Monday, August 30, 2010

Medieval England to be featured in two BBC shows

Television viewers in the United Kingdom will have the chance to watch two new history programmes that feature medieval England. The BBC will start airing a new six-part series, Churches: How to Read Them, on September 1st on BBC Four. Presented by author Richard Taylor, it will examine how imagery, symbols and architecture of English parish churches have inspired, moved and enraged people down the centuries.

Churches: How to Read Them is about understanding just what we see in a British church – how the different styles of churches throughout the country reflect changing ideas of God, salvation, living and dying. Visiting some of England’s finest parish churches, Richard’s journey will be full of stories and contemporary accounts, touched with his insight, humour and sense of wonder at what he sees and interprets.

Click here to read the article from

Archaeology: Not As Dry And Dusty As You Think

Real archaeologists are nothing like Indiana Jones, but that doesn't mean the job isn't dangerous or dramatic.

Author Craig Childs' new book, Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession, reads almost like a thriller, chock-full of vendettas, suicides and large-scale criminal enterprises dedicated to the multimillion-dollar trade in antiquities.

Childs tells NPR's Audie Cornish that emotions run high in the world of antiquities. "There's such an attachment to what is the right and wrong thing to do with these objects," he says. "What is legal? What is illegal? It really rises to the surface to where I know some archaeologists who want pot hunters dead, and I know pot hunters who want archaeologists dead." His book follows several families of pot hunters who ran afoul of the government after digging up relics on public land.

Read and listen to this story from National Public Radio

Cemeteries and Altars from 1st and 4th Centuries Found near Mar Taqla Site in Syria

The national archeological mission working near the site of Mar Taqla (St. Thecla) in Ein Mnin in Damascus Countryside Province, discovered a number of rock-carved halls and some Roman and Byzantine cemeteries dating back to the period between the 1st and 4th centuries.

Head of the mission and Director of Archeology Department of Damascus Countryside Mahmoud Hammoud told SANA that one of the halls was found to include three altars at which religious rituals of a nearby temple were held.

Click here to read this article from the Syrian Arab News Agency

Medieval pathways are tracked down on Purbeck heath

An exciting discovery of an enormous system of ancient tracks trodden by medieval man has been made on a Purbeck heath. Trackways probably in use between the 13th and 18th centuries have come to light on the RSPB’s Stoborough Heath and they cover an area almost a mile long.

Created over decades by carts, sledges or stage coaches crossing sloping country in wet weather, the churned mud is eventually washed away, creating a sunken lane, also known as a holloway. These ancient pathways, which survived near the Blue Pool at Furzebrook because the heathland was not ploughed, have been unearthed by modern technology.

Retired former director of Poole council’s museums archaeological unit, Keith Jarvis, with assistance from Alan Hawkins from East Dorset Antiquarian Society, uncovered the paths using GoogleEarth and Dorset County Council photos while space-based GPS provided accurate positioning.

Click here to read the article from the Daily Echo

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Society for the Public Understanding of the Middle Ages

Interest in the Middle Ages seems to be stronger than ever – movies like Kingdom of Heaven and novels such as Pillars of the Earth draw millions of fans, while medieval festivals and museums featuring artifacts from the Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and other medieval societies get tens of thousands of visitors. Scholars have in recent years been examining this interest in all things medieval, and earlier this year an organization was formed to bring them together.

The Society for the Public Understanding of the Middle Ages was founded this spring during the International Congress on Medieval Studies. The society aims to focus on how the general public views the Middle Ages through various media, an to interact with authors, filmakers, festival organizers, etc, who help shape the image of medieval society in the contemporary world.

Click here to read this article from

Long-awaited excavations start at Yoros castle in Istanbul

Turkey's Council of Ministers has finally given permission for long-awaited excavations at Yoros castle, located in Anadolu Kavağı on Istanbul’s Asian side. An expert team from Istanbul University has started excavations under the leadership of Byzantium art history expert Professor Asnu Bilban Yalçın.

But a few days before the excavations started, a sad event happened: A huge Byzantium emblem on the outer façade of the castle was removed and stolen. Yalçın said that she was very sorry about the theft.

She said that the area surrounding the castle currently served as a picnic area and its inside was used as a toilet, adding that they had been forced to do detailed cleaning work before the excavations. Yalçın said that Turkish tourists sometimes reacted negatively to the excavation team. “They are not even aware of the historic importance of this place. They tell us that we’ve occupied their picnic area,” she added.

Click here to read the article from the Hurriyet Daily News

Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle takes place this weekend

The Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle, which is taking place this weekend in the English county of East Sussex, is expected to draw its biggest-ever attendance this year. Last year over 30,000 visitors flocked through the gates at the three-day Festival, already the largest of its kind in Northern Europe.

This year, the Festival has been enlarged and expanded and includes more performers, artists and attractions than ever before. The unique mix of entertainment and hospitality is set for a record number of visitors joining in the medieval fun.

Click here to read the full article on

Friday, August 27, 2010

Archeologists Find Gateway to the Viking Empire

For a century, archeologists have been looking for a gate through a wall built by the Vikings in northern Europe. This summer, it was found. Researchers now believe the extensive barrier was built to protect an important trading route.

Their attacks out of nowhere in rapid longboats have led many to call Vikings the inventors of the Blitzkrieg. "Like wild hornets," reads an ancient description, the Vikings would plunder monasteries and entire cities from Ireland to Spain. The fact that the Vikings, who have since found their place as droll comic book characters, were also avid masons is slightly less well known.

The proof can be seen in northern Germany, not far from the North Sea-Baltic Canal. There, one can marvel at a giant, 30-kilometer (19-mile) wall which runs through the entire state of Schleswig-Holstein. The massive construction, called the Danevirke -- "work of the Danes" -- is considered the largest earthwork in northern Europe.

