Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hug a Medievalist

This is worth knowing.

A bear hunter hugging a bear?
Early 16th c. German "Geese Book"
Sarah Laseke, writer of a medieval blog here, in 2011 decided that if librarians get a "Hug a Librarian" Day, then medievalists should get a "Hug a Medievalist" Day. She started with a Facebook page, from which the idea gained widespread interest.

Folk in the Middle Ages knew about hugging, although it does not seem likely that it was a very public gesture. As one website puts it:
The nobility ... had plenty of space and did not press closely on each other. Gentlemen and ladies allowed a lot of personal space to each other. Hugging and hanging on each other was simply not done in public, especially not by ladies in a broad-spreading double-horned headdress, except with great care. Getting close enough for a kiss required a lady's co-operation... [link]
In the 21st century, however, we do not have the same taboos about personal space—or the clothing that prohibits closeness. Feel free to find and hug a Medievalist today, and we will return to more scholarly (and less self-serving) topics tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Seventh Crusade

King Louis IX of France could not convince any of the rulers of Europe to accompany him on a Crusade to free Jerusalem, which had been recaptured in 1240. He organized and funded (by taxing the church) the Seventh Crusade himself. It could have gone better.

Battle of Mansura
After wintering in Cyprus, he took the town of Damietta in Egypt to use as a base, then had to sit there for six months while the Nile flooded, which gave his enemies time to assemble their forces. Marching toward Cairo, he was stopped by a canal near Mansura, on the other side of which was an Egyptian army larger than his.

Louis tried building a causeway across the canal, but the Egyptians simply dug away at their side of the canal, widening it and putting their bank every farther out of his reach. After two fruitless months, he sent his cavalry to cross at a shallow ford 4 miles upstream. Louis' brother Robert was to hold the cavalry until a signal, but he charged into Mansura, probably seeking his own glory, and succeeded in wiping out most of the cavalry. The Crusaders were too weak to take and hold Mansura, and so Louis retreated to Damietta.

On 6 April, 1250, at the Battle of Fariskur, the Egyptian Mamluks defeated the Crusaders and captured Louis. His ransom was 800,000 gold livre and the return of Damietta to the Egyptians. Louis sailed to Acre in Syria, where he tried to get help to continue the Crusade. He negotiated with the Mongol Möngke Khan through his emissary, William of Rubruck, which infuriated the Mamluks, whose territory to the east had been invaded by the ever-spreading Mongols.

By 1254, Louis had run out of money and, word coming that his mother, Blanche of Castile, who had been running France in his absence, had died, he had to return to France. Louis would try another Crusade, the Eighth, in 1270, where he would die on 25 August in Africa from "a flux in the stomach." He should have simply stayed home.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Crusade Nobody Wanted

In 1244, allies of the Egyptian Mamluks, retreating westward from the advancing Mongols, stopped at Jerusalem long enough to recapture it from European Christian control. Jerusalem had come under Christian control during the Sixth Crusade under Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1228.

King/Saint Louis sailing on the Seventh Crusade
King Louis IX of France, whose devotion was so great that he became Saint Louis, immediately began planning an action to return Jerusalem to Christian control. He sent word throughout Europe to join him in a Seventh Crusade.

Europe's response to this calamity was not what one would expect. The truth is, Europe was pretty busy with its own problems. The Pope, Innocent IV, who under usual circumstances would have been the one to call a Crusade, was locked in a political struggle with Frederick II over the question of which of them controlled the Holy Roman Empire. Henry III of England was dealing with Simon de Montfort's rebellion. (Henry did agree not to attack France while Louis was away.)

Louis appealed to Hungary, but King Béla IV was rebuilding after a Mongol invasion. Louis even appealed to King Haakon IV of Norway. Haakon was interested in making deeper European ties, and had made a vow of Crusade once, but then converted it to a vow to fight against pagans in the north (Mongols had started coming north). Louis sent Matthew Paris to offer Haakon command of the French fleet, but Haakon refused.

The only person in Europe who was keen for this Crusade was Louis himself, but as a "one man show" he was very well organized. He commissioned ships to be built specifically for transporting his men and horses and supplies, and raised money by collecting a tithe (tenth) from churches. He sailed to Cyprus for the winter, negotiating with other forces (such as the Knights Templar) for mutual help. He then went to Egypt, where he took the town of Damietta to use as a base. Then the annual flooding of the Nile took place, and he was grounded for six months.

From there it went downhill.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Saint Who Said "No"

Saint Isabella, at a
church in Paris
Isabella of France (1224 - 1270) was the daughter of King Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile. Her brothers became King Louis IX of France, Count Alfonso of Poitiers, and King Charles I of Sicily. Her royal upbringing included not only the typical feminine arts like embroidery, but also study of Latin and literature, such as romances and religious works.

