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Handbook of Medieval Culture

Volume 1

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Handbook of
Medieval Culture

Fundamental Aspects and Conditions

of the European Middle Ages

Edited by
Albrecht Classen

Volume 1

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ISBN 978-3-11-026659-7
e-ISBN (PDF) 978-3-11-026730-3
e-ISBN (EPUB) 978-3-11-038544-1
ISBN (Set Vol. 13) 978-3-11-037760-6

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

A CIP catalog record for this book has been applied for at the Library of Congress.

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek

The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie;
detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at

2015 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Cover image: Poitiers Cathedral, Poitiers, France
Photo Albrecht Classen.
Typesetting: jrgen ullrich typosatz, Nrdlingen
Printing: Hubert & Co. GmbH & Co. KG, Gttingen
Printed on acid-free paper
Printed in Germany

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Volume 1

Albrecht Classen
Medieval CultureAn Introduction to a New Handbook 1

Christopher R. Clason
Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 18

Charlotte A. Stanford
Architecture 55

Frances Parton
Visual Arts 80

Thomas Willard
Astrology, Alchemy and other Occult Sciences 102

Romedio Schmitz-Esser
Astronomy 120

Stephen Penn
The Bible and Biblical Exegesis 134

Daniel Pigg
Children and Childhood in the Middle Ages 149

Ken Mondschein
Chivalry and Knighthood 159

Linda Rouillard
Church and the Clergy 172

Johannes Bernwieser
Cities 187

Lia Ross
Communication in the Middle Ages 203

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VI Contents

Mark T. Abate
Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 232

Nadia Pawelchak
Medieval Courts and Aristocracy 278

Gerhard Jaritz
Daily Life 301

Hiram Kmper
Death 314

Jan Wehrle
Dreams and Dream Theory 329

Werner Schfke
Dwarves, Trolls, Ogres, and Giants 347

David Sheffler
Education and Schooling 384

Gerhard Jaritz
Excrement and Waste 406

Emily J. Rozier
Fashion 415

Jean N. Goodrich
Fairy, Elves and the Enchanted Otherworld 431

Scott L. Taylor
Feudalism in Literature and Society 465

Sarah Gordon
Food and Cookbooks 477

Charles W. Connell
Foreigners and Fear 489

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Contents VII

Marilyn Sandidge
The Forest, the River, the Mountain, the Field, and the Meadow 537

John M. Hill
Friendship in the Middle Ages 565

Paul Milliman
Games and Pastimes 582

Hans-Werner Goetz
God 613

Kriszta Kotsis
The Greek Orthodox Church 628

Eileen Gardiner
Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven 653

Cynthia Jeny
Horses and Equitation 674

Volume 2

Jacqueline Stuhmiller
Hunting, Hawking, Fowling, and Fishing 697

Charlotte A. Stanford
Illness and Death 722

Mark T. Abate
Islamic Spain: Al-Andalus and the Three Cultures 740

Miriamne Ara Krummel

Jewish Culture and Literature in England 772

Oliver M. Traxel
Languages 794

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VIII Contents

Scott L. Taylor
Law in Literature and Society 836

Christian Bratu
Literature 864

Albrecht Classen
Love, Sex, and Marriage 901

Christa Agnes Tuczay

Magic and Divination 937

Alain Touwaide
Medicine 954

Scott Gwara
Medieval Manuscripts 999

Kisha G. Tracy
Memory, Recollection, and Forgetting 1020

Jeroen Puttevils
Medieval merchants 1039

Werner Heinz
History of Medieval Metrology 1057

Richard Landes
Millenarianism/Millennialism, Eschatology, Apocalypticism,
Utopianism 1093

Ralf Ltzelschwab
Western Monasticism 1113

Philipp Robinson Rssner

Money, Banking, Economy 1137

Mary Kate Hurley

Monsters 1167

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Contents IX

Karl Kgle
Conceptualizing and Experiencing Music in the Middle Ages
(ca. 5001500) 1184

Moritz Wedell
Numbers 1205

Rory Naismith
Numismatics 1261

Sarah M. Anderson
Old Age 1281

John A. Dempsey
The Papacy and the Pan-European Culture 1324

Cristian Bratu
Patrons, Arts, and Audiences 1381

Francis G. Gentry
Poverty 1404

Charles W. Connell
Public Opinion and Popular Culture 1419

John Sewell
Religious Conflict 1454

Michael Sizer
Revolt and Revolution 1486

Volume 3

Albrecht Classen
Roads, Streets, Bridges, and Travelers 1511

Daniel F. Pigg
The Rural World and the Peasants 1535

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X Contents

Christina Clever
Saints and Relics 1543

Richard G. Newhauser
The Senses, the Medieval Sensorium, and Sensing (in) the Middle Ages 1559

Charles W. Connell
The Sermon in the Middle Ages 1576

Timothy Runyan
Ships and Seafaring 1610

Ben Snook
Threats, Dangers, and Catastrophes 1634

Ken Mondschein and Denis Casey

Time and Timekeeping 1657

Romedio Schmitz-Esser
Travel and Exploration in the Middle Ages 1680

Graeme Dunphy
The Medieval University 1705

Ben Snook
War and Peace 1735

Ken Mondschein
Weapons, Warfare, Siege Machinery, and Training in Arms 1758

Christa Agnes Tuczay

Witchcraft and Superstition 1786

Bibliography 1813
Primary Literature 1813
Secondary Literature 1860

Index of Names 2117

General Index 2149
Index of Works 2222

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Albrecht Classen
Medieval CultureAn Introduction to a
New Handbook*

The European Middle Ages are of great interest and relevance both for scholarship
and the broader readership today, and this perhaps more than ever before. In fact,
they have exerted a tremendous fascination since their rediscovery in the late
eighteenth century, and there is no end in sight as to their continued appeal even
for future generations. Medieval fairs and similar public spectacles always attract
large audiences; most modern novels or short stories with even a slight reference
to the Middle Ages prove to be popular, and the same applies to modern movies
with a medieval theme.1 At the same time current scholarship is moving ahead at
an astonishing pace in virtually all possible fields of human endeavors, activities,
productivity, ideas, dreams, concepts, and organizations utilizing a historical
lens. Hardly any day passes without another study on that time period, that
culture, its peoples, ideas, values, and its social and economic structure and
conditions, appearing in print or in electronic media.2
Any school or university teacher who offers a course on the Middle Ages and
commands at least a modicum of pedagogical skills can count on attracting a
large group of students.3 Public lectures on the Middle Ages can count on being a

* In contrast to all contributions to this Handbook, in this Introduction I am providing the full
bibliographical information, with the book series and the publishers.
1 See, for example, Kevin J. Harty, The Reel Middle Ages: American, Western, and Eastern
European, Middle Eastern and Asian Films About Medieval Europe (Jefferson, NC, and London
1999); John Aberth, Knights at the Movies: Medieval History on Film (New York and London 2003);
see also the contributors to Antike und Mittelalter im Film: Konstruktionen Dokumentation
Projektion, ed. Simma Slanicka and Mischa Meier (Cologne, Weimar, and Vienna 2005); William
F.Woods, The Medieval Filmscape: Reflections of Fear and Desire in a Cinematic Mirror (Jefferson,
NC 2014). See also the contributions by Francis Gentry, Harlots, Heretics, and the Highborn:
Modern Visions of Medieval Murder, wort und wise, singen unde sagen: Festschrift fr Ulrich
Mller, ed. Ingrid Bennewitz (Gppingen 2007), 299316; idem., Die Darstellung des Mittelalters
im amerikanischen Film von Robin Hood bis Excalibur, Mittelalter Rezeption, ed. Peter Wapnews-
ki (Stuttgart 1986), 27695. The topic of medieval themes in modern movies has attracted much
more interest among scholars than can be accounted for here.
2 The large number of book reviews in scholarly journals such as Speculum, Studi medievali,
Mediaevistik, The Medieval Review, Arbitrium, Cahiers de civilisation mdivale, and many others
is vivid evidence for this claim.
3 See, for instance, the contributions to Mittelalterrezeption: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Germa-
nistenverbandes 45.12 (1998). For a special investigation, see Ulrich Mller, The Modern Recep-

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2 Albrecht Classen

success, and exhibitions on medieval art, history, literature, religion, or politics

have regularly opened the gates to huge numbers of interested people, and this
for many decades by now, accompanied by excellent exhibit catalogues that tend
to be well edited for the general reader and for the scholar alike.
The mention of King Arthur and the Round Table continues to arouse deep
fascination, especially in the New World where this royal figure is sometimes
identified as the substitute for many national mythical figures in the Old World.
Camelot and the Round Table, not to forget Excalibur, are iconic in the full sense
of the word.4 Of course, great popularity among the larger audience does not
guarantee the continued serious study of the Middle Ages, as illustrated, for
instance, by the increasing lack of linguistic skills among the present student
generation, which seems to know any of the medieval languages less and less,
not even to mention classical and medieval Latin. But the output of doctoral
theses and master theses worldwide indicates that not everything is lost, as long
as scholars and teachers (hopefully always in one and the same person) succeed
in transmitting the basic knowledge and can motivate the future medievalists to
prepare themselves appropriately for their own research.
In light of these perhaps overly optimistic observations, some medievalists
may want to rest on their laurels and let things stand as they are. We have
excellent reference works available; many texts from the Middle Ages are acces-
sible in good, reliable editions and even in translations into many different

tion of Gottfrieds Tristan and the Medieval Legend of Tristan and Isolde, A Companion to
Gottfried von Strassburgs Tristan, ed. Will Hasty (Rochester, NY, 2003), 285304; see also the
contributions to Geschichte des Mittelalters fr unsere Zeit: Ertrge des Kongresses des Verbandes
der Geschichtslehrer Deutschlands Geschichte des Mittelalters im Geschichtsunterricht Quedlin-
burg 20.23.Oktober 1999, ed. Rolf Ballof (Wiesbaden 2003); and to Zurck zum Mittelalter: Neue
Perspektiven fr den Deutschunterricht, ed. Nine Miedema and Andrea Sieber (Frankfurt a. M.

2013). American scholars have also paid considerable attention to this basic question, see, for
instance, Teaching the Middle Ages IV, ed. Robert V. Graybill, Judy G. Hample, Robert L. Kindrick,
and Robert E. Lovell (Terre Haute, IN, 1990); Teaching the Middle Ages with Magnificent Art
Masterpieces, Bobbi Chertok, Goody Hirshfeld, and Marilyn Rosh (New York 1999); Perspectives on
Medieval Art: Learning Through Looking, ed. Ena Giurescu Heller and Patricia Pongracz (New York
and London 2010).
4 Andrew E. Mathis, The King Arthur Myth in Modern American Literature (Jefferson, NC, and
London 2002), 23: The quintessential melding of the Arthurian mythos with American politics
came with the presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. One of the major reason for the great
appeal of Arthur might well have been, as Mathis suggests, that this medieval king avoided all the
acrimonious religious conflicts and offered an ideological alternative (14041). See also Alan
Lupack and Barbara Tepa Lupack, King Arthur in America (Cambridge and Rochester, NY, 1999).
See now Jeffrey John Dixon, The Glory of Arthur: The Legendary King in Epic Poems of Layamon,
Spenser and Blake (Jefferson, NC, 2014).

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Medieval CultureAn Introduction to a New Handbook 3

languages; many aspects of that time have been discussed most thoroughly from
many different perspectives, often also very controversially, and we can find
numerous lexica and encyclopedias on the Middle Ages resting on the book-
shelves of our libraries, both at universities and in the public.5
Why would we then need another handbook, this one focusing on medieval
culture? After all, the massive Handbook of Medieval Studies, in which many of
the aspects and topics dealt with in the present, new Handbook of Medieval
Culture, find consideration as well, only recently appeared in print.6 But while the
2010 publication intends to outline the history of research, rich and expansive by
itself, addressing primarily scholars in every possible field, the present handbook
wants to deal with more specific topics and ideas relevant both for scholars and
students, both for the general audience and the experts, presenting the content,
discussing what we actually know, and where the critical information can be
found in most recent research literature. We are not covering everything concern-
ing the medieval world, which would water down our efforts once again. Instead,
there are specific foci on important, fundamental issues, ranging from architec-
ture and religious heresies to numbers and weights and human waste.
Robert E. Bjork explains the purpose of his Oxford Dictionary of the Middle
Ages (2010) with the following words: it is designed to be a resource of first resort
for specialists and non-specialists alike for all key aspects of European history,
society, religion, and culture, c. 500 to c. 1500.7 Indeed, this proves to be a first
resort, a kind of gateway toward the Middle Ages, providing brief snapshots of
whatever might be of importance in terms of ideas, events, people, objects,
models, or genres. There are also some bibliographical references, but overall,
this dictionary primarily hopes to make available bare-bone information, without
being focused specifically on the critical research behind what we know of the
Middle Ages today. Approached from this perspective, this four-volume tome
answers very conveniently most first-hand questions, and at times also contains
more extensive articles on larger topics. The same applies to many other lexica
and dictionaries on the Middle Ages, which thus serve well as repositories of our
general knowledge about that time period. However, in the present day and age

5 Albrecht Classen, Survey of Fundamental Reference Works in Medieval Studies, Handbook of

Medieval Studies, ed. idem (Berlin and New York 2010), Vol. 1, xxvlxvi.
6 One of the best reference works ever published on the Middle Ages, considering its compact-
ness, excellent illustrations, and depth of information, still proves to be the one by Aryeh Grabois,
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Medieval Civilization (London 1980).
7 Robert E. Bjork, Introduction, The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages, ed. idem, 4 vols.
(Oxford 2010), vol.1, ixxi; here ix. See also the comments by William Chester Jordan, ed. of the
Supplement 1 to the Dictionary of the Middle Ages (New York, Detroit, MI, etal. 2004), viiviii.

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4 Albrecht Classen

with the internet increasingly making much knowledge available, the time might
come that printed reference works seem to be almost obsolete.
Even the much maligned Wikipedia is gaining in maturity and often provides
good summaries of the latest research.8 Although many scholars continue to scoff
at this online reference work, particularly because of the anonymity and the ever
present possibility that non-peer-reviewed statements could enter the texts, there
are countless examples of excellent, extraordinarily well-researched and well-
written articles available online (and there are bad ones as well, of course, but the
same could be claimed for even the best and most authoritative reference works,
including the Encyclopedia Britannica). Other webpages and databases are not far
behind, as we are in the midst of a true paradigm shift which also affects the way
we approach the Middle Ages, upon which our own modern world has been
constructed.9 In fact, despite the profound changes in cultural history ever since,
identified with, for instance, the Protestant Reformation, the Baroque, the En-
lightenment, and the Industrial Revolution, we continue to be the avatars of our
medieval forerunners, and many of the same questions that had been of prime
importance then are of great importance until today.
It might not be too far-fetched to argue that some of the answers to our own
critical problems rest in the past, even though we certainly always have to
translate ideas and messages from that time period in order to comprehend how
they might work or what they might mean today by means of adaptations,
modifications, and careful transformations. This is not to pursue anachronistic
approaches, or to level all cultural or ideological differences, but traditional
positions based on the assumption of complete alterity certainly mislead us and
also deprive us of a pool of timeless values, observations, ideas, and concepts
that had been developed in the past and stand ready to serve us even today, if
carefully modified and adapted for new conditions and material, political, scien-
tific, or even emotional framework. Our present and future are all grounded in the
past, which serves, resorting to an analogy, as the root system of the tree that
constitutes our own existence. No canopy can survive without the roots that pump
the water from deep down, or the past, up to the top, or the future.10 This finds an

8 A recent example proves this point very illustratively. In doing research on the medieval Irish
prosimetric Buile Shuibhne, I found the article in Wikipedia to be most helpful, with an excellent
bibliography and a remarkable selection of important links to the text edition and an English
translation online: (last accessed on Feb. 21, 2014).
9 Ruth Weichselbaumer, Mittelalter virtuell: Medivistik im Internet (Stuttgart 2005); Geoffrey
Chaucer Hath a Blog: Medieval Studies and New Media, ed. Brantley L. Bryant (New York 2010).
10 The major proponent of the alterity thesis was Hans Robert Jauss, Alteritt und Modernitt der
mittelalterlichen Literatur (Munich 1977). See now the contributions to Praktiken europischer

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Medieval CultureAn Introduction to a New Handbook 5

excellent illustration in the recently discovered frescoes depicting scenes from the
highly popular pan-European literary material known under the title Josaphat and
Barlaam. Those frescoes were hidden under thick layers of plaster in the Gozzo-
burg (ca. 12501275; Gozzo Palais) in Krems, Austria. As much as those impressive
images are now coming back to light (Fig. 1), the true importance of the Middle
Ages in epistemological terms emerges ever more in the present time.

Fig. 1: Scene from Josaphat and Barlaam, Gozzoburg, Krems a. d. D., Austria

( Benjamin Yuchen, June 2014, with permission).

As I have already outlined in the Introduction to the Handbook of Medieval

Studies, there is a whole slew of comparable reference works available, both in
the format of handbooks or of massive encyclopedias, such as the Lexikon des
Mittelalters and the Dictionary of the Middle Ages, which certainly deserve highest
recognition for their scholarly thoroughness and comprehensiveness. But scho-
larship is moving forward, and we constantly learn to understand and to appreci-
ate the past in new terms, or in light of other conditions, as documented by new

Traditionsbildung im Mittelalter: WissenLiteraturMythos, ed. Manfred Eikelmann and Udo

Friedrich, together with Esther Laufer and Michael Schwarzbach (Berlin 2013); to Die Aktualitt
der Vormoderne: Epochenentwrfe zwischen Alteritt und Kontinuitt, ed. Klaus Ridder and Steffen
Patzold (Berlin 2013); and to Heresy and the Making of European Culture: Medieval and Modern
Perspectives, ed. Andrew P. Roach and James R. Simpson (Farnham and Burlington, VT, 2013).

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6 Albrecht Classen

books and articles, by conferences dedicated to the Middle Ages, and now also by
the huge efforts to digitize medieval manuscripts and to create online concord-
ances and dictionaries. Particularly considering the truly intensive and impress-
ive research productivity in many different fields, from History to Byzantine
Studies, from Musicology to Art History, from Philosophy to the History of
Mentality, it behooves us to take stock from time to time and to address in as
concrete terms as possible how we actually have to understand past conditions,
events, ideas, texts, images, etc.
We are actually also witnessing a remarkable paradigm shift taking us away
from traditionally narrow disciplinary areas in History, Religion, German Litera-
ture, or Music, to a higher level which we might identify as Cultural Studies, that
is, research fields that pursue the Middle Ages, or even more broadly conceived,
the Premodern World, from a truly interdisciplinary perspective. Both the History
of Mentality and the History of Ideas, not to forget Gender Studies, Masculinity
Studies, and Ecocriticism, to mention just a few areas, have already blazed a path
toward much larger and more comprehensive concepts of medieval society and
medieval mentality. By recognizing both the vast differences between then and
today and realizing, at the same time, the many similarities of both worlds/
cultures do we gain deeper insight into the human conditions and our needs both
to adapt to new environments and to hold on to traditional values and ideas.
Interdisciplinarity is not only a slogan, but a necessity in order to develop new
perspectives and to guarantee the survival of Medieval Studies today.
The recent establishment of the Consortium for the Study of the Premodern
World at the University of Minnesota, with strong support from the Andrew
W.Mellon Foundation, signals that we are not at all in a slump, but at the brink of
the Renaissance of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, to use a convenient
pun.11 This might be an exceptionally positive case, but we observe constructive
movement in many other places as well. There are numerous centers of Medieval
and Renaissance Studies (or with another nomenclature) both in North America
and Europe, and also in Australia and elsewhere. Some receive very solid funding,
others might be struggling, but the existence of such scholarly organizations is
highly promising.
Parallel to that development and pushing it further, for the last decade or so I
have organized small symposia at the University of Arizona at which fundamental
aspects of medieval and early modern culture were discussed, such as child-
hood, old age, love, marriage, and transgression, urban space, rural space,

11 (last accessed

on Sept. 26, 2014).

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Medieval CultureAn Introduction to a New Handbook 7

laughter, friendship, crime and punishment, and East meets West, and
death and the culture of death. Future topics will be, for instance, multilingual-
ism, hygiene and well-being, and travel.12 The unique nature of these sympo-
sia, of which there are, astoundingly, nowadays many similar ones at universities
worldwide, consists of their specific framework, bringing together scholars from
many different disciplines who address the same topic from their specific areas of
expertise and so learn from each other. This does not mean that Medieval Studies
would suddenly turn into a sub-field of anthropology, sociology, or linguistics, as
pertinent as all those certainly are as well. Literary texts, historical chronicles,
sculptures, stained glass windows, textiles, depictions of animals in stone, in
paintings, or in literary texts, weapons, musical compositions, foodstuff, archi-
tecture, vehicles, etc. are all individual items and need to be studied with great
care, but certainly not in isolation.
To be sure, they are all embedded in a larger context, and each one of them
reveals remarkable connections with those produced or dealt with in other
cultures and languages. Religious attitudes, types of fear, concepts of monsters,
stereotypes against foreigners or minorities within ones own society, etc. can all
be studied better if we take a more global approach, i.e., pursue those fundamen-
tal topics in an interdisciplinary fashion, as has been strongly suggested by many
medievalists by now. An intriguing, very recent case proves to be Medieval
Disability Studies, a rather new field that is beginning to attract attention, and
which allows us to combine contemporary concerns with approaches already
pursued in the Middle Ages. It is simply a fact that there were also people affected
by some form of mental and physical disability at that time, and society had to
deal with them. We can now ask what their concepts were and what those might
mean for us today in the ever ongoing quest for alternatives, improved strategies,
and better solutions.13

12 All these symposia were subsequently translated into book publications. Recently the volume
on Mental Health, Spirituality, and Religion in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Time appeared
in print (Berlin and Boston, MA, 2013). For an outline of this book series and a detailed list of all
titles, see (last accessed on Sept. 26, 2014).
13 See the contributions to Transkulturelle Verflechtungen im mittelalterlichen Jahrtausend: Euro-
pa, Ostasien, Afrika, ed. Michael Borgolte and Matthias M. Tischler (Darmstadt 2012); see also the
articles in Cosmopolitanism and the Middle Ages, ed. John M. Ganim and Shayne Aaron Legassie
(New York 2013). Consult further Weltdeutungen und Weltreligionen 600 bis 1500, ed. Johannes
Fried and Ernst-Dieter Hehl (Darmstadt 2010). For an example of how a global approach can be
pursued, see the contributions to Crossing the Bridge: Comparative Essays on Medieval European
and Heian Japanese Women Writers, ed. Barbara Stevenson and Cynthia Ho (New York and
Basingstoke 2000). For Disability Studies, see now Irina Metzler, Disability in Medieval Europe:
Thinking about Physical ImpairmentDuring the High Middle Ages, c. 11001400 (London and New

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8 Albrecht Classen

But let us focus first on specifically European phenomena. The Crusades and
the Catholic Church were matters shared by virtually all Europeans in the Middle
Ages, at least in the West, the South, the Center, somewhat in the North, and a
little less in the East, depending on where we set the geographical and political
boundaries. But as soon as we turn our attention to more fundamental aspects,
we easily recognize how much we can or must study the Middle Ages from a
global perspective. Courtliness, chivalry, love, desire for sexual fulfillment, fear
of God and fear of death, worries about inclement weather or natural cata-
strophes, the firm belief in the prophetic value of dreams, the deep conviction
that spirituality constitutes the other half of human existence, the dread of the
wild and dangerous forests with their ferocious beasts (wolves or bears), but then
also the delight in the arrival of Spring, the contempt of peasants, the idealization
of tournaments, to mention just a small selection of universal topics, tropes, and
topoi, were all of greatest relevance for most medieval people, and actually
continue to be so in many respects even today.14
Of course, we have to differentiate between the early, the high, and the late
Middle Ages, and it would be very difficult to determine with all the desired clarity
when the medieval world came to an end and when the so-called Renaissance
began, that is, the early modern age. Actually, however, using some basic techni-
cal aspects we can identify that transition, or paradigm shift, fairly easily, if we
consider the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg (ca. 1450), the
fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans (1453) and hence the final disappearance
of the Eastern Roman Empire, the discovery of America by Christopher Colum-
bus (1492), the fall of Granada and the complete unification of the Iberian
Peninsula under the Spanish crown, except for Portugal (1492), hence also the
expulsion of the Jews from there (1492), along with the end of the famous
convivencia, and finally the Protestant Reformation, initiated by Martin Luther
(1517). But the medieval world continued well into the next centuries, if we
consider structural elements, the history of mentality, material conditions, or the
continuity of feudalism and the aristocratic courts in many parts of Europe. Of
course, that phenomenon can be detected in all other cultural periods as well,

York 2006); eadem, A Social History of Disability in the Middle Ages:Cultural Conceptions of
Physical Impairment (London and New York 2013).
14 One interesting and for our purposes relevant example would be the recent attempts by
scientists (climatologists) and historians to understand the history of medieval climate, the
changes from a little ice age to the medieval warming period, and reverse; see Wolfgang
Behringer, A Cultural History of Climate, trans. Patrick Camiller (2007; Cambridge and Malden,
MA, 2010), 60120; Richard C. Hoffmann, An Environmental History of Medieval Europe (Cam-
bridge 2014).

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Medieval CultureAn Introduction to a New Handbook 9

whether we think of antiquity, the Renaissance, the Baroque, etc. Radical changes
or breaks are rather rare, while continuity, transitions, and slow paradigm shifts
are more often the norm than not. Nevertheless, we are still on relatively safe
ground by recognizing the end of the fifteenth century as the fundamental thresh-
old after which increasingly the entire cultural framework and the value system
looked differently.
Naturally, none of these observations represent new insights, and yet we can
soundly claim that our understanding of the Middle Ages has grown exponen-
tially over the last two hundred years, justifying us in taking a much broader view
of that world, extending that time frame of that age down to the seventh or sixth
century, and expanding it to the sixteenth and even seventeenth century. Never-
theless, many debates concerning the periodization, the transition from one
phase to the other, the technological and scientific developments, the connec-
tions between the various cultures, especially the question concerning potential
familiarity between Latin-Europe and the Muslim-Arabic world, the cross-fertili-
zation by European poets and composers, not to mention artists, masons, and
architects who all shared their ideas and understanding among each other, the
relationship between the Jewish and the Christian population, among many other
aspects, continue to escape our epistemological grip and demand ever new
approaches and interpretive endeavors.

The current Handbook of Medieval Culture does not aim at filling the last gaps in
our knowledge, or to offer the final detailsan impossible task all by itself
anyway. However, it intends to serve as a pragmatic, detailed, precise, and highly
informative, reliable, and trustworthy reference work for all interested in that
culture and age for many different reasons. Anyone attending the international
congresses in Kalamazoo, Michigan, or in Leeds, UK, knows how great the inter-
est in the European Middle Ages continues to be, and that this is a truly global
phenomenon. Publishers could easily confirm that there is an impressively solid
market for scholarly books dealing with the Middle Ages, and academic libraries
are filled with enormous scores of relevant studies on that cultural period.
Research continues, and our understanding of that past world expands consider-
ably at a steady rate because we examine the archival material ever more and
develop new perspectives toward the same material known already for a long
time. Our broadly conceived and yet very detailed new Handbook of Medieval
Culture hence does not constitute an exercise in repeating or digesting the
status quo of our knowledge about the Middle Ages. Instead, it intends to be an
innovative platform for future studies on that world, and a gateway for present
readers who need to gain full information about a specialized topic relevant in
that world, even though I had to make selections and focus only on major issues.

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10 Albrecht Classen

This is a handbook, not a lexicon or an encyclopedia, that is, a broadly-based

work tool for both the experts and for the general reader.
I gladly acknowledge the existence of parallel projects, which are not compe-
titions, but publications pursuing similar goals, each addressing their tasks in
their own, unique fashion. The contributors to A Companion to the Medieval World
(2007/2013), for instance, discuss the early medieval foundations, the population
and the economy, religious culture, politics and power, and technology and
culture. The world of women and the issues of gender are well covered by the
contributors to The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe
(2013).15 These are certainly very valuable articles that help us to gain good global
overviews and a solid grasp of the relevant scholarship, but both their scope and
intentions differ in many ways from our Handbook, which intends to be much
more focused in the specific areas and which also offers a considerably different
spectrum of topics concerning the Middle Ages.

I hope that we can even appeal to undergraduate students taking courses in the
Middle Ages. There are good indicators that the relevance of that world and its
culture is increasingly recognized by a growing number of people outside and
within the university. For instance, late in December 2013, The University of
Arizona launched a new Thematic Minor of Medieval Studies, which I had devel-
oped in conjunction with some of my colleagues (especially Prof. Fabian Alfie,
Chair, Dept. of French and Italian). As an explanation how to justify the existence
of this new minor, I wrote online: A broadly based thematic minor focusing on
the Middle Ages exposes you to many different disciplines in the Humanities,
Social Sciences, Art History, then in the History of Music, Architecture, Philoso-
phy, Language, Religion, etc. You become an expert in variety of areas, and thus
you will be most flexible for the future job market.16
Prof. Peter Capelli, in the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 15, 2013), almost had this
also in mind when he reflects on the need for students not to specialize too early.17

15 A Companion to the Medieval World, ed. Carol Lansing and Edward D. English. Wiley-Black-
well Companions to History (2007; Malden, MA, Oxford, and Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013);
see also A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe, ed. Conrad
Rudolph. Blackwell Companions to Art History (2006; Malden, MA, Oxford, and Chichester:
Wiley-Blackwell, 2010); The Medieval World, ed. Peter Linehan and Janet L. Nelson (London and
New York: Routledge, 2001). The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, ed.
Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
16 (last ac-
cessed Sept. 29, 2014).
17 Peter Capelli, Why Focusing Too Narrowly in College Could Backfire, Wall Street Journal
Nov. 15, 2013, see also online at:

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Medieval CultureAn Introduction to a New Handbook 11

Medievalists (and thats what you will become) will be well trained in critical
thinking, writing, historical research, interdisciplinary approaches, and cultural
awareness, and will also understand the need to know a foreign language.18 To
get a Major in Medieval Studies accepted by our university administration might
be a monumental task that I would not dare yet to approach, but the future
developments might encourage us to do so. But there are numerous universities
in North America, for instance, where that is already a concrete possibility.

This then brings me back to this new reference work, which carries as its full title:
Medieval Culture: A Handbook. Fundamental Aspects and Conditions of the Euro-
pean Middle Ages. While the previous Handbook of Medieval Studies (2010)
focused primarily on the history of research, the present Handbook intends to
provide basic information on central aspects characterizing the Middle Ages, with-
out ignoring the history of research. These comprise, but are not limited to, such
topics as Animals, Fish, and Birds, Architecture, Bible and Biblical Exegesis,
Economy, Fairies, Foreigners, Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell, Knighthood,
Languages, Law, Love and Marriage, Numismatics, Poverty, Public Opin-
ion, Religious Conflicts, Saints, Time Measurement, Waste, and Weapons.
Although many more topics could have been dealt with, the large number of
specific areas covered in this Handbook already make this work, as I believe, a
very rich resource for its users.
No one can cover everything, especially not to the depth which the articles
here always pursue. In contrast to standard lexica and encyclopedias, everything
presented here is based on thorough and fresh research, as reflected in each
article through direct references to the relevant publications. I had hoped also to
include entries on topics such as Space and Cosmos, Islam, Family, or Baths
and Washing, Guilds and Craftsmen, and Nutrition, but it sometimes simply
proved, quite regretfully, just impossible to get extensive scholarly contributions
in these areas in good time for publication or after years of waiting in vain that
promises to submit such an article would be fulfilled. Those are undoubtedly
important, if not central topics, but there are always limitations which I had to
accept in the long-run while editing this Handbook. However, each piece sub-

9404579016662718868576#printMode (last accessed on Sept. 26, 2014); concerning Liberal Arts

and career plans for undergraduates, including majors in Medieval Studies, see David DeLong,
How Liberal Arts Colleges Can Stop Fueling the Skills Gap, Harvard Business Review Feb. 4,
2014; online at:
skills-gap/ (last accessed on Sept. 29, 2014).
18 (last ac-
cessed on Sept. 29, 2014).

