera on vellum (Schatzkammer, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) By Dr. Jennifer Awes-Freeman / 09.15.2016 Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History and Religious Studies University of St. Thomas According to legend, the Vienna Coronation Gospels (c. 795) were discovered in Charlemagne’s tomb within the Palatine[…]

The Church of Saint-Pierre in Moissac: Art and Architecture along Medieval Pilgrimage Routes

South-side portal (detail), Church of Ste. Pierre, 1115-1130, Moissac, France (photo: Simon, Creative Commons) By Dr. Shannon Pritchard / 08.08.2015 Assistant Professor of Art History Assistant Chair, Art and Design Department University of Southern Indiana The church of Ste. Pierre (St. Peter) in Moissac, France, dating from 1115-30, has one of the most impressive and elaborate[…]

Fontenay Abbey and the Medieval Cistercian Order

Cloister, Fontenay Abbey, 12th century By Christine M. Bolli / 08.08.2015 PhD Candidate in Art History University of California, Santa Barbara The rules Illumination with St. Benedict delivering his Rule to St. Maurus, Monastery of St. Gilles, Nimes, 1129 The Romanesque abbey of Fontenay (Abbaye de Fontenay) is located in Burgundy, France and stands today as a[…]

The Art and Knowledge in Medieval Herbals

The illustrations in medieval herbals are beautiful and mysterious. But if you know how to read them, they also convey a wealth of knowledge about the plants they portray. By Julia Nurse / 10.04.2017 Collections Researcher Wellcome Library The illustrated herbal has an almost unbroken line of descent from the ancient Greeks to the Middle[…]