She became attracted to the mission of the Franciscans, and by special dispensation of Pope Innocent IV, she was allowed to have Franciscans as her confessors, rather than regular priests. She was very devout, and took special interest in applying her embroidery skills on priestly vestments. Once, while making a nightcap, her brother the king asked for it. She said "No. This is the first of its kind and I must make it for my Savior Jesus Christ.” She finished the nightcap, gave it to a poor person, and made her brother another,

As devout as she was, however, she was still a royal princess, with obligations beyond what most daughters experience. She was betrothed to marry Hugh, the future Count of Angoulême and of La Marche. Isabella was determined to remain a virgin, and so said "No" and would not carry through on the wedding plans. Unable to secure an heir, Hugh looked elsewhere. (This did not cause harm to the relation between the two families: Hugh later joined Isabella's brother Alfonso on the Seventh Crusade, where he was killed in Egypt.)

Later, she was betrothed to Conrad IV of Germany, son of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Politically, this match would have been more impressive than the one with Hugh, and everyone thought it a good idea, even Pope Innocent IV, who entreated her to agree to it. But Isabella said "No" again. She explained to the pope that she wished to live a religious life, though not entering a religious order, and part of that involved remaining a virgin.

Isabella asked to be able to found a monastery of Poor Clares (Clare was the sister of Francis of Assisi). Sanction from Pope Alexander IV dated 2 February 1259 shows that the Monastery of the Humility of the Blessed Virgin was completed by that date. Isabella lived in the monastery, but apart from the nuns' cells. Offered the position of abbess, she again said "No": if she were abbess, she would have to give up the riches available to a royal princess, and would not be able to support the monastery.

After her death and burial, her body was exhumed after nine days and observed to be uncorrupted. That, and the reports of miracles happening at her grave, caused her to be declared a saint. Her feast day is 23 February.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Name Glastonbury

Glastonbury is a small town in Somerset, England, that has been inhabited since Neolithic times. A recent post discussed the discovery of early medieval glass-making furnaces at the site of the now ruined Glastonbury Abbey. This prompted some to point out to me that Glastonbury "must have been known" for glass production—it is "right there in the name." Let us address that.

Remains of the nave of Glastonbury Abbey
In his book The Flowering Hawthorn, Hugh Ross Williamson tells the story of St. Collen. Collen was a 7th century hermit who took up residence at what is now Glastonbury. Williamson relates how the saint encountered Gwyn, King of the Fairies, in a magical glass castle on Glastonbury Tor. Rejecting the fairies' offer of food and drink, he cast holy water on them, causing all to vanish. Numerous versions of this story exist, but Williamson's 1962 book is the only version that introduces glass as the material involved. As a source for the site's name, this is not reliable.

William of Malmesbury refers to its earliest name as Ynys Witrin, which some translate as "Isle of Glass" based on the fact that English "vitreous" comes from Latin "vitrum" meaning "glass." "Isle of Glass" would more properly be Ynys Gwydr, however. "Witrin" is a puzzle, but no serious scholar thinks it is from Latin for "glass." (The "Isle" makes sense because, in earlier times, higher sea levels turned some hilly areas into islands.) Malmesbury does suggest that the place was named for someone named Glast. Since the first recording of the name is Glestingaburg, the place of Glestinga. No one knows exactly to what Glestinga refers.

But it's not about glass.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Glass and Recycling

In 1977-79, a shipwreck off the southern coast of Turkey was investigated. It was determined to have sunk about 1025. The ship's hold contained three tons of broken glass and chunks of glass. (This amount of glass would make about 12,000 Coke bottles.)

Jesse Tree at York Minster (1150-70); some of the oldest
stained glass of the Middle Ages
Glass requires extreme heat applied to a mixture of silica, soda, and lime. Silica was derived from sand; soda happens to reduce the temperature at which glass can form; lime makes the glass "chemically stable." Impurities—by accident or design—added color to the glass.

We know little about how glass-making came about; records do not explain the technique, but anecdotal mentions tell us a little. Pliny's Natural History tells us that the best sand for glass comes from the mouth of the Belus River near Akko, Israel. The shells in that sand provide the lime needed to make the glass stable. William of Tyre (1130-1186) and Jacques de Vitry (1170-1240) around 1200 both mention the same source. It is thought that the ancients did not understand why that source was the best, chemically, that they did not understand that the shells contained necessary lime.

In England, the Glastonbury Abbey Project has discovered evidence of a stone structure on the site of Glastonbury Abbey dating to c.700. They have also found evidence of early Roman and Saxon activity from before the Abbey's founding. Remains of glass-making furnaces have been uncovered, showing archaeologists that Saxons were recycling Roman glass brought from Europe. The Glastonbury site was possibly the first Saxon glass-making factory in England.

The remarkable thing about glass is that it is recyclable, like metals. Although it took a lot of energy to process, every bit of broken material (unlike wood or stone or pottery) could be re-smelted and re-cast. It is possible that the glass in windows like the example above was even older than our estimates, having been re-used from earlier glass objects that broke or had outlived their usefulness.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Biggest Guild

A 1568 German woodcut showing a shoe shop
Which guilds were the biggest? Not the most powerful, but those with the most members? Let's look at a sampling. The tax lists for Paris in 1292 list the numbers of members of 130 guilds. Here are some of the largest:

