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  • Medieval Marvels: Italian Dragonets August 20, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Medieval Marvels: Italian Dragonets

    Beach recently ran across this legend in the work of the endlessly fascinating Gervase of Tilbury, an English writer with a penchant for the impossible or failing that the improbable. There is an island in Tuscany pertaining to the domain of Count Ildebrandino, in which there are winged snakes which look like dragons. As soon […]

    Earliest Manuscript Broomstick Witches August 15, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Earliest Manuscript Broomstick Witches

    A few months ago Beach offered the evidence for early images of broomstick riding witches. There are three important manuscript sabbats that come down to us from the period 1450-1500 and that offer the best early visual evidence for the belief that witches attended sabbats by broom. The first of these images dates to about 1450. […]

    Burning Library: Galen in Chinese Shorthand August 10, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Burning Library: Galen in Chinese Shorthand

    The Arab writer Ibn al-Nadim included this extraordinary record of contact between east and west in his Index of the Sciences, finished in 988. He is reporting an encounter between a Chinese student, visiting Baghdad, al-Razi, perhaps the greatest of the Persian writers of the golden age, and the writings of Galen, the greatest Mediterranean […]

    Medieval Marvels: Carving Liquid for Stone and Marble July 20, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Medieval Marvels: Carving Liquid for Stone and Marble

    Beach has sometimes looked, in this blog, at the marvellous works of Gervase of Tilbury, 104. Here is another from his book of curiosities. A liquid that allows for the moulding of stones. In our times, during the papacy of Alexander III [1155-1181], when I was a boy, a phial was found at Rome full […]

    Arab Embassy to Dark Age Scandinavia July 19, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Arab Embassy to Dark Age Scandinavia

    The Vikings were attacking everyone in the ninth-century and this included the Arabs of southern Spain. After their most famous raid, in 844, when Seville was memorably captured by those northern psychos, the Emirate of Seville did something quite extraordinary. He decided to send an embassy to the Viking homelands to buy them off. This […]

    Did William the Conqueror Fall? July 8, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Did William the Conqueror Fall?

    One of the stories handed down to generations of British school-children is the idea that William the Conqueror, on arriving in England, slipped as he was coming ashore. This, of course, was a terrible omen (for the Anglo-Saxons). In his eagerness to get to the shore, as he leaped from the boat, his foot slipped, […]

    Curious Royal Epithets July 4, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Curious Royal Epithets

    There is a long tradition in Europe of giving kings, queens and even aristocrats epithets: e.g. Catherine the Great, Louis the Pious… Of course, epithets make particular sense when dynasties repeat names endlessly: you need to distinguish one George from another, say. Beach has spent an hour looking through collections of lists of these epithets, […]

    Tenth-Century Sasquatch? July 3, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Tenth-Century Sasquatch?

    ***Thanks to Ed, an old friend of this blog, for sending this in and making the sasquatch connection*** Do we have evidence from the Urals for a Sasquatch like figure in the tenth century? No one seems to have made this connection before but consider the passage charitably before we drag out the sledge hammer […]

    Historical Children Scarers July 2, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Historical Children Scarers

    ***Dedicated to Invisible*** Parents have scared children for generations with conjured horrors: the fairies, the black boggart, Jenny Greenteeth and many, many more. However, Beach today wants to look at a very select category. Historical personalities who were so horrific (or at least were imagined to be so horrific) that parents could credibly say: ‘Get […]

    Index Biography #31: Prize a book June 30, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Index Biography #31: Prize a book

    The Index Biography is a new form of biography pioneered by this blog and introduced in a previous post. The creator must find a biography of a famous individual from history, they must turn to the index and write down eight peripheral facts about the individual’s life. We offered up previously here Sheridan le Fanu and Joseph […]

    The Furthest Viking Raid June 21, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Furthest Viking Raid

    From the very late eighth century Scandinavians left their homelands to raid. These raiders were called vikings and historians usually capitalize the word to give us the Vikings: pagan crusaders out for money, slaves, blood and saga-glory. They began with what was close at hand, the northern islands (Shetland, Orkney etc), then they moved onto […]

    Medieval Whaling Account from Ireland? June 19, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Medieval Whaling Account from Ireland?

    Beach was very excited to find this reference yesterday from the works of al-`Udhri an eleventh-century Arab writer in Spain (thanks to Caitlin Green). Al-‘Uhdri was quoted by another author (al-Qazwini) in the thirteenth-century. This passage allegedly shows a glimpse of Ireland through Arab eyes. The Norsemen have no capital in all the world save […]

    How Long Did Our Ancestors Live? June 13, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern, Prehistoric
    How Long Did Our Ancestors Live?

    Life expectancy is a tricky thing. Every demographer knows that, in the modern world, the difference between a national life expectancy of 40 in country A and 70 in country B is predominantly about how many children die in their early years of life. If you look at life expectancy for fifteen year olds then […]

    The Origins of Excalibur and Late Medieval Funerals June 9, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Prehistoric
    The Origins of Excalibur and Late Medieval Funerals

    It is perhaps the single most famous image from the Arthurian canon: the sword being returned to the water, into the grasp of the Lady of the Lake. Beach includes here the scene from the 1981 film Excalibur, which caused his seven year old daughter to audibly gasp when she watched it this morning. Scholars have […]

    Saint Francis Meets the Sultan June 4, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Saint Francis Meets the Sultan

    It is a WIBT moment from the Middle Ages. At the centre of his court, the highest of the lords of the earth, Sultan al-Kamil, nephew of Saladin and protector of the holy places; and before him, an unkempt Christian holy man with a reputation for doing unpredictable things, St Francis of Assisi. The meeting took […]

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