Illuminating the Natural World in Medieval Manuscripts

Throughout the history of the book, scribes and artists have incorporated nature into their creations. Flowers are blooming in Los Angeles, and although we are spending much more time at home than usual, many of us are finding opportunities to be outside in nature at a safe distance from others. As manuscript curators, we have[…]

Medieval Tournaments: Knights, Aristocracy, and Nationhood

Family arms and honor were put on the line, ladies were wooed, and even national pride was at stake. Introduction The medieval tournament was a forum for European knights where they could practise and show off their military skills in activities such as jousting or the mêlée, indulge in a bit of pageantry, display their[…]

A Medieval Guide to Predicting Your Future

Perhaps those fortune-telling games have been circulating for much longer than we think! How can you predict the future, interpret your dreams, and protect yourself against harm? Some of the manuscripts digitised for The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project have the answer. Many medieval manuscripts include charms, which seek to influence events through the[…]

The Invention of Satanic Witchcraft by Medieval Christian Authorities

The idea of organized satanic witchcraft was invented in Europe by church authorities, who at first were met with skepticism. Introduction On a midsummer day in 1438, a young man from the north shore of Lake Geneva presented himself to the local church inquisitor. He had a confession to make. Five years earlier, his father[…]

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

Some bestiary descriptions explained a creature’s Christian significance while others focused on physical characteristics. 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[…]

Christianity and Globalization in the Year 1000

Their mission was not only to convert people but especially kings and rulers, thereby making the people more amenable. In the year 1000 CE, complex trade networks were taking shape, stimulating unprecedented cultural interactions. The Vikings reached the shores of North America, trade routes connected China with Europe and Africa, and in the Americas, cities[…]

The Growth and Spread of Christianity in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds

The Edict of Milan made the Roman Empire officially neutral with regard to religious worship – and then it flipped into forced conversion. Introduction Persecution of Christians Members of the Early Christian movement often became political targets and scapegoats for the social ills and political tensions of specific rulers and turbulent periods during the first[…]

Medieval Jewish Medicine

Jewish practitioners participated in the exchange of knowledge between Christian and Muslim writers and practitioners. The Book of Remedies, the earliest medical text written in Hebrew, to Asaph the Jew, dates to the seventh or eighth century.[1] The text comprises four parts; a story of the transmission of medicine from God to mankind, a medical[…]

Francis Drake’s Circumnavigation of the Globe, 1577-1580

Drake was on an official mission to find a trade route – and a secret mission from Queen Elizabeth to plunder and attack the Spanish. Introduction The English mariner, privateer, and explorer Francis Drake (c. 1540-1596 CE) made his circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580 CE. Only the second man to achieve this feat[…]

Education, Religion, Art, and Geography during the European Renaissance

Looking at developments that shaped culture during the period. Introduction Few historical concepts have such powerful resonance as the Renaissance. Usually used to describe the rediscovery of classical Roman and Greek culture in the late 1300s and 1400s and the great pan-European flowering in art, architecture, literature, science, music, philosophy and politics that this inspired,[…]

Charlemagne’s Educational, Economic, Religious, and Political Reforms

Charlemagne took a serious interest in scholarship, promoting the liberal arts at the court, and encouraging education. Introduction – The Carolingian Renaissance As emperor, Charlemagne stood out for his many reforms—monetary, governmental, military, cultural, and ecclesiastical. He was the main initiator and proponent of the “Carolingian Renaissance,” the first of three medieval renaissances. It was[…]

Speaking of Trotula: A Woman in Medieval Medicine

Medicine had become highly professionalized by the late Middle Ages and was patriarchal, but women like Trotula persisted. Many students of the Middle Ages now know that ‘Trotula’ is the title of a compendium of three texts on women’s medicine composed in southern Italy in the 12th century, not a woman’s name. What they may[…]

What Archaeology Can Tell Us about Medieval Medical Care

They had sophisticated medical treatments at their fingertips – from preventative hygiene to prosthetics. Introduction The conventional view of medical historians is that curative treatment in medieval infirmaries was based primarily around prayer and a nourishing diet. But a new archaeological study reveals that more active therapeutic technologies were used in medieval monastic healing. In[…]

Petrarch’s Plague: Love, Death, and Friendship in a Medieval Time of Pandemic

How he chronicled, commemorated, and mourned his many loved ones who succumbed. This article, Petrarch’s Plague: Love, Death, and Friendship in a Time of Pandemic, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ The Italian poet and scholar Francesco Petrarch lived through[…]