21 - woodcarvers
21 - glove makers
22 - hay merchants
24 - harness makers
24 - rugmakers
24 - sculptors
24 - innkeepers
26 - rope makers
27 - locksmiths
29 - doctors
34 - blacksmiths
35 - spice merchants
37 - beer sellers
41 - fish merchants
42 - meat butchers
43 - laundresses
51 - chicken butchers
54 - hat makers
56 - wine sellers
58 - scabbard makers
62 - bakers
70 - coopers
70 - mercers
86 - weavers
95 - carpenters
104 - masons
106 - pastry cooks
121 - old clothes dealers
130 - restaurateurs
131 - jewelers
151 - barbers
197 - tailors
214 - furriers
...and the guild with the largest number of tradesmen in it:
366 - shoemakers
Why so many shoemakers? These days, we think of shoes as something with sturdy rubber soles, sealed to canvas or nylon or leather. What we have today is considered very durable; when they wear out, we dash to a store where the shelves are lined floor to ceiling with clearly marked lengths and widths of mass-produced footwear. Not so in the Middle Ages.

In the Middle Ages, and the centuries before, footwear was "bespoke"; that is, designed specifically for the foot it was supposed to enclose. A shoemaker would take your measurement, discuss materials and binding, and then set to work crafting shoes that would fit your feet, and not the feet of your neighbor or family member.

These shoes were not necessarily fitted with hard soles, either; in many cases, they are essentially slippers made of leather, and with every step they would scuff thinner and thinner. The leather used had to be soft and supple to fit snugly around your feet; it was mostly from goatskin or sheepskin, as opposed to the tougher cow leather used for saddlery, for instance. In fact, one term for a shoemaker, cordwainer, comes from Cordovan, because Cordoba in southern Spain was a source of goatskin commonly used for shoes.

Another note on terminology: These were not cobblers, but shoemakers. A cobbler did not make shoes: he repaired them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Guilds for Women

Women weaving
Guilds in the Middle Ages seemed to exist for every conceivable occupation (except, perhaps, midwifery). What about women? Were guilds open to them as much as to men?
Although women were accepted as members and sometimes founded guilds, they seldom held office, just as it was rare for a woman to serve as churchwarden of the parish church, a reflection on women's subordination in the medieval world. [Women in England in the Middle Ages, by Jennifer Ward, p.186]
Women were able to participate in numerous trades in the Middle Ages, sometimes supporting their husband's business, often being in business for themselves. The Paris tax registers for the early 14th century list several craftswomen whose craft was different from their husbands. Women were often brewers and bakers; more often than not, women ran the local food service businesses.

That does not mean, however, that women were relegated to domestic trades. In early 15th century Wurzburg, for instance, records show over 300 building site workers were women. records of medieval women in jobs include:
brewer, laundress, barrel and crate maker, soap boiler, candle maker, book binder, doll painter, butcher, keeper of town keys, tax collector, shepherd, musician, rope maker, banker, money lender, inn keeper, spice seller, pie seller, woad trader, wine merchant, steel merchant, copper importer, currency exchanger, pawn shop owner, lake and river fisherwoman, baker, oil presser, builder, mason, plasterer, cartwright, wood turner, clay and lime worker, glazier, ore miner, silver miner, book illuminator, scribe, teacher, office manager, clerk, court assessor, customs officer, porter, tower guard, prison caretaker, surgeon and midwife. [link]
Almost the only occupation in which we do not find the presence of women is that of blacksmith, whereas the textile industry was well represented.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Bit About Guilds

Guilds, companies of folk who follow the same occupation, are associated with the Middle Ages. They actually existed in the Roman Empire. Called collegia, they were authorized by the government, who used the structure to impose taxes on their professions. When Rome fell, collegia disappeared for six centuries, reappearing in Western Europe as guilds. (In the Eastern Empire, collegia survived the Fall of Rome; they were also a structure for the government to produce revenue by taxing craftsmen.)

Medieval Guild of Tailors [source]
The medieval guilds seem to have developed independently, rather than being an import from Byzantium. The development of towns around 1000—with their concentrations of population, coalescing of workers with similar skills, and need for local government—enabled merchants to evolve from traveling peddlers to stationary shopkeepers.

By banding together, members of a guild could support each other socially and financially against outsiders. A guild could set prices, and prevent foreigners from conducting business in their locale. Guild members joining town councils gained even more power for their colleagues.

To ensure quality, guilds created a system of apprenticeship. A master, an established and accomplished craftsman, would accept apprentices who lived with him and learned his trade in exchange for bed and board. A family might pay a lot of money to a master to have a son become his apprentice. After several years, a suitably trained apprentice would find another master with which to intern, finally getting paid for his work. At this stage he was called a journeyman. After proving his mastery of the craft, he could become a master himself, and could set up his own shop and accept apprentices of his own.

Guilds also gave back to society. All professions had some patron saint, and guilds would often fund a chapel dedicated to their patron saint.

After the Reformation, the rise of strong national governments removed some of the local autonomy that allowed guilds to control so much of their towns. Also, merchants began to develop international connections, mega-corporations that overshadowed the effect of a local guild.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Templars, Absolved

Everyone knows about the Templars, or Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. Their avowed goal was to protect travelers to the Holy Land. For almost two centuries they offered protection en route to sites in the Holy Land and, as a trustworthy order with members in several countries, became wealthy by being a reliable way to transfer money from one country to another.