Archeologists have now taken a closer look at part of the construction -- a three-meter-thick (10 feet) wall from the 8th century near Hedeby (known as Haithabu in German). It is constructed entirely out of stones collected from the surrounding region. Some of them are only as big as a fist, while others weigh as much as 100 kilograms (220 pounds). "The Vikings collected millions of rocks," says archeologist Astrid Tummuscheit, who works for the state archeology office of Schleswig-Holstein.

Click here to read this article from Der Spiegel

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts on display at The Met

Two important medieval Hebrew manuscripts—a Mishneh Torah made between 1300 and 1400 in Germany and an illuminated leaf from a prayer book made in Austria around 1360—are on display in New York City at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters, respectively, in conjunction with the Jewish High Holy Days this fall. The Cloisters is the Metropolitan’s branch museum dedicated to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. The High Holy Days are ten days of penitence and prayer that commence with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and end with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the most solemn day of the Jewish year. This year, the High Holy Days begin the evening of September 8.

Click here to read the article from

Crying out for medieval times

I've done a lot of odd things as a journalist. Stripped naked for a charity Dip in the Nip swim for a cancer fundraiser. Abseiled down a waterfall in Scotland when a press trip went wrong because it was the only way to get out of where we were. Visited a fortune teller. Slept in a monastery. Had my handwriting analysed.

I’ve interviewed people on streets, in fields, in caravans, in offices, convents, schools, in prisons, funeral parlours and theatres, on beaches, in the pouring rain, on rooftops (Bangladesh), under mango trees (Malawi), in temples (Cambodia), at midnight, at dawn and once when I was half-asleep, at 4am in an all-night supermarket.

But when I think about it, in all my esoteric assignments to date, I’ve never interviewed anyone in a castle before. Or slept in one. Until now, that is. For the next few days, my home will literally be my castle. I’ll be living with seven other people in Taaffe’s Castle in Carlingford, Co Louth.

Click here to read the article in the Irish Times

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gardens of entire Leicestershire village dug up for BBC Four archaeology series

The dig took place in Kibworth, just off the A6. It even involved taking up the tarmac of the car park at the local pub, the Coach and Horses, so that the earth below could be excavated. The results will be seen in a new series on BBC Four this autumn, Story of England, presented by the historian Michael Wood.

“I’m hoping you’ll get this impression of the fabulous richness of the history at the roots of ordinary people,” said Wood. “The farmers, the traders, the railways navvies, the canal engineers, the sort of people who made our history not at the level of kings and queens.”

Finds from the dig included Samian pottery from Roman times, prehistoric flint blades and part of an Anglo-Saxon bone comb, as well as 1,200-year-old Middle Saxon pottery.

Click here to read this article from the Daily Telegraph

Visiting a medieval monastery in Armenia

The medieval monastery of Geghard in Armenia's Kotayk province appears almost camouflaged, being partially carved out of the adjacent mountain, surrounded by cliffs. Geghard was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 and although the monastery has been in place since before the 4th century, the main cathedral was built in 1215.

It takes the eyes a moment to adapt to the darkness of the cathedral's interior, which is lit up by a stream of light from a hole in the cupola above. Visitors strike matches on the grey walls, some of which are part of the cliff face, to light beeswax candles but even they fail to illuminate this dark space which is devoid of relics, statues, benches or pictures.

Click here to read the article from the Earth Times

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

24 August 410: the date it all went wrong for Rome?

Tuesday marks the 1,600th anniversary of one of the turning points of European history - the first sack of Imperial Rome by an army of Visigoths, northern European barbarian tribesmen, led by a general called Alaric.

It was the first time in 800 years that Rome had been successfully invaded. The event had reverberations around the Mediterranean.

Jerome, an early Christian Church Father, in a letter to a friend from Bethlehem - where he happened to be living - wrote that he burst into tears upon hearing the news.

"My voice sticks in my throat, and, as I dictate, sobs choke me. The city which had taken the whole world was itself taken," he said.

Click here to read this article from BBC News

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cao Cao's tomb: Experts reveal that findings and artifacts are fake

Artificial planning and fake artifacts were part of the discovery and excavation of a supposed ancient tomb claiming to belong to Cao Cao, a warlord in the Three Kingdoms period (220-280), a group of experts and scholars announced over the weekend.

The discovery and excavation of the tomb was listed as a Top Ten Archaeology Achievement in 2009 by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

A total of 23 experts and scholars from across the country presented evidence at the National High-Level Forum on Culture of the Three Kingdoms Period held in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, to prove that the tomb was a fake.

Click here to read this article from Global Times

Preparations begin for the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies

Calls for papers and preparations are now underway in advance of the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies, which will be held at Western Michigan University from May 12-15, 2011. This annual gathering of medievalists is one of the largest academic conferences in the world, drawing in over three thousand participants.

Over 600 sessions have been proposed, covering a wide number of topics from history, literature, art, and more. The various sessions are broadly organized into two groups: sponsored Sessions, which are organized by societies, associations, and institutions, such as De Re Militari: The Society for Medieval Military History, or the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, St. Louis University; and special Sessions are organized by individual scholars and ad hoc groups. The organizers set predetermined topics, which are often narrowly focused.

Click here to read this article on 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Medieval-Studies Group Divided Over Whether to Hold Meeting in Arizona

A national organization devoted to medieval studies is facing a backlash from some of its members over its decision to go ahead with a conference next April in Arizona, where a controversial immigration law enacted this year has drawn sharp criticism from many academics.