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12 Albrecht Classen

mitted proved to be of extraordinary scholarly quality, so I can only hope that the
readers will acknowledge the quality of the work altogether and forgive us the
shortcomings in specific areas. Some topics proved to be just too huge, and there
will be, deliberately or simply by default, some imbalance. The topic of medicine,
for instance, or Jewish culture, threatened to transgress all boundaries, so here
we limit ourselves to the situation for Jews in England and the Iberian Peninsula.
Fortunately, there is also an article on the Islamic culture, coupled with a separate
study on convivencia. Generally, I granted the individual contributors a fair
amount of flexibility, as long as the relevant research was covered and all the
essential information critically dealt with.

The reader can pursue three different approaches. On the one hand the articles
intend to provide the essential information as detailed as possible. On the other,
each article concludes with a short list of essential readings, of ca. eight to ten
titles. But throughout each contribution, the relevant research is embedded,
inviting the serious scholar to consult the cumulative bibliography in the third
volume. We believe thus to have made it easy for these three types of specific
interests. Both the general reader and an undergraduate student will be, as we
hope, well served, especially because we have also built in an extensive index for
names of people, titles of works, and subject matter (including names of cities,
rivers, mountains, animals, etc.). Both the teacher and the scholar will easily find
the important information and specific reflections on what scholarship has said
about it both in the past and in the present. But the research literature was not to
overshadow the presentation of the basic material, hence the scant references in
parenthesis throughout the texts.
The fact that reference works such as this Handbook are still in great demand
and need to be published over and over again is a very good sign for the well-
being of our research field. We are expanding and are not stuck in a standstill
position. Scholarship also extends its reach into often heretofore little considered
topics, and this Handbook encourages its readers to recognize how much Medie-
val Studies today have gone beyond many previous or traditional disciplinary
boundaries. Literary scholars must know, for instance, essential aspects pertain-
ing to horses, to numbers, to banking, to medicine, fashion, astronomy, and so
forth, and historians of economics, for instance, are well advised to consider the
literary history as the background and framework of their data. A good grasp of
religious and philosophical concepts is as much required for a full understanding
of that world as are insights into natural sciences and games and pastimes
practiced in the Middle Ages.
We all pursue, of course, our specialty, which is just right, since generalists
can only touch on many different issues without ever going into details. Medie-

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Medieval CultureAn Introduction to a New Handbook 13

val Studies thus emerge as a rather demanding field where the scholars of today
must turn their attention to a vast array of topics all at once. But our own time
and abilities to investigate neighboring disciplines are limited, which requires
that we find help among our colleagues. This is the reason why this Handbook
had been first conceived around 2009 and has appeared in print only now in
2015. Even though the goal to develop into an expert in many different fields of
the Middle Ages will remain utopian for everyone, this reference work will
empower the reader at least to gain a fairly quick understanding of individual
aspects of very different kinds.
The effort to edit such a Handbook really would have required a whole team
of co-editors and other helpers as one commonly reads on the cover page of
parallel scholarly enterprises. That was, alas, not the case with me. I am the sole
editor, and I have worked with each individual contributor so long until the piece
was close to perfection, as I could perceive it, even if this required numerous
rounds of revisions. I have tried to establish uniformity in the structure and the
references, but there are, by default, depending on the individual research field,
slight differences, but those are only formalities and do not concern the content.
The ultimate shortcomings rest with me, of course, but I hope that the reader will
enjoy and profit from the wealth of extraordinarily rich and well-researched
articles highlighting individual features of medieval culture.

After I had finished the Handbook of Medieval Studies in 2009 I was approached
by representatives of Walter de Gruyter with the request to edit subsequently a
Handbook of Medieval Culture. I must be a glutton for punishment to accept the
invitation to take on, once again, such a huge burden in scholarship demanding
years of intensive and often thankless work, but as soon as I realized the true
value of the outcome of our collective efforts for the future, I was extremely happy
about the opportunity to present a second reference work of such a monumental
caliber. It is my great pleasure to express my thanks to the editorial staff at the
Berlin office of the Walter de Gruyter publishing house, especially to Jacob
Klingner, Daniel Gietz, and then Elisabeth Kempf who was the major guiding
force for the critically final stage of getting this handbook into print. I hope that it
will serve Medieval Studies for many years to come, both students and scholars,
and also the general public. Perhaps, to be a little over-optimistic, its publication
could serve as a catalyst for some university administrators to accept the bid for a
Medieval Studies Major in whatever configuration colleagues might conceive of it.
Fortunately, such Majors already exist at Stanford University,19 at the University

19 (last accessed on Sept. 26, 2014).

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14 Albrecht Classen

of Oregon,20 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,21 at the University

of Virginia,22 at the University of Notre Dame, IN,23 at the University of Toronto,
and at other major North American universities, as far as I can currently tell. There
is, however, much room to grow, and all good and solid contributions to medieval
scholarship can only help in that respect.

I have also to express my great gratitude to the contributors. Every article

included here demanded much intensive work, extensive research, and great
skills in compiling the relevant information in a condensed, compact, and yet
understandable fashion. The authors demonstrated extraordinary passion and
motivation, not only while writing their pieces, but especially when the long and
demanding editing process began. Our format is unusual and was developed
through an extensive trial-and-error process until the publisher and I had figured
out the best system, serving three different types of interests at the same time. I
am particularly thankful for the authors patience with my seemingly endless
nagging throughout the entire process which took years to accomplish. At the
end, as I feel urged to emphasize, each piece was most impressive and will
hopefully be a milestone in our research for decades to come.

The Middle Ages are not only simply in today, they increasingly reveal their
broad and deep relevance for the postmodern world, providing powerful mes-
sages about epistemology, spirituality, and culture at large, confirming that we
as individuals are historical beings and cannot cut our roots, the Middle Ages, if
we want the present tree of our culture to thrive in the future. No biologist in his
or her sound mind would limit his or her studies to the canopy, the branches,
the trunk, and the leaves, ignoring the roots of a tree. In fact, the very top leaves
depend vastly on their direct connection with the roots so that they can breathe,
pump water, initiate their photosynthesis, etc. When we turn to the Middle
Ages, we study the very roots of our existence, and the more we have available
solid and foundational reference works such as this Handbook, the more we can
trust that the tree of our culture will grow and bloom today and in the future.24

20 (last accessed on Sept. 26,

21 (last accessed on Sept. 26, 2014).
22 (last accessed on Sept. 26, 2014).
23 (last accessed on Sept. 26,
24 Bruce Holsinger, The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory (Chicago,
IL, and London 2005), has demonstrated how much virtually all of the major French theoreticians

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Medieval CultureAn Introduction to a New Handbook 15

After all, there is a direct blood-line, so to speak, between the medieval world
and us today, perhaps best represented by the medieval idea of the Grail, the
Gothic cathedral, the trebuchet, mysticism, the concept of King Arthur, and
courtly love. And today we are the avatars of the Middle Ages!
The well of medieval philosophy, theology, art history, science, medicine, or
literature runs deeply throughout time. Boethiuss De consolatione philosophiae
(ca. 525), above all, continues to have profound meaning for all of us and builds a
fascinating bridge between the past and the present.25 There are countless other
examples from the Middle Ages that demonstrate how much history matters for us
today and tomorrow as well,26 and how much medieval culture and literature
continue to have a profound impact on us in the modern world. This is not to
glorify the past and to identify it as an Elysium compared to our modern world in
all of its misery.
The Middle Ages were not an ideal time, and anyone dreaming of a return to
that period as the long-desired alternative to the present world would be deeply
disappointed. By the same token, our own existence, whether in the West or in
the East, is not ideal either, quite far from it. However, studying the Middle Ages
as an early, but still fairly recent stage of Western civilization not really far
removed from us today will allow us to regain access to our cultural, technical,
medical, religious, or physical memory and to comprehend that world as a most
valuable repository of ca. thousand years of human experiences, culture, history,
and social developments.
It thus seems most fitting to conclude with an image that might capture this
sense of (re)birth, of having our roots in that past world, so to speak, and having
grown out of it without having lost our connections. Being fully cognizant of the
significant contributions by the Jewish and also Islamic cultures to the European
Middle Ages, I still want to present here, as a lasting impression, the fantastic
twelfth-century baptismal font of San Frediano in Lucca, the Fonte Lustrale. The
highlight at the entrance is the huge 12th-century Romanesque baptismal font
(theFonte Lustrale). It is composed of a bowl, covered with atempietto, resting on

who have launched postmodernism were deeply influenced and shaped by their studies of the
Middle Ages. See also Erin Felicia Labbie, Lacans Medievalism (Minneapolis, MN, 2006).
25 For my various classes on the Middle Ages I have developed a textbook that serves my
purposes exceedingly well, Medieval Answers to Modern Problems, ed. Albrecht Classen, rev. ed.
(2012; San Diego, CA, 2013), and I would like to recommend it to my colleagues.
26 I like to express my gratitude to my colleagues Prof. Marilyn L. Sandidge (Westfield State
University), Francis Gentry (Pennsylvania State University), and Sarah M. Anderson (Princeton
University), for their critical reading of this introduction and their good suggestions regarding
some of the contributions.

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16 Albrecht Classen

pillars, inside a circular basin. It is the craftmanship of master Roberto (his

signature is on the basin) and two unknown masters. The basin is decorated
withThe Story of Mosesby a Lombard sculptor. Master Roberto did the last two
panels The Good Shepherd and the Six Prophets. The tempietto was sculpted by a
Tuscan master, representing the months of the year and the apostles.27 The level
of artistry in the sculptures on the outer wall of this baptisterium is stunning, and
we can easily realize how much here the so-called Renaissance of the Twelfth
Century experienced its triumphant manifestation (Fig. 2). The more we can
learn about that past world, such as through a close study of this almost incom-
parable baptismal font, the more we will also be able to comprehend who we are
today, direct descendants of our medieval predecessors and hence part of the
same human community, and this despite many differences in the perception
and understanding of the world, the mentality, and the cultural framework. The
understanding of the Middle Ages thus creates a foundation for the critical
analysis of ourselves, now and in the future.

27 Susanne Heydasch-Lehmann, Der Taufbrunnen in San Frediano in Lucca und die Entwicklung
der toskanischen Plastik in der 2. Hlfte des 12. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt a. M. and New York 1991);

Luigi Cortini, Marta Niccoluci Cortini, and Maria F. Vadal Linari, San Frediano: un culto, un
popolo, una chiesa (Florence 1997); Romano Silva, La Basilica di San Frediano a Lucca: immagine
simbolica di Roma cristiana (Lucca 2010). The quote is taken from
Basilica_of_San_Frediano (last accessed on Sept. 29, 2014).

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Medieval CultureAn Introduction to a New Handbook 17

Fig. 2: Baptismal font, San Frediano, Lucca ( Benjamin Yuchen, June 2014, with permission).

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Christopher R. Clason
Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages

A Theoretical Reflections
The animal as object inhabits a unique position between the subjective human
observer and objective nature, for it comprises a part of nature capable of look-
ing back at the subject, thus reversing the subject-object relationship on the
biological species level (Oliver 2009, 1719; Derrida 2008, 34). In countless ways
animals are like us and they are different, and so for the human being they
provide a connection to, and a boundary separating us from, the natural world
out of which human life emerges.
Animals have always fascinated human beings, and thus have appeared in
art from earliest times. Prehistoric cave drawings, stone effigies, and wooden
fetishes representing animal figures suggest that early peoples connected animals
with magic and religion. As culture developed, so, too, developed ever more
sophisticated treatments of animals in sculpture, painting and literary forms.
Thus, it is perhaps unavoidable that beasts, fowl, and fish would come to occupy
three important, symbolic, areas in human consciousness, each of which
achieved a particular and profound expression during medieval times:
1)They represent other, a part of uncontrollable nature, competitive, fierce,
dangerous, and against which humans need protection. They are competitors, or
even opponents, in the human struggle to survive in an inhospitable environ-
ment. These are the wild beasts that roar, growl, and inspire us humans with
fear. They remind us of our essentially mortal selves and contrast with our
spiritual nature that, according to medieval theology, sought to leave behind the
beastly and rise to higher realms. In the stated opinions of the earliest Church
Fathers, physical appearance separates beasts from humans, since the later are
made in the image of God and beasts are not, a notion that carried through to
the thirteenth-century writings of Albertus Magnus (ca. 12061280) and beyond.
Furthermore, church notables such as Thomas Aquinas (ca. 12251274) empha-
sized the behavioral differences: beasts act bestially, and perform savage and
brutal deeds for no apparent reasonhumans, on the other hand, while they can
at times act cruelly and savagely, have grounds for doing so, as a rule. Addition-
ally, Christian philosophers such as Ambrose (ca. 340397), Augustine (354
430), and Aquinas cite the human use of reason to be the most profound
difference separating homo sapiens from the animal world. This perspective
dominates during the early Middle Ages (Salisbury 2011, 34).

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 19

2)They represent a part of nurturing nature, which links humans to their

natural origins. The animals are companions, friends of humans, and are con-
nected to human beings, who have domesticated some of them (Kompatscher,
Classen, and Dinzelbacher, ed., 2010, 2031). We seek them out, and we desire
their presence and their company. They are good omens and give us comfort and
aid. They serve as food, satisfy our needs, and accompany us on our journeys
through life. As a common component of the locus amoenus topos, they help to
restore us to equilibrium and strength (Withers 2010, 9899). Toward the end of
the medieval period, the common ground that humans share with beasts became
increasingly significant (Salisbury 2011, 81107).
3)Separate from their significance as creatures of nature, animals obtain,
within a social and historical complex, meanings that are only indirectly depen-
dent upon biological or behavioral observation but rather directly dependent
upon cultural and artistic transmission. Especially during classic times and again
during the Middle Ages, animals assumed symbolic values, acquired through
several lines of both secular and ecclesiastical traditions, that made them unique
among things of the world. Animals rarely appeared in any work of literature, art,
history, philosophy, or science without evincing some added signification or
some nuance of meaning.
The medieval audience normally grasped, immediately and without great
effort, the standard significance of a certain species of beast, fish, or bird; and so
the medieval artist had at her or his command a ready supply of amusing and
didactic images, metaphors, symbols, and allegorical figures that were rife with
sophisticated layers of nuanced significations. For example, when, in the German
Tristan (ca. 1210) of Gottfried von Straburg, the author creates symbolic associa-
tions of Isolde with a falcon, a massive and very complex tradition of images,
qualities and poems of high love immediately occur to the educated, courtly
reader and color her or his attitude toward the noble lady; furthermore, a boar on
Tristans shield marks him as a man of great sexual prowess, reinforcing positive
qualities of power and potency in the audiences opinion of him as a warrior and
potential ruler as well, while underscoring his destructiveness to King Marks
marriage and rule (McDonald 1991; Schleissner 1993, 78; 8182). While scientific
knowledge regarding animals as objects of nature progressed relatively little over
most of the Middle Ages (Flores 1993, 510), certainly no other class of objects
could claim such a rich, powerful and diverse range of psychic significanceand
few that attracted such keen interest from literary and plastic artists (Classen
2012b, 913).
Certainly, the defining tendency over the earlier medieval period with regard
to human-animal relations was the marginalization of animals as other, in
order to create and to demarcate a human identity that reflected Christian reli-

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20 Christopher R. Clason

gious thinking, particularly important during the era when Church patriarchs
were attempting to consolidate the power of the Church in Europe. Distinguishing
Christian beliefs from those of more nature-friendly, pagan religions, they estab-
lished a qualitative difference between humans and animals: mankind was
created in the image of God, but the beasts were not; humans possess souls, but
the beasts do not, etc. According to this view, humans ought to view the world of
nature as a revelation of Gods design for the universe (the book of nature), a
plan that supposedly supports the infinite wisdom of the creator but objectifies
the flora and non-human fauna of Gods creation. As proof of human superiority,
the patriarchs (the Church Fathers) looked at language, reason, and conscious-
ness as proof that the human we should maintain the right and privilege to
exploit animal objects for their own purposes and gain. Therefore, the basic
patriarchal texts tended to emphasize physical and behavioral differences be-
tween beasts and humans (Salisbury 2011, 13). This attitude began to change late
in the Middle Ages (by the twelfth century), such that humans started to see
themselves in the context of the animal kingdom, perhaps even to acknowledge
the animal within (Leemans and Klemm 2007, 15961; Salisbury 2011, 79).

B Sources
I The Physiologus

Perhaps the most significant literary source for the early medieval understanding
of animals is the Physiologus, a Greek text by an anonymous author in Alexandria
composed in the second century C.E., and translated into Latin sometime in the
fourth century (Gerlach 1971, 43233; Glick, Livesey, and Wallis, ed., 2005, 528). It
consists of numerous descriptions, tales, and legends concerning a broad variety
of fauna, flora and inanimate nature, transmitted through folklore and eventually
associated, often allegorically, with religious and moral themes. The Physiologus
(so named because many chapters of the original work begin with the phrase
The Physiologus says [George and Yapp 1991, 12; Beullens 2007, 131]) was
one of the most popular and widely read books of the Middle Ages, and formed an
important source of influence, if not the very basis, for subsequent works like it,
from Book XII of Isidores Etymologies (early seventh century) to the myriad of
bestiaries that flooded especially the later centuries of the medieval period (Flores
1996, ixxi; Whitney 2004, 103; Resl 2007, 1012). Translations appear in numer-
ous vernacular languages from the original Greek; and through these transla-
tions, the forty chapters of the original work grew to over one hundred in some of
the translated texts.

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 21

Each chapter generally begins with or makes reference to a biblical verse,

which the author intends to associate in some way with certain observations about
the animal, plant, or stone the chapter is describing. The connections which the
author makes are for the most part allegorical and the characteristics he attributes
to the described creatures are often whimsical or fantastic (Salisbury 2011, 8687).
For example, the elephant supposedly has no knee joints, and therefore, if it falls, it
cannot arise again (Physiologus 1979, 3031; Werness 2004, 16465, Classen 2012b,
11). The panther, the author claims, is a quiet and mild animal with pleasant breath,
which attracts other animals by exhaling a very pleasing aroma (Physiologus 1979,
4245; Peil 1994, 113; Hassig 1995, 156; Baxter 1998, 4950; Werness 2004, 315).
Similarly, the whale is said to attract tiny fish with its pleasant breath (Physiologus
1979, 46; Baxter 1998, 80; Werness 2004, 430). Some beasts suffer the misfortune of
strongly negative associations; for example, the wild ass and the monkey, which
the author links to the devil (Physiologus 1979, 3839). On the other hand, the turtle-
dove represents chasteness and fidelity to ones mate (Groos 1968, 63146; Klingen-
der 1971, 342; 376; Baxter 1998, 52; Mermier 2004, 5253), while other doves (red,
white, speckled, etc.) represent various virtues of Christ (Poeschke 1972, 24144;
Physiologus 1979, 6466; Baxter 1998, 5355; Werness 2004, 14344).
However, there are a number of medieval associations between animals and
certain behaviors that have endured well beyond the Middle Ages, which one may
credit the Physiologus with popularizing. For example, there have been many
throughout history who have held that the female pelican feeds her young with
her own blood if no food is available for them to eat, a belief which appears in this
work; even today, the pelican is thought of as a good avian parent, although any
biological evidence of this is lacking (Physiologus 1979, 910; Peil 1996, 11011;
Werness 2004, 32324). Also, a most familiar image, well-represented as a symbol
for Christ ever since the Middle Ages, is that of the phoenix, the fabulous bird who
dies in a conflagration but after three days arises from its ashes, reborn and
renewed; the iconic connection of this classical beast with the notion of Christian
resurrection arises from the pages of the medieval Physiologus (Physiologus 1979,
1314; Mermier 1989, 6987).
Through the later medieval centuries Isidores Etymologies and the bestiaries
began to exert an ever increasing influence on what was considered common
knowledge regarding animals (Rowland 1971, 34), which in turn had a con-
siderable impact on new editions of their predecessor, the Physiologus. With
greater numbers of translations of the text, later Physiologus editions grew ever
more distant from the Greek original, and with time became hardly recognizable
at all. Eventually, these changes brought more and different beasts into the text,
thus contributing further to the great and colorful variety of animals appearing in
art and literature (Gerlach 1971, 43234; Physiologus 1979, xxx).

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22 Christopher R. Clason

II The Bestiaries

The numerous bestiaries that appeared throughout Europe from the twelfth
century on, especially in Latin, French and English, but also in Catalan, Castilian,
and Italian, reveal the many layers of sophisticated meaning that developed in
art, literature, and didactic works over the course of the Middle Ages. In most of
these texts, direct observation of the animal in nature was unimportant; rather,
the bestiaries relied on the authority of texts that preceded them, especially the
Physiologus and classical authors (Benton 1992, 17; Wheatcroft 1999, 14159;
Glick, Livesey, and Wallis, ed., 2005, 528). However, there were also vast differ-
ences between the bestiaries and the Greek text from almost a millennium earlier
(George and Yapp 1991, 56). These compendia of wisdom regarding animals
provided a rich source of symbolic associations, religious allegory, political
satire, and moral and religious instruction, and while they were certainly mod-
eled after the Physiologus they also followed their own multitude of textual,
visual, and oral sources as well (Hassig 1999, xi). For example, sources beyond
the Physiologus for Oxford M. S. Bodley 764, include Hrabanus Mauruss (ca. 780
856) On the Nature of Things, Hugh of Fouilloys (ca. 11001172) The Aviary, and
Peter of Cornwalls (ca. 11401221) Pantheologus, and there were others in addi-
tion (Bestiary 1999, 8).
While illustrations in the Physiologus are rare, many bestiaries were profusely
illustrated, and the visual representations found in them became exemplary for
animal representations in Romanesque and Gothic art (Clark and McMunn 1989,
28). Bestiary illustrations include both portraits of the individual animal (usually
in profile, alone, and with some decorative elements) and/or narrative imagery,
in which the beast is performing some activity against a landscape background
(Hassig 1995, 1012). Often, the illustrations are fanciful and what was drawn only
vaguely resembles the actual beast in nature. Clearly, the importance of the
bestiary was not zoological science and factual accuracy, but rather the transmis-
sion of the beasts significance and abstract qualities (Flores 1993, 344).

III Isidores Etymologies, Book XII

Isidore (ca. 560636), Archbishop of Seville, is regarded as a great link between the
world of classical learning and the Christian-European Middle Ages. Isidores
extensive Etymologies provided a summa of the knowledge of his time (the early
seventh century), which he based largely on linguistic derivations. BookXII is
concerned with the animal kingdom: it is one of the two longest books of twenty
composing this massive work. He arranges the world of animals into eight chapters

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 23

(Klingender 1971): domestic and useful animals, beasts of prey, small creatures,
serpents, worms, fishes and amphibians, birds and insects. Each chapter then
attempts to differentiate among various sub-types within a type by analyzing the
name according to characteristics or behavior and rationalizing the naming etymo-
logically. Setting Isidores articles apart from other such works is his refusal to
moralize in his stories regarding his beasts: while the beasts and behaviors Isidore
described were often strange or fantastic, he nevertheless resisted falling into
religious allegory like many of the later authors of the bestiaries.

IV The Bible

The Christian Bible mentions over 100 quadrupeds and birds, making the reli-
gious symbolism of beasts and its use as a didactic tool familiar to most devout
medieval Europeans (Glick, Livesey and Wallis, 2005). Of course, the Old Testa-
ment of the Christian Bible remained a primary source for the Judeo-Christian
medieval perspective on nature, and therein one discovers the mandate that
human beings were to dominate animals, use them as slaves, and consume them
as food. In the story of the Fall in Genesis, Satan acquired the form of a serpent in
order to tempt Adam and Eve, and their original sin established the polarity
between culture and nature, fixing humans outside the natural world. Adam
claimed the power and the right to name the animals, but they did not obtain the
privilege to name him. During the great deluge, Noah chose which animals he
would save on board the ark, but the ones left behind to perish in the great flood,
a punishment for human wickedness, had no choice regarding to their fate. When
Abrahams son Isaac was saved from being sacrificed, a ram was chosen to take
his place to be slaughtered on the altar, and so on. In the anthropocentric
discourse of the Bible, humans dominate their environment and hold dominion
over nature, subjugating the animals and killing them for their own purposes, as
food or sacrifice to their anthropomorphic deity. Judeo-Christians conceived of
the deity they worshipped not in a bestial form (as is the case in many other
cultures, historical periods, and religious contexts) but rather in their own, hu-
man image and likeness. Therefore, in the narrative concerning the Jews Exodus
from Egypt, when some Jews chose to worship an image of a golden calf, the
textual tone recording the incident did not merely reveal the act to be erroneous,
but also blasphemous, aberrant, and condemnable, especially because of the
manufactured, false deitys bestial essence.
The beasts of the New Testament, while retaining their nature as objects for
human use, also occupied significant roles as silent witnesses to important events
in Christs life, and further became important symbols in the gospel stories,

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24 Christopher R. Clason

miracles and parables. The language of the New Testament was particularly
enriched by the presence of so many animals that color the landscape, while they
concretized abstract concepts and spiritual lessons; the camel, the ass, the
serpent, as well as herds of swine, sheep, the birds of the air, and the fish of the
sea populated the stories and parables reported in the gospels, especially that of
Matthew. And so it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than
for a wealthy man to achieve salvation (Luke 18:25, Matthew 19:24), and Christ
would gather Jerusalems children together as a hen would gather its chicks under
her wings (Matthew 23:37). Although the fowl of the air do little in regard to
cultivation and harvesting, the deity still provides for them; after making this
statement, Christ poses the rhetorical question: are not humans much better than
they are (Matthew 6:26)? Elsewhere, Christ warns against casting pearls before
swine, lest they be stomped into the ground (Matthew 7:6); and against false
prophets, who are like ravening wolves in sheeps clothing (Matthew 7:15). The
proverbial flavor of such expressions was already well established in the Middle
Ages and carried forth in the literary and visual arts throughout the period.

V Classical Authors

Among the authors of classical times perhaps the most influential on the medie-
val view of animals were Aristotle and Pliny, particularly upon scholars and
intellectuals. Pliny the Elders (23 C.E.79 C.E.) great contribution to the medieval
understanding of the natural world is certainly his Historia naturalis, which
related much of the knowledge of his time. The entire text amounts to a compen-
dium of scientific knowledge, including the geological, astronomical and biologi-
cal sciences, a significant portion of which is zoological. In it, the factual is often
mixed with the fantastic, but the quantities of information and the number of
species represented are vast. Plinys intent is clear: to show how all beasts were
placed on the earth to be exploited by human beings (Rowland 1971, 2). During
the Middle Ages, this material could easily be disseminated into the public sphere
of knowledge, since Isidores Etymologies employed Pliny extensively as a source.
Furthermore, Pliny had become broadly known among medieval scholars of
science as well: the Historia naturalis could be found by the ninth century in the
libraries at Corbie, St. Denis, Lorsch, Reichenau, and Monte Cassino, and by the
eleventh and twelfth centuries at many more, such as at Chartres and Oxford
(Healy 1991, xxxviixxxviii).
Aristotle (384 B.C.E.322 B.C.E.) had some influence during the later centuries
of the medieval period (Leemans and Klemm 2007, 16173), but only after his
recovery in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when most of his works were

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 25

translated into Latin ca. 1220, by Michael Scotus (ca. 1175ca. 1235) (Klingender
1971, 350). Perhaps his most important proponent at this time was Albertus
Magnus (ca. 12061280), who in his zoological treatise De animalibus (On Ani-
mals) emphasized Aristotles empirical approach to the phenomenal world, ap-
preciating his Greek forebear for his scientific methods and observations; there-
fore, he took pains to pay careful attention to observation and description
(Classen, ed., 2012, 9; Whitney 2004, 14849). However, the scholastic Albertus
did not merely present ancient philosophy, and as he crafted Aristotles work to
his own rhetorical ends, he embellished it and yet argued with his pagan pre-
decessor, and so produced one of the great works of scholasticism (Klingender
1971, 35051). Albertuss zoological investigations were clearly intended for an
academic audience and thus did not experience the vast popularity of the Etymol-
ogies, the bestiaries or the Physiologus.