The Chinon Parchment
Although endorsed by the Church, King Philip IV of France engineered their downfall in France and arrested and tortured a number of them in 1307, confiscating their property in the process. This was very handy for Philip, since he was greatly in financial debt to them. Through use of the Inquisition, they were linked with heresy, accused of consorting with the devil, etc. The Templars' very secret initiation rite made it easy to fabricate lies about what they did.

In 1312, Philip persuaded Pope Clement V to disband the Templars for good, so that no one stood in Philip's way when he executed their Grandmaster, Jacques de Molay. The Templars went out in disgrace for political reasons, vilified for non-Christian practices, after having been one of the most respected groups in Christendom.

The Vatican Secret Archives (Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum) contain all the documents of the popes, as opposed to official and public documents. They are "secret" in that they are technically a private library and one cannot simply walk in and check out a book. Popes can give access, however, and recent popes have done so. In 2001, historian and paleographer Barbara Frale discovered a document now known as the Chinon Parchment.

It turns out that Clement wanted to interview the heads of the Order, but their imprisonment and torture made it impossible for them to travel to Avignon to meet him, so he sent his legates to meet with them at Chinon, questioning them about their beliefs. This meeting at Chinon took place in August 1308, as related and notarized in the Chinon Parchment. Even though Clement suppressed the Templars a few years after, due to pressure from Philip, the Chinon Parchment tells us that the pope granted them forgiveness and absolution for their sins and restored to them the right to receive the sacraments.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Art of the Deal

One of the very first posts on this blog years ago was about the collapse of the powerful Florentine banking corporation, the Bardi. One of he reasons often given for that collapse is the default by England's kings on repayment of loans used to fight their wars. The head of the London office for the Bardi was Francesco Balducci Pegolotti, whose job in 1347 was to deal with the results of the Bardi bankruptcy.

Still in (Italian) print!
Pegolotti (who flourished from 1310 to 1347) did something else, however, that would outlast him and the Bardi. He wrote a book, the Pratica della mercatura [Italian: "Mercantile practice"], that was a guidebook for years to come on international trade.

What is so valuable about the book? For a start, it has a glossary of all the terms used at the time in the field of mercantilism and taxes. It also contains a list of the 20 (!) languages it is good to have knowledge of if one wishes to be a successful merchant, everything from English and "Saracen" (Arabic) to several dialects of the Italian peninsula.

It lists several trading routes, everywhere from England to Persia to "Gattaio" (Cathay=China), and the stages one goes through to get to your destination. He also explains the business practices and customs of each of these places, to aid the merchant in successful dealing.

We also learn from Pegolotti what goods were to be had from each country, and where to go to find them. He lists, for instance, many monasteries in England and Scotland as sources of wool. Along with the goods, he explains the local systems of weights and measures, the local currency, and the formulæ needed to convert between them and one's own system.

Among the lists and tables included, we learn an enormous amount of detail about the 14th century:

  • Lengths of cloth
  • Fineness of gold and silver coin
  • Spices and their packing
  • Compound interest tables
  • Valuation of pearls and precious stones
  • Buying and selling grain
  • Shipping
  • Calendar tables
  • Fineness of gold and silver
  • Types and qualities of spices and other trade goods
No original manuscript exists, but the book remained in use, initially for its utility in international trade dealings, and now because of its historical value. The earliest copy we have is from over a century later, in 1472. An 18th century historian included the Pratica in a multi-volume history of Florentine finance. There is a 1936 edition that can still be found.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Siege of Montségur

The Cathars, mentioned yesterday, were a largely peaceful group that attempted to lead lives of Christian simplicity, rejecting the material world as much as possible. Their beliefs challenged official Church doctrine, and the Inquisition and the Albigensian Crusade were chief instruments in suppressing them. They were not completely successful, however.

The remains of a later structure on Montségur
In May 1243, over 200 Cathars took refuge in a stone chateau on a peak called Montségur in southern France, surrounded by French military. Montségur wasn't a last resort of fleeing Cathars, however: it had been granted to them as the headquarters of their Cathar Church by its sympathetic owner, the Occitan nobleman Raymond de Péreille. (For his trouble, he was interrogated by the Inquisition after the Siege concluded.)

The Siege took nine months. The usual tactic is to outlast the besieged while their food and water runs out. Montségur was well-provisioned, however, and sympathetic locals snuck in with supplies. Also, the Cathars were accustomed to deprivation, so emergency rations were no hardship for them. For these reasons, the 10,000 royal troops waited in vain until the decision was made to attack. After much difficulty, a position was established on the eastern side of the peak, where a catapult was constructed. The bombardment enabled the attackers to take control of the chateau's defensive gateway, the barbican, and therefore move the catapult closer in order to do more damage to the walls and interior.

The besieged were given two weeks to depart safely, on the condition that they renounced Catharism. Death by burning was the alternative. The Cathars spent the two weeks fasting and praying in preparation for departing from a world they considered sinful anyway. On 16 March, 1244, over 200 of them marched downhill to the pyre that had been prepared and of their own volition climbed onto the stacks of wood. The place is now known as Prats de Cremats [Occitan: "Field of the Burned"].

