The Decline and Collapse of the Byzantine Empire

The rise of Turkish power in Anatolia eventually gave rise to the Ottoman Empire which rapidly conquered the Byzantines. Introduction The Byzantine Empire experienced several cycles of growth and decay over the course of nearly a thousand years, including major losses during the Arab conquests of the 7th century. In the 11th century the empire[…]

Colonies and Empires: From the Medieval World to the Age of Discovery

For the colonizers, it was a tremendous success. For the colonized, it was a catastrophe of epic proportions. Introduction 1492: a decisive date in the history of humanity. For some, it was a tremendous discovery; for others, it was a catastrophe. It constitutes a clear demarcation in history, because the discovery of America would call[…]

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[…]

Exploring Abrahamic Mythology since the Ancient World

In its broadest academic sense, the word “myth” simply means a traditional story. However, many restrict the term to sacred stories. Introduction Abrahamic mythology is the body of myths associated with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The term encompasses a broad variety of legends and stories, especially those considered sacred narratives. Mythological themes and elements occur[…]

Leading Figures of the Renaissance

From the 14th through the 16th centuries, Europe crackled with energy. Introduction The period in Europe known as the Renaissance began in Italy around 1300. From the 14th through the 16th centuries, Europe crackled with energy. Trade and commerce boomed. Cities grew. Artists and writers experimented with their crafts and created wonderful works of art[…]

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),[…]

Medieval Conspiracy Theories: The Lepers’ Plot of 1321

The hysteria quickly spread and local authorities used it as an excuse to attack both Jewish and leper communities. Introduction The 1321 lepers’ plot was an alleged conspiracy of French lepers to spread their disease by contaminating water supplies, including well water, with their powders and poisons.[1] According to the American historian Solomon Grayzel, lepers[…]

Tweet, Tweet: ‘Twitter’ in the Medieval World

Exploring the medieval roots of the now-obsolete meaning of the word ‘Twitter’. Does Twitter have its origins in the medieval period? Well, in a literal sense, no. As far as we are aware, no medieval ships came close to being named BoatyMcBoatFace as a result of a ‘campaign’ of parchment scraps. Medieval people did not[…]

Alberti’s Late Medieval Revolution in Painting

Alberti’s De Pictura (On Painting, 1435) was the first theoretical text written about art in Europe. Introduction In a fresco (water-based pigment applied to fresh moist plaster) high on one wall of the Sistine Chapel, the aged Saint Peter kneels as he humbly accepts the keys of heaven from Jesus Christ standing before him. These[…]

Illuminating the Carolingian Era: The Artistic Diversity of Charlemagne’s Renaissance

These luxurious manuscripts were written and illuminated between the late eighth century and the first quarter of the ninth century. Abstract Comparing information from the ancient texts about the illumination of the manuscripts to the analysis of the components used to create colour in illuminations sheds interesting light. Our research team studied several manuscripts from[…]

Election and Service of the Doge in Medieval Venice

The title “doge” was the title of the senior-most elected official of Venice and Genoa. Introduction The Doge of Venice[1], sometimes translated as Duke (compare the Italian Duca), was the chief magistrate and leader of the Republic of Venice between 726 and 1797. Doges of Venice were elected for life by the city-state’s aristocracy. The[…]

Strategy and Manipulation in Medieval Elections

Exploring voting rules and electoral procedures used in the Middle Ages in both ecclesiastical and secular contexts. Abstract When developing electoral protocols, desiderata include a system which is transparent,non-manipulable, honest, and not open to strategizing. However, these desiderata are in tension with each other: Often, transparent electoral procedures are the least strategy resistant, and many[…]

St. Anthony’s Fire: Ergotism and Its Treatment in the Medieval World

It is less well-known than the Black Death plague but was constantly present throughout the Middle Ages. Introduction St. Anthony’s Fire (SAF) is an illness brought on by the ingestion of fungus-contaminated rye grain causing ergot poisoning (ergotism). The disease’s common name derives from the medieval Benedictine monks dedicated to that saint who offered treatment to[…]

Medieval Cures for Lung Disease, Gout, and Vertigo

Old English continued to be used a century after William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings. Even after the Normans conquered England, Old English (the oldest form of the vernacular) continued to be spoken throughout the country. It continued to be used in books produced in  monasteries there for at least a century after William[…]

The Cult of the Holy Name in the Long Fifteenth Century

The meaning and significance of devotion to the Holy Name remained open, malleable, and unstable. Introduction The article discusses the Europe-wide late medieval phenomenon of the cult of the Holy Name, using it as a case study to discuss the relationship of micro-and macro-historical transformations by scrutinizing the enormous success of a religious innovation which[…]

Magical Seals in a Medieval English Book of Hours

A prayer book including ‘seals’ that offered supernatural protection. In addition to containing the daily cycle of prayer, Books of Hours sometimes include magical spells or incantations, reflecting their lay owners’ concerns over physical and spiritual dangers. Stowe MS 16, a Book of Hours produced in London shortly before 1410, is an interesting example. This[…]

The Medieval Materiality of Magic: The Ritual Lives of People and Things

Examining objects and material culture in ritual performances intended to heal, protect and transform the living and the dead. Introduction This explores the relationship between medieval magic and religion, with particular emphasis on the use of objects and material culture in rites of healing, protection and transformation. It extends the practice-based approach to consider ritual[…]

The Inquisition in the Later Medieval and Renaissance Eras

During the Late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the concept and scope of the Inquisition significantly expanded. Introduction The Inquisition, in historical ecclesiastical parlance also referred to as the “Holy Inquisition”, was a group of institutions within the Catholic Church whose aim was to combat heresy. The Inquisition started in 12th-century France to combat[…]

The First Medieval Inquisitions against the Cathars and Waldensians

The Cathars were first noted in the 1140s in Southern France, and the Waldensians around 1170 in Northern Italy. Introduction The Medieval Inquisition was a series of Inquisitions (Catholic Church bodies charged with suppressing heresy) from around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition (1184–1230s) and later the Papal Inquisition (1230s). The Medieval Inquisition was established in[…]

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[…]