C The Hunt
The hunt provided a regular opportunity for polite society to engage with the
natural world, and by the twelfth century had become one of the most significant
courtly pastimes. Indeed, with the rise of feudalism, hunting grew into a ritual
performance of the medieval nobility, a pursuit in which noblemen and women
could bond with one another as privileged members of the elite social class, while
also practicing skills important in warfare, and displaying wealth, physical prow-
ess and power (Werness 2004, 229; Sandidge 2012, 389406).
The ruling class strictly controlled the space in which its members hunted.
The pursuit of larger animals usually took place in the royal forests, while smaller
game would be hunted in warrens, uncultivated areas set aside for this specific
purpose. The authorities punished poachers severely: the penalties included
blinding or emasculation, and even the death penalty was not an unusual out-
come for the most egregious cases. Hunting was a dangerous pastime, and
accidents often occurred during the chase. Nevertheless, women sometimes took
part in many activities associated with the hunt, and participated fully in the
feasting and drinking that marked the celebration of a successful outing. There are
furthermore records of women who took part in the pursuit and killing of game as
well, particularly in falconing (Brault 1982, 357); in the Manessische Liederhand-
schrift (Manesse Songbook, early fourteenth century) in Heidelberg, several images
bear evidence of women falconers, most obviously in the representation of Herr
Werner von Teufen (early thirteenth century) (Codex Manesse, 69v).
Contemporary manuals describing hunting skills and equipment yield a great
deal of information regarding weaponry and tactics, as well as the animals that

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26 Christopher R. Clason

the hunters pursued. Foremost among these is the hunting book composed by
Gaston Phbus, the Count of Foix (13311391) (Brault 1982, 360; Stuhmiller 2012,
50528; see also her contribution to this Handbook on Hunting, Hawking, Fowl-
ing, and Fishing). With respect to hawking and falconing, the Holy Roman
Emperor Friedrich II (11941250) produced one of the most beautifully illustrated
tomes of its kind, De arte venandi cum avibus (ca. 1250, On the Art of Hunting with
Birds); its great significance as a treatise on hunting technology as well as a
source for visual representations of various avian species is discussed below.
Numerous literary works presented the hunt as a courtly ritual performance
as well as an opportunity for characters to demonstrate their bravery, strength
and skills, and romances often commenced with hunting. In Chrtien de Troyess
(late twelfth century) Erec et Enide (ca. 1170), the hunt for the White Stag, a mythic
beast of Celtic origins, begins a sequence of forest adventures involving Arthur,
his knightly entourage, and the youthful Erec (Thibaux 1974, 10815). When
Gottfrieds hero, Tristan (ca. 1210), still quite young but well-schooled in the craft
of woodsmen, first arrives in his uncle Marks kingdom, his initial adventure
involves a demonstration of his hunting skills, as he instructs a courtly hunting
party in the proper way of dressing and preparing their kill for transport back to
court (Thibaux 1974, 12934). Wolfram von Eschenbachs (early thirteenth cen-
tury) protagonist, Parzival, follows a trail to the Grail that he tracks like a good
huntsman, recognizing and pursuing signs that spur him onward (Thibaux 1974,
17276). The hunt plays a most important role in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
(late fourteenth century); three consecutive days of hunting include pursuits of a
deer, a boar, and finally a foxthus giving the tale a particularly English char-
acter, since fox hunting is traditionally associated with the nobility of England
(Thibaux 1974, 7188; Yamamoto 2000, 12331). The lyrics of the troubadours
employ the hunt copiously, as a plot device for moving characters into a natural
setting and as a metaphor for the pursuit of love (Cummins 1988).
The practice of hunting with hounds was termed venery, in which the
human participants followed the dogs on horseback or on foot (Smets and van
den Abeele 2007, 61). Hunting parties pursue a great variety of animals: deer,
boars, rabbits, and many other species were the focus of the chase. Hunting dogs,
singly or in packs, were commonly employed for hunting larger game; often, they
were housed in kennels, making them susceptible at times to mange and rabies,
although most hunters recognized the importance of housing their hunting dogs
in hygienic conditions. Falcons and other hawks became the most commonly
employed beasts for hunting smaller game (Friedman 1989, 15758). Although a
great number of noblepersons engaged in the practice of hunting, the animals
they killed did not constitute a significant protein source for the medieval diet.
Rather, courtiers hunted for sport and recreation, and the experience served an

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 27

important social function by forging bonds among the nobility and affirming their
elite status (Brault 1982, 35657); the rituals of the hunt, such as the system of
rewards (essentially, body-parts of the slain animal) for the participants who
perform certain services, reinforced rituals of the courtly ethos on the body of
the beast and in the natural environment, away from the court (Yamamoto 2000,

D Religion
The medieval mind viewed animal life, like most other aspects of nature, through
the lens not only of the Bible (see above) but also from the vast body of patristic
scholarship, myth and tradition that followed. The violent rupture between hu-
man life and nature that originated in the story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden
carried on into medieval times; thus Augustine maintained that humans occupy a
privileged position above all animals, for we possess a soul, whereas they do
not. Later, Thomas Aquinas (12251274) would also insist that the beasts are
irreconcilably inferior to humans, but for him it is a question of humankind
having and animals lacking reason. Thus, for the earlier Middle Ages the bestial
commonly reflected that which was ignoble, base and evil, to be exploited as food
or for our comfort or convenience, or often to be mistrusted or feared as competi-
tive, destructive or dangerous elements of inclement nature. Of course, notable
exceptions to these attitudes did occur, as for example, in the fables from
antiquity that enjoy popularity throughout the period.
These attitudes evolved gradually but decisively over time, such that during
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries stories and tales began to mark a sea-change
in the way humans viewed themselves in relation to the animal kingdom (Salisbury
1994). Primarily responsible were the numerous bestiaries and related texts that
represented animals as especially religious exempla of human behavior, assessed
as good or bad in accord with values assigned through textual and visual associa-
tion. Among the good beasts one could regularly count, for example, the lamb,
resting on its biblical symbolism of purity, as a preferred Old Testament animal of
sacrifice or the New Testament symbol for Christ, the Agnus Dei. Correspondingly,
there were evil beasts as well. Perhaps the most notorious was the serpent, the
reptilian form of the tempter of the Garden of Eden from Genesis 1.
Among spiritually negative beasts, the toad held a special place as a creature
evincing harmful characteristics, its bad reputation arising from both classical
and Christian sources. Furthermore, by medieval times, through conflation and
confusion with its biological cousin the frog (latin rana), the toad (latin rubeta)
had uniquely acquired most of the evil qualities ascribed to both species, such

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28 Christopher R. Clason

as being the cause of plagues or the vessel of unclean spirits described in the
Bible, or as sources of poison in Pliny or Juvenal (ca. early second century). Later,
the toad became an emblematic commonplace for the memento mori theme:
generally, it was believed that toads possess teeth, and gnaw at decomposing
corpses or even at the souls of those in purgatory or in hell. Thus, the toads
literary and artistic representation as an evil, deadly, and decadent beast, com-
bined with its physical and behavioral characteristics, such as its nocturnal
activity, the sounds it emits, and its often unpleasant appearance and smell,
connected it during the later medieval period with the worst possible associa-
tions, including bubonic plague, witchcraft, and heretical movements (Robbins
1996, 2547).
A special association regarding the symbolism surrounding the four Evange-
list authors of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, originated early in the
history of the iconography of the Christian Church. These associations stemmed
from three biblical passages: Revelation 4:68, Ezekiel 1:410 and Ezekiel 10:1,
1415; each of these enigmatic verses related a vaguely similar, dream-like scenar-
io, in which four winged animal-human entities appeared as part of an apocalyp-
tic vision and brought some news or sang praises to God. Already in the second
century C.E., St. Irenaeus of Lyons (second century C. E.) attempted to match each
of these figures with an evangelist symbolically, linking Matthew with the de-
scribed angelic-human figure, John with the lion, Luke with the ox, and Mark with
the eagle. In this endeavor he was followed by St. Jerome (ca. 347420) and
St.Augustine (354430) in the early fifth century, each attempting a different
symbolic configuration of animal-to-evangelist; finally, the distribution suggested
by St. Jerome prevailed, wherein Mark was associated with a lion, and Johns icon
was that of the eagle, while, similarly to Irenaeuss design, Matthew was matched
with an angel and Luke with an ox. This iconography became ubiquitous in the art
of the Middle Ages (Klingender 1974, 21637; Werness 2004, 169).
Several Christian medieval saints were also associated with animals. The
mythology surrounding St. Eustace (second century C. E.) was filled with beasts:
various tales involved his vision of a magnificent stag with huge antlers bearing a
crucifix, the kidnapping of his children by a lion and a wolf, and his martyrdom
by being roasted alive inside a bull fashioned out of brass. St. Francis of Assisi
(ca. 11821226), the founder of the Franciscan Order, gathered wolves and birds
around him in peace and tranquility, according to the myth, and his simple,
straightforward intimacy with nature reminded all humans during the later Mid-
dle Ages of the omnipresence of divinity. The monastic St. Jerome (347420) was
reputed to have removed a thorn from the claw of a lion; as a result, virtually all
representations of the saint included a tame lion in the monks immediate
presence (Werness 2004, 35456; Salter 2001, 1170).

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 29

E Fables
The fable, an important inheritance from classical literature, occupied a unique
position among the didactic literary genres of the medieval period. For the most
part, the genre was an inheritance from classical times, particularly from the
fables of the Greek Aesop (ca. 620564 B. C. E.), although the most important
of the medieval fabulists tended to change key aspects. For the classical world,
fables provided a means by which the lower classes could criticize the social
order, casting individuals from the upper classes as animals and thus evading
punishment for seditious writing. However, during the Middle Ages it was not
the lower classes but rather the upper classes that produced and read fables;
thus the stories generally tended to support the social status quo (Salisbury
1996, 5051), and although they offered some social criticisms, their primary
thrust was to praise certain virtues, such as humility and cleverness (Adams
2005, 909).
Growing out of the traditions of the fable, various beast epics became popular
narratives during the later medieval period. Noteworthy were the Latin epic
poems Ecbasis captivi and the Ysengrinus, as well as the widely known Roman de
Renart; each of these tales presented the slyness of the fox and the uncontrollable
desires of the wolf, and often brought in other anthropomorphized animals as
well (Mann 2009, 1720).
Especially worthy of mention are the hundred three fables of Marie de France
(late twelfth century), which often included animal characters (Salisbury 1996,
5051). The genre was traditionally a masculine one and transmitted conven-
tional, patriarchal social values; Maries fables were unique texts in that they
were produced by a woman, a practically unknown phenomenon in the period
extending from classical times until the eighteenth century (Spiegel 1994, 111).
Social relationships among the fable beasts were sophisticated and courtly, and
so the animals formed bonds and interacted with one another much as humans
would do, according to custom at court (Jauss 1959, 4647). The social hierarchy
represented in these brief works reflected the natural hierarchy of power, and the
more powerful beasts consistently exploited the less powerful ones (Adams 2005,
90809). Thus, the predatory beast was superior to its victim in nature; for
example, the wolf had a higher position than the lamb, which was reflected in
forms of addressthe wolf addressed the lamb as one of inferior rank, and the
lamb spoke to the wolf as its lord (Mann 2009, 5859); and the lion cunningly
exploited its position as alpha predator over other animals, tricking them into
doing the work of the hunt but then appropriating for himself all the deer they
had hunted (Adams 2005, 909). The values informing the fables moral were
generally those of the court as well, but also present in the broad ethos were

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30 Christopher R. Clason

cunning, suspicion and mistrust, while the most successful characters were self-
reliant and clever (Bloch 2003; Mann 2009, 76; Whalen 2011).

F Heraldry
The term heraldry refers to the bold, bright insignias that adorned the shields of
knights, a custom that began in the early twelfth century; animals were almost
ubiquitously present in the emblems and usually occupied a place of primary
iconographic importance (Hartmann 2009, 17879). The insignia became more
family identifications than purely personal devices, and they were passed from
father to son through generations as a treasured inheritance. The granting of the
familial crest became a ceremony full of symbolism and pride for the family: the
ritual of initiation included a shave and a bath for the young man, who also had
to remain awake and stand watch overnight in preparation for the bestowing of
the heraldic emblem on the following day (Klingender 1971, 451).
The heraldic emblem provided one of the most significant means of identify-
ing knights in battle, since a person under so much armor was otherwise virtually
unrecognizable. Since the emblem often included prominent images of various
birds and beasts, it forged a strong visual identity between the knight and the
animal emblazoned on the shield. Therefore, the emblems provided a highly
visible means for spreading and popularizing certain qualities of specific animals
in a secular context (Page 2007, 41). Essentially, the heraldic practice served to
liberate beasts from their traditional religious connotations, fashioning a new
mythology for various species where the qualities previously known only through
the Physiologus and the bestiaries were replaced with moral characteristics that
related to courtly and knightly virtue. Bravery, strength, and determination were
personal qualities that warriors wished to project, and so lions, eagles, and some
fantastic beasts, such as griffins and dragons, became favorites in heraldic
emblems (Klingender 1971, 45254). As a result, heraldic beasts tended to be
fierce; additionally, in Arthurian heraldry there were some very unusual beasts as
well (Nickel 1993, 30). Numerous courtly epics described the shields born by
knights as they did battle: very often, the authors mentioned specifically the
animals and then characterized the knight with some of the attributes that the
beasts evoked (Hartmann 2009, 16876).
The images associated with the authors whose poems were included in the
famous Manessische Liederhandschrift (Manesse Songbook, early fourteenth cen-
tury) carried the heraldic tradition over into literature and forged a visual connec-
tion between poets and animal imagery. Furthermore, heraldic images appeared
in books, bibles, registers, and other documents associated with church records,

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 31

as well as in the very architecture of the churches: one witnessed familial

insignias, for example, in numerous memorials to prominent churchmen and
women as well as on tombs and in crypts that held the remains of socially or
politically important individuals (Hartmann 2009, 15268).

G Specific Beasts
A great variety of animals appeared in the literature and art of the Middle Ages.
While it is impossible to list all of them in the space allotted here, there are
nevertheless a number of beasts which appeared often, and whose range of
symbolic meanings tended to remain rather constant.

I Wild

Perhaps the most significant of all bestiary animals, the lion appeared seemingly
ubiquitously in literary and visual works throughout the Middle Ages (Bloch 1971,
11219). However, although they were reported in Greece as late as the fourth
century B.C.E., the actual beasts original range had, for the most part, extended
only across Africa, the Middle East, and India, and by the Middle Ages it had
already disappeared from these areas to a significant extent. Nevertheless, medie-
val Europe remained thoroughly familiar and fascinated with lions, and particu-
larly among the earlier manuscripts there was scarcely a bestiary that does
not feature the lion as the first animal. Some actual, flesh-and-blood lions were
known in Europe as well, especially among the royalty: for example, the English
King Henry I (ca. 10681135) kept a pride of lions in his royal park, and for over a
century the exhibit was the most popular viewing attraction among the zoological
holdings there (George and Yapp 1991, 4748).
Medieval culture almost universally recognized special qualities of bravery,
power and pride in the lion. Thus, King Richard I (Coeur de Lion, Lionheart) of
England (11571199) and Heinrich (der Lwe, the Lion), Duke of Saxony and
Bavaria (11291195), acquired leonine epithets because of their daring and valor-
ous deeds. The heraldic emblem of the lion became associated with the English
throne and eventually turned into the prominent symbol in the Royal Banner, the
Royal Coat of Arms, and other official symbols of England.
There are abundant medieval literary works in which the lion appears, often
as a major element of the plot or thematic structures. In several, the hero renders

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32 Christopher R. Clason

assistance to the lion, and the lion repays the kindness by serving the hero.
Chrtiens Yvain (Le chevalier au lion, ca. 1177) rescues a lion that is threatened by
a dragon; as a result, the lion becomes his loyal companion, aids him in his
knightly exploits, and helps him to win back his estranged wife, Laudine. In the
tale of St. Jerome (ca. 347ca. 420) and the Lion, a male lion with a wounded paw
hobbles into a monastery; although the other monks flee in terror, Jerome greets
the beast without fear, cleans his wound and bandages it. The lion, like Yvains
companion, loses his wildness and out of gratitude for the saints kindness he
faithfully serves the monks at the monastery (Salter 2001, 1124).
The lion also acquired negative characteristics in some works, particularly
because its reputation for ferocity inspired paralyzing fear in the medieval human
heart. Perhaps the most famous example occurs in the opening canto of Dantes
(12651321) Divine Comedy (13081321): one of the three beasts blocking the poet
from recovering the path that does not stray, the lion that appears there has
commonly been interpreted as a bestial representative of sins of violence. Its
presence, along with that of a she-wolf and a leopard, prevents the pilgrim,
thwarted by utter terror, from returning to his lifes path, and thus it initiates the
metaphorical journey he will take through the Inferno, the Purgatorio and finally
the Paradiso.


While the wild boar did not appear in the original Physiologus, it entered into the
bestiaries late in the twelfth century, where it was considered to be one of the
most savage of all animals (George and Yapp 1991, 7475). Its evil attributes were
at least partly due to its biblical associations, originating in the Old Testament
Book of Psalms (80, 13), with the Apocalypse and the Antichrist. Its reputation
marked it as fearless and ferocious, capable of killing hunters with its formidable
tusks (Cummins 1988, 96109); furthermore, it personified the cardinal sin of
Lust, in polar opposition to the virtue of Chastity (Werness 2004, 49). In this
symbolism, the boar was lecherous and gluttonous beyond measure, capable of
feeding on its own young, human corpses, and small children (Rowland 1971,
7578). It became a familiar animal, even in areas populated by human beings,
and domesticated boars could often be found roaming the urban environment,
consuming whatever edible tidbits they might find in streets and garbage dumps
(Rowland 1971, 7475). At the same time, because of its uncontrollable nature and
appetites, it retained its essential otherness to the court, symbolizing an ex-
treme challenge to its rules for decorum and acceptability (Zips 1972, 13452;
McDonald 1991, 15978; Schleissner 1993, 8183; Clason 2004, 28589).

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 33

Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343ca. 1400) makes use of such negative associations
in The Knights Tale, where he compares chivalrous warriors, locked in
ferocious combat over the favors of a young woman, to boars. The symbolism
here functions appropriately on three levels: boars have a reputation for relent-
less viciousness; they are particularly ferocious during their breeding season; and
finally, they possess a connection to mental disorders as a result of the biblical
tale (Matthew 8: 3132; Mark 5: 1113) of Christ casting evil spirits out of a human
and directing them into a nearby heard of swine, who rush into a lake and drown
themselves. Thus, Chaucer implies that courtly love transforms the lover into a
murderous beast, whose ardor is fueled not by noble sentiments, but rather by
lust and madness (Rowland 1971, 78; see now Van Dyke, ed., 2012).
However, very few medieval beasts possessed reputations that were entirely
either good or bad, and even the boar was granted some positive qualities. A few
medieval literary authors sometimes held the boar in special esteem as a fearless
and powerful beast, symbolizing great bravery and strength, but resisting the
narrowness and restriction of courtly rules and regulations. In Gottfried von
Straburgs Tristan und Isolde, a boar is emblazoned on Tristans shield, associat-
ing him with these qualities; when Tristans companion Marjodo dreams of a wild
boar forcing its way into the kings bedroom, foaming at the mouth and soiling
the royal bed, it is clear that the reference is to Tristan, the destroyer of Marks
marriage (Schleissner 1993, 8183; Clason 2004, 28589). Research has shown,
however, that Tristans linking to the boar was not Gottfrieds invention, but
rather arose from old French traditions (Zips 1972, 139).
The boar-hunt, probably the second favorite to the stag-hunt (Salisbury
2011, 39), provided several medieval authors with plot elements for their epic
works, motivating the heroes presence in the woods and supplying the opportu-
nity for an encounter with danger and destiny. In Jean dArras (late fourteenth
century) Melusine, Raimondin accidentally kills his uncle when attempting to
dispatch a ferocious boar during a hunt. Immediately thereafter he encounters
Melusine, his future bride, for the first time, at an enchanted spring, an event
that moves Raimondins future, along with the narrative, into the realm of the
fabulous and supernatural. One of their offspring, Geoffroy la granddent (big
tooth) bears a permanent, physical reminder of the parents first encounter.
Geoffroys huge tooth (resembling a boars tusk) as well as his extreme disposi-
tion (exemplified by the horrific deed he commits of burning down a monastery
in anger at a brother, and so murdering a number of monks) indicates that, even
later in life, he has retained several characteristics typical of the beast, as a part
of his familial inheritance (Hahn 2012, 87108). This account later enjoyed
considerable popularity, such as in Thring von Ringoltingens early-German
Melusine (1456).

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34 Christopher R. Clason


The deer, perhaps the most important target of the hunt, was one of the most
significant animals of the Middle Ages, and very commonly appeared in works of
art and literature. There are several types of deer that the medieval world distin-
guished from one another: the male deer, or stag, also called the hart,
possesses prodigious antlers that function as weapons but are shed periodically;
the female deer is sometimes called a hind, especially when designating a doe
of the red deer family (Werness 2004, 215). In most areas of Europe, the stag is the
largest hunted animal. Because it is timid but also wily and large, it demands the
utmost of the hunter and the dogs, and therefore hunting it was both a challenge
and a thrill. During the rut, a stag can kill a human being, but at the same time it
is extremely shy and fearful, and medieval authors claimed that the heart of the
stag contains a bone, which alone prevents the animal from dying of terror
(Cummins 1988, 32).
Hunters conducted their chase of the deer par force, following strict rules. The
huntsman spotted the animal and reported back to the assembly of hunters, who
planned the progress of their hunt. The company planted relays of hounds at
strategic points, to be released when the animal was spotted; they gave chase,
exhausted it and surrounded it, holding it captive until the company arrived and
killed the deer with a sword (Hassig 1995, 49). Thereafter a highly specialized
ritual was held in order to break up the beast and carry it back to courtthis is a
process of which Tristan in Gottfried von Strassburgs eponymous romance (ca.
1210) has great knowledge and in which the boy educates Marks hunting party.
The dogs were rewarded with bread, blood and chopped intestines (the curee, or
quarry) spread out over the now empty deerskin. All the while, the hunters
continuously blew their horns to signal the successful hunt (Smets and van den
Abeele 2007, 61). In the later Middle Ages, the wealthier members of the nobility
developed deer parks and staged massive hunting parties, a phenomenon that led
to massacres of deer in great numbers (Smets and van den Abeele 2007, 62;
Dowling 2012, 38486; Sandidge 2012, 398406).
Numerous literary works celebrated the stag as a mythic animal, emblem of
the chase for love. Chrtiens Erec finds Enide while the rest of Arthurs court
participates in a hunt for a white stag (Thibaux 1974, 11012). King Mark is
engaged in a hunt for a large white stag when he discovers the resting place of his
spouse, Isolde, and his nephew, Tristan, in the minnegrotte (love cave) in Gott-
frieds Tristan; the stag becomes a symbol for the lovers, whose tracks are
mistaken in the morning dew for those of the deer. It is a counterpart to the hart
that the Cornish hunting party slays earlier in the tale. When Tristan schools the
hunters in proper preparation and transport of the kill (see above), he begins to

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 35

ingratiate himself with his uncles court. Thus, a deer leads Tristan to Mark, and
its counterpart later leads Mark to Tristan (Schleissner 1993, 8688).
In Christian art, the mythological symbolisms of the deer were very impor-
tantfor example, the stag did mythic battle with its bitter enemy, the serpenta
representation of good, purity, and life fighting with evil, corruption, and death
(Werness 2004, 131). According to the bestiaries, the stag/hart pants when it
thirsts for water in the brook, as the soul pants for God (Thiebaux 1974, 41). But
when it discovers a serpent hiding in its lair, it spits water into the passageway
leading to the reptile, forcing the snake above ground; as soon as the snake
emerges, the stag stomps it to death with its hooves (Hassig 1995, 41; Baxter 1998,
52). The bestiaries further claim that the hart is fond of music and listens to it with
its ears up, but with its ears down it is deaf (Werness 2004, 131).
While the nobility occasionally enjoyed deer meat from the hunt, it was
essentially unknown at the table of the peasantry. Venison was considered an
elite protein and therefore was afforded only by the rich, particularly in the
later Middle Ages (Dowling 2012, 381). Furthermore, virtually any incursion into
the kings lands was held to be a major offense and anyone doing so could suf-
fer blinding or other painful and devastating punishments (Yamamoto 2000,
10205). The major source of protein for the peasant class until early modern
times remained legumes, and was supplemented with cheese, beef, or pork when
it was available, and fish on days when the Church forbade meat (Hammond 1993
[2005], 2537; Adamson 2004, 3047).


During the Middle Ages the fox gained a reputation for earthiness. Medieval
authors focused on its body as smelly, repugnant, and polluting, especially with
respect to its habit of defecating and urinating when it was being hunted,
behaviors that were possibly intended to confuse dogs and humans tracking it.
However, the fox also evinced admirable qualities as well, especially with regard
to intelligence, evasiveness, and shrewdness, and so its standing with humans
remained ambivalent and complex (Yamamoto 2000, 5660).
The Physiologus incorporates the foxs reputation for cunning as it describes
how it rolls about in red earth so that it appears to be bleeding, and then lies still,
feigning death. Birds then gather around the fox and at the right moment the fox
springs up and catches the unsuspecting birds, and devours them. The fox is then
linked to the devil, who catches human souls in a similar fashion; thus, the
Physiologus firmly establishes the reputation of the fox as trickster beast, which
earns it a negative value. Only later, when slyness and shrewdness are more

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36 Christopher R. Clason

highly valued in European culture, can medieval Europe view the fox more
positively (Werness 2004, 184).
One of the most renowned literary beasts of the Middle Ages was the fox
Reynard; stories regarding the clever fox had their origin in the Latin poems such
as the twelfth-century work, entitled Ysengrimus, regarding the perennial struggle
between the wolf and fox (Mann 2009, 4452). Subsequently, clerical authors
penned the twenty-seven chapters (branches) of the French Roman de Renart
between 1170 and 1250, and soon the extremely popular work spread throughout
Europe in many translations and adaptations. (Klingender 1971, 36668). In the
tales social structure, all of the animals are personified as human types that
technically belong to a kind of stratified nobility (Gordon 2012, 28589). Their
actions and personalities clearly appealed to members of all classes among the
reading public, however, since the enormous popularity of the tale cut across all
strata of the literate. The character of the fox contains elements both of the hero
and the villain, but in every situation he is extremely clever and persuasive, and
very skillful as a dissembler and con-artist. Perhaps his most significant attribute
is his supreme mastery of nuance in language and his ability to manipulate the
meanings he conveys (Yamamoto 2000, 62). Thus, in the later centuries of the
Middle Ages when satire became an important literary genre for social and
political criticism, the stories concerning Reynard the Fox became ever more
significant, providing a vehicle for dissent where other, more direct expressions
of disagreement with the status quo could prove to be politically dangerous
(Klingender 1971, 368).
Aesops (ca. 620 B.C.E.564 B.C.E.) fables include humorous and entertaining
views of sly foxes; as one might expect, these qualities come through especially
strongly in the fables of Marie de France (late twelfth century) (e.g., The Fox and
the Cock), which also make use of concepts fashioned and spread by the Reynard
material (Mann 2009, 24345).
In Great Britain, the fox hunt became the most popular form of hunting, and
its practice extended even into the twentieth century. Already in the Middle Ages
the fox was greatly resented, but also somewhat admired at the same time, for its
unflinching determination to rob humans of their domesticated fowl. It did not
timidly remain at a distance but rather audaciously entered human habitations
without hesitation, for example, where chickens were cooped. Its boldness was
remarkable, and therefore the fox hunt empowered the human being to exact
some measure of justice and vengeance. But it was in the hunt that the foxs
particular wit and skills were most apparent, and this fact perhaps engendered
humans respect for it. The medieval hunter knew: if the fox was near its den, it
was very difficult to catch it, since it disappeared quickly below ground at the
slightest alarm, but if the fox was spotted far from the safety of its hole, then the

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 37

chase was on, and it became a battle of wits, physical skills, and endurance on
the part of both the hunter and the hunted. The familiar style of hunting foxes par
force, with a pack of greyhounds or other fast running dogs, was the customary
practice among the nobility in England and France, while elsewhere those who
had been robbed of their geese, chickens and other poultry, dispatched foxes by
employing snares, traps, poisons, or specially bred dogs (Cummins 1988, 14144).
A detailed description of the fox hunt appears in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
(late fourteenth century), marking the third day of a hunt by Sir Bertilak (Cum-
mins 1988, 14446; Yamamoto 2000, 12729).


The bear was worshipped in ancient times as a god and generally revered until
the Common Era, when it begins gradually to lose its status as a regal beast. The
major arbiter in the fall of the bear from its high position was the Christian Church,
which considered it to be dangerous: not merely because it is powerful, swift, and
aggressive, but also as a symbolic entity, because it appears to be a bestial
imitation or effigy of homo sapiens. Standing on its hind legs, the bear acquired an
oddly human appearance; and so, in the minds of the ecclesiastical patriarchs its
posture became blasphemous by seeming to form a grotesque imitation of the
human figure, which was supposed to have been made in the image and likeness
of God. Furthermore, its unrestrained behavior associated it with evil and the
devil. By the advent of the High Middle Ages, the bears image as king of beasts
was tarnished beyond recovery, and it was replaced by the lion as the most noble
of animals and emblem of kings. By the late medieval period one witnessed bear
spectacles, in which the animals, leashed, muzzled, and chained, were forced to
perform inane tricks and acrobatic stunts, rendering the public image of this once
prodigious beast innocuous and ridiculous (Pastoreau 2007, 8990).


Rapacious and bloodthirsty, possessing strong jaws and a muscular physique, the
wolf, the wild, symbolic inversion of the human-friendly canine (see below), was
universally feared in the Middle Ages, and posed a genuine danger in the forests
and woods of medieval Europe to both humans and their domesticated beasts.
Humans commonly encountered packs of from seven to twenty animals, roaming
throughout a large habitat, including, for example, the entire expanse of Great
Britain and Ireland (George and Yapp 1991, 5051).

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38 Christopher R. Clason

The wolf was a favorite beast of authors of the fable or the beast epic, often
paired with a fox or another animal or group of animals. The Ecbasis captivi, from
the eleventh century, relates the story of a wolf (with certain, unmistakably
monastic features) who, in a framing tale, captures a calf at Eastertime, brings
it back to a cave, and prepares to slaughter it. The monkish wolf explains to his
associates, the otter and the hedgehog, why he fears and hates the fox by
narrating an Aesopian fable, in which the fox outwits the wolf. Animals from
a nearby town come to the aid of the calf and kill the wolf. (Ziolkowski 1993,
15397; Zeydel, intro. and trans., 1964, 911). A later beast epic, the Ysengrimus
(twelfth century), presents several versions of a narrative in which a fox, similarly
to that of the previously described Aesopian fable, outfoxes a wolf. Neverthe-
less, the wolf shows himself to be a cunning and duplicitous creature, whose only
flaw is having a more worthy opponent (Mann 2009, 4452). The wolf in Le
Roman de Renart, Ysengrin, similarly falls victim to the wiles of the fox (Mann
2009, 22129). The adversarial relationship between fox and wolf continues in
marginalia, such as those found in the Smithfield Decretals of the fourteenth
century. In one such drawing, the fox physician seems to be impersonating a
physician and ministering to a wolf, while in an adjacent illustration the wolf
apparently expires while the fox smiles in scorn and derision (Sprunger 1996,
7374). The fables of Marie de France (late twelfth century) link the wolf with a
variety of bestial companions and victims, for example, the hedgehog, the dog,
and the lamb; in these works the wolfs most defining characteristic is his cruelty
(Mann 2009, 2833). In her lais, Marie also narrates a tale regarding lycanthropy,
the metamorphosis of a human being into a wolf; the werewolf of her tale
(Bisclavret) displays extraordinary mental skills, befriends a king and finally
bites off the nose of his wife who has rejected him for a suitor because of her
husbands new and unusual form (Marie de France 1990, 11633; Salisbury 2011,
For Dante (12651321), the she-wolf is one of the beasts blocking Dantes way
back to the straight-and-narrow path of his life at the opening of his Divine
Comedy (13081321), and thus represents one of the grand categories of sin in the
Inferno, possibly incontinence.


Snakes have evinced a plethora of symbolisms since ancient times, especially

relating it to evil (Kemp 1972, 7581; Rees 1992, 5257); however, the Physiologus
addresses only four of them, and they are positive. In it one discovers that the
snake sheds its skin (and thus in earlier times becomes a symbol of rebirth and

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 39

resurrection) by fasting, and thus good Christians can cast off old, sinful ways
and be reborn in Christ. Secondly, when the snake drinks it rids itself of its poison,
and like the beast the human being should leave all poison and sinfulness outside
of the church. Because, as the Physiologus reports, snakes fear naked persons but
will bite those who are clothed, so Adam becomes vulnerable to the serpent
when he loses his naked innocence and clothes himself in the mortality of a fleshy
body. Finally, since the snake will, in times of danger, surrender its body and
protect its head, so, too, should the good Christian protect his spiritual head,
which is Christ (Physiologus 1979, 1619; Wheatcroft 1999, 14648; Werness 2004,

II Fabulous
The medieval menagerie included not only real animals but those of the imagina-
tion as well. Literature and art were particularly rich in their representations of
fabulous beasts, sometimes as grotesque variations of existing animals (such as
huge fish, foxes that speak, etc.), but also species for which there were no known
examples in the natural world. Several of these became common in literature and
art and obtained certain standard characteristics (Kirschbaum 1970, 14).


The Physiologus and bestiaries described the unicorn, which they called alterna-
tively the monoceras, as a smallish beast of the same general size as a kid,
possessing a single horn in the middle of its forehead. It was reputed to be very
shrewd, swift and strong, and thus difficult to hunt. However, the sources
reported that one could effect a capture with the aid of a virgin: the unicorn would
approach the woman and could not help but leap into her lap and embrace her,
whereupon he would be caught. In the bestiaries the unicorn was often associated
with Christ (Physiologus 1979, 51; White, trans. and ed., 1954, 2021; Gravestock
1999, 12729).
Among the most striking examples of the unicorn in the visual arts appeared
in the series of tapestries known as the Unicorn Tapestries of the Muse de
Cluny in Paris and those in the Cloisters (the medieval branch of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York). The beautifully intricate tapestries were woven
approximately in 1480 and 1500 respectively, and thus arose at the very end of
the medieval period. The former consist of six separate pieces, five of which
allegorize the five senses; the composition of each image arranges a central figure

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40 Christopher R. Clason

of a woman flanked by a lion and a unicorn, with a background of smaller

animals playing amidst trees, flowers and the high ladys coat-of arms (Gotfred-
sen 1999, 90103). The latter reproduce a hunt for a unicorn in seven panels:
among the images are scenes of the beast by a fountain, surrounded by a great
variety of animals and birds, as well as a depiction of the standard ruse, to
capture the unicorn with the embrace of a virgin. Although the unicorn is success-
fully hunted and killed, it apparently rises from the dead, because in the last
panel, perhaps one of the most famous and beloved of all tapestries from the
Middle Ages, the unicorn sits peacefully in an enclosure, restrained by a leash
(a chane damour) and resting but very much alive (Freeman and Sipress
19731974, 21214; Gotfredsen 1999, 10421).


