Medieval

Posts on events in the late first and early second millenia CE

Some Thoughts on Medlej’s “Inks and Paints”

Joumala Medlej, Inks & Paints of the Middle East : A Handbook of Abbasid Art Technology. Revised edition (Majnoura: London, 2021) GBP 20 https://majnouna.com/shop/books/

Inks and Paints of the Middle East is a practical summary of six Arabic treatises on making ink and paint dating from roughly 900 to 1400 CE (300 to 800 AH). Rather than translations, it provides illustrated descriptions of the different processes from making brushes and reed pens to gathering and grinding pigments to mixing them with each other and with binders. Endnotes discuss the scholarly details such as the sources for specific recipes (and some practical questions whether lead white pigment is safe to use, p. 115 n. 129). Most of these texts have never been printed or translated into a European language, or the existing translations and editions are inaccurate (few scholars are skilled in both medieval Arabic paleography and in the kitchen chemistry of making paint and ink).

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Books Read in 2022

a wooden bookcase stained dark brown about half full of softcover and hardcover fiction and nonfiction
We got some beautiful solid wood bookcases this year, unlike my old Ikea bookcases in Austria

I’ve never been sure how to do these since I switched from reading like a novel-lover (reading books in my native language from cover to cover then sending them back to the library) to reading like a scholar (dipping in and out of books, reading in languages I am not fluent in). Should magazines count? Individual short stories read online? Books and stories heard over the radio or on a mobile computer? And there is no sense making this into another piece of unpaid work keeping records of what I read! But I feel like doing one at the end of this year.

I err on the side of including things which don’t appear in my academic notes and reading list so might otherwise be unrecorded.

I am not including books which I read in manuscript.

This post might include some things from the last week of 2021. See previous discussion about unpaid work!

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Academic Mastodon Lists and Groups

a manuscript illumination of a dragon confronting an elephant
Sjoerd Levelt https://scholar.social/@slevelt@hcommons.social thinks that the symbol of the clash between birdsite and Mastodon should be the clash between the elephant and the dragon in ancient philosophers and medieval bestiaries

In November 2022 many academics have created accounts on Mastodon, a federated microblogging service. Mastodon is decentralized like the old forums and mailing lists, but you can easily cross-post from one Mastodon server to another and search across servers with hashtags to find posts of common interest. Because each instance is moderated by members, it can set its own standard for acceptable behaviour rather than trying to get Germans and Americans to agree whether the Horst-Wesel-Lied is protected speech (although two of the biggest mastodon instances are barely moderated at all, so careful where you post! Mastodon is open-source software like WordPress or bulletin board software, so it gets used by people who say and do things you hate). Because its hard to find old Mastodon posts and I delete them after a few months anyways, here is a one-stop shop for the new instances, lists of accounts with a common theme, and groups I have found (Mastodon groups work like mailing lists, they take incoming messages and broadcast them to subscribers).

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Cross-Post: Carlo Paggiarino Mailing List

I don’t know how many of my gentle readers are armour scholars. Carlo Paggiarino, maker of fine-art books on the details of medieval and renaissance European arms and armour, has a message:

Just a quick message to let you know that Hans Prunner Editore has launched a new subscription campaign.

If you would like to subscribe to the free Hans Prunner newsletter, receive the latest news, be alerted to forthcoming publications, preview and reserve your copy of all new volumes simply enter your details using the form using one of the links below.

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I have several of his books. They are self-published, and good armour books go out of print quickly and then become very expensive.

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Some Thoughts on Lara Broecke’s Cennini

the cover of Lara Broecke's edition of Il Libro dell'Arte by Cennino Cennini
Lara Broecke, Cennino Cennini’s Il Libro dell’Arte: A New English Translation and Commentary with Italian Transcription (Archetype Publications: London, 2015) ISBN-13 978-1909492288

This summer I am reproducing some ancient shields, and since most face-to-face classes where I live are still closed, I am turning to the best possible teachers: Theophilius (fl. around 1100 CE) and Cennino Cennini (fl. around 1400 CE). Theophilius and Cennino teach almost everything you need to prepare a shield (or a panel) for painting.