Some members of the Medieval Academy of America wrote an open letter this month to the organization assailing its decision to keep the conference in Tempe, Ariz., despite previous complaints in May. The group that wrote the latest letter includes leaders of a scholarly organization called "Monsters" for short, for people who conduct research on examples of monstrosity in past and present societies.

Click here to read the article from The Chronicle of Higher Education

Scientists develop new methods to discover maritime archaeology

By combining meteorology and archaeology, Norwegian scientists may discover old sea routes and mooring sites, and boost our knowledge of maritime culture dating from the ancient period to the end of the Middle Ages.

“Archaeology has a long-standing tradition in protecting areas on land. But unfortunately, there is little attention to cultural monuments at the sea-shore and under water,” says meteorologist Marianne Nitter at the University of Stavanger’s Museum of Archaeology.

“These may include mooring and landing sites, jetties, boat-houses, standing stones and house remains – objects which can inform us about prehistoric maritime culture and our ancestors’ mobility and travelling routes,” she adds.

Click here to read this article on

Friday, August 20, 2010

245 Archeological Coins Confiscated in Hama

Customs police in Hama, Syria on Thursday confiscated 245 archeological coins dating back to different historical periods.

The coins include 97 copper pieces from the Roman and Byzantine eras, 47 silver coins from the Islamic period, 95 Greek silver coins and 72 pieces with the head of Alexander the Great featured on one of their two faces.

Head of the Customs Police Mahmoud Sarem told the Syrian Arab News Agency that they received information about a car roaming the region suspectedly trying to sell archeological coins, and that after chasing the car for several days they arrested it and the two men inside it.

The coins found in the car were proved to have been of a great archeological importance in terms of their historical value and the variety and uniqueness of their models.

Click here to read the article from the Syrian Arab News Agency

Medieval Clock in Wells Cathedral goes electric

Since 1392 a clock has been chiming and turning in Wells Cathedral in the English county of Somerset. But the world’s oldest continually-working mechanical clock is now going to be electrically powered as its current caretaker announces his retirement.

It is believed the clock was built in the 1380s, but the first reference to it comes from 1392-93 when ten shillings was paid to its keeper by the cathedral. The clock features figures of two knights and two Saracens who go around in a circle fighting each other every 15 minutes. It also has a 24-hour dial, which shows both the time and the phases of the moon.

Click here to read this article on

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Archaeologists discover Byzantine monastic complex in Istanbul

The Küçükyalı Arkeopark, a large archaeological area on the Asian side of Istanbul, hosts the only surviving Byzantine monastic complex in the city, the head of the excavation team says. The 9th-century complex contains gorgeous marble floors, valuable mosaics and beautiful art objects that she hopes to see in a museum someday.

The only surviving Byzantine monastic complex from 9th-century Constantinople has been uncovered in the Küçükyalı Arkeopark, located on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, the Italian head of the excavation team said Thursday.

“People started out thinking this was a 9th-century Islamic place. When I started doing research here, it became clear that this identification had no good grounding,” said team leader Alessandra Ricci, who noted that some travelers’ accounts dating from the early 19th century mentioned the existence of a Byzantine monastery in the area.

The rich monastic complex, built between 867 and 877, encompasses the church and burial place of Patriarch Ignatios, a prominent figure in Byzantine history who is depicted in the mosaics inside Hagia Sophia.

“There is nothing from the Ottoman period here, not even a piece of pottery. Underneath the modern layers, we’re going directly to Byzantium,” Ricci said, adding that the discovery is a wonderful opportunity for her since she has a great passion for the Byzantine period and it is very rare to find wall paintings from that era in Istanbul.We found beautifully decorated marble floors, golden mosaics, wonderful coins and beautiful art objects that deserve to be displayed in a museum.”

Click here to read the article from Hürriyet Daily News

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Medieval Projects earn grants from NEH

Two medieval projects have been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). One project will develop an interactive jousting computer game for a museum, while the other will create a seminar for high school and college teachers about Islamic civilization in Iberia during the Middle Ages.

Over $31.5 million in grants for 201 humanities projects were announced by the NEH last week. This funding will support a wide variety of projects, including the production and development of radio and television programs, digital scholarly resources, professional development for teachers and college faculty, and the development and staging of museum and library exhibitions.

Click here to read this article on

Thousands gather to watch the Palio in Siena

Tens of thousands of spectators have gathered in the Tuscan city of Siena on Monday to watch the medieval summer horse race - the Palio - in which horsemen tear bare-back round the city's historic centre.

The race is the culmination of several days of joyful, yet fierce competition between Siena's 17 neighbourhoods.

The tension rises as neighbourhood representatives enter the main square - the Piazza del Campo - dressed in magnificent medieval garb.

Click here to read this article from ITN

Monday, August 16, 2010

Archaeologists find Ancient and Byzantine remains on Cyprus

The results of several archaeological projects on Cyprus have been announced in recent days, which have revealed new details about an ancient merchant ship, a Hellenistic dance floor, and several communities which thrived during ancient and Byzantine times.

In what was the first underwater archaeological project which is conducted solely by Cypriot organizations, archaeologists examined the remains of an ancient shipwreck discovered off the southeast coast near the village of Mazotos. The Mazotos ship, a merchant vessel which dates from the mid 4th century B.C was found in 2007 at a depth of 45 meters.

Click here to read this article from History of the Ancient World

Cleveland Museum of Art unveils two exhibits on medieval art this fall

This fall, the Cleveland Museum of Art will premiere a groundbreaking exhibition examining the role of relics and reliquaries in the development of Christianity and the visual arts. Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe is the first major exhibition in the United States to consider the history of relics and reliquaries and will feature more than 150 works of art from Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages and early modern Europe. The exhibition runs at CMA from Oct. 17, 2010, to Jan. 17, 2011, before traveling to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and the British Museum in London.