In the bestiary account, the phoenix lives five centuries and then performs a ritual
self-immolation, sometimes with the cooperation of a priest of Heliopolis. In
most accounts, it lights either upon a certain tree or a pyre that it prepares for
itself out of sweet-smelling wood and herbs and then sets itself aflame; typically,
after one day the priest discovers a small worm among the ashes, which after
three days becomes a new and fully reconstituted bird. The bestiaries immedi-
ately point to the many parallels between the account of the phoenixs rebirth and
the biblical story of Christs resurrection (Bestiary 1999, 14143; Mermier 1989,
7377; Peil 1996, 11112; Jones 1999, 99115; Wheatcroft 1999, 14851).
The phoenix also appears occasionally as a symbolic bird in literary and
visual works. The Latin poem by Lactantius (early fourth century), passages from
the Book of Job, and elements of St. Ambroses Hexameron (late fourth century)
combine in a 677 line Anglo-Saxon poem The Phoenix from the ninth century
(Heffernan 1988). Chrtien employs the phoenix to suggest death-and-resurrec-
tion symbolism in his Cligs (ca. 1176) (Varty 1983, 195200). However, despite the
beauty of the phoenix as imagined in some of the speculative descriptions in
numerous classical and late medieval sources (such as Albertus Magnus [ca.
12001280]), plastic artists usually render it as a generic, non-descript, and color-
less bird, which medieval Christians would have most likely interpreted as a
symbol for the dogma regarding the resurrection of the flesh (Hassig 1995, 7283).

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 41


The Physiologus presents the siren as one of the dangers of the sea that deceives
men and kills them. Sirens possess the form of a human being from the head to
the navel, but then below the waist have the form of a bird; singing a pleasing
song, they charm sailors asleep, then attack them, and tear them apart (Physiolo-
gus 1979, 23; Hassig 1997, 174; 177). By the eighth century there appear variations
of the siren as a creature with the form of a virgin from the head to the waist, but
possessing a scaly tail which she hides in the sea (Hassig 1995, 105).
Narratives regarding other composite, half-woman-and-half-beast creatures
include the tale by Walter Map (ca. 1140ca. 1210) of Henno-with-the-Teeth in the
Distincto quarta of the De nugis curialium (late twelfth century, Of Courtiers
Trifles), as well as the later medieval tales of the fairy-mistress Melusine, espe-
cially the French versions of Jean dArras (late fourteenth century) and Couldrette
(early fifteenth century), and the German translation by Thring von Ringoltingen
(1456) in the fifteenth century. Here, the heroines body presents a periodically
transforming image of woman and then a composite of woman and serpent
(Maddox and Sturm-Maddox 1996, 111), leading to a confusion between the
world of humans and that of animals. Occurring in the foundation myth of
Lusignan (as well as other nations of Europe and Asia), the confusion reflects a
crisis of legitimacy as well as a bestiality inherent in European culture at the
end of the Hundred Years War (Spiegel 1996, 11719).


The Physiologus does not include the dragon, but the mythical beast does appear
in Isidores encyclopedia and the bestiaries. The Etymologies, for example, depict
a much different kind of beast than what later becomes the dragon archetype. The
medieval dragon portrayed in these earlier works is reported to be the largest
beast on earth; it lived in fissures between rocks and resembled a very large
snake, somewhat like a boa constrictor. Some authors claimed that it was particu-
larly dangerous to elephants: the dragon was said to inhabit the lands of India
and Ethiopia, and there killed the hapless pachyderms by entangling their legs,
and then constricted their bodies, eventually suffocating them (Isidore 2011, 255;
Bestiary 1999, 18284).
In the early Middle Ages there appeared a variety of dragons in literary works,
probably as inheritances from more ancient folklore and mythology. Among their
common characteristics were their symbolic association with evil: they were
monstrous and dangerous, and especially in visual art they took a place opposite

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42 Christopher R. Clason

that of a saintly figure or even Christ (Gravestock 1999, 12627); other details of
their appearance and behavior originated, however, from their ancient origins
(Rees 1992, 5759; Lionarons 1998, 122). Among the best known of the earlier
medieval dragons is the infamous, fire-breathing beast in Beowulf (Lionarons
1998, 2348), which, before it is slain, manages to wound Beowulf fatally. The
anonymous author alternatively refers to it as dragon, serpent, and worm, the
final appellation recalling the Germanic Lindwurm, a common term for dragon
that suggests its worm-like form and subterranean habitats that echo even into
the modern era.
The dragons of the High Middle Ages began to assume the role of bestial
guardians and psychological barriers, whose purpose was to thwart an indivi-
duals progress, either in love or on some adventure. A battle with a dragon
presented the hero with an opportunity to prove valor and strength through
combat, and worthiness to claim a title or prize. Furthermore, some parts of the
dragons body possessed intrinsic, magical properties and exerted potent influ-
ences on characters, thereby having great effect on the plot development. In the
Nibelungenlied (ca. 1200), Siegfried slays a dragon, and bathing in the dragons
blood renders him invulnerable to any kind of wounding, save for a single,
unprotected spot on his back that his enemies later exploit (Flood 1998, 4247;
McConnell 1999, 17184). Tristans battle with a dragon in Gottfrieds eponymous
romance (ca. 1210) proves his worthiness as a suitor for Isolde. After slaying the
monster, he cuts out its tongue and slips it beneath his armor to carry it back to
court. Unfortunately, the fumes emanating from the dragons tongue are toxic,
and render him unconscious; however, he is soon discovered by Isolde, who
nurses him back to full strength, and at the decisive moment he produces the
tongue, supporting his claim on the princess (Classen 2009, 3540).

III Domesticated

During the Middle Ages, mans best friend uniquely straddled the boundary
between the worlds of culture and nature. In the period shortly after the fall
of the Roman Empire (where some dog breeds were developed as pets), human
kindness toward dogs was rare, especially because Christian patriarchs dictated
that soulless animals had to serve humankind in some way if they were to enjoy
the privileges and comforts of domestication; when canines grew old and were no
longer useful, they were often killed to make way for younger dogs who were able
to serve their masters. However, by the thirteenth century there was growing

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 43

evidence that the strict divisions between human and beast were disappearing,
and the treatment of canines in general improved dramatically (Salisbury 1994
[2011], 11520; Boehrer 2010, 2227).
Small lap dogs were popular pets among the nobility during classical Roman
times, but during the early Middle Ages disappeared from art and literature. Their
reappearance during the later medieval period, which one can trace emanating
outward from Italy, is striking, and the evolution of breeds became clear in
painting and sculpture. The lap dogs possess especially large eyes and other
features imitative of human children, and thus they became icons and foci of
affection; one might find it natural, then, that such canines would become
metaphors for love and joy in literary works, such as the magical dog Petitcreiu in
Gottfried von Straburgs Tristan (Classen 2007, 7881; Salisbury 1994 [2011], 119).
The human bond with dogs became especially clear in the performance of the
hunt (see above). Perhaps the key canine link to homo sapiens was their produc-
tion and apparent understanding of language, which they demonstrated espe-
cially during the chase; dogs responded eagerly to the name they were called by
the hunters, giving each animal a unique identity; furthermore, their barking and
yelping during the hunt was said to communicate their contempt for their quarry,
and their baying, which grew particularly loud while the hunters blew their horns
at the conclusion of a successful kill, indicated strong allegiance to their human
masters and their zealous participation in the hunting rituals (Yamamoto 2000,
11523). In literary works, the acoustic qualities of the dog often identify it as an
individual character, revealing how language does, indeed, break down species
boundaries; thus, in Wolfram von Eschenbachs Titurel (ca. 1220), the hunting dog
Gardevaz barks loudly in the forest as it chases down animals wounded in the
hunt, while Tristans loyal hound Hiudan does so without uttering a sound,
making him the ideal companion for him and Isolde as they hide from the court in
the minnegrotte (Schleissner 1993, 8386; Classen 2007, 81).
Often, specific attitudes toward animals could prove to be most ambivalent,
and at times could achieve polar opposite significations. Thus, the late medieval
romances Sir Gowther (mid to late fifteenth century) and Robert le diable (ca. 1250)
present an entirely different view of dogs, communication, and how the central
characters of each tale relate to the beasts. In both tales the character is born
under questionable circumstances, since the devil plays a role in the conception
of each, a fact that determines the characters extremely sinful, murderous
behavior. In the case of Sir Gowther, he is commanded by his confessor, the Pope
himself, to keep strict silence and only to accept food from the mouth of a dog
(Salter 2007, 9092). Roberts penance lies also in enforced silence, but he must
live with dogs; after numerous adventures in which he shows great valor, Robert
embraces life as a hermit, thus insuring a continuance of his non-communication

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44 Christopher R. Clason

with other human beings Hahn 2012, 87108). In both situations, the connection
of knights with the dogs identifies the human characters as outsiders, something
less than human. While language serves to connect the animal world with the
human world in some instances, the loss of permission to communicate forces the
human being into liminal spaces, into a kind of exile from humanity (Salter 2007,
93). However, at least in Sir Gowther, there remains a possibility of reintegration.
Gowther exhibits great valor on the battlefield, saving the Holy Roman Emperor
from certain death. For this, the Emperors daughter, aware of Gowthers predica-
ment, rewards him with bread and meat, which she sends to the heroic knight via
a greyhound, whose mouth has been washed with wine. Thus, the dog serves
ultimately as a conveyor of human communication, gratitude and love (Salter
2007, 9395; Classen 2007, 6786).
Perhaps the most significant canine characteristic to find its way into the art
of the Middle Ages was loyalty. Numerous stories illustrated the remarkable bond
between human and dog, in which the dog serves the human even though that
service leads to pain or death for the beast, and lends to the animal an additional
measure of human virtue. An important example of this was the remarkable
tale of Queen Sibille (ca. 1437), in which a faithful dog reveals the evil deed that a
villainous knight has perpetrated against his master and a queen in his protec-
tion; as the instrument of divine judgment, the good beast ensures that the evil
knight (along with his malicious relatives) is punished justly (Kompatscher,
Classen, and Dinzelbacher, ed., 2010, 26172).
The primary breeds used in hunting were the greyhound, the alaunt, the
mastiff, and the chien courant (Cummings 1988, 13; Smets and van den Abeele
2007, 61), and were generally distinguished by their typically acute sense of smell
or their speed and agility (Brackert and van Kleffens 1989, 7072). Beyond these
general categories, each type of dog possessed specific characteristics that hun-
ters employed for different hunting situations. Greyhounds were particularly
popular, since they could be trained to seize and bring down their quarry while
on the run. In many literary works, a typical complement of hunting dogs
included thirty pairs; however, in practice, keeping so many dogs for the hunt
was possible only for the very wealthy, and many hunting packs were assembled
by hunting companions out of several, individual packs of three or four animals
(Cummins 1988, 1324).
One of the most important concerns addressed in medieval veterinary treatises
is dog care. As one might expect, rabies was a dreaded disease that many such
works discuss extensively, especially those concerning the treatment of humans
who have been bitten by rabid dogs, above all those that roam in the wild. Some
recommend folk remedies; however, implicit in many is the recognition of hope-
lessness in such cases, where death was virtually assured (Cummins 1988, 2931).

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 45


Due to its unique connection with the culture of chivalry, as the animal most
closely associated with the chevalier, the horse occupied a unique position
among all creatures during the medieval period (Bumke 2002, 236; see also the
entry by Cynthia Jeny on the horse in this Handbook). Certainly, no other beast
fulfilled so many important, practical functions in medieval life: as draft animal,
mode of transportation, warriors carriage, emblem of wealth and prowess, sym-
bol of fecundity and strength, trusted companion and even, at times, as a source
of food, the horse obtained great importance (Prestwich 2010, 4547; Bknyi
19821989, 300; Ehrismann 1995, 15153).
In the execution of medieval war tactics, the horse served the knight in
various, essential ways: despite the encumbering weight of its riders armor, it
swiftly carried the knight into battle to inflict major damage upon vulnerable
enemy forces with minimal likelihood of injury to the human or the horse.
Together they functioned as the tank of the Middle Ages. When knights spoke
of their horses, they customarily did not identify them by breed, but rather by
purpose or physical attributes, such as training, strength, speed, and agility. The
most sought-after horse was the destrier, which is often described as the great
horse, held in reserve for the thick of battle. This horse was also important in
jousting, since it was sturdy, broad, and bred specifically for endurance (Kiser
2007, 110). For war and the hunt, the less costly, but lighter, faster, and easier to
ride coursers were often preferred. Easiest to ride were the palfreys, as were
the hackneys and the ordinary rounceys. Particularly in epic literary works,
knights bestowed romantic names upon their steeds and endowed them with
elaborate ornamentation; in reality, knights had to protect their expensive and
vulnerable equine investments as best they could with a good coat of mail
(Prestwich 2010, 46). A common passage found in many literary epics (e.g., in
Hartmann von Aues (ca. 1165ca. 1215) Erec and Gottfried von Straburgs Tristan
und Isolde) was the lengthy description of elaborate gear for horses: blanket,
stirrups, straps, saddle cushion, croup, bridle, and headpiece were ornately
decorated with the costliest woven materials, leathers, gem stones and precious
metals. This often allowed poets to develop fantastic ekphrasis. It seems that no
expense was too great for equine decoration, for here the nobleperson could
project wealth and status, making the horse an emblem of rank and reputation
(Bumke 2002, 23640). Thus, the horse occupied a profoundly significant position
for the nobility, as the beast upon which one had to rely in order to perform the
deeds critical to that class, and so entered both courtly and heroic literature as
well as the pictorial arts as one of the most highly esteemed species among all

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46 Christopher R. Clason

Nor can the importance of the horse to the lower classes be overstated. In the
eleventh century farmers began to use horses for plowing, although oxen re-
mained the beasts of choice for this heavy chore. Horses became an essential
means of transportation, especially when one was obliged to travel over long
distances. A typical medieval horse could move several times the speed of a
human and so could cover a far greater distance. For medieval merchants trans-
porting goods to market, the horse was indispensable, as a draft animal pulling a
relatively heavy wagon (Bknyi 19821989, 29495).

H Birds
Birds occupied a special range of significance in the medieval mind that required
a separate category when discussing bestial symbolism. Most birds are capable of
flight, and many common ones also rest upon the surface of (and hunt for food in)
aqueous environments, occupying spaces from which both humans and other
animals are usually excluded. Furthermore, many produce sound, even when
they are unseen. Thus, the avian species were highly significant for audible
imagery in art: for example, the almost ubiquitous melodies of songbirds became
a commonplace, even a clich, in courtly lyric. Some carnivorous birds also hunt,
and therefore played a particularly important role in courtly rituals of sport and
pastime. Because of its physical skills, beauty and grace, one such bird, the
falcon, became the courtly emblem not only for hunting but also for courtly love:
perhaps the iconic case occurs in Gottfried von Straburgs Tristan und Isolde,
where the falcon turns into the animal symbol associated with none other than
Isolde the Fair, as a free bird of the hunt while still in Ireland, but as one trapped
in the tree of love after she has drunk the potion with Tristan (Schleissner 1993,
7880). Chrtiens Erec is identified with a sparrowhawk, as Enide is identified
with a white stag, in an intricate mixing of metaphorical values that mark their
passionate and tumultuous love for each other (Thibaux 1974, 11215). Thus,
avian symbolism possessed its own complexities and sophistication, separate
from that of the more earthbound members of the medieval animal world.
Because birds fly, they have long been associated with spirituality, especially
the soul, and related values. During the Middle Ages, other behaviors added into
the mixture of meanings, aligning birds very closely with the sacred. According to
St. Augustine several species were identified with specific Christian symbolisms:
for example, the peacock, because it was claimed to possess incorruptible flesh,
became a symbol for immortality; the goldfinch, consuming thorny plants as part
of its natural diet, was linked to thorns and therefore, according to Augustine,
became associated with Christs sufferings, especially his crown of thorns; and

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 47

the dove, because of the Pentecostal narrative in the New Testament, became the
most common image of the Holy Spirit (Werness 2004, 46; Webber 1938, 14752).
Many birds sing, and so they provide an opportunity especially for poets to
give voice to various emotions, ranging from melancholy and sadness to joy and
love. Certain kinds of birds sing in a certain manner that identifies that species
with a specific emotion: for example, larks are happy, crows complain, night-
ingales cry forth their yearning for love, etc. There are several cycles of time (e.g.,
diurnal, seasonal, etc.) for which certain species offer human responses: thus,
the nightingale (Pfeffer 1985) sings during the nighttime, the chanticleer wel-
comes the dawn, various songbirds provide the acoustic background to the day-
time; forest birds express in song their enjoyment of the spring and summer
warmth and sunshine, migrating birds mark the changes of the season, and the
complaints of some species (e.g., the nebelcr, or hooded crow, in Walther
von der Vogelweides (ca. 1170ca. 1230) Diu werlt was gelf, rt unde bl [L. 75,
25, The world was yellow, red and blue], which shrieks forth its displeasure
with the abominable winter weather [Clason 2012, 24245]) correspond to the
typical discomforts humans experience as a result of cold and darkness during
that lengthy, difficult season.
Some literary works presented allegorical treatments of social, religious, and
other issues of the time by employing birds symbolically or metaphorically, or by
letting them comment as representatives of some hierarchy. Perhaps the most
important example of this usage of avian symbolism was Chaucers Parlement of
Foules (ca. 1380), in which the poet describes a dream of entering a formal garden.
There, Dame Nature presides over the parliament, where the birds, seated in rank
with the raptors at the top of the hierarchy and the waterfowl at the bottom,
represent the feudal human pecking order. Chaucer describes each species as a
summary of characteristics taken from the bestiaries, Aristotle, Pliny, the Physio-
logus, and other folk sources, such that the poem reads like a catalogue of these
traits. The birds are selecting their mates, and each speaks out in a rank-appro-
priate register. But the selection process runs into problems and delays when a
royal male eagle disputes with two eagles of lower rank over the rights to woo a
female; all the birds wish to weigh in on the debate, but no clear decision is made.
Nature finally grants the female the right to state whom she selects, but she is
indecisive; however, Nature grants her wish that the three males serve her for a
year, each demonstrating his worthiness to be her lover. Finally, the other birds
can make their selections (Klingender 1971, 37376).
Recently, developments in ecocritical theory have generated fresh perspec-
tives on the significance of avian song and behavior. New, green readings of
literary works have attempted to deconstruct the ubiquitous, anthropocentric
perspective of many former readings of medieval literature (Rudd 2007, 3840)

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48 Christopher R. Clason

and to relocate the subject from the human to the animal. Thus, in the case of
birds, their singing has become important as communication, as a form of
language that asserts the legitimacy of agency and the status of subject for its
avian source (Kordecki 2011, 123).

Specific Avian Species

Raptors: Eagle and Falcon

Birds of prey often appeared symbolically in literary and pictorial art of the
Middle Ages; sometimes, the qualities they represented provide fascinating in-
sights into how the medieval mind understood the animals characteristics and
evaluated them. When, for example, in the courtly romance Tristan und Isolde,
Isolde the Fair enters the sexually charged arena of the court, Gottfried von
Straburg describes her as a falcon and employs images from the discourse of
avian anatomy and behavior in order to convey the profound effect she has on the
men who gaze upon her. Most significantly, Gottfried emphasizes the manner in
which her glances dart back and forth as if searching for prey, recalling the
important role that eyes play in the awakening of courtly love in the noble heart,
and playing upon the falcons characteristically acute vision, for which the bird is
renowned. In one of the works most significant moments, when Isolde expresses
her love for Tristan for the first time, Gottfried once again refers to her as the
falcon of love (Schleissner 1993, 7880; Clason 2008, 28182). Indeed, by the late
medieval period the falcon became one of the most common symbols for love,
already beginning with the famous poem by the Austrian poet Krenberg (twelfth
century), Ich zch mir einen valken (ca. 1160, I Reared a Falcon) through the
late fourteenth-century poetry by Heinrich von Mgeln (ca. 1319ca. 1380), e.g.,
Ein frouwe sprach: myn falcke ist mir enphlogen (Friedman 1989, 158, A
Woman Spoke: My Falcon has Flown from Me).
Using falcons for hunting, first documented among Germanic tribes in the
mid-fifth century (Smets and van den Abeele 2007, 5960), became a widespread
practice among the nobility in the Middle Ages, and a trained falcon became a
most valuable possession (Oggins 1993, 48). While dogs customarily pursued
larger game, such as the stag, various species of hawks and falcons were
employed to catch smaller game (Friedman 1989, 157). Beginning in the tenth
century, members of the nobility as well as their fowlers authored treatises on
falconry, dealing with training techniques as well as medical procedures for the
vast number of ailments that afflict predatory birds held in captivity, and indicat-
ing the authors desire to exert human control over nature. Eventually, such

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 49

treatises began to fall into two typical kinds of texts, those which described birds
of prey as one species among all beasts (tending to reiterate what was already
known, with very little original work of value) and those which continued to deal
with the more practical aspects of training, hunting and caring for birds (Oggins
1993, 4853). The latter contributed a great deal toward a grand shift in perspec-
tive, from considering nature an abstract, philosophical concept for contempla-
tion, to investigating natural phenomena and recording what one finds scientifi-
cally (Salisbury 1993, 8).
A most valuable source for knowledge of hunting birds and raptors in the
medieval period was the treatise credited to the Holy Roman Emperor, Friedrich II
(11941250), On the Art of Hunting with Birds (De arte venandi cum avibus), shortly
before 1250. The key to this work, in Friedrichs own words, was his desire to show
things as they are and therefore his reliance upon to his own observations and
experiments. Although the Emperor based his discussions upon his reading of
Aristotles writings on animals (recently translated into Latin), he often differed
sharply with his ancient model. Furthermore, the Zeitgeist of the anatomical
method that was being developed at the medical school in Salerno strongly
influenced Friedrichs writing, marking his text as distinctly anatomical and
descriptive (Whitney 2004, 10304; Glick, Livesey, and Wallis, ed., 2005, 529;
Klingender 1971, 44749). It also marked a turning point in how the medieval
mind views animals, no longer through imagination and religious allegory (as
in the Physiologus and the bestiaries), but rather through the lens of scientific
observation (Salisbury 1993, 610).
Friedrich was not able to finish this work before his death; his son Manfred,
however, brought the project to a successful conclusion with the help of his
fathers extensive notes. One of Manfreds manuscripts of De arte venandi, now
held in the Vatican Library (Vatican, Palat. Lat. 1071), was beautifully illustrated
with over 900 drawings that provide an authentic impression of the birds appear-
ance. The striking realism with which the illustrations reproduce features of avian
anatomy and behavior irresistibly lead one to conclude that they resulted from
the artists first-hand observation and her or his intention to document the
species actual appearance as faithfully as possible (Klingender 1971, 44750).
The eagle customarily resided at the very top of the hierarchy of birds, such
as in Chaucers Parlement of Foules (Klingender 1971, 37475). It was heavily
weighted with symbolism; thus, it became a symbol for St. John the Evangelist,
and in the Physiologus and the bestiaries it plunged into water to renew its fading
vision (Rowland 1971, 17; Ziolkowski 1997, 15; Hassig 1997, 172). Among the
animals shown in heraldic crests, the eagle was perhaps the most common bird,
often associated with the lion, representing courage and strength respectively; for
particular emphasis, the eagle was sometimes depicted with the head of a lion, or

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50 Christopher R. Clason

as a griffin (essentially, an eagle-headed lion) (Klingender 1971, 30203). In

literature authors employed falcons because of the connections with the hunt, but
eagles also made an appearance from time to time. One of the most significant of
these appearances occurs in the anonymously authored Nibelungenlied (ca.
1200), in which the female protagonist, Kriemhild, has a dream at the very
beginning of the work, wherein she beholds two eagles attack and tear apart a
smaller falcon, a premonition of what her family and courtly associates will later
do to her great love, Siegfried.

The Owl

Various reputations of the owl were already well formed before its appearance in
medieval literature and art. The nocturnal nature of owls, their large, apparently
luminescent or reflective eyes, and their eerie and unearthly hooting (often the
only sign of their presence is acoustic) associated them with darkness, fear, the
unknown, ill-fortune, evil, death, and the like. In some stories, other birds reject
the owl because it is reputedly filthy (Klingender 1971, 365; Hume 1975, 1517).
This image was compounded by the owls parallel but opposite reputation for
wisdom, perhaps arising from the birds uncannily human facial structure and
features. In some fables, other animals come to the owl to seek counsel or justice
(Klingender 1971, 364). Thus, the literary-artistic owl evinced a very complex set
of significances, and the medieval mind both welcomed and feared the bird
(Miyazaki 1999, 2449).
Works such as the poem The Owl and the Nightingale (twelfth or thirteenth
century), placed two of the most commonly found nocturnal birds to appear in
literary works into sharp contrast, their symbolic meanings providing an opportu-
nity for the author to explore social, political, religious, and aesthetic issues on
many levels (Hume 1975, 51118). In this poem of around 1800 lines, the owl
warns against the frivolousness of the nightingales love song, which distracts
human beings from gaining heaven; in this case, the animals decide to present
their case to a human arbiter for judgment (Klingender 1971, 36566).

The Nightingale

As the most cited avian beast in Western European literature of the Middle Ages
(Pfeffer 1989, 89), the nightingale was welcomed by poets as the bird that
represented nocturnal joy, especially that of conjugal love. It migrated to Europe
from the end of April until mid-May, and so its song ushered in the new spring

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 51

after a long winter. While the more earnest owl of the Middle English debate poem
The Owl and the Nightingale deems its song frivolous, its association with
lovers rendezvous in the middle of the night acquires a dignity of its own that the
songbird knows how to defend from the accusations of the stodgy owl (Hume
1975, 5165; Klingender 1971, 36466). In one of the most famous renderings of
that song, Walther von der Vogelweides Under der linden, (L. 39,11), the refrain
tandaradei establishes the nightingales song as a kind of language that lovers,
embracing each other during a night of erotic fulfillment, perceive as their avian
companions communication with them, a kind of lovers natural language that
only they and the bird comprehend (Clason 2012, 23334).

I Fish
Since very ancient times, humans have been fascinated by the sea, especially as
an environment from which they acquire food. Fish have historically played an
important role in the human diet, and the medieval period was no exception. The
status of piscatorial beasts as a food item provided the key to their significance in
religion, literature and art of the Middle Ages.
Fish were carriers of numerous symbolic and thematic associations with the
Christian Bible, especially the New Testament. Best known were the narratives
regarding the recruitment of the apostles, exhorting them to become fishers of
men (Matthew 4: 19). Also, the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes
underscored the connection between food, deity and fish (Matthew 14: 1321).
Fish were not the equivalent of meatin situations where religious custom and
law required abstinence from the flesh of beasts, fish was permitted as a source of
protein. In any case, on fasting days, including Friday and Saturday (some house-
holds in Great Britain also observed Wednesday fasting), as well as during the six
weeks of Lent (the period before Easter Sunday) and on the vigils of some other
important festivals, such as Christmas Eve, the faithful were permitted the con-
sumption of fish (Dyer 1988, 28). Interestingly, this led to remarkable interpreta-
tions as to what, precisely, constitutes fish, since most any animal that swims
in the water qualified for this epithet during much of the Middle Ages. For
example, in some instances waterfowl or even beaver were consumed as fish
when meat was forbidden; of course, such practices were soon stopped by
vigilant church officials. In any case, the role of fish as a protein source at times
when the church imposed seasonal or weekly fasts contributed to the growth of
commercial fishing industries and markets (Resl 2007, 5).
In hagiographic narratives fish sometimes come to play a role, particularly as
docile and cooperative companions of the saint during some activity. In a story

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52 Christopher R. Clason

regarding St. Francis (11811226), the author praises the saint for releasing caught
fish; in one situation he is given a rather large tench that a fisherman has caught,
and, placing the fish back in the water, Francis prays until it revives and swims
away (Kompatscher, Classen, and Dinzelbacher, ed., 2010, 19091). Another
story, concerning a St. Wilhelm Firmatus (10261103), relates how this holy man,
standing at the edge of a pond, can attract large numbers of fish to himself, and
even remove them from the water, caress them and return them to the pond
unharmed (Kompatscher, Classen, and Dinzelbacher, ed., 2010, 22425). Clearly,
tales of this type underscored the saintliness of the holy men by revealing their
connection to nature, such that even fish, among the most timid of creatures, felt
safe in their presence.
As one might expect, in many of the medieval zoological works sharks and
rays, as well as dolphins and whales, were usually included under the umbrella
term fish, although some works indicated the authors awareness that warm-
bloodedness, giving birth to fully-formed young, and nursing are characteristics
that distinguish these later mammalian creatures from fish (Szabo 2008). How-
ever, seals and sea lions also qualified in some treatises as fish, merely because
they swim in the sea. The translations of Aristotles zoological works, first by
Michael Scotus (ca. 1175ca. 1235) (from an Arabic text) in the early thirteenth
century, and then later, around 1260, of the same works by William of Moerbeke
(1215ca. 1286) (directly from the original Greek), reinforced an ancient classifica-
tion of sea creatures into the class aquatilia, which included cetaceans, water-
dwelling mammals and sea birds (Resl 2007, 13639).
The medieval activity of fishing fell into three categories: subsistence, com-
mercial, and recreational. Many medieval persons fished to feed their families,
and perhaps additionally to provide for their lords table (direct and indirect
subsistence, respectively). Commercial catches could be brought to the medieval
market and there sold to consumers. But recreational fishing was also practiced.
Each category dictated its own methodology of fishing, and many of those who
fished developed an intimate, respectful relationship with the ecosystem in which
(s)he pursued this activity (Hoffmann 1997, 523).

J Conclusion
As we have seen, the position of animals in the emotional, intellectual and
spiritual attitudes of the European Middle Ages was complex and variable. How-
ever, there can be no doubt that animals were of great interest to all human
beings. During the earlier centuries of the period, beasts were seen to a great
extent as the liminal other, particularly under the influence of the early Chris-

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Animals, Birds, and Fish in the Middle Ages 53

tian Church and its patriarchal philosophers: they claimed that animals had no
soul, and therefore were of a different order than human beings. Beasts accord-
ingly stood at the outskirts of human existence and, although they might imitate
human appearance or behavior, they were subordinate. Animals were part of
creation, made by the Creator to be exploited by humans for their own good and
Especially in the twelfth century, however, works of art and literature began
to reflect different attitudes, revealing a closer connection between animals and
humans. In many of the paintings, drawings, sculptures and literary works of the
later Middle Ages, animals began to evince more human characteristics, and were
given human roles, dressed in human clothing or provided the capacity to think
and to speak. They were sometimes integrated into a hierarchy that resembles
human social structures, in a sense completing their integration into human
existence. Most importantly, their anthropomorphic treatment showed human
foibles from a new perspective, such that the genres of the beast epic and the
fable became significant vehicles for political satire and social critique, where
they had not been possible previously.
These later medieval views on animals, birds, and fish also served to reaffirm
a basic principle: that the experience of animals connected human beings with
nature: they reminded us of our origins in the natural world and kept in check the
tendency of homo sapiens occasionally to think that humans were, or even could
be, detached from the natural world. Through observing animals, humans were
reminded of their own animal natures. By seeking out animals where they lived,
humans projected themselves into new environments outside the boundaries
imposed by culture and society. Animals conveyed humans to new and distant
spaces, they inspired and enabled them to perform work and to develop new
technologies that enhance their lives. In these and many other ways, the later
medieval attitude toward animals helped to open the human mind to an aware-
ness and appreciation of nature and the world; the human connection to the
natural world would evolve and become dramatically stronger in the succeeding
years, fostering a new turn toward Renaissance art and Humanistic thought.

Select Bibliography
Classen, Albrecht, ed., Rural Space in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: The Spatial Turn in
Premodern Studies (Berlin and Boston, MA, 2012).
Classen, Albrecht, Rural Space in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times: A Significant
Domain Ignored for Too Long by Modern Research?, Rural Space in the Middle Ages and
Early Modern Age, ed. idem (Berlin and Boston, MA, 2012), 1191. [= A.Classen 2012b]

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54 Christopher R. Clason

Flores, Nona C., ed., Animals in the Middle Ages: a Book of Essays (New York and London 1996).
Hartmann, Sieglinde, ed., Fauna and Flora in the Middle Ages (Frankfurt a. M. etal. 2007).

