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[…]

Labor Organizations in Ancient and Medieval Times

The interests of labor or how the lower orders earned their living or conducted their affairs was never well recorded. By Carroll D. Wright, J.D.United States Commissioner of Labor, 1885-1905 NOTE: This article, now in the public domain, was written by Mr. Wright in 1905 and the terminology reflects the time and usage in that[…]

A History of Heresy in Ancient and Medieval Christianity

The study of heresy requires an understanding of the development of orthodoxy and the role of creeds in the definition of orthodox beliefs. Introduction, Etymology, Definition Heresy in Christianity denotes the formal denial or doubt of a core doctrine of the Christian faith[1] as defined by one or more of the Christian churches.[2] In Western[…]

Medieval Science and Mathematics

Examining early medieval approaches to various types of knowledge we might consider today to be ‘scientific’ and early universities. Introduction The idea of science in the early Middle Ages is a broad one that encompasses many subjects. To understand this, we should think of the root of the word ‘science’, which comes from the Latin[…]

European Science in the Middle Ages

Roman and early medieval scientific texts were read and studied, contributing to the understanding of nature in the light of reason. Introduction European science in the Middle Ages comprised the study of nature, mathematics and natural philosophy in medieval Europe. Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the decline in knowledge of Greek,[…]

Till Eulenspiegel: Traveling Trickster of Medieval German Literature

There is a suggestion that the name is in fact a veiled pun on a Low German phrase translating to “wipe-arse”. Introduction Till Eulenspiegel is the protagonist of a German chapbook published in 1515 (a first edition of c. 1510/12 is preserved fragmentarily) with a possible background in earlier Middle Low German folklore. Eulenspiegel is[…]

An Introduction to Medieval Safavid Art and Architecture

Safavid art and architecture reflected the adoption of a Shi’a identity. Introduction to the Safavid Dynasty: Rise and Empire Brilliantly painted manuscripts. Exquisitely detailed miniatures. Fine silks. Complex, ornate palaces. The art of the Safavids is simply magnificent. The Safavids were a dynastic family that ruled over modern-day Iran. They sustained one of the longest[…]

The Fall of Constantinople in 1453

Constantinople had withstood many sieges and attacks over the centuries. Introduction The city of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) was founded by Roman emperor Constantine I in 324 CE and it acted as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine Empire as it has later become known, for well over 1,000 years. Although the city[…]

Legends, Folklore, Magic, and the Common People of Early Modern Europe

The people of early modern Europe sought to use magic to manipulate the world around them. By Ian TempleHistorian The sensationalism of the witch hunts dominates much of what one considers when exploring issues of magic during the early modern period, but the witchcraft trials was not the only area in which magic played a[…]

Medieval Legends and Folklore

The word “folklore” was coined in 1846 CE by the British writer William John Thoms to replace the more awkward phrase “popular antiquities”. Introduction Medieval folklore is a body of work, originally transmitted orally, which was composed between the 5th and 15th centuries CE in Europe. Although folktales are a common attribute of every civilization,[…]

An Introduction to Medieval Europe

Characterizing the Middle Ages as a period of darkness is misleading. Introduction So much of what the average person knows, or thinks they know, about the Middle Ages comes from film and tv. When I polled a group of well-educated friends on Facebook, they told me that the word “medieval” called to mind Monty Python[…]

Æthelstan: First Medieval Ruler of a United English Kingdom

Æthelstan was the first ruler of the whole kingdom of England. Æthelstan was the grandson of King Alfred of Wessex  (reigned 871–899) and the son of King Edward the Elder (reigned 899–924). Nothing is certain about his mother, but Continental and later writers suggest she was of lower social status. At some point, Æthelstan was[…]

Tournaments, Weapons, and Armor in Medieval Jousting

Jousting fell out of fashion by the end of the Middle Ages, but there were occasional revivals up to the 19th century. Introduction Jousts were, from the 13th to 16th century CE, a popular part of the European medieval tournament where knights showed off their martial skills by riding against one another with wooden lances[…]

A Page from the Sahib Din’s Mewar ‘Ramayana’ in the Seventeenth Century

By the time of Din’s work in 1650, the Ramayana had grown to twenty-four thousand verses that were organized into seven thematic books. By Dr. Arathi MenonHistorian of Art and Architecture What’s In a Story? In its simplest form, a story has a beginning, an end, and events that unfold in between. It has a[…]

‘Il Divino’: Who Was Renaissance Artist Michelangelo?