Catharism survived in southern France, but not in any organized fashion. The presence of the Inquisition caused many Cathars to emigrate to more hospitable regions, such as Spain and Italy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


The Cathar symbol
The Cathars were a heretical sect that first appeared in historical records of Europe about 1143. In truth, the term was used earlier: the first Council of Nicaea in 325 discussed allowing "Cathars" to convert to the approved Christianity, and the 8th century St. John Damascene's book on heresies mentions Cathars, but the group of which we know more in the Middle Ages was probably not related to those earlier groups.

The confusion would come from the name itself. "Cathar" comes from the Greek katharoi, meaning "the pure ones." The later medieval Cathars were a dualist movement: they believed that there were two opposing forces of equal power, good and evil. The good was represented by a single God (no Trinity for them!) and the spiritual side of life; the material world was the result of a god of evil, Satan. They therefore rejected (as much as possible) the material world., since it was all tainted with sin by its connection to Satan. One aspect of the material world that they rejected was sex and its partner, marriage, as this blog discussed here.

Groups of Cathars flourished in the 12th century in the Rhineland, France, and northern Italian cities. Their lifestyle was a radical departure from the norm, but it was not objectionable to many. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the strongest voices in Christianity of his day) said of them:
If you question the heretic about his faith, nothing is more Christian; if about his daily converse, nothing more blameless; and what he says he proves by his actions ... As regards his life and conduct, he cheats no one, pushes ahead of no one, does violence to no one. Moreover, his cheeks are pale with fasting; he does not eat the bread of idleness; he labours with his hands and thus makes his living. Women  are leaving their husbands, men are putting aside their wives, and they all flock to those heretics! Clerics and priests, the youthful and the adult among them, are leaving their congregations and churches.... [Sermon 65]
They were ascetic Christians living the Christian life, harming no one. They rejected, however, the trappings of Roman Catholicism. Pope Innocent III tried to bring them back "into the fold" by sending missionaries to preach to them. One of these, Pierre de Castelnau, was murdered on 15 January, 1208, during one such attempt, supposedly by Count Raymond of Toulouse, whom he was accusing of being too lenient with the Cathars. After this act, Innocent abandoned his attempts to win over the Cathars, and instead decided to wipe them out with the action known as the Albigensian Crusade.

Monday, March 14, 2016


When Guy de Chauliac mentioned midwives in his great work on surgery, it was only a mention: he declined to express details because the field was dominated by women; men were not even allowed into the room when a woman was giving birth. In fact, "One Henne Vanden Damme, for having hid behind a staircase to eavesdrop upon his wife, she being in labour of childbirth, which thing doth not befit a man, for the said eavesdropping was fined 15 livres." [source]

Later in the Middle Ages, there was regulation of midwifery, but midwives, unlike doctors, were not associated with any formal training. In fact, some of the early manuals produced on midwifery—by the rare individuals in the profession who were literate—do not even demonstrate current medical knowledge. Midwives never formed into guilds, as other professions did with regularity. So far as we know, the qualifications for becoming a midwife were gained from on-the-job experience. Even Trotula, the famous female doctor and professor of medicine, discussed many female conditions but not the subject of childbirth.

According to Joseph and Frances Gies:
During labor the midwife rubs her patient's belly with ointment to ease her travail and bring it to a quicker conclusion. She encourages the patient with comforting words. If the labor is difficult, sympathetic magic is invoked. The patient's hair is loosened and all the pins removed. Servants open all the doors, drawers, and cupboards in the house and untie all the knots.
When the baby is born, the midwife ties the umbilical cord and cuts it at four fingers' length. She washes the baby and rubs him all over with salt, then gently cleanses his palate and gums with honey, to give him an appetite.
[Life in a Medieval City, pp.60-1]
Some historians have noted that the regulation of midwifery started generally around the same time as persecutions for witchcraft. This is, of course, not true in all countries, but it would be difficult to miss the similarity between two different practices of trying to place controls on a segment of society that was in a position of potential harm, either through neglect (on the part of midwives) or design (on the part of witches).

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Pact of Umar

Copy of the Pact [source]
The Pact of Umar is a document that outlines rights and restrictions for Christians living in Muslim-held territory. Its true origin is uncertain, and different versions exist. Some of the points gleaned from the various versions follow:
  • The ruler would provide security for the Christian believers who follow the rules of the pact.
  • Prohibition against building new churches, places of worship, monasteries, monks or a new cell.
  • Prohibition against hanging a cross on the Churches.
  • Muslims should be allowed to enter Churches (for shelter) in any time, both in day and night.
  • Prohibition of Christians and Jews against raising their voices at prayer times.
  • Prohibition against teaching non-Muslim children the Qur'an.
  • Palm Sunday and Easter parades were banned.
  • Funerals should be conducted quietly.
  • Prohibition against burying non-Muslim dead near Muslims.
  • Prohibition against telling a lie about Muslims.
  • Prohibition against adopting a Muslim title of honor.
  • Prohibition against engraving Arabic inscriptions on signet seals.
  • Prohibition against non-Muslims to lead, govern or employ Muslims.
  • The worship places of non-Muslims must be lower in elevation than the lowest mosque in town.
  • The houses of non-Muslims must not be taller in elevation than the houses of Muslims.
It could have been worse: there could have been no Pact at all.