Klingender, Francis Donald, Animals in Art and Thought: to the End of the Middle Ages, ed. Evelyn
Antal and John Harthan (Cambridge 1971).
Resl, Brigitte, ed., A Cultural History of Animals in the Medieval Age, paperback ed. (2007; Oxford
Thibaux, Marcelle, The Stag of Love: the Chase in Medieval Literature (Ithaca, NY, and London
Werness, Hope B., The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in Art (New York and
London 2004).
Whitney, Elspeth, Medieval Science and Technology (Westport, CT, 2004).
Yamamoto, Dorothy, The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature (Oxford 2000).

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Charlotte A. Stanford

A Definition and Brief Historiography

Architecture, of all the arts, shapes the totality of ones space. It is perceived
through nearly all the sensessight, sound, smell, and touch. And while it can
bear meaning on many levels, architecture almost always has a fundamentally
practical aspect. It is the mixture of utility, durability and beauty, according to the
Roman architect Vitruvius (ca. 8070 B.C.E.), that makes architecture. Beauty
being in the eye of the beholder, the parameters of what is rightly considered
architecture have expanded, particularly in the twentieth century and since then
(Brachmann 2014). Scholarly interest in more humble structures has also in-
creased, acknowledging that the homes and work spaces in which people dwelt
also shaped space and experience, often far more consistently, than more formal
and sophisticated structures, such as churches (Coldstream 2002, 2324).
Scholarly interest in architecture has broadened beyond the historiographi-
cally traditional pursuit of the beginnings of styles. Since the Renaissance, theorists
such as Giorgio Vasari (15111574) had decried medieval architecture as breaking
from the classical past, and had pointed out the distinct forms of Gothic in particu-
lar in constituting that break. This attitude colored scholarly consideration of
architecture as a whole, leaving the study of most medieval buildings to antiquar-
ians. But by the nineteenth century, architectural studies had justified itself as a
valid discipline primarily through analyzing styles. Scholars organized medieval
architecture by characteristic features, identifying periods ranging from First Ro-
manesque to additional schools like Burgundian Romanesque, from Early Gothic
to High and then Late Gothic. With these categories often came value judgments
such as undeveloped, mature or decadent (see for example Focillon 1963,
vol.2, 67).
Seeking the origin, development and substance of styles became wound up in
national narratives. Nineteenth-century art historians seized upon what they saw
as the key qualities of their countrys own architecture and therefore essential
character. In France, the leading figure was the restorer and theorist Eugne
Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (18141879) who saw medieval architecture, especially
Gothic, as an expression of rational structure, in which a buildings parts
corresponded visually to their function. The Gothic flying buttress was a stellar
example of this, demonstrating the exterior support that allowed fragile, glass-
filled church interiors to stand. In Germany, romantic love for the medieval also

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56 Charlotte A. Stanford

expressed itself through revival and restoration. Monuments like the Romanesque
Speyer cathedral were restored while the massive nave and west towers of
Cologne cathedral, left unfinished since the sixteenth century, were completed
as part of a nationalist drive for unity under Prussian patronage (Lewis 1993).
English art critics like Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (18121852) and John
Ruskin (18191900) saw in medieval art an expression of the creative genius of
the common laborer and of the intense religious devotion of the period.
Early twentieth-century scholars continued to focus on origins and develop-
ments, often with a strong nationalist bent. Gothic, derided by Vasari for its
northern character, became the focus of much of this scholarship. The art histor-
ian Josef Strzygowksi (18621941), for instance, strongly championed the Aryan
energy of Northern art, claiming that Gothics key features of buttresses, pointed
arches, and rib vaults came from Armenian (Aryan) origins in central Asia
(Elsner 2011, 11). Though his wide-ranging expertise led to the founding of such
fields as Armenian art, as well as Islamic, Jewish, and Byzantine art history, his
racist biases left a legacy of political taint to the subject of Gothic nationalism.
After World War II, the discipline had to adopt a new approach to survive,
and found it in the study of intellectual symbolism. Ironically, this approach was
taken by the former Nazi Hans Sedlmayr (18961984) as well as war migrs like
Otto von Simson (19121993), Erwin Panofsky (18921968), and Paul Frankl
(18861958); the arrival of these three latter scholars in America invigorated
Medieval Studies there. Sedlmayrs concept of the church as the embodiment of
the Heavenly Jerusalem on earth and von Simsons corresponding vision of the
church as a Gesamtkunstwerk shaped a mystical view of Gothic as the embodi-
ment of Neoplatonic light metaphysics. The luminous stained glass windows
supported by rib vaults and pointed arches in a Gothic church were not to be
studied as a collection of fragmented parts but as units of an embracing whole.
Panofskys seminal studies on the abbey of St. Denis near Paris were particularly
far-reaching. He saw in the churchs patron, Abbot Suger (ca. 10811151), a
driving mind that created a spiritual new style, the physical embodiment of the
ages intellectual achievements; there exists between Gothic architecture and
Scholasticism a palpable and hardly accidental concurrence in the purely factual
domain of time and place (Panofsky 1951, 1).
Such interpretations sidestepped the problematic politics in national narra-
tives, and in the wake of the Second World War greatly appealed to a generation
of prominent architectural historians. At the same time English-speaking scholars
adopted a highly Francophone approach to medieval architecture. The focus on
monuments that were deemed the first or the perfected examples of a system
(such as the abbey of St. Denis, arguably the first Gothic church) often centered in
France, where several prominent schools of Romanesque developed and where

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Architecture 57

Gothic first began. Formal analysis of style still could be acute and highly valued,
and scholars such as Jean Bony (19081995) continued to pursue this approach.
But others acknowledged that such an approach was subject to many limitations.
Also, focus on architecture as either the study of forms or the reflection of
spirituality ignored many factors, such as economics, patrons desires, and very
nearly the whole category of secular architecture. Yet even when patrons were
considered, they had to have their place; Peter Kidsons classic riposte to Panof-
skys work, which pointed out that patrons do not normally invent styles,
reintroduced pragmatism into the far-flung realm of visionary synthesis (Kidson
1987 1).
Focus only on pragmatic rationalism, however, could mean that the study
of medieval architecture was in danger of being reduced to a mere formalist
positivism [which] offered its topic no heart (Elsner 2011, 14). This has been
countered recently by more integrative approaches that consider the multivalence
of medieval buildings. Willibald Sauerlnder has observed that the study of
medieval architecture is now seen as part of a semiotic context, of a system of
communication comprising the patron, the artist and the audience (Sauerlnder
1992, 28). The range of topics covering aspects of such a wide issue of context is
enormous, and the publications in the field are more numerous than ever before.
A listing of even some of the most prominent in the field must necessarily be
highly selective, but these approaches include a greater interest in design and
execution (Recht and Le Goff, ed., 1989; Bork 2011a), study of political, economic,
and social conditions (Kimpel and Suckale 1985; Abou-el-Haj 1988; Werckmeister
1988), and studies that break down scholarly subject barriers to consider build-
ings as lived spaces that encompassed multiple arts: sculpture, textiles, furnish-
ings (Raguin etal., ed., 1995; Gajewksi and Opai, ed., 2007). Archaeological
evidence has been embraced more fully (Grenville 1997) as well as studies that
integrate buildings with landscape (Gilchrist 2005). The Francophone focus,
especially in the English-speaking world, has begun to dissipate; following the
lead of pioneers like Paul Crossley, scholars have begun to examine regions such
as Bohemia (Opai and Timmerman, ed., 2011), Spain (Karge 1989), and Scandi-
navia (Hohler 1999; Syrstad Ands etal., ed., 2007).
In the present scholarly climate, individual studies of buildings tend to be
more frequently pursued, and with good reason. The sweeping syntheses are
studies of the past, and introductory texts no longer attempt to fit all buildings, or
even one type of building, into the same explanatory mold. But though it is no
longer enough merely to gaze at buildings and attempt to understand them, what
we see is still critical for our understanding (Sauerlnder 1992, 31). Discussion of
material and style therefore remain as valuable as purpose and meaning.

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58 Charlotte A. Stanford

B Materials
In most times and regions of medieval Europe, the most prestigious material for
architecture was stone. Most churches and fortifications were of stone, or faced
with stone. Dressed stone blocks, known as ashlar blocks (pierre de taille, Quader-
mauerwerk), generally were preferred for their appearance, although rubble stone
was often used in wall cores or for humbler structures. The rise of monumental
stone architecture in western Europe corresponds roughly with the rise of political
stability, such as under the Carolingian rulers, and greater economic prosperity,
in connection with technological developments, such as the heavy plow and
horse collar (Gies and Gies 1994, 4446). Stone castles and fortifications were
more permanent, durable, and formidable within the local landscape than early
wood and earth construction.
Continuing down the scale of prestige was fired brick. In stone-rich areas
such as Italy, brick was by preference covered with dressed stone. The faades of
great buildings, including the cathedrals of Tuscany, followed this usage, which
derived from Roman times. In stone-poor areas such as the Baltic, brick made
acceptable masonry in its own right from the twelfth century on. By the fifteenth
century, fired brick could be considered a luxury substance, for example in the
development of castles as they began to emphasize living comfort (Brown 1980).
Wood, often utilitarian in use and appearance, could form part of the prestige
class of architecture. Most early medieval architecture in the north appears to
have been of wood. Few such buildings survive, though some of the later Scandi-
navian structures, such as the noted stave churches, provide examples that,
combined with archaeological evidence, give scholars an idea of this early usage
(Conant 1978). The utility and flexibility of wood often partnered with stone. A
great church or hall built with ashlar walls, stone vaults, and lead-covered roof
would utilize large, well-seasoned timbers in the roof beams (and also in the
temporary construction scaffolding). More permanent wood buildings could rival
stone ones even in prestige settings. Great halls often preferred wood ceilings over
stone vaults because of woods ability to span large spaces without interior
supports. Skillful carpentry could make half-timbered buildings into significant
status sites too. Much domestic architecture employed this technique, also known
as timber framing, Fachwerk, or colombage, which consisted of heavy beams
linked by mortice and tenon joints, rather than metal nails, with infill between.
The beams often utilized the organic, natural curve of the tree. Splitting curved
limbs in half, the builders could make symmetrical patterns on the house front, as
the timber frame showed vividly against the infill (Fig. 1). Though this infill could
be painted or whitewashed, the stark black-and-white of most half-timber today
is nineteenth-century rather than medieval in appearance (Harris 2004, 3). Infill

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Architecture 59

ranged from stone rubble or brick to wattle and daub. Wattle and daub (also
known as cob) consisted of both woven wood strips, usually narrow and flexible
smaller branches, as well as a mixture of clay, loam, sand, dung and/or earth.

Fig.1: Wealden half-timber house, Canterbury, Kent, fifteenth century. A Wealden house is a
timber-framed building in which the recessed central hall is open up to the roof inside and the
forward-projecting two-story chamber blocks at each end are jettied, the whole covered by a
single roof. Photo by author.

Earth as a building material was widely used in partnership with any of the above
materials, and not simply for utilitarian buildings that by now have left only minor
if any traces in the record. The great earthwork ditches and ramparts of castles
could be as impressive and formidable as finely dressed stone walls. Earthworks
in the form of tumuli or barrows, of which the majority of examples are prehistoric,
continued to be built in some northern regions until approximately the tenth
century. As a pagan practice abandoned with the rise of Christianity, however,
they do not figure within the primary frame of the medieval world.
Thatch, which consists of plant stems such as straw or reeds usually bound in
bundles, is more properly a roofing substance rather than an actual building
material. Thatch is highly perishable, and materials which date back to the

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60 Charlotte A. Stanford

medieval period are to be found only in some archaeological sites (Johnson 2010,
70), but thatch is still used in some traditional areas (such as rural England) and
it is a very old craft if humble in material.

C Categorizing Architecture
I Style

Though style is no longer the only sine qua non of architectural studies, it is
nevertheless useful for general dating and contextualization. Most written work
on architecture still refers in large degree to accepted style categories. During the
medieval period, two major styles developed, at least in church architecture:
Romanesque and Gothic. Terminology, however, is slippery. Though both terms
have been employed for so long that changing them is difficult, they were not used
by contemporaries, and scholars still debate their utility and precision. Roman-
esque, for example, has been used as a blanket term for styles that have later
been separately categorized as Lombard, Saxon, Carolingian, and Ottonian, be-
fore the rise of First Romanesque in the tenth century. The key underlying feature
of all of these as well as numerous later Romanesque regional styles is a continuity
with the classical past, its Roman round arches and preference for fine masonry.
Gothic, which began developing in the Paris region in the mid-twelfth century, is
seen as architecture that breaks from this past, or very broadly (and not entirely
correctly) as anything with a pointed arch. Gothic is employed as an umbrella term
for styles as diverse in name as Norman, Perpendicular, and Flamboyant. Despite
the confusion of narrow versus wide application of the terms Romanesque and
Gothic, both continue to be employed in the literature. Indeed, some scholars,
such as Linda Seidel, have focused on the rich associations in the historiography
of these terms, linking, for example, inventive and intricate Romanesque carving
with the playful forms of popular Romanz literature (Seidel 2006).
In the early Middle Ages (ca. 700 through ca. 900), architecture was primarily
of the post and lintel type, and monumental structures in stone were not common.
Building stones tended to be rough and small in size when used at all. Few wood
buildings survive from this period, though archaeological records indicate that
these could be sizeable, some 20 to 30 meters in length with aisle posts utilized to
expand the width of hall structures (Thompson 1995, 23). The Carolingian period
did see the creation of some stone buildings employing more sophisticated
techniques, notably in church architecture. The traditional early Christian basili-
ca church elements consisted of central space (nave), flanking aisles, a semicir-
cular apse extending to the eastthe home to the principal altarwith the

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Architecture 61

extended width of the transept projecting just below, to form from above the
shape of a Latin cross. To this the Carolingian period added westworks: a tower-
like west block with an entrance and vestibule on the ground level, and a chapel
on the upper story. Though only a few examples of westworks survive (Charle-
magnes famous palace chapel at Aachen has the remains of a westwork), it was
clearly desirable, as the idealized plan for a monastery, drawn up at St. Gall,
Switzerland, ca. 820, envisions a massive curved western segment to its abbey
church (Fig.2).

Fig.2: Ground plans of idealized monastery from St. Gall, Switzerland, showing church and
cloister (Carolingian, ca. 820), St. Foy, Conques, France (Pilgrimage Roads Romanesque,
10501130), and Notre-Dame of Paris (Gothic, 11631240 and 12961315). At Carolingian St. Gall
the westwork and east apse give both church ends equal emphasis; at Romanesque Conques,
the additive chapels and ambulatory highlighted the cross shape of the building; at Gothic
Notre-Dame the vaults help to integrate the spaces and the blunted transept makes the cross
plan less prominent. St. Gall and Notre-Dame plans after Viollet-le-Duc, Conques after Aubert.

The First Romanesque developed about the tenth century, and Romanesque
proper continued to flourish up through the early twelfth century (and in some
areas later than that). Masonry construction was often brick or brick-shaped stone
in the early years, with dressed stone holding in a core of irregular courses. This
First Romanesque style was often plastered with stucco to seem more smooth
(Conant 1978, 109). Later, ashlar masonry was preferred. Arches were employed
for decoration and function, ranging from blind arcades to arched windows or
openings (Fig. 3). The latter were usually subdivided by columns. Reused Roman
columns were popular in early buildings, but as they became scarce, masons
carved their own, often becoming very inventive with capital design.

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62 Charlotte A. Stanford

Fig.3: Pfalz Dankwarderode, Braunschweig, Germany. Palace rebuilt by Henry the Lion
(11291195) after 1175 and restored after 1887. Note its German Romanesque features such as
round arches divided by squat columns and fine ashlar stone masonry, especially at the corners,
as well as the external stair that gives access to the main hall above. Its surroundings were
originally fortified. Photo by author.

Though much of this first Romanesque style derived from Italy, especially Lom-
bardy, the development of the interior bay system for Romanesque architecture
proper comes from Northern architecture (Horn 1958). The bay system is com-
posed of repeating vertical units divided by visual elements, such as shafts and
transverse arches (Fig. 4). Bays divide space into repeating volumes. They char-
acterize both Romanesque and Gothic buildings and have their origins in the
vertical posts that divided barns and other domestic wooden structures. In such
buildings the posts connected with open timber beam ceilings, but as Roman-
esque builders became more proficient the ceilings were replaced by masonry
vaults over the church nave and aisles. These vaults could be simple barrel (or
tunnel) vaults, which acted essentially as extensions of the arch, or they could be
groin vaults, formed by the intersection at right angles of two barrel vaults. The
resultant seamed appearance formed an X-shape over the vaulted bay (Figs. 2 and
4). Masonry vaults helped make buildings less vulnerable to fire, provided ex-
cellent acoustic effects, and added to the monumental grandeur of a structure.

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Architecture 63

Fig.4: Nave elevation and west narthex interior of La Madeleine at Vzelay, France (Burgundian
Romanesque, ca. 11041132). Note the groin vaults between the striped transverse arches, the
elaborate historiated capitals beneath the arch springing and within the nave arcade arch
facings, and the compound colonettes marking the vertical nave bay divisions. Photo by Jesse
Hurlbut, with permission.

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64 Charlotte A. Stanford

While Romanesque buildings throughout Europe explored vaulting, additional

developments in France and northern Spain led to what is known as the pilgrim-
age roads church type (for example St. Foy, Conques, Fig. 2). To accommodate the
increasing crowds of pilgrims journeying to visit saintly relics, many of the
churches on the road to Santiago de Compostela, the shrine of St. James the Major
in northwest Spain, began to enlarge their east ends. Apses were extended,
surrounded with a semicircular aisle known as an ambulatory, and small addi-
tional chapels, known as radiating chapels, opened into the ambulatory space.
Paul Frankls description for these changes was additive architecture; that
is, the chapels formed discrete spaces that stood as self-contained units; by
contrast, Gothic was integrative, all its parts combining to form a whole (Frankl,
2000, 10).
Later Romanesque buildings developed a range of vocabularies and forms
within differing regions. Though sharing most key features in common (additive
plans and Roman elements, especially round arches, columns, capitals, and
stone vaulting), different regions tended to develop individual solutions. In gen-
eral, northern Europe preferred relatively simple plans and decoration, with
steeply pitched roofs and heavy stonework as at Mainz cathedral in Germany,
while the south adopted Moslem or Byzantine elements, such as zebra striped
stonework or cusped archways, for example in Monreale cathedral, Sicily (Conant
1978, 23940).
An additional feature shared by most Romanesque styles is the increasing
sophistication in building decoration. Wall painting flourished within the Roman-
esque period. Early stained glass began to make an appearance as well (for
example at Augsburg cathedral, southern Germany). But most distinctive was the
sculptural decoration of buildings. Elaborately decorated doorways and capitals
sported monsters, grotesques and distorted human figures (Fig. 4). St. Bernard of
Clairvauxs (10901153) famous complaint about the extravagant cost of such
marvelous and deformed beauty, that beautiful deformity in which so many
and so marvellous are the varieties of shapes on every hand, that we are more
tempted to read in the marble than in our books, clearly indicates a fascination
with which the ascetic Cistercian himself struggled (Schapiro 1976, 68).
The Gothic style was even more prone to ornamentation. This style arose in
the Ile-de-France region around Paris in the twelfth century and persisted, in one
form or another, throughout the sixteenth century. Its name derives from Italian
Renaissance critics who branded the style barbaric because of its radical break
with past Roman forms. Essential features of Gothic are the rib vault and the
pointed arch; later developments such as flying buttresses and window tracery
are also seen as characteristic of the style. These features formed the building-
blocks for an architecture that was soaringly vertical, and composed of interlock-

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Architecture 65

Fig.5: Nave elevation at Amiens cathedral, France, by Robert de Luzarches, built 12201236.
The building interior is divided vertically into bays by thin colonettes that connect to the rib
vaults, while horizontal string courses stretch below the clerestory windows and middle
triforium zone, forming a classic High Gothic grid. Photo by author.

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66 Charlotte A. Stanford

Fig.6: East end of Notre-Dame cathedral, Paris (1163ca. 1240 with rebuilding 12961315; the
small thin crossing spire and foreground monument are both nineteenth-century additions).
Note the simple tracery in the upper windows between the flying buttress arches (twelfth-century
High Gothic) and the more intricately ornamented, gable-topped windows at the base, forming a
new ring of chapels around the east end (early fourteenth-century Rayonnant additions). Photo
by author.

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Architecture 67

ing parts emphasizing the linear treatment of the wall surface. The discrete
sections of the Romanesque church were now bound together into an integrated
whole by the vaults ribs and their connections to wall responds, thinner mas-
sings and architectural details such as horizontal string courses (Figs. 2 and 5).
The wall mass did not just appear thinner and more elegant, it actually became
so. Relying on the strength of pointed arches and externally supporting but-
tresses, window space could be enlarged. Gothic buildings became showcases for
stained glass: figures and ornament more often appeared in colored light rather
than merely on colored walls. Fine ashlar masonry was also skillfully employed.
The first Gothic church credited with fully assembling rib vaults, pointed
arches, stained glass, and the integrative system in which they were bound
together was the abbey church of St. Denis, rebuilt under Abbot Suger from 1140
1144. Scholarly attention on buildings following St. Denis has been based, until
relatively recently, primarily on classifications of style (Frankl 2000, 10). Early
Gothic structures experimented with interior organization of piers and vaults, and
the variation between openings and solid masonry. The interweaving of horizon-
tal string courses or other elements with thin colonettes rising vertically and
framing each bay formed differing balances from church to church. From the late
twelfth to the mid thirteenth century a sort of balanced formula of vertical and
horizontal elements coalesced into solutions known as the High Gothic style, seen
in the nave of Amiens cathedral (Fig. 5). A drive for increased interior height led
to the innovation of flying buttresses, arched spans that supported the upper
walls at the levels where the heavy interior vaults rested their weight (Fig. 6). This
allowed for increased window span, showcasing jewel-toned stained glass. The
elegant solutions of High Gothic were long seen by many as the optimal balance
between murality and openness, decoration and restraint.
By the middle of the thirteenth century, Gothic had begun to alter to Rayon-
nant, a name meaning ray-projecting. The term derived initially from the
patterns of window tracerythat is, the supporting stonework bars used in
windows (Focillon 1963). Rayonnant buildings also broke up the careful balance
of elements, dark and light, void and solid, that formed the Gothic grid.
Previously delineated zones merged into one another when vertical stone colon-
ettes or triangular gables blurred boundaries (Fig. 6). Outside France, Rayonnant
proved popular, being adopted by buildings such as Cologne cathedral. England
borrowed from Rayonnant as well, though there creative tracery and playful
sculptural decoration also combined with innovative ways of shaping space in
the style known as Decorative (Bony 1979). Italy on the other hand shied from the
Gothic integrative approach and the use of external supports including flying
buttresses, and retained much of its historically Romanesque character even
while borrowing characteristically Gothic features, such as stained glass windows

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68 Charlotte A. Stanford

with pointed arches and rib vaulting, creating a style essentially eclectic (Trach-
tenberg 1991).
By the end of the fourteenth century, Gothic had spread in various manifesta-
tions throughout much of Europe. The building of great churches such as cathe-
drals and abbeys in France and even England had slowed significantly, although
important patronage could still command large-scale structures, such as Char-
lesIV of Bohemias (13161378) efforts with the massive cathedral of St. Vitus at
Prague. Talented architects such as Pragues Peter Parler (ca. 13301397) adapted
rib vaulting forms and played with architectural supports as if they were sculptur-
al elements, culminating in the rioting, twisting forms of Late Gothic and in
Germany, the so-called Baroque Gothic (Fig.7). In France, these forms were
often characterized by flame-shaped tracery, leading to the name Flamboyant.
England preferred drier, more rigid patterns, especially in neatly subdivided
tracery designs. The vertical orientation to these repetitive patterns gave rise to
the name Perpendicular.

Fig.7: Vladislav Hall, Prague castle, by architect Benedikt Ried (or Rijt, ca. 1450ca. 1531),
finished 1500. The organic criss-crossed loops of the rib vaults, which run down the walls
without any interrupting capitals breaking their lines, are characteristically Baroque Gothic.
The simpler window frames are elements of the classicizing Renaissance. Photo by author.

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Architecture 69

Fig.8: Hall cutaway view with plan, showing king post in ceiling, and upper and lower hall
divisions. Note the solar behind the upper hall and the screens passage and service section
(comprising buttery and pantry) behind lower hall. Image by permission of Richard Harris.

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70 Charlotte A. Stanford

Fig.9: Parish church of All Saints, Elston, Nottinghamshire, England. The chancel section at the
right has a characteristically lowered roof; the center and west sections are crenellated (often a
sign of status rather than of military use in the late medieval period, but most likely added here
by nineteenth-century restorers). The extending south chapel (lower center) has Tudor windows
and arches; it also houses the main entrance porch. The offset porch design (on the south, rather
than to the west below the tower) is common for parish churches. The tombstones in the
churchyard mostly date from the eighteenth century onward. Photo by author.

A sober counterpoint to this later Gothic elaboration rose as early as in the twelfth
century, inspired primarily by the mendicant orders. These gave rise to hall
churches, with nave and side aisles of equal height (especially in German exam-
ples like Peter Parlers Heilig-Kreutz church in Schwbisch-Gmnd), or squared-
off, plain east ends with few or no chapels (often popular in English churches,
such as the Cistercian Fountains abbey), or timber interior ceilings with vaulting
restricted to a small choir area (common in Italy, as at Santa Croce, Florence).
The Gothic was eventually supplanted by Renaissance ideals, which favored
symmetry and simpler geometrical forms. The complex patterns of tracery and
the intricacies of design were not as easy to grasp visually or intellectually as the
proportion-based system in Renaissance classicism. Robert Bork has recently
argued that the very intellectual challenge of Gothic may well have prompted its
demise (Bork 2011b).

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Though Romanesque and Gothic styles predominated in nearly all church

architecture, most secular architecture did not follow these forms. Timbered
structures formed open interiors made up of bays framed by wooden trusses. The
most common forms were aisles (in which the ceiling was supported both by
innervertical posts and outer walls), post and truss (in which the vertical posts
and walls were identical, making the covered space much narrower) and cruck
(the use of jointed timbers forming a curved shape rather than a strict right angle)
(Harris 2004, 11). Whether employed in an utilitarian barn, prosperous peasant
house, or lordly hall, the timbered structure frequently pursued the goal of
making the interior as spacious as possible. The aisle posts that made a large
expanse feasible also, however, blocked interior view and circulation, and car-
penters devised various solutions to support roof trusses, including king posts
(Fig. 8) and hammerbeams. King posts are vertical posts that brace the upper roof
and sit on a horizontal beam stretching the width of the room below; hammer-
beams are short horizontal posts that are cantilevered in horizontally from the
outside wall, are braced for support, and thus can hold vertical posts extending
up into the roofing system. Westminster Hall in London (13951399) was one of
the most noted hammerbeam structures.
Fortified structures such as city walls, bridge towers, and castles, were more
frequently made of stone, and could range from an extremely utilitarian form to a
highly decorated one. Decorative motifs frequently were drawn from either Ro-
manesque or Gothic vocabulary, adding such flourishes as decorative blind
arcades on a building exterior (as at Castle Rising, Norfolk, England, ca. 1138)
to rib-vaulted passageways. One notable military feature, however, is the crenella-
tion or battlement, a rampart along the top of a fortified wall that includes regular
gaps for firing arrows, or, later, guns. Though its origins were in defensive
function, it came also to be a mark of status, as a license to crenellate was required
by royal authority. Crenellation thus reversed the usual pattern of borrowing,
being applied first to military, and only later, to ecclesiastical buildings (Fig. 9).

II Building Types and their Uses

1 Ecclesiastical Architecture

Most of the exempla of traditional Romanesque and Gothic style are derived from
great churches, notably cathedrals and abbeys. Cathedrals were largely urban
structures, housing the throne of the bishop (the cathedra) for the diocese. Abbeys
could be rural or urban, depending on their order, but served their monastic
community, integrating the church with an adjacent cloister (Fig.2). The cloister

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72 Charlotte A. Stanford

in turn was bordered by living quarters: dormitory, refectory, library/scriptorium.

Service buildings and guest quarters, important parts of the complex used both
by monastic residents as well as well as their visitors, are less often studied,
though more recently scholars have focused on the study of the monastic complex
as a whole (Kinder 2000; Gilchrist 2005). Traditional orders such as Benedictines
and Cistercians often preferred remote sites in which the abbey complex formed
its own discrete unit in which the community might remain detached even from
pilgrims. Mendicant orders, especially the great preaching orders of the Francis-
cans and Dominicans, usually sited their church and cloister complexes in towns,
in order to draw townsfolk into their great, barn-like naves to hear their sermons
and bury their dead (Bruzelius 2007). Mendicant churches often eschewed great
bell towers and kept their naves relatively plain, but beyond their choir screens,
the choir could surpass the remainder of the church in size and splendor. Their
success in appealing to the local devout, including their ability to draw offerings
away from the parish churches, often led to a rivalry that could be played out in
the architectural realm as well as the social one.
Parish churches served smaller congregations (Fig. 9), but in size and splen-
dor could be as large as their parishs funds permitted. Indeed in some areas they
rivaled cathedrals in splendor. Organized by neighborhood, parishioners were
expected to attend regular services at their church, as well as be baptized and
buried there. (There was a financial element to this requirement, as fees for these
ceremonies were an important part of the parish priests income.) Parish churches
often developed piecemeal according to available finances and changing tastes.
Many structures retain the core of a small nave and chancel structure to which
aisles, towers, higher ceilings, additional windows, and side chapels have
been added (Dyas, ed., 2010). Chapels could be attached to a church, forming a
semiprivate space for their donors. Guilds, families, and wealthy individuals
often founded such chapels, as founding a completely new church required a
more costly license. Many of these chapels were known as chantries, a term also
employed for the endowment funds established to celebrate prayers for their
patrons souls (Roffey 2007). Other private chapels could be found in great houses
and castles, or placed in prominent public sites, like bridges or graveyards.
Chapels even could be integrated with large halls, as at hospitals, where the
placement of a chapel at the far end of a row of beds might allow the bedridden
sick to see and hear the spiritually healing liturgy (Craemer 1963).
Large or small, medieval churches shared much the same symbolism. A
church was a house of God, an earthly manifestation of the Heavenly Jerusalem.
The design of the church usually was laid out in the shape of a cross, with the
main altar to the east at the head (as at St. Foy, Conques; see Fig. 2). Churches
were sometimes round, patterned after the Holy Sepulchre church at Jerusalem, a

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Architecture 73

key Christian monument since the time of Constantine (Krautheimer 1942; exam-
ples include Charlemagnes Palatine Chapel in Aachen, the Romanesque church
of SS. Peter and Paul at Ottmarsheim, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Cam-
bridge, and several churches of the Order of the Knights Templar, as at London).
Whether round, cross-shaped or adapted to some other form by exigencies of site,
history or patron choice, the medieval church and its furnishings joined together
to form a unity just as individuals together made up the body of Christ (Frankl
2000, 14). Furnishings, which so seldom survive into the modern era, were crucial
to the liturgy which was performed within the building. Choir screens, pulpits,
chalices and other plates, monstrances and reliquaries, altar cloths, hangings,
vestments, books, pax boards, and candles all framed the space of the church
proper to create a setting for liturgical devotion.
But the church could also serve numerous other purposes, such as housing
dramatic performances (Frankl 2011, 25), serving as reception sites for city visita-
tions by notables, and as civic centers for seasonal celebration, as in the parish
ales and harvest festivities popular in late medieval times (Burgess 1991, 86).

