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[…]

The Life and Legacy of Medieval Italian Poet Dante Alighieri

Dante’s written works are a heady mix of philosophy, politics, and literature. Introduction Dante Alighieri (1265-1321 CE) was an Italian poet and politician who is most famous for his Divine Comedy (c. 1319 CE) where Dante himself descends through Hell, climbs Purgatory, and arrives at the illumination of Paradise, meeting all sorts of historical characters along the[…]

The ‘Four Temperaments’ in Ancient and Medieval Medicine

The Greek physician Hippocrates (460–370 BCE) who developed it into a medical theory. Introduction The four temperament theory is a proto-psychological theory which suggests that there are four fundamental personality types: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.[2][3] Most formulations include the possibility of mixtures among the types where an individual’s personality types overlap and they share[…]

Oleg of Novgorod: Setting the Stage for the Rise of Medieval Kievan Rus

According to East Slavic chronicles, Oleg was supreme ruler of the Rus’ from 879 to 912. Introduction Oleg of Novgorod[1] was a Varangian prince (or konung) who ruled all or part of the Rus’ people during the late 9th and early 10th centuries. He is credited by Rus’ Chronicles with moving from either Staraya Ladoga[…]

Rurik of Rus: Varangian Rule in Early Medieval Russia

The Rurik dynasty (or Rurikids) went on to rule the Kievan Rus’, and ultimately the Tsardom of Russia, until 1598. Introduction Rurik (c. 830 – 879), according to the 12th-century Primary Chronicle, was a Varangian chieftain of the Rus’ who in the year 862 gained control of Ladoga, and built Novgorod in the same year.[…]

Biology in the Ancient and Medieval Eras

The earliest humans had and passed on knowledge about plants and animals to increase their chances of survival. Introduction The history of biology traces the study of the living world from ancient to modern times. Although the concept of biology as a single coherent field arose in the 19th century, the biological sciences emerged from[…]

How the Needs of Monks and Empire Builders Helped Mold the Modern-Day Office

The needs of the times have always influenced office space – whether for the colonial empire or a growing commerce. Introduction The coronavirus pandemic has forced most people to create an office space of their own – whether by devoting a room in our homes for work, sitting socially distanced in common areas or just[…]

Medieval Monastic Cistercian Architecture

Most Cistercian abbeys and churches were built in remote valleys far from cities and populated areas. Introduction Cistercian architecture is a style of architecture associated with the churches, monasteries and abbeys of the Roman Catholic Cistercian Order. It was headed by Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), who believed that churches should avoid superfluous ornamentation[…]

Ysengrimus, the Medieval Latin Epic of Trickster Reynard the Fox

Ysengrimus is usually held to be an allegory for the corrupt monks of the Roman Catholic Church. Introduction Ysengrimus is a Latin fabliau and mock epic, an anthropomorphic series of fables written in 1148 or 1149, possibly by the poet Nivardus. Its chief character is Isengrin the Wolf; the plot describes how the trickster figure[…]

A History of Ancient and Medieval Athens

Athens has been inhabited from Neolithic times, possibly from the end of the fourth millennium BCE, or over 5,000 years. Introduction Athens is one of the oldest named cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for perhaps 5,000 years. Situated in southern Europe, Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece in the first[…]

A History of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ Doctrine

The origins of the theory are rooted in the medieval idea that God had bestowed earthly power to the king. Introduction The Divine Right of Kings is a political and religious doctrine of royal absolutism. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will[…]

The Development of the Church in Medieval Christianity

Christianity had developed as a religious idea in Roman Palestine and slowly spread throughout the Empire. By Fr. Chad J. Stumph, D.D. Christianity transformed from a persecuted, unorganized group of believers into a hierarchical, dominating Church over the course of seven centuries, developing alongside the changing political environment of post-Roman Europe. The development of the[…]

How Pandemics Triggered Societal Shifts in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds

Societies and cultures that seem ossified and entrenched were suddenly open to conquest, innovation, and social change. Introduction Before March of this year, few probably thought disease could be a significant driver of human history. Not so anymore. People are beginning to understand that the little changes COVID-19 has already ushered in or accelerated –[…]

Monsters and Mythical Beasts: An Introduction to the Medieval Bestiary

A bestiary, or “book of beasts”, was an attempt to describe the world as it was known (or imagined) in combination with allegory. In the Middle Ages, animal stories were immensely popular throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The people of the time were, of course, dependent on wild and domestic animals for[…]