The museum will also be showing The Glory of the Painted Page, from November 6, 2010 to February 27, 2011, which will offer medieval manuscript illuminations from its permanent collection.

Click here to read this article on

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sailor of Fortune: Michael of Rhodes

A few months ago, I developed a big-time crush on a sailor. We’re very different, he and I. Language, an ocean, spouses, and six centuries separate us.

His name is Michalli da Ruodo, or Michael of Rhodes. He sailed for Venice in the days when her merchants controlled a commercial empire envied from London to Constantinople. My mind’s eye has conjured a man who looks like Federico Castelluccio, complete with the ponytail and sideburns he sported in The Sopranos, and I imagine he behaves like Russell Crowe’s Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

After reading Michael’s service record, I’ve decided that he’s brave, strong, and loyal. He’s definitely clever and ambitious. He wrote a book about mathematics and shipbuilding, no subjects for slouches. And his wit is mordant. Mind you, my only evidence for Michael’s sense of humor is an amateurish coat of arms he drew in his book. It shows two crowned turnips flanking a rat holding a bloodied cat. Now, I wonder, does the rat represent him, and is the cat a stand-in for the Venetians he served, possibly with resentment?

I met my centuries-old flame in The Book of Michael of Rhodes: A Fifteenth-Century Maritime Manuscript, a three-volume work released recently by MIT Press. It is the culmination of work begun in 2002 when Michael’s manuscript, which is privately held, was made available for study to the now dissolved Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology. MIT has meticulously recreated Michael’s manuscript in one volume; the second and third volumes include a transcription of the medieval Venetian, a translation, and a collection of essays put together by an international team of experts in Venetian history, shipbuilding and design, navigation, mathematics, medieval astrology and medicine, art history, and paleography.

Click here to read this article from Humanities

See also our feature on The Book of Michael of Rhodes

Friday, August 13, 2010

Are these the bones of John the Baptist?

In a region already rich with archaeological artefacts, the excavation of a small alabaster box containing a few pieces of bone amid the ruins of a medieval monastery might easily have passed unnoticed.

But when Bulgarian archaeologists declared they had found relics of John the Baptist, one of the most significant early Christian saints, their discovery became the subject of rather more interest -- prompting angry exchanges in the local media and even calls for a government minister's resignation.

The claim is based on a reliquary -- a container for holy relics -- found on July 28 under the altar of a fifth century basilica on Sveti Ivan, a Black Sea island off Sozopol on Bulgaria's southern coast. Inside, archaeologists found eight pieces of bone, including fragments of skull and face bone and a tooth.

Click here to read this article from CNN

Medieval pit revealed in Melksham

Archaeologists in Melksham (located in the English county of Wiltshire) have uncovered evidence of medieval iron working believed to date from the 13th-14th century.

A team from Cotswold Archaeology has been excavating before new housing is built at Clackers Brook on the east of Melksham.

“The finds are very tantalising” said senior project officer Alistair Barber.

“One discovery in particular stands out. We have uncovered a rectangular pit measuring 1m wide, 2m in length and 0.5m deep which bears some very unusual scorch marks, indicating that the pit was heated to a very high temperature.

Click here to read this article from This is Wiltshire

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Archaeologists work on medieval site in Yorkshire

A stone feature in a Yorkshire Dales village has been uncovered again to determine if it is perhaps a type of oven used in the Middle Ages.

The stones were first discovered in 1896 on the village green at Hartlington near Burnsall and were originally thought to be the floor of a corn drying kiln but, over the years that followed, they became covered and were left untouched.

Click here to read this article on

Viking gold ring found in Yorkshire farm field

A gold ring once worn by a Viking was unearthed by a metal detector in a farmer's field in Yorkshire, a treasure trove inquest in Wakefield heard yesterday.

Dating back around 1,000 years, the large gold ring was found last April on pasture land in the Aberford area, east of Leeds. The finger ring, which is 90 per cent gold, was found by a man scouring the land with a metal detector with the permission of the landowner.

Click here to read the article from the Yorkshire Post

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Multimedia and the Middle Ages

Before introducing any new strategy in the classroom, whether it involves technology or not, I think we must always ask ourselves: what is the pedagogical imperative? After all, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. So, I’ll start by trying to answer the question: what can multimedia resources, particularly digital or new media, provide that texts alone cannot?

Why use multimedia in the medieval literature classroom?

One answer stems from my belief that any introduction to medieval texts should include an introduction to medieval studies as a discipline, one that has long since entered the digital age.

Click here to read this article from TechStyle

Future unclear for medieval building in Whitley

An historic city building faces an uncertain future because of cuts to the City College’s budget. The 14th century Charterhouse building in Whitley, a former monastery which became home to Charterhouse Training, is owned by City College Coventry.

But a £1million axe to the college’s budget as part of nationwide cuts to the further education sector meant college bosses were forced to review the entire estate to make cuts.

As part of the review the Charterhouse Training facility has now been moved from the London Road building to the multi-million pound Swanswell Centre in Hillfields. Seven full-time staff, four trainers and three administrators, have also been relocated.

Click here to read this article from the Coventry Telegraph

Vandals threaten medieval castle in Wales

Medieval castle remains in Powys could be forced to close because of vandalism. People have damaged the structure of Bronllys Castle at Talgarth by throwing historic stones off the top, says Welsh monument agency Cadw.

The castle only recently reopened following a major conservation programme. Cadw has informed police but say there may be no choice but to close the castle.