2 Secular Architecture

Secular building was divided primarily into dwellings and fortifications, though
the two categories could overlap. Little is known of basic housing, as few rem-
nants survive. Archaeological evidence indicates, however, that these were better
built than the flimsy hovels of popular imagination (Johnson 2010, 73). Post holes,
stone fire pits, and drains indicate that walls were usually made of timbers, either
set in earth vertically or on a foundation horizontally, log-cabin style. Thatch was
probably the most common roofing. Houses could be sunk into the ground, with
the roof slanting down nearly to the ground level (the Grubenhaus type). Such
buildings might be unheated, used as work spaces (like weaving sheds) rather
than living quarters. Examples of these structures are best examined through
reconstructions and rebuildings, like those found at the Museum of Northumbria
at Wearmouth-Jarrow (Bedes World) in England.
There was little or no architectural subdivision of space in these simple dwell-
ings, although in a longhouse an internal wall, which usually did not reach to the
ceiling, frequently kept animals to one side while still allowing people to share
warmth with their stock. A drain typically ran down the animal half of the
residence to flush out manure. More sophisticated longhouses might have a
passage corridor between the human and animal residents, with doors on each
end. Barns and byres were often built separately, to house either cattle or grain; the
latter could be raised on short supports to keep rodents from entering the building.

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74 Charlotte A. Stanford

The center of the house, whether of one room or more, was the hearth fire. A
hole in the roof let smoke out; louvers and gables could help shield the fire below
from rain. Chimneys did not begin to be employed until the twelfth century, and
the central fire remained traditional until very late. As a result, the room below, of
whatever size, was generally smoky.
This open room was the basic hall. The hall had a pattern and a resonance
felt on all levels of society. The owner of the home, regardless of his actual social
status, was lord of the hall; indeed, yeomen halls became increasingly common
in the later medieval period. This lord sat at the far end, often on a fixed bench.
Other furniture items, such as benches or tables, were typically moveable.
Though a peasant home would be multipurpose, a hall of status was not usually
used for sleeping or cooking, but for eating and gathering (Thompson 1995, 30).
In Beowulfs (ca. 1000) Heorot, for example, neither Hrothgar nor his guest
Beowulf actually sleep in the hall, beyond the heros first night; it is only the
warriors of lesser status who bunk down inside. The vulnerability of the hall
indicates a social shame and political weakness that draws Beowulf to Hrothgars
rescue (Beowulf 2008, 1188, lines 411414).
An early hall like Heorot was a separate building from other living and service
quarters such as chambers, the kitchens, and storage areas. However, early halls
were often placed on an upper floor above storage areas, sometimes cellars known
as undercrofts. The hall itself would typically be accessed via an outer stairway
which could be defended in case of attack (Fig. 3). In the Nibelungenlied (ca. 1200),
for example, control of the staircase is key to the strategy during the fight between
Huns and Burgundians in King Etzels hall (The Nibelungenlied 1969, 244).
By the mid-twelfth century the freestanding hall began to merge with the
chamber block, forming the basis of the later medieval house, especially in England
(Blair 1993). To these were added service quarters. The arrangement of these three
key elements could take different forms, but one very common plan was the
location of a private chamber at one end of the hall and service quarters at the other
end (Fig. 8). The chamber, usually well lit (and thus also called a solar) was
frequently placed farthest away from the main house entrance. It was commonly
placed on an upper level with an internal stair access. Heating could be supplied by
a chimney in wealthier households, and the chamber might have its own garderobe
or latrine. At the opposite end of the hall from the chamber, one or more doorways
led to a passage that served as main entrance, and that opened on two service
rooms, the buttery (for drink) and pantry (for bread). Additional service areas such
as the kitchen were usually separate structures located behind the house proper,
to minimize the risks of fire and to keep far away from the latrines for sanitation.
The arrangement of the hall form was one that corresponded to medieval
social hierarchy but it differed according to region and custom. In France there

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Architecture 75

was usually an upper story salle over a ground floor or basement equivalent
where servants and lesser folk congregated (Girouard 2000, 42). In England all
classes usually gathered on the same floor, in the same room, with the space
differentiated by increased architectural elaboration. A fixed bench at the far, or
upper, end was often illuminated by a window, and other architectural details
could emphasize the upper half, even down to the orientation of joints between
beams (Johnson 2010, 67). These upper and lower divisions were closely akin to
the clerical chancel and lay nave of the basic parish church (Johnson 2010, 71).
The halls location in apposition to the screens passage, behind which buttery
and pantry resided, lent itself to the ceremonial presentation of bread and wine,
especially in more substantial households, which had Eucharistic associations
(Gardiner 2008, 6061). Indeed, the space of the medieval hall was equated with
communal ceremony. The increasing preference of the wealthy for private com-
fort in a chamber is lamented by William Langland (ca. 1332ca. 1386): Elyng is
the halle, uche daye in the wyke, / There the lorde ne the ladye, liketh nought to
sytte. / Now hath uche riche a reule to eten bi hymsleve / in a pryv parloure for
pore mennes sake, / Or in a chambre with a chymneye, and leve the chief halle /
That was made for meles men to eten inne (Langland 2006, 144, Passus X, ll.97
102). By contrast, the old-fashioned liberality of Chaucers Franklin also finds
architectural form: His table dormant in his halle alway / Stood redy covered al
the longe day. / At sessiouns there was he lord and sire (Chaucer 1987, 29,
ll.35355). The abandonment of the hall toward the end of the medieval period
has been linked with the rise of the nuclear family (husband, wife, children,
servants) as well as with changing expectations of, and indeed concepts of,
privacy (Johnson 2010; Aris and Duby, ed., 1993).
The open space of the hall was not just used for domestic space but also wider
communities. Town halls, market halls, and guild halls were used for business
and commerce, although they could also be used for the same kind of ceremony
held in a private house, only on a larger scale. The larger the hall itself was, the
more necessary internal supports became, although woodworkers could span
large interior spaces with the aid of hammerbeams. In smaller town dwellings, a
residential hall could be turned ninety degrees with its narrow end facing the
street, and accommodating shop space at the entrance. As burgage (that is, town
rental) plots were usually long and narrow, putting service areas in a yard behind
the main house block was more convenient for the dweller. Town house halls
could also be raised to the upper floor, leaving more room for shops or storage
beneath; to increase house size beyond the allotted frontage space, upper stories
were often jettied (Fig. 1). In castles, an upper floor location was generally
preferred for the hall, with vaulted undercrofts serving as secure storage areas
below. The integration of hall and other domestic chambers into castles restricted

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76 Charlotte A. Stanford

size. In France this corresponded with the multiplication of chambers stacking

vertically into towers; the higher up, the more private the room, and often the
more difficult to access (Girouard 2000, 55).
Castles were both domestic and defensive, though each site design assured
how effective these elements were. Indeed the combination of defense with the
dwelling place of a lord is, in fact, the definition of what makes a castle (Brown
1980, 16).The simplest type of castle consisted of the motte and bailey type, which
probably developed in France before the Norman conquest. An earthwork ditch
surrounded a central mound, the motte, on which a timber fortified structure was
built next to an enclosed courtyard, the bailey. The motte typically held a keep, or
donjon, with living quarters for the lord in residence; it could often be large
enough to contain a hall as well as private quarters and storage. A motte and
bailey castle of earth and wood could be erected fairly quickly to help control a
conquered countryside, acting not only for defense but as a secure site from
which to wage offensive strikes.
Stone began to replace timber by the eleventh century, though all surviving
examples date from the twelfth century onward (Brown 1980). This made castles
more imposing as well as expensive and slower to erect. They dominated the
landscape, or cityscape, as much as great churches did.
Castle design grew more elaborate with the addition of multiple layers of
earthworks and stone walls, and reached its military zenith during the late
thirteenth century. The motte and bailey type fell out of fashion in favor of large
stone keeps, usually fortified with additional curtain walls. Stone towers were
common in Italy, where individual families built tall defensive structures within
blocks of their rivals in the same city; the best preserved example is the Tuscan
town of San Gimignano. Later castles often utilized natural siting such as rocky
outcrops, riverine or tidal marsh locations. Strategic ground was frequently high
ground, especially for German castles, which were slower to develop than in
Normandy and England (Brown 1980, 57). Ashlar masonry could be fitted to rise
from living rock so that attack was made more difficult, and ditches or moats
could be filled with water to deter assault by sapping or mining. Where early
castles may have had a simple palisade, now elaborate outer curtain walls were
added, often strengthened at the corners by towers. In fact this towered wall
complex formed the basis of most crusader castles, which could dispense with the
central keep altogether (Brown 1980, 49).
Popular though the keep was, especially in France, it was still optional as the
hall, chambers and service quarters could easily be integrated within an inner
ward bounded by thick walls (Fig. 10). Shafts along the walls that emptied out-
ward were used for latrines, away from the centrally-defended well. Where sites
permitted, concentric and symmetrical layouts were preferred, often with two or

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Architecture 77

even more rings of wall defending the residential interior. The most heavily
fortified section was the entrance, which often boasted a large gatehouse com-
plex. The entryway to a castle bristled with features that were meant to intimidate
as well as serve in actual defense: one or more portcullises blocked the way, while
murder holes (open slots to drop missiles from above) and arrow slits (narrow
vertical slits behind which bowmen could be posted) also protected the opening.
Drawbridges could also be employed. Indeed, many more castles fell through
siege starvation or treachery than outright assault.

Fig.10: Harlech castle ground plan, Wales. Built ca. 1283 by Master James of St. George
(ca. 12301309) for Edward I (12391307) to subdue the Welsh, the castle is set on a rocky
outcrop above the sea, which extends to the west. It has no central keep but the gatehouse
contained a suite of residential rooms, and the main hall, kitchen and chapel are placed
along the periphery of the inner ward. Photo by permission of Cadw, Welsh Government
(Crown Copyright).

During the late Middle Ages, castles became less military in function and more
focused on residential comfort. Living quarters were enlarged at the expense of
towers or gatehouses, and additional windows increased lighting but also vulner-
ability. The slow decline of the castle as working fortress was complex and based
on reasons part military and part social (Brown 1980, 61). One factor is that great
lords households became less peripatetic and more settled; in early times most

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78 Charlotte A. Stanford

castles had been left occupied by a skeleton staff for part of the year as their lords
traveled. Swift-moving military raids that bypassed castle territory also rendered
these buildings less of a deterrent in war.
There were other kinds of fortifications besides the personal residence of a
lord and his extended family. Town walls with their reinforced gates and towers
defended an entire community. These fortifications could be as imposing as any
castle and their gateways, often closed at night, could seal up the community
from outside threat. Inside encircling walls, the medieval town tended to have a
complex narrow network of streets, though city centers might have a grid pattern,
usually from the reuse of old Roman fortifications. Towns as a whole tended to
grow in rings, as more and more residential areas near the town needed to be
included within larger fortified walls. Bridges too were part of the architectural
landscape, and could be fortified with towers on either bank, as at the Charles
Bridge in Prague, or built up with commercial shops along their lengths, rather in
the manner of the modern Ponte Vecchio in Florence. The integration of defense,
domicile and worship into various parts of one structure, such as a bridge, is
indeed characteristic of the scope of medieval life (see the contribution on
Roads, Streets, Bridges, and Travelers by Albrecht Classen in this Handbook).

D Conclusions
Architecture shaped, and was shaped by, the lives of both rich and poor. People
worked, ate, slept, worshiped, gathered, and were governed all within the frame-
work of building. We know more of elite architecture, which is both better
documented and better preserved, than we do of more humble structures. Both
types of architecture were experienced by a wide range of individuals both inside
and outside their target social class. Indeed, as much of the display of a castle or
cathedral was likely aimed at impressing outsiders as it was in satisfying the
needs and wishes of the upper echelons who regularly used the spaces. Though
these spaces have often changed over the centuries, enough of them remains that
visitors to them in later days can still experience something of the physical milieu
that was formerly created, making architecture unique among the arts.
Medieval architecture continues to survive and even thrive as communities
today restore castles, churches and houses. Nearly every major cathedral and
abbey church in Europe has undergone or is currently undergoing rebuilding
campaigns. Stones and glass leading worn by pollution need replacing or reinfor-
cing; roofs and floors need maintenance; sculpted and painted surfaces need
careful cleaning. Support for such procedures is very expensive (the 19982004
restoration of the north spire at Strasbourg cathedral cost an estimated 4.4million

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Architecture 79

Euros) but cultural awareness of the need for preservation has possibly never
been higher. The medieval past may once have been seen as outmoded but now
its appeal gives buildings from this time period a special cachet. The Gothic
Revival movement of the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries restored
much of the appeal of medieval formsnotably such idiosyncratic Gothic features
as crenellations, pointed arches, stained glass, ribbed vaulting, and the mon-
strous but eye-catching gargoyles which served both as rainspouts as well as
emblems of fleeing evil. The Renaissance had rejected these in favor of careful
proportion systems and regular geometries of the classical world. Centrally
planned designs, balanced compositions and classical decorative themes (like
fluted columns, acanthus leaves, egg-and-dart moldings, and dentils) came to the
fore. But with the rise of Romanticism, the idiosyncracies and brilliant inventions
of the medieval period once more captured imaginations. Thanks also to the
attraction of medievalisms popularized in todays cinematic, cyberspace cul-
ture, medieval architecture is a treasured remnant of our past.

Select Bibliography
Brown, R.Allen, Castles: A History and Guide (Poole 1980).
Coldstream, Nicola, Medieval Architecture (Oxford 2002).
Conant, Kenneth, Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture, 8001200, 4th ed. (1959; New
Haven, CT, and London 1978).
Craemer, Ulrich, Das Hospital als Bautyp des Mittelalters (Cologne 1963).
Frankl, Paul, Gothic Architecture, rev. Paul Crossley (New Haven, CT, 2000).
Grenville, Jane, Medieval Housing (London and Washington, DC, 1997).
Krautheimer, Richard, An Introduction to an Iconography of Medieval Architecture, Journal of
the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5 (1942): 133.
Opai, Zo and Achim Timmermann, ed., Architecture, Liturgy and Identity: Liber Amicorum Paul
Crossley (Turnhout 2011).
Panofsky, Erwin, Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St. Denis and its Art Treasures (Princeton,
NJ, 1946).
Thompson, Michael Welman, The Medieval Hall: the Basis of Secular Domestic Life, 6001600 AD
(Aldershot 1995).

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Frances Parton
Visual Arts

A Introduction
This essay will give a survey of the range and nature of medieval art from the
fourth century to the fifteenth, with a focus on Western Europe. Medieval art is a
huge subject, and by necessity this can be only an introductory study of what is
now recognized as one of the richest artistic periods of European history. The
twelve hundred years between 300 and 1500, stretching from the late antique era
to the beginning of the Renaissance, are renowned as a period of enormous
regional, cultural, political, economic, and artistic change and diversity. Yet
consistency and history were valued and consciously maintained throughout;
local practice and inherited tradition were of supreme importance on every social
level. By highlighting the nature of these changes, and the desire for continuity
which accompanied them, I will offer one way to explore the tremendous wealth
and variety of art produced during the medieval period, including architecture,
metalwork, manuscript illumination and sculpture.

B Early Medieval Art The Classical Roman

I Classical Roman and Early Christian Art

An awareness of the significance of the inherited classical Roman past, trans-

mitted via late antique Christian culture, is perhaps the most important key to
understanding early medieval culture, politics and art. A brief outline of Roman
art, both before and after the emergence of Christianity, is necessary to under-
stand the ways this classical, Christian artistic inheritance was received, devel-
oped and exploited by early medieval rulers, artists and patrons.
Roman art portrayed and celebrated the actions and customs which defined
and reinforced Roman culture, all of which were very visual; the social rituals of
the amphitheatre, bathhouse and banquet; religious sacrifices; intellectual rituals
such as public debates. The confrontation and combination of a strong Hellenistic
tradition with indigenous Italian forms developed into an imperial, cosmopolitan,
Romanized and Romanizing style widely adopted across the multicultural

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Visual Arts 81

societies which made up the Roman Republic (Elsner 1998, 111). Communication
through images proved an effective way of binding the disparate inhabitants of
the empire together and during the later imperial Roman period the desire for the
accurate, naturalistic depiction of people and events was overtaken by the devel-
opment and proliferation of images which conveyed a message, usually one of
imperial power. The busts on Roman coins spread a familiar and established
motif of authority and unity across wide regions that were linguistically and
culturally diverse. In an architectural and sculptural context, narrative scenes
communicated events and ideas through the repeated use of formulaic images. In
an adlocutio scene, for example, the authority of an emperor addressing his
troops is evident from his raised arm and elevated physical position on a plat-
form; in an adventus scene, the power of an emperor on horseback is commu-
nicated through the submissive and supplicating attitude of those before him.
Detail, individuality, and accuracy were controlled to increase the clarity of the
message portrayed (Nees 2002, 1727; Elsner 1998, 1114).
This strong visual, pictorial language of ideas was widely used and recog-
nized across the later Roman Empire; it was an integral part of both secular and
religious life. When the early Christian church developed, springing directly from
existing Jewish practices, emphases and traditions, the new cult (like Judaism
itself) was immediately noteworthy by its reliance on a central text. Roman pagan
religion was local, diverse, polytheistic and tolerant. It was experienced in a
devolved way, through images and myths. In contrast, Christ, the focus of the
new Christian cult, was to be known and experienced through the written word.
Although the total rejection of the worship of images remains a central tenet of
Christianity today, as the new religion spread quickly through Roman society
during the course of the third century its adherents and advocates adopted and
built upon the existing flexible and effective Roman visual language which was
all around them as a way of spreading and interpreting the new faith. An
argument can therefore be made for much continuity during the transition from
the pagan to the Christian Roman Empire, focused around art and the uses of art.
The spread and development of Christianity during the first two or three
centuries C.E., alongside other emerging religious cults such as Mithraism, left
little physical trace and remains opaque and little-known to us today. The earliest
Christian symbols that we know about such as the fish, the anchor, the shepherd,
and the dove, found on personal seals, on tomb paintings, and on carved
sarcophagi, date from the third century onwards, and were borrowed and adapted
from those already in use in the pagan Roman world. Polyvalent, these contem-
porary ideograms were chosen as they were familiar yet open to a range of mean-
ings (Nees 2002, 3236). A shepherd with his flock had a long Graeco-Roman
history as an image of general safety and salvation, but developed into a clear

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82 Frances Parton

image of a specifically Christian, spiritual kind of salvation. The anchor, used in

Hellenistic and Roman iconography to symbolize a naval victory, could, within a
Christian context, represent a safe harbor, hope, and paradise. They could be
used to communicate increasingly complicated ideas, which often necessitated a
certain amount of interpretation by the viewer. An image of a fish, for example,
was open to a wider range of related meanings; the souls of new believers caught
by the Apostles; the miraculous fish from the story of Jesuss feeding of the five
thousand; and finally on an exegetical level, Old Testament miracles like this
prefigured the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist, so the fish can also symbolize
Christs body and his sacrifice. The image of the fish was often accompanied by
the Greek work for fish, IXY, which was also an acronymn of the first letters of
the Greek words for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.
Christianitys emphasis on the written word was also something that was
explored and communicated visually in this period. The didactic stories of the Old
Testament could be conveyed extremely effectively through extended narrative
pictures, and surviving early forth-century tomb paintings from the Roman cata-
combs often show episodes from the stories of Jonah, of Moses, of Susanna and
the Elders (Nees 2002, 3639; Barral i Altet 1997, 32; Lowden 1997, 2529). The
relationship between word and image, symbolism, and the idea of different layers
of interrelated meaning, which would go on to become extremely characteristic
aspects of early medieval art and culture, are already present in early Christian art
in this way.
As early Christianity and pagan Roman art co-existed and were interrelated,
the artists who produced these Christian images may or may not have been
Christian themselves. In addition, the overlap between Christian and pagan
motifs means that imagery alone is not always enough to denote whether or not
an object from this period is Christian in character. Some forms of decoration were
particularly ambiguous in this way, such as vine leaves, which remained a
popular pagan Roman type of decoration while also being open to a new Christian
Eucharistic interpretation (Paradise, new life in Christ etc); in many cases, it was
the context and received meaning which denoted a Christian message to the
viewer rather than any distinct or separate style (Lowden 1997, 29; Nees 2002, 38).

II Late Antique Art and the Rise of Christianity

Over the course of the fourth century, following the toleration edicts of the
Emperor Galerius in 311 and the co-emperors Constantine and Licinius in 313,
Christianity grew exponentially. It was adopted as the state religion of the empire
and became fully integrated into late antique culture, both public and private.

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Visual Arts 83

The pagan temples were not officially closed until 396, however, so Christianity
and paganism officially co-existed for most of the fourth century. The increased
status and authority of the new religion was especially evident in an architectural
sense; alongside triumphal arches, the major public monuments of late antiquity,
the fourth century saw the emergence and proliferation of a new kind of large
public building dedicated to communal Christian activitythe Christian basilica
(Stalley 1999, 1632). Before the early fourth century and the appearance of the
great Constantinian basilicas of Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem, there had
been no specific Christian architecture as Christians had simply gathered in
converted houses or tituli. One such excavated house-church survives at Dura
Europos in Syria, decorated with a cycle of wall paintings of Christs miracles
(Lowden 1997, 1821; Nees 2002, 3940). As Christianity grew in power and
popularity these house-churches were replaced with Christian churches of the
kind we would recognize today, which were modelled on a common and dis-
tinctly Roman pre-existing building type, the basilica (Stalley 1999, 1632; Barral
i Altet 1997, 4369). Aristocratic families who might have sponsored the building
of a temple or baths in the pre-Christian empire now, following Constantines
example, became patrons of the new Christian basilicas. The development of the
basilica from a Roman legal and commercial building, a meeting place, court
house and assembly hall to a center of Christian worship represents the way that
beginning with Constantines major new Christian basilicas, much of Roman
imperial culture proved flexible and was consciously adapted to the demands of a
new Christian way of life and way of thinking (Elsner 1998, 311). It also under-
lines the significant continuity which, alongside great upheaval and change,
marked the transition from the imperial Roman to the late antique period.
The integration of Christianity into classical pagan life which developed into
a coherent late antique artistic culture was evident in a private, domestic sense as
well as on an imperial, aristocratic, public scale. Continuity between the imperial
Roman and the late antique era is evident in the kinds of people who were
commissioning domestic works of art, and in their reasons for doing so. Wealthy
pre-Christian Roman households had emphasized their learning and education,
their social and financial status by decorating their homes with mosaics and
frescos, usually depicting mythological, hunting or dining scenes, and with high
value objects of great craftsmanship such as fine silver or glass tableware.
Throughout the late antique and into the early medieval period, domestic art
remained a way of creating and displaying status and identity (Nees 2002, 6374;
Elsner 1998, 4450; Barral i Altet 1997, 2425). Piazza Armerina, a residence in
eastern Sicily dating to the early fourth century, sumptuously decorated with
mosaic scenes of hunting and fishing is a prime example of the vitality of private
building during the late antique era and the efforts of wealthy households to

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84 Frances Parton

imitate imperial palaces. Other private villas show clearly the integration of
Christianity into classical artistic culture; the fourth-century mosaic decoration of
the cupola of a surviving mausoleum at the villa of Centcelles on the Iberian
Peninsula combines Christian and non-Christian themes. Silver and glass re-
mained significant luxury materials, and commissioning, owning and using
objects made of these materials were important ways of displaying status
throughout the late imperial Roman and the late antique period. With objects
such as the famous Projecta casket, a forth-century silver marriage gift found in a
hoard in Rome in 1793 decorated with a Christian inscription and mythological
images, or the Lycurgus cup, a fourth-century drinking vessel of opaque green
glass carved with a mythological scene, both now in the British Museum, the
value of the materials and the craftsmanship involved in their production spoke
louder than their iconography in conveying the status of their owners.
Beginning with Constantines support of the religion as part of an imperial
programme, Christianity became a major and visible part of late antique identity,
art and culture. Just as the Jewish Old Testament stories were re-interpreted in the
light of the New so that ancient events prefigured those of recent Christian
history, the Roman past was re-interpreted within a Christian framework and
Christianity, expressed through inherited Roman visual symbols and architectur-
al styles, became a fundamental part of late antique public and private life (Elsner
1998, 78). The conscious inheritance and utilisation of the Roman Christian past
at the highest social and political levels, the integration of Christianity into every
aspect of life, and the total lack of separation between the religious and the
secular, transmitted via the Late Antique period, would prove the keystones of
early medieval life and art.

III The Germanic Period

During the course of the fifth century the political map of the western Roman
Empire changed fundamentally as the authority of the emperors was irreparably
eroded and replaced by that of newly-established regional rulers and Germanic
kingdoms; the Vandal kingdom in northern Africa, the Visigothic in Spain and
southern Gaul, the Ostrogothic in Italy and the Frankish in northern Gaul. Bar-
barian Germanic peoples had lived around and within the Roman lands for
centuries; the empire had always been a collection of disparate Romanized
communities held together from the center. The once wholly accepted idea of
large-scale barbarian population movement and invasion bringing about the fall
of the empire during this period is now widely disputed in favour of a more
nuanced picture of a general de-centralization of power and a period of ethnogen-

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esisthe deliberate, conscious creation of new peoples and territories around

shared cultural ideas and practises rather than ethnic, racial markers (Geary
2002; Pohl and Beaupr 2005). Power became more localized, political centers
proliferated, trading patterns changed, and powerful aristocratic families grew
increasingly independent and established spheres of influence in the countryside
as the wealth and prestige of towns fluctuated. Yet the idea of the restoration of
the Christian Roman Empire, or of particular regimes representing the successor
to that empire, would remain the political refrain throughout the early medieval
When the grave of the Germanic fifth-century Frankish king Childeric (457
481/482) was unearthed in the seventeenth century at Tournai in modern-day
Belgium, it was discovered that the pagan ruler had been buried in 482 with a seal
ring, complete with a portrait bust and a Latin inscription. Childeric himself may
not have been Roman, Christian, or even literate, but he obviously recognized the
significance of objects like the seal ring in reflecting the inherited Roman basis of
rulership and hoped to exploit this to underscore his own power. In other words,
he used objects redolent of the Roman past to underwrite his own authority.
Theoderic the Ostrogoth (493526), who married Childerics daughter Audofleda
around 493, established a power base around the old imperial city of Ravenna
and presented himself as the restorer of the Roman Empire in late fifth- and early
sixth century northern Italy. Theoderic, who had been brought up as a high-status
hostage at the imperial court in Constantinople, provided circus games in Rome
and constructed an amphitheatre at Pavia, another late imperial capital. He was
also an Arian Christian, and wrote to the pope to ask for trained mosaicists
to be sent to Ravenna to complete in a Roman style the sumptuous decoration of
the basilica he built there, now known as San Apollinare Nuovo (Lowden 1997,
12024). The tremendous architectural impact of Theoderics reign on the city of
Ravenna is still evident today, especially in the massive and strikingly original
domed mausoleum of ashlar masonry he constructed for himself, which still
survives on the outskirts of the city (Barral i Altet 1997, 78; Stalley 1999, 6465).
During the course of the sixth century, Justinian (527565), the emperor of the
surviving Eastern part of the Roman Empire, made a concerted effort to re-
conquer several of the Germanic kingdoms of Western Europe. The resulting wars
in Ostrogothic Italy left the kingdom of Theoderics successors devastated and
depopulated, but in Ravenna at least the early to mid-sixth century had a major
architectural impact. Christian architecture flourished in the city under Justinian
and the most significant construction of the period, San Vitale, decorated with
sumptuous mosaics in a Byzantine style, would prove a key architectural model
for centuries to come (Nees 2002, 10204; Barral i Altet 1997, 13536; Lowden
1997, 12735). By around 570 a new Germanic group, the Lombards, had estab-

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86 Frances Parton

lished authority across much of the northern Italian peninsula with a capital at
Pavia. The Lombards conquered further areas across the central and southern
parts of the peninsula, reaching the peak of their authority during the eighth
century and leaving only Ravenna, small areas of the southern coast and Rome
and its immediate hinterland under nominative imperial authority. Yet still the
idea of the Christian Roman past, and of Roman imperial authority, based on the
city of Rome and to a lesser degree, on Ravenna, retained an extremely strong
currency in politics and in art. The Merovingian Franks in Gaul, the Ostrogoths
then Lombards in Italy, the Visigoths in Spain; all brought rich Germanic artistic
traditions with them, evident in surviving metalwork and decorative arts. All of
these groups settled in highly Romanized areas, with a rich classical, Christian
past. In architecture especially the combination of Germanic tradition, local
practice and Christian Roman inheritance developed, for the first time, into
national styles (Barral i Altet 1997, 7475).