A Brief History of Law since the Ancient World

Looking at legal institutions as complex systems of rules, players and symbols interacting with society. Introduction Legal history or the history of law is the study of how law has evolved and why it has changed. Legal history is closely connected to the development of civilisations and operates in the wider context of social history.[…]

Medieval Bookbindings: From Precious Gems to Sealskin

These deluxe bindings are known as treasure bindings, because of their lavish and high-quality materials and craftsmanship. We tend to focus on the inside of the Library’s collection items, on their varied texts and remarkable illustrations. But the physical outside of a manuscript can be just as intriguing. Most medieval and early modern manuscripts no[…]

The Social and Legal Status of Women in the Middle Ages

The very concept of “woman” changed in a number of ways during the Middle Ages. Introduction Women in the Middle Ages occupied a number of different social roles. During the Middle Ages, a period of European history lasting from around the 5th century to the 15th century, society was patriarchal and this type of patriarchal[…]

Bologna as the Law School Model in Medieval Europe

Bologna remained a preeminent center for legal study and training for many centuries. Introduction The origins of modern universities can be traced to the 11th century, when the formal teaching of Roman law began at Bologna, Italy. The city became the center of a great revival of legal scholarship rooted in the study of the[…]

The Imperial Diet at Regensburg during the Holy Roman Empire

All Imperial Estates enjoyed immediacy and, therefore, they had no authority above them besides the Holy Roman Emperor himself. Introduction The Imperial Diet was the deliberative body of the Holy Roman Empire. It was not a legislative body in the contemporary sense; its members envisioned it more like a central forum where it was more[…]

Sequestration: The Long Consequences of Stealing a Medieval Papal Election

During the sede vacante in 1241, Frederick II blocked the arrival of some cardinal electors known to be hostile to his interests. Introduction The 1241 papal election (21 September to 25 October)[1] saw the election of Cardinal Goffredo da Castiglione as Pope Celestine IV. The election took place during the first of many protracted sede[…]

Witch Trial Hysteria in the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds

Natural events and pandemics contributed to the hysteria surrounding the witch trials of the 16th through 18th centuries. Introduction The witch trials in the early modern period were a series of witch hunts between the 15th and 18th centuries, when across early modern Europe, and to some extent in the European colonies in North America,[…]

A History of the Anti-Semitic ‘Blood Libel’ Hoax since the Middle Ages

This hoax has resulted in the arrest and killing of Jews throughout history. Introduction Blood libel or ritual murder libel (also blood accusation) is an antisemitic canard which accuses Jews of murdering Christian children in order to use their blood as part of religious rituals. Historically, these claims—alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration—have[…]

‘The Blue Sickness’: Impacts and Consequences of the Medieval ‘Black Death’

Medieval people called it “the blue sickness”, “La pest” (the pestilence), and “the Great Mortality”. NOTE: Hover mouse over highlighted text for further information. Introduction Beginning in 1347 and continuing for a full five years, a devastating plague swept Europe, leaving in its wake more than twenty million people dead. This epidemic now known as[…]

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[…]

A Brief Historical Overview of Death Masks since the Ancient World

Not until the 1800s did such masks become valued for themselves. Introduction A death mask is a likeness (typically in wax or plaster cast) of a person’s face after their death, usually made by taking a cast or impression from the corpse. Death masks may be mementos of the dead, or be used for creation[…]

The Medieval Livonian Confederation and War

The Confederation was an imposition from the outside onto the Baltic people. Introduction The Livonian Confederation was a loosely organized confederation in present day Estonia and Latvia ruled by the Order of Teutonic Knights of Livonia which existed from 1228 to the 1560s. It contained five small states: The Livonian Order, Archbishopric of Riga, Bishopric[…]

The Little-Known Role of Slavery in Medieval Viking Society

The institution of slavery had long antecedents in Scandinavia, probably going back thousands of years before the time of the Vikings. One of the most enduring components of the Viking image is the notion of freedom—the adventure of a far horizon and all that went with it. But for many, this was an unattainable hope.[…]

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[…]

Horse Armor in Europe from Antiquity to the Early Modern Era

What is probably the first man-made armor for any animal appeared as early as 2600–2500 BCE. Introduction Mankind has used animals such as onagers (wild donkeys), horses, camels, elephants, and dogs in conflicts for thousands of years, but no other animal has been employed so widely and continuously and was at times so comprehensively protected[…]