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  • The Rise of the Vegan Fairies December 5, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    The Rise of the Vegan Fairies

    On this site we have frequently examined how fairies have changed through the generations. For example, the way that fairy wings have gone from being a minority convention in art to being practically de rigueur for the fay; or the way that the size of fairies has changed. However, these are superficial baubles in the […]

    New Book: Magical Folk December 2, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    New Book: Magical Folk

    Beach is happy to announce that just two days ago Gibson Square released Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies (a topic close to the heart of many readers of this blog). The book is choc full of fairy experts and includes three chapters on European emigrant fairies in the New World. The authors are: Magical […]

    Islam: a Warlike Religion? November 29, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
    Islam: a Warlike Religion?

    As part of Europe’s culture wars and as part of the continuing ‘War on Terror’ we in the west are constantly talking about Islam. Among these debates there is the question of Islam’s supposedly violent nature. Unlikely couplings of bearded prophet types and bespectacled intellectuals discuss lines from the Koran. There are even surreal exchanges where […]

    Ostrich in Medieval China November 19, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Ostrich in Medieval China

    Chinese Ostriches The Qianling Mausoleum was used for three hundred years (from the seventh to the very early tenth century) by Tang dynasty emperors and their court officials. It includes, in some of its magnificent stone sculptures, a large flightless bird, pictured above. This bird is clearly an ostrich, which begs a number of questions. […]

    The Half Million Club: Biggest Ancient and Medieval Cities November 11, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    The Half Million Club: Biggest Ancient and Medieval Cities

    The half million club is a select group of nine human settlements that managed to break the half million population mark in Antiquity or in the Middle Ages: the biggest cities around before the discovery of the New World. To give some sorts of limit to this exercise six chronological moments have been chosen at […]

    Immortal Meals #35: Bewitched Chinese Dancing Horses October 28, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Immortal Meals #35: Bewitched Chinese Dancing Horses

    It is a WIBT (wish I’d been there) moment from Chinese history. One night in the mid-late eighth century the warriors of the Chinese warlord Ch’Eng-szu (704-778) were preparing a sacrificial feast. Some struck up music to add to the festive atmosphere when suddenly a very strange thing. Dozens of the war horses in the field […]

    Mermaid Monday: Early Welsh Mermaid October 23, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Mermaid Monday: Early Welsh Mermaid

    Mermaid images from medieval Britain and not particularly common. There are quite a few medieval carvings, some explored in an interesting  2013 book Of Sirens and Centaurs by Alex Woodcock. But actual drawings or paintings are rare. This is why this fabulous doodle in a fourteenth-century Welsh manuscript is so exciting. The manuscript in question […]

    Death by Carpet October 19, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Death by Carpet

      Beach has been worrying for a while about  the death of the last Abbasid Caliph in February 1258. The man in question, al-Musta’sim-Billah Abu-Ahmad Abdullah bin al-Mustansir-Billah had had the misfortune, fifteen years into his reign, to be confronted with a massive Mongol invasion under Hulegu. Al-Musta’sim-Billah was not a particularly martial sort and […]

    Mongolian Ear Cutting September 24, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Mongolian Ear Cutting

    If you are going to carry out massacres then it is important to be able to count how many soldiers (and all too often civilians) that you are killing. From scalping in the American west to the Einsatzgruppen tally sheets on the Eastern Front in the Second World War military organizations have come up with all […]

    Werewhales! September 3, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Werewhales!

    Different countries, of course, have different shape-shifters. Northern Europe and France have a strong werewolf tradition. Amerindian peoples have a lot of changing into birds. In northern Scandinavia shaman became deer. Early modern Britons did not change into bears, but they often met headless bears that changed into other things: confusing I know. Vampires are […]

    Review: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities August 30, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Review: A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities

    Anthony Kaldellis, A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from History’s Most Orthodox Empire (OUP 2017) Between about 1880 and 1960 British and American publishers occasionally brought out curiosity books in small print runs by capable people. These books were on delightful but inconsequential subjects: the eccentricities of Chinese court etiquette; descriptions of […]

    Review: Les Compagnons August 20, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Review: Les Compagnons

    The Hundred Years War in France and three damaged people are thrown together by events: the grand-daughter of a witch; a knight with half his face burnt off; and a cowardly young man. The knight leads them on a trail across the burning countryside. He is clearly rushing towards his destruction. The young man and […]

    Winged Ninth-Century Elves?! August 19, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Winged Ninth-Century Elves?!

    Beach has previously interested himself with winged fairies and today he came across this very early image from the Utrecht Psalter. The Utrecht Psalter was almost certainly created in northern France in the ninth century and has fabulous line drawings that will bring you as close as you will ever come to the early Middle Ages: Beach […]

    Earliest Portrayal of Dwarfs: Heysham? August 5, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Earliest Portrayal of Dwarfs: Heysham?

    Early medieval and medieval literature is full of fairies, kobolds, gnomes and other supernatural entities. But when we come to try and understand how our ancestors envisaged these supernatural beasts we run into problems. We don’t, unfortunately, have early illustrations of fairies and their ilk; or at least we don’t have illustrations that can be […]

    Immortal Meals #34: Picnic Under the Vicar’s Oak July 29, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Immortal Meals #34: Picnic Under the Vicar's Oak

    Norwood was a rural area to the south of London that was sucked into the metropolis in the mid, late nineteenth century. If you want to go and imagine where the nightingale once sang and where Surrey farmers shot rabbits, head off for the mean streets around Crystal Palace, sit down and weep. ‘This is the […]

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