He was mythologized by followers, emulated by artists, celebrated by humanists, and patronized by a total of nine popes. Introduction Michelangelo Buonarotti—the Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, and poet—was called “Il Divino” (The Divine One) by his contemporaries because they perceived his artworks to be otherworldly. His art was in high demand, and thought to[…]

Copies and Fakes in Art during the Renaissance

It was perhaps inevitable that the distinction between original and copy became blurred in the Renaissance art world. Introduction The Renaissance period witnessed a great renewed interest in the art of antiquity. There was an appreciation of the technical skill required to produce such objects as a Roman marble figure of Venus and an admiration for[…]

Color and Technique in Renaissance Painting

These expensive commodities were one of the major assets of a workshop. Introduction There were three principal painting techniques during the Renaissance: fresco, tempera, and oils. In all of these techniques, colour was an important part of the painter’s armoury, allowing them to create images that would strike a chord of recognition and pull a gasp of awe[…]

Life in a Renaissance Artist’s Workshop

They were places where ideas were experimented with and where new trends could be studied, discussed, and employed. Introduction The majority of great Renaissance works of art were produced in large and busy workshops run by a successful master artist and his team of assistants and apprentices. Here, too, more mundane art was produced in[…]

The Printing Revolution in Renaissance Europe

Ideas were transmitted across Europe as scholars published their own works, commentaries on ancient texts, and criticism of each other. Introduction The arrival in Europe of the printing press with moveable metal type in the 1450s CE was an event which had enormous and long-lasting consequences. The German printer Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1398-1468 CE) is[…]

Restoring Ancient Sculpture in Baroque Rome

Not every artist in Renaissance and Baroque Rome had access to ancient Greek and Roman statues. Early Modern Fascination with the “Antique” In this late 16th-century drawing by Federico Zuccaro, we see the artist’s older brother, Taddeo, surrounded by Greek and Roman sculptures in the Vatican’s Belvedere courtyard in Rome. Taddeo is seated on a[…]

Musical Imagery in the Global Middle Ages

Texts and images produced throughout the medieval world reveal that harp music could elicit powerful responses. Infernal Noise In the Hell panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights triptych, an anthropomorphic, fully clothed hare blows a hunting horn, the hunted aping the hunter. A naked man, penetrated by a recorder, carries an oversized shawm[…]

Redeeming Classical Antiquity in the Middle Ages

The culture of antiquity played an important role in the literary and artistic endeavors of the Middle Ages. By the Department of Medieval Art and The CloistersMetropolitan Museum of Art Introduction The classical heritage flourished throughout the Middle Ages in both the Byzantine Greek East and the Latin West. The Byzantines, who called themselves Rhomaioi,[…]

Saints in Medieval Christian Art

The powers of saints were believed to extend to their images. By Dr. Wendy A. SteinResearch AssociateDepartment of Medieval Art and The CloistersMetropolitan Museum of Art Since early Christian times, hundreds of men and women have been revered in the Church and identified as saints. Their lives were held up as models of exemplary behavior,[…]

Hieronymous: Saint Jerome and the Lion

The Golden Legend often blends traditional stories about the saints with historical facts, as seen in the account of St. Jerome’s life. Everyone loves a picture of a medieval lion. The Twitter hashtag #notalion celebrates how amusingly unrealistic they often look, frequently resembling cuddly housecats more than the king of beasts. In medieval manuscripts, lions[…]

Pilgrimage by Proxy: A Medieval Guidebook for Pilgrims to the Holy Land

The text is a detailed account of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Mount Sinai, originally written by the Franciscan friar Niccolò da Poggibonsi. A recent addition to our digitised collections [at the British Library] is a unique 15th-century guidebook for pilgrims to the Holy Land. Almost like a late medieval Lonely Planet guide for a[…]

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.[…]