The standard way to access Cennini is through three books published by Daniel V. Thompson around 1930 (an Italian text, a translation titled The Craftsman’s Handbook, and a practical handbook called The Practice of Tempera Painting). Lara Broecke has recently published a new edition, translation, and commentary of Cennini. These are thorough and scholarly and synthesize the past 85 years of art-technological research. If you want to know the chemical composition of Cennini’s gesso grosso plaster or giallorino pigment, look here. But Broecke distances herself from people who read Cennini as a textbook (pp. 1, 13, 305). Cennini was not a very good writer, his book may have been incomplete when he died, and none of the surviving copies of his work is a perfect representation of what he wrote. To understand why the old translations and editors of Cennini’s Book of the Art have the quirks which they have, lets turn to the Italian independent scholar Giovanni Mazzaferro:

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Cross-Post: Capwell’s “Continental Armour in England, 1435-1500” in Pre-Order

Seven years after the first volume arrived at my doorstep in the Before Times, Olympia Auctions is accepting pre-orders for Armour of the English Knight, Volume 3: Continental Armour in England, 1435-1500. You can order a copy for a 10 GBP discount from the retail price at the Olympia Auctions website. I have to be... Continue reading: Cross-Post: Capwell’s “Continental Armour in England, 1435-1500” in Pre-Order

Plataia 2022 is Happening Now

Reenactors on the walls of Plataea. Photo by Photo by Ilia Iatroo, “Plataea 2021-2022” group, Facebook The long-planned reenactment event at the ruins of Plataia in Greece is finally happening! The event website is https://plataea2022.com/ I can’t be there because of health problems, a very low income, the abandonment of infection-control measures against COVID-19, and... Continue reading: Plataia 2022 is Happening Now

How Heavy were Iron Age Bows? Part 1

See caption for description of painting
Another important detail: A Martyrdom of St. Sebastian in the BNM Munich showing the telltale red belly and yellow back of a bowstave made from the heartwood of a yew tree.

At the moment, many archery enthusiasts are telling anyone who will listen that soldiers’ bows usually had draw weights of 100 lbs and more (Deer hunters today usually use bows with a draw weight on the order of 50 lbs, casual or target archers often use bows about half as heavy, and even hunters of larger game rarely use a bow with a draw weight of 100 lbs or more). In other words, you could draw the bow to its full draw length by hanging it string-down and suspending 100 lbs or more from the middle of the string.  If this idea is correct, many men in the ancient world did something which is much more physically demanding than is commonly thought. This week, I would like to post some of the evidence which I know which might be relevant to the strength of bows used in the eastern Mediterranean around the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries BCE. I hope that some of my readers can suggest more sources.

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Where Did the Weapons Come From?

Back in February, as the evidence grew that Putin was about to commit the great mistake, journalists were sharing stories like this:

Dmytro Skatrovsky said he had not been notified by text but had turned up anyway outside the Svyatoshynskyi recruitment centre, in western Kyiv. He spent three years in the army and took part in the 2014 battle to evict separatists from the port city of Mariupol, he said.

“I’ve bought two sniper complexes with good optics,” he added. “I’ve also ordered a drone on Amazon. It hasn’t turned up yet.” Skatrovsky said a group of friends had chipped in to get the rifles – at a cost of $10,000 (£7,370). US contacts had paid $2,300 for the drone, he said.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/23/business-brisk-at-kyiv-gun-shops-as-ukrainians-rush-to-buy-arms

Over on corporate social media, I see some people who are amazed and offended to see a wide range of kit in photos from the war in Ukraine, ranging from the latest and most fashionable rifles to Maxim guns on steel carriages and – well, I have not personally seen the 1903 Springfield rifles, and the WW II vintage Panzerfaust may have been stolen from a museum. I am not sure if that is as unusual as they think: the German army which invaded the USSR in 1941 has been described as a military museum on wheels, one of the machine guns in the Citadel at Halifax was removed from the museum collection circa 1991 because the Army needed it again, and an American National Guard veteran claims that his unit invaded Iraq in 2003 with old M3 grease guns last produced in 1945. In fact, if you looked at a random army sometime in the past few thousand years, I think you would see just such a diversity of arms, some bought from private sources, others made in rough workshops, others donated, and yet others purchased by the state.

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Female Military Historians

soldiers in pleated kilts and helmets carry a beam, while others stand by chariots with spoked wheels
Detail from a New Kingdom relief of soldiers in the Museo Civico, Bologna. Photo by Sean Manning September 2018.

I have said that the ‘hoplite debate’ from 1989 to 2013 was an argument between people who were very similar to each other. One way they were the same was that they were almost all men. Is that because academic military history in general is male-dominated? That would not be a very good argument because military history is so marginal at universities that most people who do it have another research field. But more importantly, I can think of about two dozen 40 fifty women who have made significant contributions to the study of war in the ancient and medieval worlds. From my point of view, a doctoral dissertation, scholarly book, or several influential articles are enough to be significant.

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