Knights Hospitaller: Medieval Catholic Military Order

They were founded in 1113 CE with the full name of ‘Knights of the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem’. Introduction After their base was relocated to Rhodes in the early 14th century CE, the order’s members of the Knights Hospitaller were often called the Knights of Rhodes and when they moved[…]

Guilds: Skilled Privilege in the Middle Ages

Introduction A guild is an association of artisans or merchants who oversee the practice of their craft/trade in a particular area. The earliest types of guild formed as confraternities of tradesmen, normally operating in a single city and covering a single trade. They were organized in a manner something between a professional association, a trade[…]

Guilds from the Ancient to Medieval Worlds

Guilds secured the monopoly and the commerce of the cities, controlling the various activities and selling all kinds of goods. Already in the Roman era, associations of people practicing the same trade are attested: in the first century, they actively participated in the political life of the city (as shown by the electoral graffiti of[…]

Healing with Animals in the Medieval and Early Modern Levant

Since ancient times animals have been the source of medicinal substances used in various cultures. Abstract Animals and products derived from different organs of their bodies have constituted part of the inventory of medicinal substances used in various cultures since ancient times. The article reviews the history of healing with animals in the Levant (The[…]

‘Eirik’s Saga’ and the Beginning of Globalization in the Early Middle Ages

The allure of novel goods was so strong that it triggered 1,000 years of trade and interactions among people from different places. Introduction Viking ships touched down on the Canadian island of Newfoundland around the year 1000, at what is now the archaeological site known as L’Anse aux Meadows. For the first time, the two[…]

Isidore’s ‘Etymologiae’: Transforming Knowledge in the Early Medieval Era

The Etymologiae was copied so often by scribes and transmitted so widely that it was second only to the Bible in terms of popularity. Introduction The Etymologiae (Etymologies) is a Latin work by Isidore of Seville (l. c. 560 – 636 CE), compiled in the early 7th century CE and published in its final form shortly[…]

Jan Baptist Van Helmont: Toxicology in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Van Helmont was an heir of Paracelsus’s thought and movement who went to lengths in later years to distinguish himself. Introduction This article discusses Jan Baptist Van Helmont’s (1579-1644) views on poison in light of his medical alchemy. First, it argues that his approach was fundamentally influenced by the theories of ‘universal poison’ and ‘potent[…]

Saladin’s Conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 CE

The pulverizing defeat at Hattin had left most of the Crusader strongholds without enough soldiers to defend them. Introduction and Prelude Jerusalem, a holy city for the adherents of all three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) was conquered by the armies of the First Crusade in 1099 CE. The Muslims failed to halt their[…]

The Arabic Ridda Wars of Apostasy, 632-633 CE

The rebellious Arabian tribes declared that their pact with Muhammad was personal and that they felt no obligation to serve the new empire. Introduction The Ridda Wars or the Wars of Apostasy (632-633 CE) were a series of military engagements between the armies of the Rashidun Caliphate (632-661 CE) and the renegade tribes of Arabia.[…]

The Post-Plague English Peasant Revolt of 1381

With the plague decimating the ranks of laborers, surviving workers rebelled against the crown’s higher taxes and restrictive labor laws. Introduction As a professor of medieval Europe, I’ve taught the bubonic plague, and how it contributed to the English Peasant Revolt of 1381. When a deadly disease started to spread, the most vulnerable and powerless[…]

On the Trail of King John before (and after) the Signing of the Magna Carta

Plotting John’s route for all 17 years of his reign to produce digital maps of his progress as he struggled to maintain his grip. John was the most peripatetic of all English monarchs. His 17 years on the throne are often described as a reign of crisis.  In 1214 John lost his lands in France,[…]

The Elizabethan Religious Settlement in Late Medieval England

Many features of the Settlement remained in place and their effects can still be seen on today’s Anglican Church. Introduction The Elizabethan Religious Settlement was a collection of laws and decisions concerning religious practices introduced between 1558-63 CE by Elizabeth I of England (r. 1558-1603 CE). The settlement continued the English Reformation which had begun[…]

Healing and Veneration: Relics and Reliquaries in Medieval Christianity

Medieval reliquaries have been subject to widespread destruction during times of religious and political strife. Relics Christian belief in the power of relics, the physical remains of a holy site or holy person, or objects with which they had contact, is as old as the faith itself and developed alongside it. Relics were more than[…]