IV The Carolingian Renaissance

While the Byzantine, the old Eastern Roman empire, survived in the East, the
seventh and eighth centuries saw the economic basis of the old western Roman
Empire shift away from the Mediterranean towards the north and the establish-
ment and consolidation of the Frankish kingdoms across a large area of western
Europe. Beginning as foederati as early as the fourth century, the Germanic
Franks settled in the north east of Belgium and around the middle section of the
Rhine during the fifth century. Initially pagan, various separate small Frankish
kingdoms were conquered and Christianized towards the end of the fifth and
beginning of the sixth century by Childerics son Clovis (481509), founder of
the Frankish Merovingian ruling dynasty. Cloviss Merovingian successors con-
tinued to expand and strengthen the Frankish territories of Neustria, Austrasia,
Burgundy and Aquitaine until the mid-eighth century, when rule transferred
from the waning Merovingian ruling family to the powerful and ambitious
Carolingian dynasty under Pepin III (752768). In later Frankish histories this is
recorded as having been done with the blessing of Pope Zachary (741752) in
751. The papacy, in a vulnerable position in the Italian Peninsula with regards
to their Lombard, Byzantine and Beneventan neighbours, had long looked to
the Franks for military and political support and Pepin, together with his sons
Carloman and Charlemagne, were anointed by Pope Stephen II (752757) three
years later in 754.
Whereas the Merovingian rulers had tended to divide the separate Frankish
kingdoms between their successors, Pepins son Charlemagne (768814) launched

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a major and tremendously successful military and cultural campaign to expand

and unite the Frankish kingdoms and to mould them into a single cohesive
Roman, Christian and Frankish empire covering most of western Europe north of
the Pyrenees, which, at his death in 814, passed intact to his son Louis the Pious
(814840). Part of this campaign was a deliberate literary manipulation and
intellectual reworking of the Frankish Germanic past as a Christian narrative
which presented the Franks as Gods chosen people. A significant and lasting
bond was carefully cultivated between the Carolingian rulers and the papacy and
this relationship is a hallmark of the period; Charlemagne was crowned emperor
of the Franks, Caesar Augustus, on Christmas Day in the year 800 by Pope Leo III
(750816) in Old St.Peters, Rome. Charlemagnes emphatic presentation of
himself as a Christian emperor, a second Constantine, and of his people as the
new Israelites was a fundamental aspect of his reign and those of his successors,
and the significance put upon the imperial Christian Roman past is extremely
evident in surviving Carolingian art and architecture.
Charlemagne saw the Franks as heirs to the Christian Roman Empire. His
ceaseless efforts throughout his reign to revive and emulate the knowledge, the
art, and the authority of antiquity encouraged and directed what is now known as
the Carolingian Renaissance, an immense, earnest, and extremely significant
state-sponsored revival of Classical learning (McKitterick 2008; McKitterick, ed.,
1994; Contreni 1995). Charlemagnes military support for the papacy in Italy took
him to Rome and to Ravenna, and the Frankish emperor was much affected by
these imperial cities. Although essentially a peripatetic ruler on regular military
campaigns, Charlemagne established his own imperial capital, the Carolingian
Second Rome, at Aachen, the site of natural hot medicinal springs and the old
Roman spa town of Aquae granii. Acutely conscious of his position in the west in
relation to that of the Byzantine Empress Irene in the east, Charlemagne commis-
sioned stonemason Odo of Metz to build a major imperial palace complex at
Aachen, based on imperial Roman and Byzantine models. The palatine chapel,
based on the sixth-century San Vitale at Ravenna, still survives, and makes clear
the strength and focus of Charlemagnes imperial aspirations and the significance
of Romanitas. Spolia, recycled Roman remains in the form of architectural col-
umns, were brought from Rome and Ravenna to Aachen to be reused in Charle-
magnes new buildings (Nees 2002, 231; Lasko 1994, 9). The emperor, who had
seen the gilded bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius outside the Lateran Palace in
Rome (now in the Capitoline Museums), which was then thought to be a represen-
tation of Constantine, acquired his own equestrian bronze statue from Theoderics
imperial palace at Ravenna and had it transported to Aachen; large scale public
commissions of bronze statuary had strong imperial classical associations. In
addition, although the classical technique of large-scale bronze casting had been

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88 Frances Parton

lost, a bronze casting foundry was established at Aachen and Charlemagne

commissioned sets of bronze doors for his imperial complex, like those of the
Pantheon (Lasko 1994, 1011). A small Carolingian statuette of a crowned Frank-
ish ruler with orb and scepter (these are now missing), probably made at Aachen
or in the Frankish metalworking center of Metz, survives today in the Louvre
(Barral i Altet 1997, 22223).
The second significant strand of Charlemagnes ruling philosophy was his
concept of himself as a Christian ruler, whose power and authority came directly
from God; as a result, Christianity was a fundamental tenet of the Carolingian
Renaissance and the art it produced. Charlemagnes relationship with the eccle-
siastical ruling elite was key to his rule, and to the development and patronage of
Carolingian art, which was imperially sponsored but often mediated through the
Carolingian bishops and abbots. The Carolingian era was one of great monastic
reform, and under Charlemagne and his successors the major Carolingian mon-
asteries of Metz, Tours, Reims, Lorsch, St. Gall, and St. Riquier developed into
vital centers of reform, learning, teaching and craftsmanship. It was at the
scriptoria of these monastic centers that the writing of Frankish history was
undertaken, and that a new and enduring handwriting style, Carolingian minus-
cule, was developed. It was also from these major monastic production centers
that luxury ecclesiastical texts such as Gospel books and books of Psalms were
commissioned, some directly by the imperial family, some by the aristocratic
ruling class. Surviving deluxe Carolingian volumes such as the Drogo Sacremen-
tary, the Coronation Gospels, the Aachen Gospels, the Codex Aureus of St.
Emmeran, the series of Tours Bibles, and perhaps most importantly, the Utrecht
Psalter produced in the 820s at Hautvillers, illustrate the significant and extrem-
ely influential development of manuscript illumination during the late eighth,
ninth and the early tenth centuries within the context of the Carolingian Renais-
sance before production halted with the Viking incursions. The illustrations of the
Utrecht Psalter, characterized by a calligraphic, energetic quality to the figures
clothing and an expressive quality to their hands, would prove hugely influential
to later generations of artists and were copied and admired into at least the
twelfth century. Surviving volumes demonstrate the combination of not only a
strong classical inheritance but also the clear influence of insular art. They show
the originality, ingenuity and individuality of the Carolingian period together
with the passion and ability of Carolingian artists for moulding the classical past
into a distinctive, relevant and contemporary Carolingian style.
It was at Carolingian monasteries that surviving Roman secular texts such as
Terences plays were sought out, copied and distributed, evidencing the humanis-
tic, antiquarian interests of Carolingian scholars and securing the survival of
many Classical works through to the modern period. Alongside manuscripts,

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monastic workshops also produced imperially, royally and aristocratically com-

missioned high status luxurious artworks of ivory, precious metal, enamel and
carved gems such as reliquaries and book covers together with church furnishings
such as altar frontals. The magnificent carved ivory book covers of the ninth-
century Lorsch Gospels, probably produced by the Court School at Aachen, still
survive today; the front cover in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the back in the
Vatican Museums, and illustrate the skill of the Carolingian artists in achieving a
sophisticated synthesis of classical and Byzantine styles in ivory. Although the
fact that the Franks had stopped being buried with their jewellery by the end of
the eighth century has limited survivals, rare existing pieces of high status
Frankish jewellery such as the mid ninth-century peacock fibula now in the
Altertumsmuseum in Mainz are evidence for a thriving and sophisticated produc-
tion and trade in high value secular Carolingian metalwork. The Carolingian era
was also one of great architectural activity and significance; during the reigns of
Charlemagne and Louis the Pious around a hundred royal residencies, over four
hundred monasteries, and twenty seven cathedrals were constructed; Carolingian
architecture, based on late antique models, displayed a unified style and proved
a lasting and influential part of the renovatio of Classical Christian learning and
culture (Stalley 1999, 3757).

V Ottonian Art

The imperial idea which so infused the political, architectural and artistic styles
and aspirations of the Carolingian era endured much longer than the empire itself
which, divided amongst Charlemagnes grandchildren and weakened by violent
and persistent Viking, Magyar, and Muslim attacks, gradually broke up during
the second half of the ninth century. By the early tenth century a ducal family
from Saxony had established itself as the heir to the Carolingian dynasty under
Otto I (762973), ruling modern-day Germany and Switzerland together with parts
of northern and central Italy. The imperial ideal remained strong and relevant;
Otto was crowned emperor by Pope John XII (955964) in Rome in 962, and the
desire to re-create Charlemagnes imperial Roman and Christian empire remained
the constant political refrain of the Ottonian period under his successors Otto II
(967983), Otto III (9961002) and Henry II (10021025). The intensely Christian,
God-given nature of imperial rule was a fundamental tenet of Ottonian political
philosophy. Like the Carolingians before them, the Ottonian ruling family estab-
lished and maintained strong links with the papacy, building and spending much
time in an imperial palace on the Aventine Hill in Rome. The Ottonians also
cultivated their relationship with the powerful and sophisticated Byzantine court

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90 Frances Parton

and emulated eastern court rituals. Otto II married a Byzantine princess, Theo-
phanu, in 972, which brought Byzantine influence and artistic models directly to
the Ottonian court.
Like the Carolingian, the Ottonian period was one of major and sophisticated
artistic achievement. More the result of a general royal stimulus rather than a
single imperial Court School, Ottonian art, mediated through monastic chan-
nels, combined late antique models, the Carolingian tradition, an insular inherit-
ance and contemporary Byzantine styles to produce a distinctive style with a
strong imperial flavour. This is equally evident in surviving Ottonian works of art
across a range of media from sculpture, such as the wooden Gero Cross at Cologne
cathedral, produced around the 970s, to manuscripts, such as the Gospel Book of
Otto III, produced around the year 1000 and now in Munich, and incorporating a
Byzantine ivory carving and classical cameos and intaglios in its golden cover. As
with the Carolingian era, the Ottonian period was one of great centrally organized
ecclesiastical growth and reform, and monasteries were again the artistic centers
of the empire producing exquisite illustrated manuscripts and luxury church
furnishings in wood, metal and ivory. The most significant monastic scriptoria
were at Fulda, Reichenau, Corvey, and Cologne, each of which produced manu-
scripts with an individual and distinctive approach recognisable within the wider
Ottonian style. This was a time of refined and sophisticated political, liturgical,
and theoretical thought, and Ottonian artists introduced strong ideas of imperial
power and ceremony into their work (Mayr-Harting 1991). Art became an expres-
sion of emperorship. A good example of this is the Aachen Gospels, produced
around 996 at Reichenau and now in Aachen, the frontispiece of which, rather
than the expected traditional image of Christ in Majesty, shows OttoIII in a
mandorla being crowned by God himself. By depicting imperial rulership within
such a strongly religious context, Ottonian art explored the philosophical, Chris-
tian moral limitations of that rule; power given directly by God must be exercized
in accordance with His rule.
Architecture was an equally significant aspect of Ottonian art in terms of the
self-representation, ruling philosophy and imperial aspirations of the dynasty
(Plant 2003; see also the contribution on Architecture in this Handbook by
Charlotte A. Stanford). The Ottonians were itinerant, or peripatetic, rulers who
employed powerful ritual and ceremony to bolster their authority. The Ottonian
period witnessed an imperially-sponsored boom in ecclesiastical building; the
creation of a sacred space with great ceremonial potential allowed the emperors to
demonstrate their authority in a particular locality. Surviving Carolingian models
and traditions were copied and utilized, such as west works (prominent western
entrances opposite the altar in the eastern end) flanked with towers, and radiating
chapels. New features were added and developed, however, such as alternating

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pillar and pier supports and galleries running the length of the nave (Stalley 1999,
5356; Barral i Altet 1997, 156). Otto I, like Charlemagne, brought architectural
pieces such as columns, bases and capitals from Italy for his new complex at
Magdeburg. Henry II established another Second Rome at Bamberg, where he
constructed his imperial capital. Important nunneries were established at Essen,
Cologne, Nivelle, Gernrode and Gandersheim and new cathedrals were built at
Cologne, Mainz, and Worms which looked as their model to the huge, double-
ended Carolingian church of Fulda, itself emulating Roman models such as
St.Peters (Stalley 1999, 4041; Barral i Altet 1997, 181). Royal, aristocratic and
ecclesiastical patrons were of great significance in the creation of such buildings.
Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim (9921022) constructed one of the most important
buildings of the period the church of St.Michaels, Hildesheim (Barral i Altet 1997,
15459; Toman 2004, 4243). Bernward was reputedly something of an artist and
architect himself, encouraging the training of artists in his service and commis-
sioning paintings, mosaics, and metalwork for the richly decorated churches in
his diocese (Stalley 1999, 104; Sekules 2001, 63). In a gesture brimming with
Romanitas, Bernward, who was also OttoIIIs tutor and advisor, commissioned a
set of elaborate bronze doors for St. Michaels, decorated with biblical scenes (see
also the Gniezno Doors, Gniezno, Poland, ca. 1175, and the bronze doors of San
Zeno, Verona, Italy, late twelfth century, both of which demonstrate, close stylistic
and technical parallels).

VI Anglo-Saxon Art

The Anglo-Saxon period in England, stretching from around 600 to the eleventh
century, was an era of immense artistic achievement. Following the withdrawal of
the Roman legions from the British Isles in 410, over the course of the fifth and
sixth centuries Roman power structures, economic systems and the Latin lan-
guage were widely abandoned. In the western and highland areas power fell to
the indigenous Celtic British, who were Christian and spoke regional Celtic
dialects. In the south and east new Anglo-Saxon invaders established themselves,
bringing paganism and their own Germanic language which developed into Old
English. Small groups of aristocratic warriors, tribal war-bands of Jutes, Angles,
or Saxons, gradually coalesced (Higham and Ryan 2013, 70111). Over the course
of the seventh and eighth centuries, these tribal groupings underwent major and
significant social and cultural changes, and developed into larger Anglo-Saxon
kingdoms, gradually Christianized by proselytizing missions from Rome, the
Frankish kingdoms, from Scottish Dl Riata and from the strong Irish Celtic
Christian community based at Iona. The papal mission to the Anglo-Saxon king-

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92 Frances Parton

dom of Kent, launched by Gregory the Great in 597, established strong links
between Anglo-Saxon England and Rome which would endure throughout the
period. The conversion was royally-led; Gregorys first carefully chosen target was
thelberht, King of Kent (ca. 590616), whose Frankish wife Bertha was already
Christian. The conversion gave a new cohesion to kingdoms, and opportunities
for elite patronage (Higham and Ryan 2013, 158). The church was associated with
authority, and there was a clear recognition of all that Roman Christianity repre-
sented; the old Roman world of emperors, towns, money, markets, law and
legions, the physical ruins and remains of which were still very much in evidence.
The imperial Roman idea was still strong; several Anglo-Saxon kings claimed
descent from Augustus Caesar himself and intact surviving Anglo-Saxon helmets
show a clear imperial heritage in terms of style. The consciousness of the potency
of this Roman Christian inheritance, a constant refrain in the early medieval
period, was as evident in Anglo-Saxon England as Carolingian or Ottonian Eur-
ope; a particular and deliberate re-use of the physical and ideological attributes
of the Romano-British past was an important part of Anglo-Saxon ethnogenesis in
England (Karkov 2011, 19).
The Anglo-Saxon church, under strong royal and aristocratic patronage which
often entailed significant donations of land, grew wealthy and powerful over the
seventh and eighth centuries, becoming a major patron in its own right. New
churches were built, which needed new furnishings; the production of ecclesias-
tical textiles, books, sculpture and metalwork flourished. Aidans mission of 635
brought Irish Christianity to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, but in 664 the Synod of
Whitby firmly established the primacy of Roman Christianity. The church brought
literacy, stimulating the production of historical documents and legal records
such as genealogies, histories, law-codes and charters. Secular and ecclesiastical
manuscripts were imported from the Continent and from Ireland to be copied and
disseminated across Anglo-Saxon England. In turn, the newly-Christianized An-
glo-Saxons themselves undertook missionary activity on the Continent, mostly in
what is modern day Germany, establishing new sees and taking their artistic skills
and achievements with them. Trade was revitalized, coinage began to be minted
again in Kent and London, and the new ports of Ipswich, London, York, and
Southampton established urban communities. Continental influence remained
strong; the wealthy Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent was a natural link with the
powerful Frankish kingdoms, importing Frankish wine and Byzantine bronzes
together with the dress jewellery fashions of Gaul and Byzantium, while exporting
slaves and hunting dogs (Higham and Ryan 2013, 16365).
Learning flourished; in the years after the conversion major schools with
significant libraries were established at Canterbury, Malmesbury, York, Lindis-
farne, and Monkwearmouth-Jarrow where future generations of native Anglo-

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Saxon churchmen were trained, and there were schools for nuns at Barking,
Wimbourne, Bath and Thanet. The famous Lindisfarne Gospels, now in the British
Library, probably produced by a single artist at Lindisfarne around the beginning
of the eighth century, are a prime example of the remarkable standards of artistic
achievement possible at these centers where a mix of classical, Mediterranean
and Celtic influences resulted in a distinctive insular Anglo-Saxon style, also
evident in contemporary metalwork (Karkov 2011, 3342; Webster and Back-
house, ed., 1991, 11014). The huge Codex Amiatinus, produced at Monkwear-
mouth-Jarrow before 716 and now in the Biblioteca Mediccea Laurenziana in
Florence, shows this double monastic center in Northumbria to have been equally
significant in artistic terms (Higham and Ryan 2013, 160). The earliest surviving
complete Bible in Latin and the most accurate surviving record of Jeromes
Vulgate translation, the manuscript is also significant in that its strong Italian
flavour demonstrates the clear influence of the manuscripts gathered by Wear-
mouths founding abbot, Benedict Biscop, on his several journeys to Rome which
formed the core of the monasterys library. Alongside deluxe liturgical manu-
scripts, many other kinds of texts were produced ranging from copies of the works
of Pliny and the Church Fathers to new compositions of history, poetry, philoso-
phy, science and biblical exegesis. Anglo-Saxon scholars like Bede and Aldhelm,
together with Alcuin, who moved to the Frankish Empire to head Charlemagnes
court school, spearheaded a significant advance in education as well as remark-
able and influential individual scholarship.
The famous Mound 1 ship burial at Sutton Hoo in East Anglia, initially
excavated in 1939 and found to contain a remarkable selection of objects, demon-
strates the degree of artistic skill, the wealth, the kinds of materials and the wide
variety of connections, styles and influences current in Anglo-Saxon England
around the 620s (Higham and Ryan 2013, 13335; Carver 2005). The ancient and
imported grave goods which surrounded the body ranged from ten large silver
bowls produced in the eastern Mediterranean, two late Roman silver spoons, a
huge Byzantine silver dish, and many Frankish gold coins to a Celtic-style bronze
hanging-bowl. Alongside these were a group of unparalleled metalwork objects,
locally produced, demonstrating the sophistication, distinction, and unprece-
dented technicality of contemporary Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship and metalwork-
ing (Coatsworth and Pinder 2002). They include sword-fittings, a large buckle,
shoulder-clasps, and a set of purse fittings, worked in gold, cloisonn garnets,
millefiori glass and enamel, showing not only great technical accomplishment
but also a coherence and uniqueness of style perhaps suggesting a single maker
or workshop. The wealth of the materials and craftsmanship inherent in these
objects suggests a royal patron, and Redwald of East Anglia (ca. 599ca. 624) is
the figure usually put forward.

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94 Frances Parton

The more recent discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard in 2009, buried in the
Mercian kingdom sometime in the seventh or eighth century, eclipsed even the
Sutton Hoo finds in terms of the sheer number of high quality pieces of metalwork
(Leahy and Bland 2009; Higham and Ryan 2013, 17378). The vast majority of the
several thousand objects which make up the hoard are disparate, separated
pieces of exquisitely wrought war-gear, such as pommel caps and hilt plates,
worked in gold, silver, and cloisonn garnets, making the hoard quite different in
character from the Sutton Hoo grave goods although similar in terms of materials
and techniques. High prestige Anglo-Saxon metalwork, like that of the Stafford-
shire Hoard and Sutton Hoo finds, drawing on Romano-British, Frankish, Celtic,
and Scandinavian styles, techniques and materials, represents a distinctive in-
sular style brought about by the combination of wealthy patronage and potent
artistic models and influences with individual talent and vision. The variety of
burial practices evident across the fifty-six burials at the Sutton Hoo site, ranging
from mound burial with or without grave goods to cremation, testifies to a period
of political and cultural change in the early part of the seventh century when the
Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons was still sporadic, and the competing efforts
of the ruling elite to assert their authority created a demand for luxury goods
(Nees 2002, 109).
The arrival of a new group of invaders from Denmark and Norway, the
Vikings, changed the political and artistic situation significantly. Viking attacks
and demands for tribute first hit Lindisfarne in 793 and became increasingly
wide-ranging over the course of the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries, spread-
ing from the north of England and Ireland to the south coast and the Frankish
river valleys of the Seine, Rhine and Loire. Viking culture had a huge impact
across Europe, from England in the west to Russia in the east; in Anglo-Saxon
England, it had a devastating effect on the established Christian culture. The
pagan Vikings were interested in portable wealth, much of which was to be found
in churches, and although not the only factor behind the general decline of the
church and monasticism during the ninth century, the Viking depredations of
monasteries, their schools and libraries (often located on rivers and poorly
defended) did have a cataclysmic impact on Anglo-Saxon learning; knowledge of
and composition in Latin declined, manuscript production almost disappeared as
churches, monastic communities and their lands were sacked and abandoned.
The Vikings, initially opportunistic and seasonal raiders, eventually turned into
conquerors and settlers who worked hard to integrate themselves into existing
Anglo-Saxon and Frankish culture, establishing successful Viking kingdoms in
East Anglia and York as well as Normandy. From around 850 the Great Army, a
large, unified Viking force undertook a sustained military campaign which,
together with internal political and economic shifts, destroyed the Anglo-Saxon

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kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia over the course of the second
half of the ninth century and established the Viking Danelaw in northern and
eastern England in their place (Higham and Ryan 2013, 23262).
King Alfred of Wessex (871899) and his educated Christian elite considered
the Vikings to be the embodiment of Gods wrath on a people which had
neglected its Christian duties. In response, he launched a major cultural and
military reform programme which transformed his rule over Wessex into the first
fully Christian English kingship (Higham and Ryan 2013, 26270; Backhouse,
Turner, and Webster, ed., 1984, 11). Alfred, nicknamed the Great by his biogra-
pher Asser, presented himself and his authority to contemporaries and to poster-
ity in a very astute manner. Like Charlemagne before him, he took a very
particular attitude to the church and to the arts, modelling himself as another
Constantine, as a learned imperial Christian ruler (Pratt 2009). In response to the
continuing Viking aggression, Alfred launched a successful military reorganisa-
tion of Wessex into a system of fortified centers or burghs. In a deliberate move
against the pagan, Germanic, Old Norse, mythological culture of the Viking north
and east, he looked south to the Continent, to Rome and the classical past, and
stressed the significance of Christianity and a vernacular language. Many of his
coins show an imperial-style portrait, a cross and Latin script, emphasising his
Romanitas, Christianity and literacy (Karkov 2011, 10708). Alfred founded
schools, a monastery at Athelney and a nunnery at Shaftesbury, and made many
major gifts to the church in England and on the Continent. His links to the papacy
and to the Frankish territories were strong; he travelled to Rome twice, and his
fathers second wife was Judith, the daughter of the emperor Charles the Bald. He
worked closely with Continental scholars, instigating a remarkable programme of
education which included personally translating key texts such as Boethiuss
Consolation of Philosophy and Gregory the Greats Pastoral Care from Latin to Old
English, which were disseminated across his kingdom. Many of his manuscript
gifts to the churchmen of his realm were accompanied by beautiful rock-crystal or
glass jewels such as the Alfred Jewel and the Minster Lovell Jewel, both now in
the Ashmolean, Oxford. These jewels, of which around six survive, are widely
believed to be stels, or book pointers, and again represent Roman, Carolingian
and Christian ideas, materials and designs in a distinct Anglo-Saxon style which
shows a much deeper interest in iconography than the earlier period (Hinton
2008; Karkov 2011, 21218).
Alfreds reign instigated a great flourishing of artistic production which
continued under his successors until the eleventh century and the Norman inva-
sion. Royal patronage was a significant part of this period of intense artistic
achievement (which may explain why the reform had much less of an impact in
the north of England) as was the role played by significant Anglo-Saxon church-

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96 Frances Parton

men such as Saint Dunstan, Saint Oswald and Bishop Aethelwold, the last of
whom is said to have been a talented goldsmith himself. The tenth century was
characterized by a monastic reform movement based on the model of Benedict of
Aniane, which had so influenced a previous generation of Carolingian reformers,
as well as the new establishment at Cluny (Higham and Ryan 2013, 31122). New
or existing ecclesiastical buildings were constructed or re-founded, especially
small local churches, all of which needed furnishing with books, metalwork and
textiles. The reform encouraged a great change in taste and a move away from
flat, linear interlace and pattern led design towards a new focus on classical
models with a new realism and dynamism, channelled through the great Carolin-
gian monastic centers of the Continent such as Aachen, Reims and Metz. Surviv-
ing manuscripts and carving show a clear shift away from an Insular influence
towards a more naturalistic, Continental style. The monastic centers of Winche-
ster and Canterbury were especially significant in terms of late Anglo-Saxon
manuscript illumination and craftsmanship, and it is important to remember that
many forms of artistic production such as ivory and stone carving would have
taken place here, not just the production of manuscripts in the scriptorium.
The Winchester School or style of manuscript illumination reached a peak
under Bishop Aethelwold (963984) with the Benedictional of Saint Aethelwold,
made for the bishop by the monk Godeman. Dating to around the early 970s and
now in the British Library, the Benedictional is full of classically inspired
acanthus decoration and allegorical references together with fleshy, rounded
figures, swathed in drapery and full of action. Particular Carolingian models
proved hugely significant, and it is possible to see the shivery drapery and
frenetic activity so characteristic of the Utrecht Psalter (ca. 820835) and the
Gospel book of Ebbo of Reims (816840) playing a clear part in the great develop-
ment of line drawing in late Anglo-Saxon England. Indeed, the Utrecht Psalter
arrived at Christchurch Canterbury just before the year 1000 and was copied in
the scriptorium there at least three times over the next two centuries. The influ-
ence of Carolingian minuscule and an increase in calligraphic ideas saw words
separated from each other and individual letter forms becoming clearer and more
regular. Walrus ivory carving, not previously practiced in England, emerged as a
significant part of the Winchester style in the later tenth and eleventh centuries.
Surviving sculpture such as the Reculver cross shows a similar appreciation of
classical drapery, and scrolls of acanthus leaves became a popular motif on
monumental sculpture. Acanthus decoration and classical-style figures are also
apparent on the remarkable surviving tenth-century ecclesiastical textiles found
in St Cuthberts tomb at Durham Cathedral.
The significance of the Roman, Christian inheritance has been a consistent
feature of this brief analysis of the development of early medieval art. The early

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Visual Arts 97

medieval mental viewpoint was in many ways teleological and retrospective;

rather than an idea of progress and looking forward there was an idea of Christian
society going backwards from the Creation and Resurrection, of degeneration, a
consciousness of impending apocalypse. In this philosophical climate, the past
held a great authority and art held great power. Craftspeople were in a constant
artistic and ideological dialogue with the past and with historical pieces of art,
not only as models but as images or objects which could represent and transmit
anything from political strength and social standing to a religious truth or
spiritual experience.

C Medieval Art the Influence of the Church

Romanesque Art ca. 1050ca. 1250

The constant and deliberate creation and forging of links with the Roman,
Christian, imperial past in terms of politics and the visual arts emphasized in the
previous section culminated with the idea of Carolingian and Ottonian artistic
production developing as imperially fostered and sponsored court styles. The
idea of empire and of a classical inheritance was no less important in the post-
Ottonian, post Anglo-Saxon period but the first two centuries of the second
millennium saw the development of a more generally wide-spread artistic style,
historically labelled Romanesque, which is perhaps more helpfully explored in
terms of ecclesiastical rather than imperial development, patronage and influ-
The western Christian church reached the height of its authority over the two
centuries that followed the year 1000, during a period of economic prosperity and
political stability. The far-reaching eleventh-century reform movement cham-
pioned by Popes Leo IX (10491054) and Gregory VII (10731085) built the
foundations for the extraordinary papacy of Innocent III (11981216). This was a
time of enormous growth, of new foundations, of far-reaching papal authority
and ambition. The period saw a huge rise in population, and in the number of
people taking part in pilgrimages to holy sites across Western Europe and beyond
to worship the relics of the saints; it also witnessed the beginning of the crusading
movement to reclaim the Holy Lands in the east from Muslim control, with Pope
Urban II preaching the First Crusade in 1095. Despite the centralising power of the
papacy in Rome, however, the western Christian Church was far from homoge-
nous. Monasteries were governed directly by their abbots, convents by their
abbesses, and particular churches or religious foundations could be under more
or less practical local control depending on the balance of power in their locality;

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98 Frances Parton

life in a small foundation established by a powerful aristocrat to memorialize his

family could be quite different to that in a major Cistercian foundation with strong
royal support. Monastic reform was also a significant factor and the emergence
and significance first of the Cluniac movement and later of the Carthusian and
Cistercian orders is representative of the differences inherent within the Church as
a whole. In the previous section on early medieval art, I outlined the degree to
which the secular and the ecclesiastical were intertwined and ultimately became
indivisible in the late antique and early medieval period. During the eleventh and
twelfth centuries it was the interaction not only between the secular and the
ecclesiastical, but also between different ecclesiastical bodies, which played a
vital role in encouraging the production of art. Secular patrons wanting ecclesias-
tical benefit from a particular establishment, together with a growing, wealthy,
competitive and ambitious Church administration promoted the establishment of
new parish churches and new monastic foundations, and it was this immense
ecclesiastical growth which gave the visual arts the opportunity to flourish (To-
man 2007, 717; Sekules 2001, 6162).
The term Romanesque is most often used in an architectural sense and this is
fitting in that the period from 1000 to around 1250 was one of enormous and
comprehensive development in church architecture and church decoration, wit-
nessing not only the emergence of figurative statuary, stained glass, historiated
capitals, ambulatories, and a great profusion of characteristic curved archways,
but also a huge increase in the number of churches, abbeys, monasteries, and
nunneries being built. These new religious foundations were supplied with altars,
shrines, reliquaries, chalices, manuscripts, hangings, vestments and frescoes so
that the term also extends to the huge range of visual arts which flourished
alongside the architectural developments of this period and, responding to the
same aesthetic, shared many similar characteristics. If the expansion of the
Church and monasticism was the major impulse behind the unprecedented
artistic development of this period, the primary source of inspiration for the new
Romanesque style, as the name suggests, was yet again the art of the Roman
Empire and the important Christian centers of Rome, Jerusalem and Byzantium
(McNeill and Plant, ed., 2013). A strong Scandinavian and Islamic heritage was
also a significant part of Romanesque art, and although the style developed
across the whole of Western Europe in a remarkably distinct and cohesive way,
international and regional difference together with local variation were also
marked and important.
The distinctively curved, round-topped Romanesque arch echoed the great
stone structures of the Roman past, the remains of many of which were still visible
across Western Europe; stone vaulting was reliant on the precedents set by
Roman barrel and groin vaults. The shape was not only a structural development

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Visual Arts 99

but also an artistic one, and frequently frames scenes or figures in metalwork,
painted frescoes and manuscripts as well as sculptures. The curved semi-circular
space created above church doors became filled with narrative scenes and devel-
oped into the tympanum, a sculptural frieze which was used to portray a suitably
prophetic biblical scene, often the Last Judgment, as a clear visual message which
aimed to prepare those entering the church for the spiritual experience waiting
within. The external sculpture of the Romanesque church of Santiago de Compos-
tela, one of the most significant and popular pilgrimage destinations of the
period, which spreads outwards from the figure of St.James above the main
doorway and across the western faade, clearly illustrates the didactic nature of
Romanesque art and its ability to portray the fundamental tenets of Christian faith
to the faithful through the medium of sculpture (Toman 2007, 146; 299; Barral i
Altet 1998, 69). Cast bronze doors, baptismal fonts and candlesticks had clear
Classical associations. Other aspects of Romanesque style reveal a more mixed
heritage. Classical scrolling plant decoration incorporated a Scandinavian heri-
tage, an insular influence, and contemporary Islamic tradition. An essentially
Hellenistic tradition of portraying the human form clearly under drapery and with
emotional, expressive hands and gestures, preserved in Byzantine art, was trans-
mitted to Romanesque Europe via Italy.

D Late Medieval Art the Importance of Secular

Gothic Art ca. 1140ca. 1500

Similarly to Romanesque, ecclesiastical patronage is usually seen as the major

impetus behind the initial development of Gothic art, the distinctive artistic style
of Western Europe during the late medieval period, but secular patronage was
equally significant. The Gothic style developed in Paris around the 1130s and
again like the Romanesque, is often interpreted as primarily an ecclesiastical
architectural development although the aesthetic is evident in secular structures
and the wider field of decorative arts and beyond. Kings and nobles acted as
significant patrons as well as bishops and abbots, so that the Gothic style is
discernable beyond French churches, cathedrals and chapels, in castles and
colleges across Europe. This was a period and a style especially marked by the
actions, ambitions and patronage of rulers and the aristocracy, by the emergence
and growth of urban centers, craft guilds and a merchant class (Marks and
Williamson, ed., 2003, 27274), when the making and buying of art was increas-

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100 Frances Parton

ingly concentrated in towns and cities. The emerging knightly class developed a
particular identity and a set of potent and influential ideas based around chivalry
and heraldry, much reflected in Gothic art. Tensions between the spiritual and the
temporal were high; the period saw the rise of the new mendicant orders the
Franciscans and Benedictines, major and influential heresies such as that of the
Cathars and the Hussites, the decline of papal authority, the Avignon papacy and
eventually papal schism.
The famous Gothic cathedrals of Chartres, Notre-Dame, Soissons, Amiens,
and Reims were made possible by a series of innovative, related architectural
developments. Beginning with the construction of the abbey church of Saint-
Denis under Abbot Suger in the 1140s a key advance was the pointed arch which
not only gave a more vertical visual impression but could also bear greater weight
and open at a wider variety of widths than a rounded arch. These were harnessed
together with stone rib vaults which distributed the weight of the ceiling to the
ground via columns and piers to construct larger, higher spaces with significantly
thinner walls than had previously been possible, which could then be pierced
with larger windows of colourful stained glass. Both the pointed arch and the rib
vault were a direct result of Islamic influence transmitted to Europe via the
Crusades. Externally, the slightly later appearance of arched flying buttresses to
absorb the outward thrust of the roof made it similarly possible to reduce the
thickness of the exterior framework of the building. The result was an initial series
of early French Gothic churches where these architectural developments com-
bined to create light-filled, spacious interiors which drew the eyes upward in
emulation of the spiritual lift of Christianity.
Gothic art was not confined to ecclesiastical structures or to these particular
architectural developments however, although these classic French Gothic
structures have traditionally formed the basis of much historiography on the
subject (Coldstream 2002, 2330). Gothic style is evident across Europe, from
timber-framed housing to the shape of pewter vessels, from furniture and inlay
work to the decoration on book bindings. Contemporary clothing took on a more
perpendicular aesthetic with pointed shoes and high waistlines accentuating long
slender legs. As the range of media across which Gothic art was practised widened
so did the hallmarks of the style. Painted and sculpted figures and scenes were
enclosed within pointed arches, nature was closely observed and minutely and
elegantly replicated by artists working in wood, ivory and stone, and carved,
drawn or sculpted figures curved into refined S shapes full of movement and
expressive with human emotion.