The late 11th or early 12th Century motte with an 80ft tall round masonry keep has had a number of ancient stones prized from the top and thrown down both inside and outside the structure

Click here to read this article from BBC News

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Convert’s Tale: A new study assesses the 12th-century memoir attributed to 'Herman the former Jew'

Sometime in the 12th century CE, at the monastery of Cappenberg in western Germany, a fascinating and enigmatic document was produced. Its Latin title, Opusculum de conversione sua, means “A Short Work About his Conversion,” and it is attributed to Hermannus quondam Judaeus—“Herman the former Jew.” What makes this work especially significant, writes Jean-Claude Schmitt in his newly translated study The Conversion of Herman the Jew: Autobiography, History, and Fiction in the Twelfth Century (University of Pennsylvania Press), is that it “is presented in a form that we today call an autobiography.” At a time when autobiographical writing was very rare, a memoir written in Latin by a Jew was unique.

For centuries, the Christian clerics and scholars who read Herman’s book took it at face value, as the confession of a Jew who learned to cast off the darkness and ignorance of Judaism and embrace the truth of Christianity. The Opusculum functioned, in other words, as a textual weapon in the fight against Judaism. Schmitt points out that the first printed edition of the work, in 1687, is included in an anthology of anti-Jewish polemics, whose frontispiece shows a dagger that “reaches out from a celestial cloud and threatens a terrified old rabbi.”

But in the last few decades, Schmitt shows, the Opusculum has become the subject of a new and intense debate. It began in 1988, when Avrom Saltman of Bar Ilan University published an article arguing that no such person as Herman the Jew ever existed. The text was, rather, a “work of fiction, an edifying autobiographical novel,” written by Christians for Christian audiences, in which a genuinely Jewish voice is never heard. This “radical position,” Schmitt sums up, “completely changed the terms of the historiographical debate,” and in the last 20 years medieval historians have argued over whether the Opusculum is fraudulent. If this debate is unusually heated, it is because, as Schmitt puts it, any opinion about the truth or falsehood of Herman’s account rests on “a critical question: could Jews in the past have abandoned the faith of their ancestors consciously and without the usual physical threat?”

Click here to read this article from The Tablet

Monday, August 09, 2010

Domesday Book reveals the rise of a Norman Abramovich after 1066

Within 20 years of the Norman conquest, England was dominated by "a new class of super rich Frenchmen gorging on their success". So said an academic who has used the Domesday Book to trace the rise and rise of William the Conqueror's barons.

Stephen Baxter, a historian at King's College London, is one of the authors of a database, which goes live tomorrow, making it possible to trawl through figures from the Domesday Book and map the landholdings of those for whom 1066 became a licence to coin money. To take one example, Earl Hugh's estates, more than 300 scattered across 19 shires, generated an income of about £800 a year, over 1% of the nation's entire wealth. "Hugh was an Abramovich-scale billionaire," said Baxter, who presents a programme on Domesday tomorrow on BBC2 in the Normans series.

The new database is part of PASE, the snappily titled Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, a decade-long academic compilation of all the Anglo-Saxons for whom any records survive, which already includes almost 20,000 individuals, just under 1,000 of them women. The Domesday database can be used to show vividly what happened to many of those listed after the conquest: a map which Baxter worked on for three months demonstrates how Earl Harold's estates were carved up after he died at the Battle of Hastings, with a diagonal red stripe across England, from the Essex coast to the Severn, showing the estates which William the Conqueror kept for himself.

Click here to read this article from The Guardian

Domesday database launched online

An online database which promises to change our understanding of English society on the eve and in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest has been launched online. PASE Domesday, which is released today, links information from the Domesday survey (1086) to maps showing the location of estates throughout England.

Click here to read the article from

Scribes at London Guildhall were responsible for promoting Medieval English Literature

Two University of York researchers have found evidence that the London Guildhall served as the cradle of English Literature in the late Middle Ages. It was the home to scribes who copied the first manuscripts of works by fourteenth-century authors Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower, as well as early copies of other Middle English authors including William Langland and John Trevisa.

Professor Linne Mooney and Dr Estelle Stubbs, of the Centre for Medieval Studies at York, discovered evidence of the identities of several scribes of Middle English literature who were members of the civic secretariat at the London Guildhall.

Click here to read the article from

Arms and crafts: Return of the Samurai

Among the highlights of the huge Asian collection at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – 8,000 artifacts making up more than 40 per cent of the gallery’s collection – is a group of Samurai suits that date back to the 16th century. Ornate, functional and dripping in history, each suit has a story to tell about the samurai warriors and pre-industrial Japan. Return of the Samurai, which has just opened at the AGGV, features 12 samurai suits, 23 helmets, and other paraphernalia, much of it donated or lent to the gallery by Trevor Absolon, a dealer and collector who runs Toraba Samurai Arts. Absolon says each of these suits may have taken some two years to fabricate. “Most samurai invested more money into the building of their armours than they did in the homes they lived in.”

It was common for designers to use animal and insect symbolism on the helmets and the dragonfly, or kachi mushi, was considered strong and invincible. Helmets often featured deer and rabbit designs as well. “Some of the symbols they used to us would seem really ludicrous,” says Absolon. “You’ll see a really fierce-looking armour with a big rabbit front crest on it and you [wonder], what does the rabbit have to do with any of this? They [were used because] of their agility and speed; but also in Japanese folklore rabbits could go into the underworld and they had mystical powers.”

Click here to read this article from The Globe and Mail

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Candace Robb finds new voice as Emma Campion

When American historical writer Candace Robb decided to take a break from her usual medieval mysteries to focus on the life of one woman, she also decided to make another change -- taking on a new pen-name.

