Medieval

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

Quaestiones Forojulienses: What does it mean to “enter”?

A man in a robe sits in an armchair with a circular table in front of him. The table rotates on a screw joint and supports two books, one open and upright and one horizontal and closed. In the background a glass window shows a dark night.
A student reading in his room, as painted in Paris circa 1420. British Library Royal MS 20 B XX. Cropped from an image in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts which has been released under a Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

One of my academic interests is knightly combat in late medieval Europe as described in four manuscripts by Fiore dei Liberi dating to the beginning of the fifteenth century. Fiore’s works, and those of his contemporaries in more northerly lands, give us a unique chance to understand how the weapons and armour racked in museums were meant to be used. They at the very least give anyone interested in how ancient people fought food for thought.

This series of posts is inspired by the Greek scholar Plutarch, who wrote an antiquarian essay asking why the Romans practiced some curious customs. Plutarch was wise enough to give questions not answers, and that will be my policy in these posts as well.

One of the most common verbs in Fiore’s works is “to enter” (Italian entrare or intrare). Translators often translate the Italian word with its English cognate, but I have never felt that I understand every use. Tom Leoni speaks of three types of expression which a translator must handle: those which are purely technical, those which are part of ordinary speech, and those which have both a common meaning and a technical one. Phrases like “to enter into the zogho stretto” fall into his third category, the most difficult to translate. Fiore also wrote in verse, and poetry usually allows a wider range of words, meanings, and expressions than prose. Being away from my books, I have used Wiktenauer to compile some examples of usage:
Read more


Some Thoughts on Guy Windsor’s “Italian Longsword Guards”

Ancient martial arts are dead and beyond recovery. Anyone who wishes to learn a method for using ancient weapons effectively must study an art originating within the last thousand years before looking at the scraps of literature and painting and sculpture which give us some hint to how Assyrians or Romans fought. We are extraordinarily lucky to have a series of European fencing manuals running back to circa 1300, and over the past decades these sources have attracted researchers willing to face the formidable scholarly, epistemological, and physical challenges of interpreting them. In Italian Longsword Guards: Comparing Vadi’s Guards with Fiore and Marozzo Guy Windsor makes a first attempt at one of these problems: the relationship between guards for the sword in two hands in the oldest known Italian writers who describe that weapon, namely Fiore dei Liberi (wrote circa 1404-1410), Philippo Vadi (wrote circa 1482-1485), and Achille Marozzo (first edition printed 1536). Vadi’s verse manual contains many names and phrases which resemble Fiore’s words, but also significant differences.
Read more


The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of Cities

My visits to Heuneburg and Haithabu/Hedeby reminded me that I don’t know enough about one of the great puzzles in world history: why cities spread so slowly, with frequent retreats and abandonments. There were towns in the Balkans before the Indo-Europeans came, but it was almost the year 1,000 before there was a single town on the Baltic, and that was burned and abandoned. Why did it take 5,000 years for cities to spread from Mesopotamia to Denmark, when other innovations spread in a few centuries? And why did many societies which once had prosperous cities give them up?
Read more