There is a legend that it was negotiated by Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem until his death on 11 March 638. After Arab armies conquered Jerusalem in 637, Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab came to Jerusalem; he and Sophronius (a Syrian Arab by descent) toured the city together. When the time came for Umar to pray, they were near a Christian church. Sophronius suggested to Umar that he enter the church to pray. Umar (supposedly) declined, because future Arabs might take it as a precedent and want to replace the church with a mosque. Sophronius was moved by the ruler's graciousness, and gave him the keys to the church, which remain in the hands of an Arab family to this day. (For a more historically accurate accounting of the keys, see here.)

Many scholars prefer to believe that the Pact is of later origin, and was retroactively ascribed the Umar because he was the first Arab ruler of Jerusalem. Another possible source is Caliph Umar II (no relation)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ballista, Catapult, Trebuchet...

...Onager, Mangonel, Springald, Polybolos—all words for devices that propelled heavy objects toward an enemy; not to mention Cheiroballista, Manuballista, Carroballista, and Couillard.

Ever since early man learned that hitting someone in the head with a rock was an efficient way to win an argument, he probably started thinking "Hmmm. If only I could hit him without getting too close."

The invention of the catapult [Latin "catapulta" from Greek "kata"=down and "pallo"=to hurl] is credited to the ancient Greeks—as this blog has mentioned previously—although a similar device is described even earlier in the Old Testament:
And he made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men, to be on the towers and upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones withal. And his name spread far abroad; for he was marvellously helped, till he was strong. [King James Bible, 2 Chronicles 26:15]
Not all catapults are alike. The various names for such devices distinguish different types of them. For instance, the onager [Greek: "wild ass"] was so named because when fired it "bucked and kicked" like a donkey. The trebuchet used a counterweight to provide the thrusting power, rather than the tension of pulling the arm back, as in the standard catapult. The couillard was a French modification on the trebuchet; it used a two-part counterweight, each half swinging to the side of the central arm. The most famous trebuchet was probably one called Warwolf, used by Edward I in 1304 to bring down a section of the walls of Stirling Castle.

The manuballista [Latin: "hand thrower"] was exactly what it sounds like: a hand-operated throwing device, such as used by young boys through the ages and pictured above. The cheiroballista [Greek: "hand thrower'] is considered to be the same device, even though descriptions are not included in the references. The carroballista? A catapult mounted on a carro, a cart, for easy transport.

The springald was essentially a crossbow: smaller, and therefore less tension and less damage, used best against individuals in closer quarters. It first appears in a Byzantine manuscript of the 11th century.

Most of these devices threw a single mass in order to cause great damage to a defensive wall. Occasionally, however, you might want smaller damage but over a wider area. That is when you used the polybolos [Greek: "many thrower"]. Equivalent to a gatling gun rather than a shotgun, the polybolos could fire repeatedly: Philo of Byzantium (c.280-c.220 BCE) describes the mechanism that could fire bolt after bolt—eleven per minute!—once you loaded it up.

If you wish to build your own device, consider this store.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The @

We note with sadness the passing of Ray Tomlinson on 7 March 2016, whose name and history are unknown to the general populace but whose innovation is used hundreds of millions of times each day by folk on every continent. Ray Tomlinson, while working as an engineer in Boston, in 1971 was tasked with figuring out uses for the new ARPANET.  He invented a way to send a message from one computer to another; today we call it email. While figuring how to keep, in a line of text, the recipient separate from the address, he chose the @ on his keyboard, since it was used for little else. One article eulogizing Tomlinson said that the @ would probably have fallen out of use and off of keyboard layouts if not for him.

Of course, it was used before Tomlinson to designate a rate, such as "1 apple @25¢."

But...where did it come from?

To the left we see it in a record of a shipment of wheat from Castile to Aragon in 1448. There it was an abbreviation of Spanish arroba, meaning "a quarter" and being equivalent to 25 pounds of weight.

One theory holds that its use in other countries derived from a monastic scribal abbreviation to save space, reducing Latin ad [at, toward, by, about] to an a with a lower-case d curving around it. This would save ink and expensive parchment.

The earliest manuscript in which we find it, however, is a real puzzle. In a 1345 Bulgarian copy of the Greek Manasses Chronicle, a history written by Constantine Manasses (c.1130-c.1187), we find the word "Amen" written as "@men." Why it would be used for an upper-case "a" is unknown. Clearly, the symbol was a known figure that the audience was expected to understand.

In English we call it the "at" sign or symbol, but other languages have different names for it. French, Spanish and Portuguese call it arroba or arobase, a unit of weight (already mentioned). But other countries have more colorful names. Norwegians see a "pig's tale"; Hungarians see a "worm"; it is a "duckling" in Greek and a "rose" in Turkish.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Day Late, A Dollar Short

Abu ʾl-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi (940 - 1020) was a Persian poet, creator of the longest single-author epic poem in the world. The poem in question, the Shahnameh [Persian: "Book of Kings"] is the national epic of Iran.