As Emma Campion she has released a debut novel, "The King's Mistress," based on Alice Perrers, the mistress of British King Edward III, who was always portrayed as a manipulative woman taking advantage of an aging, increasingly senile king.

Robb became intrigued by Perrers after documents emerged that cast doubt on this cruel reputation.

The author, who has written 13 books since 1993 in two ongoing series featuring medieval sleuths Margaret Kerr and Owen Archer, started to delve further.

Robb, 60, who has a PhD in Medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature, said she wanted to put Perrers in a new light. She spoke to Reuters about the 14th century and writing:

Click here to read the interview with Candace Robb from Reuters

See also video interview with the author

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The ruins of Viking Boston

To live in a city is to live in other people’s worlds. The residue of what others did and thought coheres in layers that add up over time, giving urban experience its signature thickness. Boston is old and dense with such layers, especially for an American city, and it has specialized in a certain kind of strong-minded character — intelligent, resourceful, inspired, sometimes deluded — capable of leaving a lasting mark.

Take, for instance, Ebenezer Norton Horsford, the chemist, entrepreneur, and amateur archeologist who’s responsible for many of the Viking-themed touches on view in the city today. The 192nd anniversary of his birth passed without general notice last week, but he’s a local figure worth considering.

At Memorial Drive and Fresh Pond Parkway in Cambridge, behind Mount Auburn Hospital, there’s an official-looking granite historical marker inscribed with a claim so wishful that it probably qualifies as a lie: “On this spot in the year 1000 Leif Erikson built his house in Vineland."

Click here to read the article from The Boston Globe

Friday, August 06, 2010

Study: Charlemagne was very tall, but not robust

According to a recently published study, the Carolingian Emperor Charlemagne (ca. 747–814) was taller than most of his subjects, but not overweight. The findings were reported in the July 2010 issue of Economics & Human Biology.

A trio of scholars from Switzerland, Germany and Australia were allowed special access to the left tibia of Charlemagne, whose remains are kept in the Aachen Cathedral. Using x-rays and CT Scans, they found that the bone was about 17 inches long. According to various estimating methods, this meant that Charlemagne’s height was somewhere between 1.79 and 1.92 meters tall (between 5′ 10″ and 6′ 4″). According to other research, a typical male in the Carolingian period stood about 1.69 meters (5′ 6″).

Click here to read this article on

Leicestershire’s secret castles revealed!

How many castles can you think of in Leicestershire and Rutland? Ashby de la Zouch, Kirby Muxloe and Belvoir Castles tend to spring to mind straight away but not many people know that there are around 21 castle sites in the two counties! An exhibition at Leicestershire County Council’s Donington le Heath Manor House explores the many other castle sites in the area.

The colourful exhibition uses photographs, historical images and accounts as well as fun reconstruction artwork to paint a vivid picture of the development and later decline of castles in the area. A wide range of excavated artefacts from Leicestershire museum collections add further evidence of life at sites such as Sapcote, Kirby Muxloe, Oakham and Ashby Castles. Visitors can also take part in a two-player castle landscape game and build-their-own model castle.

Click here to read the article on

St John the Baptist's bones 'found in Bulgarian monastery'

The remains of St John the Baptist have been found in an ancient reliquary in a 5th century monastery on Sveti Ivan Island in Bulgaria, archaeologists have claimed.

The remains – small fragments of a skull, bones from a jaw and an arm, and a tooth – were discovered embedded in an altar in the ruins of the ancient monastery, on the island in the Black Sea.

A Greek inscription on the stone casque contains a reference to June 24 – the date on which John the Baptist is believed to have been born.

"We found the relics of St John the Baptist - exactly what the archaeologists had expected," said Bozhidar Dimitrov, Bulgaria's minister without portfolio and a former director of the country's National History Museum, who was present when the stone urn was opened. "It has been confirmed that these are parts of his skeleton."

Click here to read this article from The Daily Telegraph

See also "Bulgaria, Sozopol in Euphoria over St. John the Baptist Archaeology Find" from the Sofia News Agency

See also "John the Baptist's Bones Discovered?" from Discovery News

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Medieval earth floor discovered in church in Lincolnshire

A medieval earth floor has been uncovered at a village church which is undergoing a massive renovation. The discovery was made by builders at St James' Church, Aslackby, last month.

Churchwarden Chris Gudgin, 67, of The Old Vicarage, Aslackby, said it was exciting. He said: "The builders found it while relaying a stone floor. It was made up of layered deposits of straw and is likely to date back to the Saxon or Norman era. Having found it and recorded it, the floor was carefully covered back up."

Click here to read the article from the Rutland and Stamford Mercury

Archaeologists work on Medieval site on Isle of Man

An archaeological dig under way at Ballacraine is expected to shed more light on life in the Isle of Man in the Dark Ages. A team of students and volunteers are excavating a settlement that dates back at least to the 7th century, before the Vikings invaded.

They are completing a dig begun in the 1970s and early 80s by archaeologist Peter Gelling, who sadly died before he could finish the project.

The resumed excavation is being conducted by the Centre for Manx Studies, part of the University of Liverpool, and is a truly international exercise involving students and volunteers from the Island, the UK and as far afield as American and Canada. Many finds were unearthed in the earlier dig but more have been found in the three weeks that the archaeologists have been on site.

Click here to read the article from Isle of Man Today

See also a related article from BBC News

Medieval Hall in Wales to be preserved, turned into holiday home

A medieval hall house is set to become a holiday rental home, after funding was provided to restore the property. The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and Cadw, the Welsh government agency in charge of preserving the heritage of Wales. jointly announces equal grants of £335,000 that will allow the Landmark Trust to proceed in securing Llwyn Celyn, a grade I listed, single aisled medieval hall house, considered the most significant inhabited building ‘at risk’ in Wales.

