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  • Honey and the Anvils of Women’s Thighs April 25, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Honey and the Anvils of Women's Thighs

    Beachcombing has been enjoying some reading in Arabic aphrodisiacs: aphrodisiacs understood as any food that creates desire or that deals with problems of desire from impotence to disinterest. The Arab world seems to have been pre-eminent in this field and opusculi were written with such wonderful titles as the medieval The Book of Exposition in […]

    A Witch’s Secret Letter April 11, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    A Witch's Secret Letter

    This is perhaps the most extraordinary ‘witch’ source of them all. In 1628 Johannes Junius, aged fifty five, burgomaster of Bamberg was taken in by the local authorities as a witch. After days of interrogation he writes a secret letter to his daughter explaining his decision to confess to witchcraft. Here is the voice of the victim that […]

    Frau Feie and Jousting April 10, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Frau Feie and Jousting

    Another book from the burning libraries file, this time from thirteenth-century Saxony. The book is, as the burning library tag suggests, lost but we learn something of its subject matter from a surviving town chronicle. In 1281-1282 Magdeburg decided to hold a jousting tournament with an unusual prize: a woman. Now it must be remembered […]

    How Many Burnt in the Burning Years? April 8, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    How Many Burnt in the Burning Years?

    Beachcombing has made fun in the past of historians and numbers: be they numbers for the population of Britain in Roman times or numbers of prisoners taken by the barbary pirates. Most historical numbers are simply partial facts or very partial facts multiplied by guesses. A classic example of this are the numbers of ‘witches’ […]

    Britain as Island of the Dead March 31, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Britain as Island of the Dead

    *** dedicated to Pam*** Here come Beach’s third and final extract from Procopius’ mad writings on Brittia (aka Britain): something that gets even crazier than Scotland without oxygen. The ‘men of this place’ in the following extract refers to a group of sailors from the coast of Gaul [France] who are let off their taxes […]

    Dark Age Scotland Without Oxygen? March 25, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Dark Age Scotland Without Oxygen?

    First of all huge apologies for lack of coverage in these days: the Beachcombing household really is in a it-doesn’t-rain-it-pours month. In less than 48 hours their beloved aupair disappears and despite honourable and numerous dishonourable efforts to sort this out they have been left uncovered. The first time someone falls ill there is going […]

    A Dutch Mermaid March 24, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    A Dutch Mermaid

    Beachcombing recently stumbled on this semi-mermaid story: if that is what it is. At that time there was a great tempest at sea, with exceeding high tides, the which did drowne many villages in Friseland and Holland; by which tempest there came a seawoman swimming in the Zuyderzee betwixt the towns of Campen and Edam, […]

    Perrottet: Sinners’ Grand Tour March 23, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
    Perrottet: Sinners' Grand Tour

    Tony Perrottet, The Sinner’s Grand Tour: Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe (2011 in paperback) Broadly-speaking all humans have three reactions to forms of sexual activity: (i) frenzy, (ii) comic indifference or (iii) disgust. Beachcombing, for example, has to (i) contain himself when confronted with sultry Mediterranean beauty. He finds it (ii) amusing that […]

    Escaped Lions March 22, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Escaped Lions

    ***Dedicated to Andy the Mad Monk*** Lions are striking animals and it is only natural that, through the ages, zoos and circuses have kept them to impress their clientele. They are also hardy creatures that makes them easier to keep alive than, say, the giraffe or a rhino. But they are dangerous and if they […]

    St Patrick and Confusion March 17, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    St Patrick and Confusion

    Beach has always been fascinated by questions of uncertainty in history, in part because these teach modesty, in part because they are a useful way to annoy colleagues. And, in tribute to question marks past, he thought that he would celebrate St Patrick’s day – finally a correct date for an anniversary! – by concentrating […]

    Procopius, Brittia and Britain March 14, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Procopius, Brittia and Britain

    Procopius is one of the most interesting writers of all antiquity: his discussion of the orifices of Theodora and his detailing of his own walk-on role in the Italian wars proving particularly memorable. But in the thousands of words of his Greek that survive there are many, many other passages that deserve a wider audience: […]

    Pulling Things Out of Rivers March 13, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Pulling Things Out of Rivers

    Rivers are useful guardians of the past: often thousands of years roll by (and millions of tonnes of water) before things that have been thrown in are fished out (sometimes literally) several hundred or thousands of years later. Here are Beachcombing’s favourite they-were-found-in-river things. Others would be welcome: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com 1) Claudius’ […]

    A Romani Mystery in Eleventh-Century England March 9, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    A Romani Mystery in Eleventh-Century England

    ***Dedicated to Stephen D*** Our knowledge of the ancient and medieval movements of peoples depends on extraordinarily inadequate contemporary sources and the  deadly (and often unsupported) prejudices of historians and archaeologists. But now, with the use of DNA sampling and other techniques, including isotope analysis, science is coming to the rescue: giving us surprising insights […]

    The Slave Free Centuries February 22, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
    The Slave Free Centuries

    Slavery is regrettably everywhere in the past. It underlies all the great achievements of Antiquity: when Plato was discoursing on the immortality of the soul there were Syrian dancing girls and Scythian catamites lining up in the background. European colonialism grew under the shadow of the chain: it used to be said that the streets […]

    The Valley of Sweet Bells and Dead Bodies February 19, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Valley of Sweet Bells and Dead Bodies

    Usually when Christian missionaries come face to face with a pagan shrine, the vitae tells us that the axe comes out and the splinters fly. But imagine if you were one of these (perhaps God-forsaken) missionaries in the woods of early medieval Germany or the great mountain ranges of Asia. How many really felt courage […]

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