Nizari Ismailis: Assassins of Medieval Persia and Syria

Their name has since come to be associated with their chief modus operandi, the act of murder for political or religious purposes. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Assassins (aka Nizari Ismailis), were a heretical group of Shiite Muslims who were powerful in Persia and Syria from the 11th century CE until their defeat at the[…]

The Marriage of Mathilde and William the Conqueror

This kind of arrangement, know as a more danico union, a Danish-style union, was common among people of Norse descent. Caen, as I hardly need to remind you, was one of the capitals, with Rouen, and later London, of Guillaume, Duc de Normandie, remembered by posterity as William the Conqueror, King of England. You can[…]

A Brief Biography of William the Conqueror

His impacts included displacing much of the pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon nobility to reshaping the English language. William’s Early Life William was the son of Robert I, duke of Normandy (reigned 1027–1035), and a woman of lower social status named Herleva. Through his mother, William had two half-brothers: Odo, the bishop who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry; and[…]

Visiting The Ruins of Lisbon’s Ancient and Medieval Past

Lisbon was the capital of the Portuguese Empire, a nation of explorers, seafarers and conquerors. By Wanda MarcussenHistorian Introduction Visiting the vibrant and colorful city of Lisbon, on the banks of the river Tagus and the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, what is most showcased is one episode of the city’s and country’s glorious past:[…]

10 Surprising Facts about Books of Beasts from the European Middle Ages

Art history students offer a bite-sized introduction to the bestiary of the European Middle Ages. Introduction The medieval book of beasts, a kind of encyclopedia of animals known as the bestiary, was full of fascinating creatures both real and fantastic. While the bestiary often linked animals to Christian beliefs, teaching readers moral and religious lessons,[…]

The Bad Side of the Medieval Bestiary

Medieval books of beasts reflect the attitudes of the people who made them—including antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny, and indifference to animal cruelty. Introduction The splendidly illustrated bestiaries displayed in the exhibition Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World and described in the accompanying catalogue tell us much about medieval fascination with all of Creation: beasts, birds, fish, reptiles,[…]

An Introduction to the Bestiary, Book of Beasts in the Medieval World

Two curators this unique medieval book and its long influence. Introduction The bestiary—the medieval book of beasts—was among the most popular illuminated texts in northern Europe during the Middle Ages (about 500–1500). Medieval Christians understood every element of the world as a manifestation of God, and bestiaries largely focused on each animal’s religious meaning. The[…]

Magic, Medicine, Miracles: How Medieval Reading Abbey Helped to Invent Halloween

The rituals now associated with Halloween have a complex relationship to this medieval Hallowmass. I had the privilege of giving a public lecture for the Friends of Reading Abbey, in the presence of the Mayor of Reading, Councillor Debs Edwards. The event took place in St James’ Church, sited amongst the ruins of the medieval abbey. The lecture[…]

Ghosts in the Middle Ages

The souls most likely to return to haunt the living were those whose burial rituals were not performed correctly or who had unfinished business which required closure. Introduction The medieval Church’s vision informed the people’s religious imagination during the Middle Ages (c. 476-1500 CE) and the world was therefore interpreted – even by heterodox Christians –[…]

Bayan I: Early Medieval King of the Avars (Modern Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan)

Bayan I first enters history with the migration of the Avars to the region of the Pontic Grass Steppe. Introduction Bayan I (reigned 562/565-602 CE) was a king of the Avars, a confederation of heterogeneous people who migrated from the region of Mongolia, north of China, in 552 CE and came in contact with the[…]

Krak Des Chevaliers: A Crusader Castle in Medieval Syria

Considered virtually impregnable, it was the largest Crusader castle in the Middle East. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Krak des Chevaliers (also spelt Cracs des Chevaliers, and known in Arabic as Hisn al-Akrad) is a castle in Syria originally built for the Emir of Aleppo in 1031 CE but acquired and extensively rebuilt by the Knights[…]

The Book of Kells: 9th-Century Irish Monks and Ogham Script

The Irish monks combined the letters of the Roman alphabet with their own Ogham script. Introduction The Book of Kells (c. 800 CE) is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels of the Christian New Testament, currently housed at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. The work is the most famous of the medieval illuminated manuscripts for the intricacy, detail, and majesty[…]

Hoysala Architecture of Medieval India

The most remarkable accomplishment of this era lies, undoubtedly, in the field of architecture. By Dhruba RC Introduction The Hoysala era (1026 CE – 1343 CE) was marked by illustrious achievements in art, architecture, and culture. The nucleus of this activity lay in the present day Hassan district of Karnataka, India. The most remarkable accomplishment[…]