Click here to read the article on

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

British Library unrolls Henry VIII’s pious past

The British Library has acquired a unique medieval prayer roll that once belonged to Henry VIII and contains one of only three surviving examples of his handwriting from before his accession in 1509. It is a rare example of a late medieval prayer roll, for, unlike medieval obituary rolls (of which there are hundreds), very few prayer rolls survived the Reformation.

Produced in England in the late fifteenth century, the prayer roll consists of four parchment strips sewn end to end and measures some four metres long when fully unrolled. The roll contains thirteen illuminations – images of Christ, focusing on the Passion, its Instruments and the Sacred Blood, as well as depictions of various saints and their martyrdoms. Accompanying these is a two-column text, with prayers in Latin and rubrics (religious instructions) in English. The rubrics promise that the recital of certain of the prayers will offer safety from physical danger, sickness or disease; others will shorten, by specified amounts, the agony of Purgatory, while the placing of the roll on the belly of a woman in labour will ensure a safe childbirth.

Click here to read the article on Early Modern England

Medieval treasure found in north eastern Bulgaria

Archaeologists from Varna discovered one of the largest medieval treasures in recent times and the largest one in 2010 during excavation works in the medieval city of Kastritsi in Euxinograd, on August 4, the focus news agency reported.

The treasure was discovered embedded in the floor of a home within the medieval stronghold, the report said.

According to associate professor Valentin Pletnyov, head of the Regional History Museum in Varna, the treasure consisted of a small jug dating back to the 14th century, containing 166 silver coins from the era of Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria and his son Mihail, Focus reported.

Click here to read the article from the Sofia Echo

Medieval Georgian Sites Placed On UNESCO Endangered List

The Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery, two jewels of medieval Georgian architecture, are under threat.

That's according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), whose World Heritage Committee is holding its annual session this week in Brazil. The committee maintains a catalog of nearly 900 natural and cultural sites of "outstanding universal value," all of which must maintain strict standards of preservation to retain UNESCO assistance and funding.

In a July 29 statement, the committee expressed "serious concerns" about the state of the two Georgian sites, which were first added to the World Heritage List in 1994. It pointed to "irreversible interventions carried out on the site as part of a major reconstruction project," leading to the placement of the cathedral and monastery on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger.

Click here to read the article from Radio Free Europe

Medieval roof finial discovered in London

A rare find has been uncovered from the shores of the Thames by the Museum of London. A clay medieval roof finial was discovered a week ago by a mudlark, who was helping survey the foreshore of the river by the Tower of London, and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This fascinating object offers a glimpse of what the city could have looked like over 600 years ago.

The roof finial is worn and in shape of an animal, dating from the late 12th Century or 13th Century. An object like this would have been used to embellish the ridges of tiled roof buildings in London and other large towns. This particular example was probably made around Woolwich and brought to the city with other pots and roof tiles.

Click here to read this article on

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Medieval Academy of America decides to keep its annual meeting in Arizona

The Medieval Academy of America announced today that its 2011 annual meeting will still be held in Arizona. The academic organization was under pressure to move the conference because of the recent immigration law adopted by the state.

An email was sent out to its membership and posted the Medieval Academy of America’s (MAA) website, which stated the MAA’s Executive Committee took into account a number of issues when making their decision, including the “fiduciary responsibility for the Academy’s endowment, the appropriateness of making collective political statements, the precedents that would be set if the Academy canceled the meeting, the scholarly effects of canceling the annual meeting, the work done by the Arizona programming committee, the difficulty of finding any alternative meeting place, the timing of cancellation, and the possibility of legal challenge to Arizona’s legislation.”

Click here to read the article on

The Sims Medieval to be launched in spring 2011

Electronic Arts (EA) has announced that they will be releasing The Sims: Medieval in the spring of 2011. The developers say it will allow players to create heroes, venture on quests, and build and control a kingdom, all in setting that will be full of drama, romance, conflict, and comedy.

“The Middle Ages is a time of intrigue, legend, and excitement. It offers a perfect backdrop for a brand new series from The Sims studio due to the limitless stories that can be told,” said Scott Evans, General Manager of The Sims Studio at EA. “The Sims Medieval offers a new way for players to experience The Sims which we hope fans will enjoy, and it features gameplay that fans of strategy and role-playing games will find appealing such as controlling an entire kingdom and quest-based gameplay mechanics.”

Click here to read the article on

Monday, August 02, 2010

A Glittering Crossroads: In Damascus's Umayyad Mosque, Roman paganism, Christianity, and Shiite and Sunni Islam all intersect

It's Friday and the weekly congregational prayer has just ended at the Umayyad Mosque, Syria's most famous monument. As the faithful exit, they walk past an unassuming bit of masonry on the mosque's southern wall: a Greek inscription above a blocked doorway, with a most unlikely message: "Thy Kingdom, O Christ, is an everlasting Kingdom, and Thy dominion endureth throughout all generations." How did Psalm 145 end up on the outside of one of Islam's holiest sites? The answer provides a fascinating window onto the history of the mosque, and Syria's surprising religious landscape.

The Umayyad Mosque stands in the middle of Damascus's old city, on a site that has been home to religious worship since the second century B.C. The Romans built a temple there dedicated to Jupiter; its western facade survives today as part of the entrance to the great Souq al-Hamidiyya. In the fourth century A.D., when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the temple became a church, which was famous for its prized relic—the head of John the Baptist.

