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  • Three Forgotten Democratic Tools from History November 24, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Three Forgotten Democratic Tools from History

    Western democracies run on a fairly limited model with relatively little variety from country to country. There follow three features that have disappeared from our contemporary democracies but that worked (and worked well) in the three most significant strands of historical democracies: ancient Greece, the medieval Italian communes and Viking ‘controlled anarchy’. Ostracisim Ancient Athens […]

    The Misericordia Polyptych Meets Allied Bombs November 22, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval
    The Misericordia Polyptych Meets Allied Bombs

    The Misericordia Polyptych is a talismanic work of art by Piero della Francesca, today, and for most of its history, kept at Sanselpolcro in eastern Tuscany near the border with Umbria (Italy). It took PF seventeen years to complete the polyptych, yet it would have only taken a second for an Allied bomb to blow […]

    Ethiopian Boat Arrives in the Mediterranean?! November 20, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Ethiopian Boat Arrives in the Mediterranean?!

    Here’s a strange text to say the least. It appears in that remarkable tenth-century Arab work Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems by Abu Zayd, the kind of miscellany of marvels that only the Arabs could write: the non-fiction reflex of Sinbad. In the Sea of Rum [the Mediterranean] near the island of Iqritish […]

    Joan of Arc and the Genesis of Her Voices November 19, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Joan of Arc and the Genesis of Her Voices

    Joan of Arc has appeared once before on this blog in that fascinating moment where she apparently picked out the Dauphin with psychic antennae. Today, two years on, Beach is turning instead to another part of Joan’s paranormal life, her voices. Joan heard, from her early adolescence onwards, voices. These voices gave her instruction and […]

    The Children Tree November 18, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Children Tree

    There are some rare accounts from the middle ages (though not from antiquity?) of trees that are alive. The following comes from the great eighth-century Chinese geographer Du You. Du You is talking here of the Dashi, the Chinese word for the Arabs, that have just started to come onto the horizon with the Islamic […]

    The Pleasure of He Who Longs to Cross the Horizons November 12, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    The Pleasure of He Who Longs to Cross the Horizons

    A good book title should be like a good wine. It sits on your tongue and then spreads and then evokes… And there can be no genre of scholarly writing that evokes better than geography and travel literature the discoveries of those who, to respectfully rephrase one of the titles below, dared the horizon. Beach […]

    The Earliest African Unicorn Evidence November 8, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    The Earliest African Unicorn Evidence

    This blog, several years ago, ran a series of posts on unicorns. Here is a late appendix based on reading Cosmas Indicopleustes’ Christian Topography, a work that dated to the mid sixth century of our era. Cosmas was a widely travelled Greek. He had been to Ethiopia and he may have been to Sri Lanka, […]

    Do You Recognise Iskandar? November 2, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Do You Recognise Iskandar?

    There is always a pleasure in seeing what an almighty mess humans can make of ‘historical’ traditions. Take the following story about someone who is known by every reader of this blog, but who has arrived here, some fifteen hundred years after his death, in a guise that is not (ahem) particularly reminiscent of the historical […]

    Speaking to Tens of Thousands Before Battle: Is it Possible? October 27, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Speaking to Tens of Thousands Before Battle: Is it Possible?

    Beach worried to day about speeches before battle in ancient and medieval times. If you have read any Roman or Greek historian then you know the drill. General stands up before his army, makes a few choice reflections on why his men are fighting,  and then the army goes out, inspired, and trashes or is […]

    Sham Virigins, Trainee Shamans, Phantom Storms and Medieval Conversion October 24, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval
    Sham Virigins, Trainee Shamans, Phantom Storms and Medieval Conversion

    We are in the Middle Ages beyond the banks of the Rhine in the pagan communities there. A young man has had a great disappointment, he has married a woman only to discover that she is not a virgin. There follows a wretched series of illnesses that lead the young man towards death. In all […]

    Multi-Dimensional Civil War in Fourteenth-Century Florence October 15, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Multi-Dimensional Civil War in Fourteenth-Century Florence

    Civil Wars are generally – the American Civil War is a fascinating exception – confusing with there almost inevitably being more than two factions. However, it is arguable whether, with apologies to Syria and Bosnia, the world has ever experienced civil wars quite as confusing as those reported in Florence, Italy in the fourteenth century. […]

    Did Joan of Ark see Fairies? October 13, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Did Joan of Ark see Fairies?

    Anyone who has ever read a book on Joan of Ark will know that the English-hater was supposed to have had some kind of relations with fairies. But what exactly were those relations? The trial at which Joan battled for her life in 1431 included a long list of charges against the Maid. Some of these […]

    Human Knowledge of Change September 26, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern, Prehistoric
    Human Knowledge of Change

    Humanity began its long escape from the seasons about 10000 years ago when the Neolithic Revolution saw a nomadic primate named homo sapiens start to settle, grow plants, drink beer and domesticate animals. Though some of our cousins in the Amazon rainforest and the Pacific still keep up an essentially natural animal existence, most of […]

    The Poison Duel 4#: The Medical Origins of the Poison Duel? September 23, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    The Poison Duel 4#: The Medical Origins of the Poison Duel?

    The earliest nineteenth-century poison duel seems to have been that almost fought in 1821 in Virginia. However, there are pre-nineteenth-century records and strangely they concern doctors. The earliest record anywhere that Beach has been able to dig up was an alleged reference in the Iranian poet Nizami (obit 1209). Nizami in one poem (Treasury of […]

    More On Cauls and Sacs September 9, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    More On Cauls and Sacs

    Anthropologists have their work cut out for them. Despite the fact that we are all – from the Kalihari Bushman to the Californian surfer – one and the same species, there are so many differences between human societies, as to be almost embarrassing. However, there are a series of important and trivial facts that bind […]

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