Tomb of Ferdowsi [link]
The reason for its length might not have been only because of the grandeur of the subject matter. The legend of Ferdowsi is that he was offered one gold piece per couplet by the Sultan. This sounds like a set-up to a story, but it is not as ludicrous as you might think. The Sultan, Mahmud of Ghazni (971 - 1030), was known for numerous plundering expeditions into India, whence he gained the wealth to promote culture back home. He built a library, a museum, and a university.

Ferdowsi asked that the payment come as a lump sum when the work was finished and in the hands of the Sultan. Shahnameh was completed on 8 March 1010. When the Sultan would have paid, the courtier assigned to deliver the 60,000 gold pieces decided to deliver silver pieces instead. The poet was enjoying a bath house when the money was delivered, and was so insulted by what he thought was the Sultan's reneging on their deal that he gave the money away to the bath house staff. The courtier told the Sultan that Ferdowsi had insulted him by giving away his payment, so Mahmud threatened execution. The poet fled into exile and wrote a satirical poem about Mahmud.

Eventually, Sultan Mahmud learned of the deception perpetrated by his courtier on the poet, and banished the courtier (or maybe executed him; we are not sure). Many years later, Ferdowsi wished to return to his home, the city of Tus. Sultan Mahmud assembled 60,000 gold pieces and sent them to Tus. As the servants bearing the long-awaited payment entered the gates of Tus, the funeral procession of Ferdowsi was departing. He had died of heart failure the day before.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Forgotten Vegetable

In The Forme of Cury cookbook from Richard II's court, there is a recipe for "Rapes in Potage," "rapes" meaning turnips. Let me offer my translation of the recipe:
Take turnips and wash them, cut them into squares, parboil them. Take them out of the water, put them into broth and continue cooking. Mince onions and toss them with saffron and salt; add them to the pot. Sprinkle with sweet powder and serve. You can also do this [the author adds] with parsnips and skirrets.
From an 1885 German book
Turnips and parsnips we understand, but "skirrets" are mostly a mystery to modern cooks, despite a few attempts to create a revival.

The plant itself came from China, but traveled westward via trade to Europe. It became known in Germany as Zuckerwurzel ["sugar root"], and Hildegard of Bingen addressed its effects and medicinal properties in her treatise, Physica. The Dutch and Danish also call it "sugar root."

The Forme of Cury not only mentions them as a substitute for turnips, but also has a recipe for skirret fritters. In England, it was called skirwhit or skirwort which mean "white root." The whiteness and sweetness of the roots seem to be their chief attribute, praised by cooks through the ages.

The plant itself is hardy, resistant to cold and pests, and prefers moist soil—making it ideal for the English climate. The roots are best if dug up and eaten when the plant goes dormant in winter, making them a good source of food during the coldest months.

Modern attempts to work with skirret seem to disagree with the cooks of Richard II. The gardeners of Hampton Court have added this forgotten vegetable to their stock, and find that it is delicate enough that even parboiling ruins the flavor. Food historian Marc Meltonville says "Celebrate it on its own. Eat it raw or cube it up and fry it in butter with a little garlic, in an iron pan if possible." [link]

If you wish to try your hand at a long-lost root vegetable, you can order from here or here.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Noting the Bern

The Smithfield Decretals have been mentioned recently. They are a book of decrees drawn from 1,971 letters from Pope Gregory IX, with glosses (detailed commentaries) and lavish illustrations. About 700 copies of these decretals exist—most of them created after the advent of mass printing technology; this particular one was made in France in about 1300, but found in Smithfield in the UK, hence its name. It is thought that the owner in England had the illustrations added in about 1340.

Apes fighting as knights, from page 75
Thanks to the British Library's plan to digitize all of its manuscripts, you can actually flip through the pages if you go here. You will see all the illustrations, including depictions of daily life as well as fanciful portrayals of animals acting like humans.

But those are just the side show. The reason 700 copies exist of the writings are because of the importance of the papal letters, and the explicating of the important statements within. The editor of the decretals was one Bernard of Botone (d.1263), also called Bernard of Parma because of his birthplace. He studied at the University of Bologna, where (according to his gravestone) he became Chancellor in his later years. An expert at canon law, he was an ideal commentator for the decrees.

Bernard drew from multiple sources for the commentaries. Many medieval manuscripts give no hint as to authorship, or editor-ship. In the case of the Decretals, however, attribution is always given to the other authors and commentators whom he quoted. Whenever the notes and commentaries were his own, he signed with a simple "Bern" at the end.

The whole thing is finished; give the guy who wrote it a drink.
Bernard died in 1263, and the copies that exist were all made years later. In the case of the Smithfield decretals copy, we do not know who the copyist was, nor who the illustrators were. The copyist, however, did leave a "personal stamp" on the manuscript. On the very last page, after the last line, he added the following:
The whole thing is finished; give the guy who wrote it a drink.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Yoda's Medieval Manuscript

Yesterday mentioned the Smithfield Decretals, a detailed work on ecclesiastical law. It was produced in the 14th century, full of important decisions gleaned from the papal decrees of Pope Gregory IX, additional material like the explanation of how to celebrate the feast day of St. Matthias, and curious illuminations.