In 636, Arab armies seized Damascus, and about three decades later the city became the capital of the fledgling Islamic state, now under the leadership of the Umayyad caliphs. Despite the changing of the guard, the church continued as the center of Christian worship. Indeed, Christians remained in the demographic majority long after the conquest, and many served the new Muslim empire much as they had the Byzantines long before.

Click here to read this article from the Wall Street Journal

Solving the 800-year mystery of Pisa's Leaning Tower

All six donkeys were impeccably behaved. They’d been ridden into Pisa’s main square, the Piazza dei Miracoli, last November by vexed vets from Pisa University and ceremoniously set down beneath its Leaning Tower. In protest at government cuts across Italian education, the profs duly gave an al fresco lecture on donkey anatomy to hundreds of bewildered tourists. Silvio Berlusconi’s photo appeared on many a banner, beside the words ‘The biggest ass of all’.

Such a display of faculty dissent would have been impossible a decade ago, when the area of piazza around the tower was completely cordoned off. It looked then more building site than World Heritage site and the howls of protest from local Pisans were far louder than a few braying donkeys.

From 1990 to 2001, the tower remained closed – many doubting it would ever reopen – as the International Committee for the Safeguard of the Leaning Tower strove to save it from collapse. Visitors to Pisa dropped off by 45 per cent.

Click here to read the article from The Telegraph

Once deadly warriors, today tourist draw: Polish city trying to cash in on Teutonic knights

The Teutonic Knights have long been reviled in Poland, where the Germanic warriors swept in during the Middle Ages and converted pagans to Christianity at the point of a sword. Many here see them as an early incarnation of a Germany that has attacked Poland over the centuries, most recently in World War II.

But now one Polish town is putting all grudges aside and celebrating the memory of the Teutonic Knights in an attempt to highlight the rich history of this once-German municipality and stimulate tourism in a region still catching up with Western Europe economically.

In an elaborate ceremony Saturday that drew hundreds of people, Roman Catholic priests consecrated the newly discovered remains of three of the order's 14th- and 15th-century leaders -- or "grand masters" -- with a Mass in the city's St. John the Evangelist Cathedral.

The cathedral is part of a massive red-brick fortress that was once a base for the knights' notorious raids, an imposing reminder to the town's 40,000 inhabitants of its German past.

"This history belongs to this city," said Wojciech Weryk, who leads a drive to promote Kwidzyn. "It is a very good product from the point of view of history and tourists."

Click here to read the article from CBS News

Groundbreaking Stained Glass Journal celebrates fourth anniversary

Vidimus, the on-line journal of Stained Glass studies, is soon to celebrate its fourth anniversary. The Journal, launched in late 2006, is the only ‘free-to-view’ publication that deals with all aspects of stained glass and associated studies. As a ‘free-to-view’ service the editors of the journal are keen to encourage both scholars and members of the public to make use of the ever expanding archive of past issues. Containing detailed features, up to the minute news, book reviews and the popular ‘Panel of the Month’ Vidimus has become one of the major resources for anyone interested in the study of stained glass in all its forms. In addition, the news editor, Roger Rosewell, has been responsible for bringing a number of internationally important and significant finds and discoveries to the attention of the stained glass community and the world’s media.

Click here to read the article on

New World Heritage Sites include medieval Albi, Tabriz

The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), which has been meeting for the last several days in Brazil, has named over two dozen new sites to the World Heritage List, including several that date back to the medieval era.

Click here to read the article on

Sunday, August 01, 2010

BBC to explore the legacy of the Normans

The BBC is to provide viewers with a definitive look at a seminal period of history, the resonances of which can still be felt today, in a season focusing on the Normans across BBC Two, BBC Four and BBC Learning. Leading the season will be The Normans, a three-part series on BBC Two that will examine the extraordinary expansion and unchecked ambition of this warrior race between the 10th and 13th centuries. The first part airs on Wednesday 4 August at 9pm.

Presented by Professor Robert Bartlett, the series will bring the history of the Normans to life by uncovering the personal stories of shadowy figures like Tancred of Hauteville, best remembered as a poor 11th-century Norman lord who fathered no less than 12 sons, two of whom left their homeland and risked their lives to become great rulers in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Click here to read the article on

Professor to research French Knight-Poet, Oton de Granson

Joan Grenier-Winther, a professor of French at the Washington State University Vancouver, has received a grant to translate the love poetry of a fourteenth century French writer. The project, Translation of the Courtly Poetry of the 14th c. French Knight-Poet, Oton de Granson, is being run by Grenier-Winther with Peter Nicholson of the University Hawai’i, Manoa,

“Granson’s poetry speaks of love-sickness, adoration of the beloved, the ways in which a gallant knight should court and honor his lady, and the pain of unrequited love. With Chaucer, he is also believed to have established the association of St. Valentine with the cult of love, giving us the Valentine’s Day we all, hopefully, enjoy today,” said Grenier-Winther.

Click here to read this article on

Lack of preservation puts priceless books, manuscripts at risk in Bangladesh

Due to lack of proper preservation, century old 'puthis' and manuscripts, rare books, newspapers and periodicals printed in Bangladesh during the last century, have been decaying at the Dhaka University Central Library.

About 300 rare manuscripts and at least 600-microfilmed newspapers have already been damaged, although there is a supervisory committee to look into this.

Another 500 hundred 'puthis' and newspapers are going to face the same fate if preventive steps are not taken, said sources at the library.

The university library has a collection of more than 30,000 such books and manuscripts, dating back to the medieval period, written on palm and banana leaves, barks, stone slabs and handmade papers in Sanskrit, Bangla, Arabic, Pali, Urdu, Persian, Maithili, Uriya, Hindi and a few other dialects.

Click here to read this article from the National News Agency of Bangladesh