England and France in Conflict: The Hundred Years’ War, 1337-1453

The war owes its historical significance to a number of factors. Introduction The Hundred Years’ War is the name modern historians have given to what was a series of related conflicts, fought over a 116-year period, between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France, and later Burgundy; beginning in 1337, and ending in[…]

The Nerge: Hunting in the Mongol Empire

These hunts involved all of the tribe mobilizing across vast areas of steppe to corner game into a specific area. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The peoples of the Mongol Empire (1206-1368 CE) were nomadic, and they relied on hunting wild game as a valuable source of protein. The Asian steppe is a desolate, windy, and[…]

The Mongolian Yurt

The yurt tent has been used by nomadic pastoralist peoples of northern East Asia since before written records began. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction A yurt (ger in Mongolian) is a large circular tent made of wool felt stretched over a wooden frame used by nomadic peoples of the Asian steppe since before written records began.[…]

Twelve Ancient and Medieval Menacing and Protective Mythological Figures

These figures, whatever other purposes they served, were expressions of the fears and hopes of the people. Introduction The term mythology comes from the Greek words mythos (“story of the people”) and logos (“word”) and so is defined as the spoken (later written) story of a culture. Modern scholars have divided myths into different types[…]

Golden Horde: The Mongols in Medieval Europe

The Golden Horde extended from the Caucasus to Hungary to Constantinople, inspiring fear across the known the world. Introduction The Golden Horde was the European appanage of the Mongol Empire (1206-1368 CE). Begun in earnest by Batu Khan in 1227 CE, the territory that would eventually become the Golden Horde came to encompass parts of[…]

Batu Khan: Founder of the Mongol ‘Golden Horde’

Batu would serve as the kingmaker of the Mongol Empire. Introduction Batu Khan (l. 1205-1255 CE) was a grandson of Genghis Khan and the founder of the Golden Horde. Batu was a skilled Mongol military commander and won battles from China to Persia, although his most famous exploits involve the grand Mongol campaign into Europe[…]

Ogedei: Third Son and Unlikely Mongol Successor of Genghis Khan

Ogedei was a surprising choice for khan because he already had a reputation for often being drunk. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Ogedei Khan (aka Ogodei) ruled the Mongol Empire from 1229 to 1241 CE. The third son of Genghis Khan (r. 1206-1227 CE), the empire’s founder, Ogedei’s accomplishments included creating a new capital at Karakorum,[…]

Medieval Mongol Warfare

Ultimately, the Mongols would establish the largest empire the world had ever seen. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Mongols conquered vast swathes of Asia in the 13th and 14th century CE thanks to their fast light cavalry and excellent bowmen, but another significant contribution to their success was the adoption of their enemies’ tactics and[…]

Forgiveness for Sale: Indulgences in the Medieval Church

The selling of indulgences was first practiced in the late thirteenth century and was changed after the Protestant Reformation. Introduction An Indulgence, in Roman Catholic theology, is the full or partial remission of punishment for sins. The indulgence is granted by the Church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution and involves certain actions[…]

Xanadu: Marco Polo’s Famed Nirvana

Distant and mysteriously lost Xanadu came to represent a place of mystery, splendid luxury and easy living. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Xanadu (aka Shangdu, Shang-tu, and Kaiping), located in Inner Mongolia, northern China, was made first the capital (1263-73 CE) and then the summer capital (1274-1364) of the Mongol Empire by Kublai Khan (r. 1260-1294[…]

Hunting in Medieval Western Europe

More than a pastime, it was an important arena for social interaction, essential training for war, and a privilege and measurement of nobility. Introduction Throughout Western Europe in the Middle Ages, humans hunted wild animals. While game was at times an important source of food, it was rarely the principal source of nutrition. Hunting was[…]

Dogs and Their Collars in the Middle Ages

In Europe in the Middle Ages (476-1500 CE), dogs performed many services. Introduction Dogs have played a prominent role in the lives of humans going back thousands of years and, more than any other domesticated animal, this role has remained relatively unchanged. In the present day, dogs serve as guardians, perform tricks or tasks on[…]

Muslim-Sikh Relations in Medieval India

Peace but also conflicts that occurred between the Sikh Gurus and the Mughal rulers who were contemporaneous with the former. Introduction: Context and Commitment of the Article Prof Dalip Singh—an eminent academic authority on Sikh Studies, senior-researcher of Sikh Research and Education Center (SREC) based in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA—had written six voluminous books as well[…]

Religion in Medieval Europe

Christianity did not immediately win the hearts and minds of the people of Europe. Introduction Religion in the Middle Ages, though dominated by the Catholic Church, was far more varied than only orthodox Christianity. In the Early Middle Ages (c. 476-1000 CE), long-established pagan beliefs and practices entwined with those of the new religion so[…]