One of these illuminations is of particular interest to fans of Star Wars, because it seems to be an early illustration of Jedi Grandmaster Yoda.

The similarity was first noted by Julian Harrison, curator of pre-1600 manuscripts at the British Library and pointed out in his Medieval Manuscripts Blog. The figure has the grayish-green complexion, the large pointed ears, and the ridged forehead of Yoda's race. Also, the hands, like Yoda's, or not five-fingered. He also wears a long robe.

What are the chances that a specimen from a long-lived race in a galaxy far, far away could travel to Earth and be portrayed in a 14th century manuscript?

The figure perches atop a passage on Samson and Delilah. Although not likely to have been intended as a portrait of Goliath, it may simply be there to evoke the idea of monstrous creatures, such as Goliath would have seemed. Some have suggested that the figure may represent the Devil, tempting Delilah to cut Samson's hair. Or it is just a random figure from the fertile mind of a bored monk. This is a manuscript that includes archer rabbits hunting greyhounds and battling monkeys dressed in armor, after all.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Leap Saint

Following on the heels of yesterday's discussion of Leap Day, I thought we should give some attention to the poor saint whose feast day happened to fall on a day that only appeared in the calendar every four years.

Matthias, from the workshop of the
Italian painter Simone Martini (c.1284-1344)
St. Matthias was not a medieval saint. He was one of the Apostles, and is thought to have died in 80 CE. That is the only quantitative piece of data that is agreed upon. He died in either Jerusalem or Judea or Colchis. Chosen by lot to replace Judas, he was called either Matthias (Acts 1:24-25) or Zacchaeus (by Clement of Alexandria), or Tolmai (by Eusebius), or Barnabas (by literature ascribed to Pope Clement I); and a 19th century German scholar thinks he is the Nathanael in the Gospel of John.

One thing that is not in dispute, however, is that his feast day was 24 February. To modern readers, that does not ring any bells. In the Classical Era and the Middle Ages, however, this put him in an unusual spot in the calendar: Leap Day.

That's right: Leap Day used to be 24 February, which you can read about here. The unusual thing about 24 February being the extra day in a Leap Year wasn't so much that it was not placed at the end of the month, but that—it being an "extra" day of the year—it was treated as a "bonus" and was simply repeated; that is, 24 February appeared twice in a row in Leap Years.

Does that mean that the feast day of St. Matthias was celebrated twice? Yes. The Smithfield Decretals, an expansive book on ecclesiastical law, explains:
A standard solar year has 365 days and six hours, so in four years’ time these hours make 24 extra hours, which must be added as a new day to every fourth year. This additional day is what we call “double-sixth-day”, because, although it is counted as an addition, it stands under the same number as the previous day in the calendar, so that the two days are regarded as one and the same. The extra day is inserted in the calendar after 24 February (six days before the first day of March) so that we celebrate the memory of St Matthias the Apostle (24 February) on the next day, too. [link]
Lucky Matthias! Little is known about him, but he gets to be venerated two days in a row! Well, not anymore. The Church of England has kept him at 24 February, but in 1969 the Roman Catholic Calendar moved him to 14 May so that he could be celebrated outside of Lent and on a post-Easter day that would be closer to what would have been the day of his choosing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Leap Day That Wasn't

Bernard of Botone (d.1266) gloss on Leap Day
Most of you know that Julius Caesar in the 1st century BCE wanted to fix the fact that solstices and equinoxes were "sliding" from their original locations in the calendar, due to the fact that Earth's orbit around the Sun did not take place in an even 365 days. The extra six hours meant that, every four years, the calendar was "off" by an entire day. "Everyone knows" that the extra day was added to the end of February, creating February 29th every four years.

Except it wasn't.

Truth is, it just wasn't that simple. The standard Roman year at the time of Julius was 355 days. A "intercalary month" was added every three years or so to even things out and restore some normalcy to the spacing of festivals. The new year started on 1 March, and so the "extra month," which was called Mercedonius, was inserted prior to 1 March.

But that would throw things off even more—adding that month made those years 377-8 days long. So that the year would not get too long, they shortened February to just a little over three weeks. A year that needed Mercedonius had a February that ended on the 23rd. Why the 23rd? because that was Terminalia, the festival of Terminus, god of boundaries, and therefore a fitting end to the month.

Julius realized that this was a mess of overcorrecting for the astronomical inequality, and so he demanded that his scholars figure out what the calendar needed. They shifted some months, rewarded him for his wisdom by naming the seventh month after him, and told him the calendar could be kept stable by adding a single day every 4th year.

But where to add it?

Well, since inserting a correction in February was already a common practice, why not there? Excellent! So it was added—right after the day after Terminalia. There was no interest, however, in giving this new day its own identity—after all, it was only going to be around every four years, so who would count on it? Therefore, instead of calling it 24 February, they called it bis septum [Latin: "twice sixth"] because 24 February would have been the sixth day before the Kalends of March, so they would simply have 24th February repeated.

Therefore, even after the Leap Day was introduced into February, there was no 29 February until the Middle Ages, with the widespread European adoption of a sequential system of numbering, rather than counting forward and backward from the Ides and Kalends of the Roman system.