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Who Built Offa’s Dyke? April 14, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Who Built Offa's Dyke?

Offa’s Dyke is an important earthwork that runs along, very approximately, the English Welsh border. Its name comes from the little known (but apparently impressive) eighth-century Mercian king Offa (obit 796). The problem is that the dyke’s name may be a misnomer. Certainly, over the last generation there have been increasingly forceful attempts to wrest […]

A Medieval Brass Robot and the Unutterable Name of God April 12, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
A Medieval Brass Robot and the Unutterable Name of God

This account is given by William of Malmesbury in one of his histories. It is interesting for many reasons, not least because it supposedly came from a doctor in his monastery, who told it to William, when the future historian was a boy. When I [William's informant] was seven years old despising the mean circumstances […]

A Year-Long Dance in the Eleventh Century? April 5, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
A Year-Long Dance in the Eleventh Century?

A busy day here but really this strange twelfth century text (about an eleventh century event) needs little in the way of explanation. Wonder should be enough. William of Malmesbury, who quotes this account, apparently has a witness to hand. Note that Ethelbert sounds an Anglo-Saxon name but it is presumably an Anglified version of […]

Migrating Birds and the Edge of the World April 3, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Prehistoric
Migrating Birds and the Edge of the World

Year in year out birds follow migratory routes from north to south and from south to north. These travelling birds have long intrigued humans who have looked amazed as waves upon waves of birds fly to destinations unknown. These birds have entered human legend: the storks going to Africa to fight the pygmies, the wild […]

Love Goddess 8: Simonetta Vespucci March 30, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Love Goddess 8: Simonetta Vespucci

Our latest in the love goddess series (for a full list see below) is Simonetta Vespucci (obit 1476), a woman that had the reputation for being the most outstanding beauty of Florence at the apogee of that city’s golden age. We know that she came from Genova (her maiden name was Cattaneo de Candia), we […]

A Medieval Phoenix and Heliopolis March 25, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
A Medieval Phoenix and Heliopolis

The phoenix has been written about for well over two thousand years. Here though is a late version, a medieval version, in fact. It is interesting for its vividness and also for the curious confusion over Heliopolis, which the author situates in Ethiopia (rather than Egypt): any help with where this confusion begins, drbeachcombing AT […]

Forgotten Kingdom: Inbetween Saddleworth March 22, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
Forgotten Kingdom: Inbetween Saddleworth

Saddleworth is a late entrant in the Forgotten Kingdoms series. A stupendously beautiful patch of Pennine land in the north of England, it sits uneasily on the border between the White Rose County, Yorkshire and the Red Rose County, Lancashire. Saddleworth is, in fact, a reminder of how differences between communities are messy not clean-cut: […]

Why Didn’t the Vikings Bring Disease to the Americas? March 17, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Why Didn't the Vikings Bring Disease to the Americas?

It is well known that viruses proved absolutely essential in the colonization of the Americas. Unlike in Africa and Asia native populations died on a massive scale as they came into contact with viruses from animals and people, viruses that had been blunted by human immune systems over several thousand years in Europe. By some […]

A Missing History of the Kings of the Franks in Cairo! March 9, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
A Missing History of the Kings of the Franks in Cairo!

Our latest contribution to the burning library series is glimpsed, painfully briefly, in a tenth-century Arabic source. In the year 947, by the Christian calendar, the Islamic scholar Al-Mas’udi (obit 956) was rifling the shelves of a library in Cairo when he came across a suprising work. He had stumbled upon A History of the […]

Brazen Heads and Medieval Robots? March 7, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
Brazen Heads and Medieval Robots?

In the Middle Ages there emerged two kinds of artificial humans into the Christian imagination: the real thing needs, unfortunately, to be dismissed with Aztec jet planes and Pharonic nuclear bombs. First there were moving statues, brass and gold figures that were somtimes found guarding treasure hordes or, what might loosely be called, fairyland. These […]

American Indian Map Making: A Rare Talent? March 3, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
American Indian Map Making: A Rare Talent?

Mapmaking is often seen as a modern, even a western preoccupation. But, of course, map-making, albeit with rather different rules, has existed in other cultures from the earliest times. This is true even in hunter-gatherer societies where permanent records are slighter and more difficult to achieve. After all, the hunter-gatherer depends more on knowledge of […]

The Index Biography #4: Prize = A Good Book February 28, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
The Index Biography #4: Prize = A Good Book

***It took 15 hours but KR got it: for answer scroll down*** 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 Myth of Unbloody Zagonora February 26, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
The Myth of Unbloody Zagonora

One of the least bloody periods in the history of warfare came in early fifteenth-century Italy. The Italian city states had become a good deal less violent than a century before, and warfare was farmed out to mercenary captains, who proved themselves both greedy and all too often endearingly effete. These mercenary captains were in […]

History and Earthquakes February 21, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
History and Earthquakes

I’ve recently been wasting my time reading about earthquakes in British and Irish history. This does not reflect a new interest in geology, or local plate tectonics. It has rather to do with my perennial fascination for the way that historical sources are utterly unreliable and utterly skewed. When do earthquake records begin? Well, as […]

Finns, Magic and Murder February 18, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
Finns, Magic and Murder

***Dedicated to Leif who always gets me good Viking stories!*** There are Viking traditions dating back into the Middle Ages about the magic abilities of Finnish sorcerors (almost certainly Lapplanders). It is, though, bewildering to find a version of this belief surviving as late as the 1860s. This from a British newspaper. On Friday, Kar […]

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