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  • Were There Really Arrow Storms? February 10, 2018

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Were There Really Arrow Storms?

    There are a number of antique and medieval references to massive numbers of arrows creating arrow storms in battles. Some readers will remember, for example the arrows blotting out the sun at Thermopylae: ‘Good, we shall fight in the shade etc’. But did these arrow storms really take place? Just how many arrows could an […]

    The Wild Hunt of 1127 January 28, 2018

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Wild Hunt of 1127

    In spring 1127, in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire strange things happened. At night locals heard repeated horn blasts and some, who were foolish enough to be out in the dark, saw ghastly sights: men appeared on black horses and on black goats riding through the woods following black hounds. It goes without saying that this was not […]

    Chinese Artillery Outside Baghdad January 20, 2018

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Chinese Artillery Outside Baghdad

    The Mongol armies of the thirteenth century were among the most multi-ethnic in history. Koreans, Africans, Europeans and Persians fought together under the ‘prince of heaven’: a thuggish horse thief from the Steppes. Beach was recently particularly struck by one example of this that could stand for many less dramatic instances. When in 1258 Hulegu […]

    What are Fairy Trees? January 16, 2018

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    What are Fairy Trees?

    Nothing about fairies is easy but Beach is getting more and more confused about one aspect of fairy life and that is their trees. In the Gaelic-speaking world (or what was the Gaelic-speaking world, RIP) thorns were commonly associated with fairies. These are the trees that workers are sometimes terrified about cutting down. In Wales […]

    Swiss Girl vs German Army December 30, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Swiss Girl vs German Army

    In 1499 the Swiss fought their last great war in the north. Their battle-hardened democratic armies proved superior to the pitiful Habsburg forces and by Autumn, the end of the campaigning season, the Germans were begging for peace. Here is a lovely episode from the middle of the war that gives some sense of the […]

    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 […]

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