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Visual Arts 101

Select Bibliography
Coldstream, Nicola, Medieval Architecture (Oxford 2002).
Elsner, Ja, Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph: The Art of the Roman Empire (Oxford 1998).
Lowden, John, Early Christian and Byzantine Art (London 1997).
Nees, Lawrence, Early Medieval Art (Oxford and New York 2002).
Sekules, Veronica, Medieval Art (Oxford 2001).
Stalley, Roger, Early Medieval Architecture (Oxford 1999).

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Thomas Willard
Astrology, Alchemy and other Occult

A Historical and Conceptual Background

I.The term occult sciences was applied in the late Middle Ages to a group of
disciplines dating back to antiquity. Chief among these were alchemy and as-
trology, which were construed respectively to include all things below the moon
in the sublunary or elemental world and all things above the moon in the super-
lunary or heavenly world. Linking these two worlds were the esoteric mathe-
matics and geometry of Pythagoras and Plato (Friedlnder 1969, 24660), both of
which found a popular form in numerology. These practices were sometimes
connected with one another as intellectual magic, chiefly divination from the
stars (astromancy) and the four elements. Pyromancy, aeromancy, geomancy,
and hydromancy sought knowledge of fire, air, earth, and water. Because this
kind of natural magic could be hard to distinguish from necromancy or the
other black arts a separate entry is devoted to magic.
The term occult science was first used in English in the seventeenth century
and owed its early popularity to Cornelius Agrippas (14861535) De Occulta
Philosophia Libri Tres (Three Books of Occult Philosophy), first printed in 1531
but written at least a decade earlier. In these books, Agrippa included knowledge
of the elemental, heavenly, and angelic worlds, adding Jewish Kabbalah to
Christian angelology. A fourth book of demonology was attributed to Agrippa, but
almost certainly spurious. Agrippa used the word occult as the opposite of
manifest, that is, representing knowledge that was not readily available to the
five senses. Physicians still speak of occult bleeding and of occult diseases
which require special tests. In the late Middle Ages, before such inventions as the
microscope and telescope, the number of hidden things was vastly greater.
Since antiquity, science was understood to be a part of philosophy, known as
natural philosophy, and the scientist to be a philosopher. In Byzantium, through
which much of the knowledge of the ancients passed into late medieval Europe,
scientists liked to call themselves philosophoi, while avoiding the stigma asso-
ciated with magoi (Magdalino and Mavroudi 2006, 13). Scholars who study
alchemy, astrology, and other forms of natural knowledge in the Byzantine
Empire have found it useful to use the term occult sciences as an overarching
term. The same can be applied to these arts in the Islamic world and in the
Middle Ages generally. Like esotericism, the term is used now to describe a

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Astrology, Alchemy and other Occult Sciences 103

wide range of approaches to the unknown (Alexandrian 1983; Corsetti 1992;

Faivre 1992, 3342).
The twentieth century saw considerable scholarly debate about the extent to
which science, especially astronomy, underwent a paradigm shift during the
early modern period and the extent to which developments like those in medic-
inal chemistry grew directly out of medieval science (Powrie 2010). Although
there is much to be said on each side of the argument, it should be noted that
astrology and alchemy were not labelled pseudosciences until the nineteenth
century, and were not clearly separated from astronomy and chemistry, respec-
tively, until the late seventeenth century. Throughout the late Middle Ages, the
terms chemia and alchemia were largely synonymous, along with such variants as
alchemystica, which adds the element of mysticism; while almost all serious
astronomers also practiced astrology.

II.A general account of the occult sciences in the Middle Ages must deal with two
chains: the chain of being which links God the Creator to the rest of the
creation, stretching from the stars and planets to the minerals underground, and
the chain of tradition linking writers and thinkers to their sources in antiquity and
throughout the ages. The first of these was sometimes identified as the chain of
Homer (catena Homeri) on the basis of a passage at the beginning of book 8 in the
Iliad: Zeus looks down on the squabbling creation and tells the other gods he can
haul them and everything else back into his grasp. The second was sometimes
associated with the rings of Plato (annuli Platonici), as Socrates described them
in the Ion (536ad). There was a kind of magnetic pull that held the rings together
as they reached from the inspired writer back through the poets and muses to the
source of inspiration. It was also known as Kabbalah, in the words etymological
sense of reception or as tradition in the etymological sense of being handed
down from one generation to the next. One classic study called it the secret
tradition on the premise that knowledge was withheld from the masses and
communicated orally from adept to initiate (Waite 1926). Such knowledge was
traditional, although there were different traditions for the different occult
sciences and writers could draw on more than one tradition at a time.
Behind both of these chains, as they were concatenated in the late medieval
mind, was the principle of original revelation. Surely the secret was so great, the
science so powerful, that no mere human could have dreamed it up. Surely it
must have been revealed by Godno doubt to Adam, to help him survive after the
expulsion from Eden, and by Adam to his son Seth, and so on down to Thoth and
to Moses, who was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7: 22). Given
the medieval respect for auctoritas (authority), genealogies of knowledge ap-
peared in many books of alchemy and other occult sciences. They had the effect

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104 Thomas Willard

of showing that the science was not demonic and should not be considered
illegal. A late example of this thinking is the treatise De Jure Artis Alchemicae (On
the lawfulness of the art of alchemy), written by the Basel lawyer Johannes
Chrysippus Fanianus, a younger contemporary of Agrippa, and included in
several early anthologies of alchemy (Fanianus 1576). One consequence of this
thinking was that occult texts were often misattributed to writers of known
authority. When alchemical texts were known to have been composed by people
with the names of Democritus or Miriam, readers leapt to the conclusions that
they must be the work of the ancient atomist and the sister of Moses, respectively.
Popular medieval texts of alchemy were thus attributed to Plato and Aristotle as
well as to later authorities like Albertus Magnus (ca. 12061280) and Thomas
Aquinas (12251274; Aquinas 1966). Such attributions were not necessarily frau-
dulent, but often reflected the authors sense of tradition (Burkhardt 1960).
Also behind the chains was the principle of the unity of knowledge. Alchemy
did not contradict astrology; rather it was astronomia inferiora (the lower astron-
omy). Numerology helped to explain the stages of the alchemical procedure, as
geometrical arrangements helped to explain conjunctions of the planets. As
Michel Foucault suggested, in a close reading of a late medieval text, the world
was legendary in the etymological sense of being there to be readfull of
hidden significations (Foucault 1970, 1745). The Bible supported this view. After
all, The Heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19: 1); and As for the earth,
out of it cometh bread and it hath dust of gold (Job 28: 56). The whole Bible
was taken to conceal secrets of science (Willard 1982).
A final principle, not named until the early modern period but dating back to
antiquity, was that of hylozoism: the principle that all matter is alive. Plato
maintained that the world was a living creature (Plato 1961, Timaeus 30c).
Moreover, just as the earth had a soul and intelligence of its own, so did the
heavens (Plato 1961, Timaeus 37a). The planets were living creatures (Plato
1961, Timaeus 38e). Like earth, the planets were also globes, which Plato consid-
ered the perfect form, and thanks to a robust mythology that no doubt predated
Plato they had personalities of their own: saturnine, jovial, martial, etc. The
planets became way stations on the souls journey to God, as taught in various
mystery religions (Godwin 1981). The Greek mysteries fed into the Judaeo-Chris-
tian tradition through Gnosticism, adding another dimension to thoughts about
the heavens. In learning about the movements of the heavenly bodies, and read-
ing what was written in the stars, one learned about the divine aspects of a
creator who made man in his own image. Some Christian astrologers proposed
renaming the zodiac signs after the apostles of Christ, and some Muslim astrol-
ogers suggested doing so after the prophets of Allah. Tradition held, however, and
the ascent to God became associated with the shedding of qualities more often

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Astrology, Alchemy and other Occult Sciences 105

associated with pagan deities than with prophets and apostles. As Dante ascends
from the Mount of Purgatory, he passes the heavens of the Mercury, Venus, and so
forth, and at each junction meets souls of people who had problems associated the
pagan deity, such as mercurial pride and venereal desires (Paradiso, cantos 6, 8).
Whether humans first tried to understand fire on earth or stars in the sky is a
matter of debate. But because all animals experience the difference between day
and night, we shall start with the stars.

B Astrology
Astrology is the older word, signifying knowledge of the stars. Astronomy,
literally star-arranging, was coined in later antiquity, probably to indicate the
mapping of stars as opposed to telling tales about the stars and their influences.
The most famous astrologer and astronomer of the ancient world was Claudius
Ptolemy, a Roman citizen who lived in Alexandria, and wrote in Greek, during the
second century C.E. Ptolemy wrote three treatises, of which the first and most
famous was on astronomy. It concerned the structure of the universea structure
which is still referred to as the Ptolemaic universe, with the earth at the center, the
constellations at the circumference, and the sun, moon, and five visible planets in
concentric circles around the earth. The second treatise was on the geography of
the known world, and the third was on astrology, reconciling the techniques of
casting horoscopes with the principles of Aristotelian natural philosophy. The first
book, Ho Megala Syntaxis (The Great Treatise), was translated into Arabic as the
Almagest and under that title became known in a Latin translation from the
Arabic. The others followed, though with less influence, and the pattern of
transmission from Greek through Arabic to Latin became the norm for transmis-
sion of many scientific and technical works written in late antiquity.
The Ptolemaic world-picture, with its geocentric perspective, was in many
ways better suited to the occult sciences than the Copernican heliocentric model
that later won out. It squared with ordinary human experience, in which the sun
appears to rise in the east and set in the west while the earth stands still and the
heavenly bodies revolve about it. The geocentric model placed the sun at the
center of the universe, midway between the three smaller heavenly bodies (the
moon, Mercury, and Venus) and the three larger ones (Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn).
In Classical tradition, it allowed philosophers and poets to describe the earth as a
great globe or orb (Plato 1961, Timaeus 33b; Ovid 1977, Metamorphoses, book 1,
line 35). Pythagoreans indeed took the view that the earth revolved around a
central fire (Aristotle 1984, On the Heavens, 2.13; 293a), while others maintained
that there was an infinite number of worlds (Aristotle, Physics, 8.1; 250b). How-

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106 Thomas Willard

ever, Aristotle argued that the logical choice was the model that confirmed what
we see, and astrologers have clung to his view, with only a few concessions to
post-Newtonian cosmology (Grant 2007).
Over time observers realized that it was necessary to make certain adjust-
ments, notably in the dates of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, which seemed
to appear at an earlier date every few centuries. The so-called precession of the
equinox, caused by a gravitational shift of the earths axis, has the effect of
making the so-called fixed stars appear to rotate about the earth like the planets
(a name derived from the Greek word meaning wanderers). Ancient astronomers
calculated that the stars would make a complete rotation once every 36,000years.
The interval was often associatedwrongly, it turned outwith Platos perfect
year (Plato 1961, Timaeus 39d). That period, the time that it took the planets to
return to their original alignment, was closer to 26,000years (Santillana and
Dechend 1969). In either event, the movements meant job security for astrologers,
who had to calculate the positions of the planets on any given day as well as the
slowly changing positions of the constellations. Although Aristotle and other
Greek philosophers taught that the universe was eternal (Aristotle 1984, Physics,
8.1; 250a252b) and the earth as well (Aristotle 1984, Meteorology, 1.14; 353a),
there was widespread popular belief that it passed through different ages, and
these were easily associated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac. When they came
to power, Christians liked to note that the world had entered the age of Pisces
(Latin fishes) with Jesus symbolized by the sign of the fish. Icthus, the Greek
word for fish, was taken to be an acronym for Iesus Christos theou uios sotor
(Jesus Christ, son of God, savior). The words became a mantra for Christians
committed to the practice of constant prayer (1 Thessalonians 5: 17).
Although ancient astronomy and astrology reached a kind of culmination in
Alexandria, which became the center of learning in the late Classical world, the
first systematic observations were probably made farther east, in ancient Babylo-
nia. The first star maps were made there in the first two millennia B.C.E., but
historians disagree whether it was there or only in Egypt, and only with the aid of
Greek mathematics, that our duodecimal system began, with its basic divisions of
the heavens into 360 degrees, the year into approximately 360days, and the day
into twelve 60-minute hours. The first horoscopes were most likely made in
Babylon, with surviving examples at least 300years older than any written in
Greek. Even then the first Greek horoscopes show the influence of astrologers who
came to the Mediterranean from Babylon and Persia, following the conquests of
Alexander the Great.
Greek astrology reached Rome in the second century B.C.E. During the
political wars in the first century B.C.E., it was used to plan and predict the
assassination of Julius Caesarmade memorable for English audiences in the

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Astrology, Alchemy and other Occult Sciences 107

words of Shakespeares soothsayer: Beware the ides of March (Shakespeare

1974, Julius Caesar 1.2.23)and to support the claims of the emperor Augustus,
who used his horoscope to show that he was destined to rule. There was wide-
spread popular belief, but also many skeptics; Cicero, for example, questioned
the utility of horoscopes in his treatise De Divinatione (Cicero 192023, book2,
section44). Perceived as a potentially destabilizing force, astrologers were peri-
odically expelled from Rome, and their rights to predict deaths and other major
events curtailed (Smoller 2000). There was, then, a deeply divided attitude
toward predictive astrology by the time that Christianity became the state reli-
gion, under the Edict of Thessalonica (380 C.E.).
The Hebrew Scriptures took strong exception to divination in general, and in
particular to the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators of
Babylon, who could not deliver themselves from the power of the flame that
God would unleash on them (Isaiah 47: 1314). The Book of Daniel scorned
astrologers in particular, showing through a quasi-historical example that all true
foreknowledge is from God. However, the Christian Scriptures shed a positive
light on the wise men [Greek magoi] from the east who foretold the birth of
Jesus, the King of the Jews (Matthew 2: 12). Because it supported their claims,
this story of a star (which may have been Halleys comet) gave some legitimacy to
astrology. However, such predictions were also linked to the mystery religions
with which Christianity had some similarities, especially Mithraism. Saint Paul
insisted that the Christians battle was not really against flesh and blood, but
against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this
world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6: 12). These
principalities (archas) seemed to be the Archons of Gnosticism, which were
identified with the planets and which had some influence on both Judaism and
Christianity in New Testament times as well as on the mystery cults that Paul
faced in Ephesus. With the condemnation of Gnosticism, notably by Bishop
Irenaeus of Lyons in Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies, ca. 180 C.E.), as-
trology was officially rejected along with other systems of prediction. It was
regarded as both unnecessary, because Christianity provided a unique system of
prophecy, and heretical, because it challenged the Christian belief in the free will
of the individual believer. It remained for Augustine (354430) to recall Ciceros
scorn of auguries (Augustine 1972, 4.30) and to go beyond Cicero in asserting
mans free will (5.9). By the middle of the sixth century, Christians in Europe were
explicitly forbidden the use of horoscopes (Smoller 2000). There was a steadier
interest in astrology among Christians in the Eastern Church, where there was
readier access to technical manuals from antiquity and, later, to new manuals
produced in the Islamic world. These included texts from pre-Islamic Persia, some
of which carried astrological ideas from India.

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108 Thomas Willard

Of all the Islamic astrologers, Abu Mashar al Balkli (ca. 805ca. 885) was
probably the greatest, and certainly the most influential in the West (Turner
1997). In addition to popularizing the work of Ptolemy, whom he mistook to be a
member of Egypts ruling family, he composed influential treatises of his own,
including an introductory account translated into Latin by Adelard of Bath (ca.
1080ca. 1151) and a treatise on planetary conjunctions and their affects on the
worlds great religions and dynasties (Abu Mashar 1994; Albumasar 1489). Alber-
tus Magnus was among the first to make extensive use of Adelards translation.
For Albertus, as for his student Thomas Aquinas, the question was how to
reconcile astral influences with human free will. Aquinas addressed the question
in his Summa Theologica (Aquinas 1911, Part1, Question 95, Article 5) and con-
cluded that divination by the stars cannot be held illicit or inaccurate because
humans lack free will when they let themselves be governed by the passions
rather than their reason. Abu Ma'shar also wrote a popular history of astrology
and its role in predicting the course of history, Kitab al-milal wa-l-duwal (The
Book of Religions and Dynasties), which was read and cited by scholars like
Roger Bacon (12141294) (Abu Mashar 2000). In Persia itself and in countries to
its east, Omar Khayyam (10481131) was arguably more influential than Abu
Ma'shar, on whose work he built. Though he is known in the West for his poetic
quatrains, or Rubaiyat, notably in the English translation by Edward Fitzgerald,
he is also known as the person who reformed the Iranian calendar, as it is still
used, and who presented proofs for the heliocentric view of the universe five
hundred years before Galileo.
Astrologers, like poets, depended on the patronage of noble or royal masters,
and they faced the same occupational hazard. If they said what the saw, rather
than what their patrons wanted them to see, they risked banishment or worse.
Omar Khayyam lost his position as royal astrologer when one ruler died and was
succeeded by a man who did not like his forecasts. Similarly kings often collected
whole bands of astrologers about them, such as Daniel encountered at the court
of Nebuchadnezzar. They were especially taken to the practice of casting nativ-
ities, that is, charts based on the hour and place of ones birth (Abu Ali Al-Khyyat
1988). One notably large and productive group of astrologers was in Toledo,
during the reign of Alfonso X (12211284), variously known as El Sabio and El
Astrolgo (the wise and the astrologer). Alfonso is credited with the so-called
Tablas Alfonses, credit he of course shared with the Islamic astrologers and
Jewish translators working for him. These tables were widely used in calculating
the position of the sun and moon relative to the five known planets. Another large
group was gathered in the court of Charles V of France (13371380), who, like
Alfonso, commissioned translations of astrological works and amassed a large
library of books on the subject. Astrological calculations even played a role in

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Astrology, Alchemy and other Occult Sciences 109

Church polemics during the Reformation, as Catholics and Protestants interpreted

the same astronomical events to support their different causes.
Although astrology had much of the popular appeal in the Middle Ages that it
has for readers of tabloids today, the people who made the calculations and made
the predictions were of a more serious bent altogether. Many were faithful
observers of the heavens, carefully trained in calculations. Indeed, astrologers
were often called mathematicians (mathematici). Even the most scientific of them
were expected to prepare horoscopes and determine auspicious times for impor-
tant events like coronations. Just as their brothers at court, the alchemists, were
usually interested in more than trying to make gold from lesser metals, astrolo-
gers had reason to think there were greater secrets in the heavens than the
outcome of a battle.

C Alchemy
In the same way that the word astrology became the ill-reputed accomplice
of the younger word astronomy, alchemy has come to be known as the
dark past out of which modern chemistry emerged. In fact, the Latin words
alchemia and chemia were practically interchangeable in the Middle Ages,
much as was true of astrologia and astronomia. The word alchemy simply
adds the Arabic definite article al to the Greek word khemia. When the distinc-
tion began to take hold, in the seventeenth century, chemistry was understood
to focus on the chemicals themselves, while alchemy was regarded as a cosmic
science, concerned with the relations between chemicals and other orders of
being, whether in the sublunary world or the superlunary one. Chemistry
sought increasingly scientific language, of elements and formulas, while al-
chemy was always a matter of enigmas, depending on metaphoric language and
archetypal imagery.
Like astrology, alchemy has a long history. It was practiced in Babylon
(Eliade 1937), and was brought to Egypt, where it too reached its ancient apogee.
From there it passed into the Byzantine and Islamic worlds, where it was refined
during the first millennium B.C.E. It reached Europe only in the twelfth century,
when the first texts were translated from Arabic. There was a great deal of
confusion over names, for some Arabic texts like the Turba Philosophorum (Gath-
ering of philosophers) put chemical ideas and teachings in the mouths of people
with the names of ancient Greek philosophers like Aristo (i.e., Aristotle) (The
Turba Philosophorum 1896; Plessner 1975). Meanwhile, writings published under
the name Geber included theories found nowhere in the authentic writings of the
alchemist Jbir ibn Hayyn (ca. 731ca. 815)statements so hard to decipher that

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110 Thomas Willard

the name Geber was said, wrongly though suggestively, to have been the source
of the English word gibberish.
Most students of alchemy in the Middle Ages also studied astrology, con-
vinced that there was a vital correspondence between the planets and metals.
They referred to their opus magnum or great work as the operatio solis or
operation of the sun. Many of them began the work when the sun was in
Aries, and not a few consulted an ephemerides if not an astrologer to determine
the optimal date on which to begin. They believed that the spirit of Mercury or
Venus was present in the metal of that name as well as in the planet. Indeed,
they seem to have entered into dialogue with the substances they hoped to
createmost notably the lapis philosophorum or philosophers stone, which
could transmute metals and produce powerful elixirs. For alchemical texts
sometimes used the rhetorical device of prosopopoeia, in which the alchemical
philosopher spoke for the stone or another substance, as though it was speaking
to him and revealing its secrets. Alchemists also appealed to the spirits of the
elements or elementals, widely known in medieval folklore: the salamanders
who lived in fire, the sylphs who lived in air, the nymphs or undines who lived
in water, and the gnomes or pygmies who lived in earth. The names were not
standardized until the sixteenth century, with Paracelsus (14931542) and Agrip-
pa, but the concepts were present long before.
One major difference between astrology and alchemy in the Middle Ages was
in the relative ease of measuring change. It was easier to measure distances
between heavenly objects, using the naked eye or the astrolabe, first made in
Classical Greece but used extensively in the Islamic world and in medieval
Europe. It was harder to measure changes in metals and other substances as they
were heated and cooled, for one could only observe changes in color or transi-
tions from solid to liquid to gas. The first instrument to measure changes of
temperature in any kind of systematic way, the thermoscope, was invented by
Galileo in the late sixteenth century, and the modern thermometer was invented
by Daniel Fahrenheit in the eighteenth century. Before that, classification barely
went past what Aristotle, who described four qualities of things: hot, cold, moist,
and dry. From these conditions came four elements: fire, which was hot and dry;
air, which was hot and moist; water, which was cold and moist; and earth, which
was cold and dry (Meteorology, 1.3; 399a341a). It followed that one thing could
be turned into another by altering the qualities, for Aristotle held that all material
things were of a single substance. In the eighth century, Jabir modified Aristotles
position by positing the principles of sulphur and mercury as the basis of trans-
mutation (Jbir ibn Hayyn 1923; Kraus 1986, 30516). However, it remained for
Robert Boyle to propose a sound theory of mixed bodies in the late seventeenth

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Astrology, Alchemy and other Occult Sciences 111

From the beginnings of their art into the seventeenth century, alchemists took
to discussing the realm of metals by analogy to the vegetable and animal king-
doms. Like vegetables, metals were alive, producing seeds that could be culti-
vated (Eliade 1962, 16978). Like animals, they could mate and reproduce. From
earliest times, some metals were considered male, others female. Babylonian
metallurgists based the distinctions on color (Eliade 1937). Their Greek and
Egyptian counterparts may have used other criteria. In any event, the classifica-
tions brought the metals into a harmonious, homologous world picture, which
the Middle Ages inherited as a set of cosmic correspondences between the seven
pure metals (gold, silver, quicksilver, copper, iron, tin, and lead) and the seven
planets in the Ptolemaic system (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter,
Saturn). The associations extended to the deities whose names were attached to
the true planets, while Apollo was identified with the Sun and Diana with the
Moon. Alchemy was thus a cosmological science from the beginning, associated
with astrology and other arts. Because the human being was considered the
epitome of creation, the Microcosm that contained the Macrocosm in miniature,
there were further correspondences between the heavenly bodies and the human
body, which became important to medieval medicine. Moreover, there were
correspondences between the planets or metals and the different parts of the
human body and the parts of the hand, developed in the popular art of palmistry,
also known as cheiromancy. There were even correspondences with the seven
notes on the heptatonic scale in music.
Once metals were considered to be living substances, they were subject to
torture and even sacrifice at the hands of chemists, followed by death and some-
times by rebirth in new bodies (Eliade 2007; Newman 2004). Sometimes they
would be reduced to waste substances, known in the Middle Ages as the caput
mortuum (dead head; Abraham 1998, 31). This anthropomorphic view of metals
led to a good deal of mythologizing. Because mercury volatilized when heated, it
really was mercuric, as though it had the powers of Mercury, the gods messenger.
Christian alchemists regarded the ascent to heaven as a sign that mercury or the
substance made from it was a sort of chemical Christ (Jung 1968, 345431). The
medieval penchant for allegoryliterally another way of speaking about some-
thing, employed even in Christian Scripture (Galatians 2: 24)prompted alche-
mists to seek clues in all they read. There were thus alchemical interpretations of
Classical authors like Virgil and Ovid (Willard 2006), and extensive use of myths
such as the labors of Hercules and the Argonauts quest of the Golden Fleece
(Faivre 1990). Inclusion of the Bible alongside the pagan myths led Church
officials to denounce alchemy as a heresy. Such charges made the sages all the
more likely to obfuscate. As a result, alchemy developed an especially elaborate
system of symbolic correspondences (Abraham 1998).

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112 Thomas Willard

The first important texts of Western alchemy are on papyri discovered in

Alexandria in the early nineteenth century and known collectively as the Leiden
Papyri (Berthelot 1885; Caley 1926). Written in demotic Greek and compiled in
Egypt during the sixth century C.E. and perhaps earlier, the texts cover a wide
range of occult practices, including magical rites, but show considerable knowl-
edge of metallurgy and distillation and the equipment involved. A Jewish woman
named Miriam and later called Maria Prophetissima may well be the first chemist
known by name. She is said to have lived in Alexandria, to have taught younger
chemists, and to have invented such apparatus as the still and the water bath
(known as the bain-marie from the Latin balneum Mariae; Abraham 1998, 15). She
is attributed with a number of cryptic sayingsfor example, Join the male to the
female and you will find what is sought. She is mentioned in the writings of
Zosimos of Panopolis (present day Akhmim), the most advanced of the Byzantine
alchemists (Patai 1994, 8191). Zosimos, who probably wrote in the fourth century
C.E., described chemical processes in detail, while using analogies from mythol-
ogy and mystery religions, and achieved a memorable style (Lendle 1992).
Arabic alchemy began with the writings of Jbir (Latinized as Geber) in the
late eighth century. Many Arabic texts under his name seem to be the work of an
Islamic sect known as the Ikhwan al-Safa (Brethren of Purity), who gathered in
Basra in the tenth century (Newman 1991). The Jabirist teachings about the
composition of metals from principles known as sulfur and mercury persisted into
modern times, with sulfur giving metals their color, smell, and flammability while
mercury gave them weight and fusibility. The two-principle theory was based
ultimately on the teaching of Aristotle about vapors arising from the earth
(Aristotle 1984, Meteorology, 2.4; 360ab), and was eventually supplemented by
Paracelsus with the third principle of salt, representing embodiment itself. It must
be understood that these were principles rather than the modern chemicals
known by these names and represented by the symbols Hg, S, and NaCl. They
were to be found in every substance to one degree or another, and the Arabic
alchemists made many advances in the study of metals and liquids. It must also
be understood that there was intellectual commerce throughout the Islamic
world, and that discoveries from Persia and perhaps points farther east flowed
through Arabia and the Maghrib into Spain and Western Europe. Similarly,
Jabirist texts were studied in Persia, especially by Sufi scholars interested in the
spiritual body and the spiritual world (Corbin 1986).
In 1144, an Englishman who had been translating works of Arabic mathe-
matics and astrology into Latin translated two Arabic treatises on alchemy. They
contained teachings attributed to a Christian hermit who had studied with Ste-
phanos of Alexandria, a philosopher in the court of Heraclius (610641), to whom
works of Greek alchemy were attributed (Linden 2003, 5460). According to one

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Astrology, Alchemy and other Occult Sciences 113

text, Morienus came to Damascus at the request of Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Muawiyya
(661704), a prince of the Umayyad Caliphate and the putative founder of Arabic
alchemy (Stavenhagen 1974; Linden 2003, 7180). Jabir was said to have con-
sulted translations that Khalid made or commissioned. In turn, the translations
that brought the ideas of Morienus to a European audience created a demand for
further texts of what became known as alchemy (literally, the chemistry). These
included treatises by the Arabic alchemist Zadith Senior (Muhammed ibn Umail
al-Tamimi, ca. 900ca. 960) and the Persian physicians and alchemists known as
Rhazes (Abu-Bakr Muhammed ibn Zakariya Al-Razi, ca. 845ca. 930) and Avicen-
na (Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abd Allah ibn Sina, ca. 980ca. 1037; Linden 2003, 95
98). A collection of sayings attributed to ancient philosophers like Aristotle and
Demoncritus was translated as Turba Philosophorum (The Crowd of Philoso-
phers) and became one of the most influential books of alchemy (Ruska 1924;
Plessner 1975).
However, it was Jbir, under the Latin name Geber, who became the most
representative of Arabic alchemists for readers in the West. Many empirical texts
were written attributed to him, either by translators or by writers of new works he
inspired. The followers became known as Gebers cooks. Paul of Taranto, a
Franciscan friar, compiled a group of Jabirist texts under the title Theoria et
Practica (Theory and practice), several of which he may have composed him-
self. Attributions to Geber by Western alchemists, like those to Jabir by Brethren
of Purity and others in the East, were not made to conceal the authors identity as
to reveal their affiliations and express indebtedness (Burkhardt 1960).
Texts of Latin alchemy tended to include the balance of theory and practice
found in the Theoria et Practica (Ganzenmller 1938). The theory was usually
much the same, grounded on the principles of Arabic alchemy and, behind those,
the sources in Greek alchemy and philosophy (Principe 2000). The practice,
however, took two different directions. Some writers focused on small discov-
eries: on the apparatus or the process or an alloy or a tincture or, increasingly, a
medicament. Others focused on what they saw as the goal of the art: on metamor-
phosis and the transmutation of metals, including but not limited to the making
of gold and the production of the essential agent of change, variously called their
stone or powder or elixir (the last word from the Arabic al-iksir). Still others
focused on the religious aspect of alchemy as the donum dei (gift of God): a
secret revealed only to the most pious. Many of the most celebrated treatises
touched on all of these.
Alchemical texts began to circulate in the names of Great European writers
Albertus Magnus and Ramon Llull (ca. 1235ca. 1315) were among the more promi-
nent. Some texts took on explicitly Christian themes, such as the Margarita Pretiosa
Novella (New pearl of great price) of Petrus Bonnus (14th century), which drew

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114 Thomas Willard

from a parable of Jesus (Matthew 13: 4546). They sometimes told personal stories
of long quests for the secret of alchemy, such as that of Nicolas Flamel (13301418),
a Paris scrivener who took years to discover the secrets in a manuscript he found at
a flea market (Linden 2003, 12335); or Bernardus Trevisanus (14061490), who
spent his whole inheritance and most of his life in search of the philosophers stone
(Linden 2003, 13640). The hard truth was that no alchemist provided simple step-
by-step directions. Working on the premise that God would enlighten the deserving
person, they wrote riddles and gave misdirections that only the most persistent
student, guided by the most learned elder, could possibly decipher (Coudert 1980).
As a consequence, their prose was ridiculously obscure, but their poetry purported
to contain truths hidden by the veils of allegory. Notable among such poets were
Jean de Meun (ca. 1240ca. 1305), who continued the dream-vision Roman de la
rose (Romance of the rose) originally composed by Guillaume de Lorris in ca.
1230/1240, and the English cleric George Ripley (14151490), who wrote a long
poem on the twelve stages or gates of alchemy (Ripley 1591).
Ripleys name became attached to a famous scroll combining verses and
illustrations and reproduced in several countries during the sixteenth century.
Alchemical illustration had begun to flourish during the fourteenth century
(Obrist 1982; Roberts 1994; Roob 2000; Battistini 2004), providing clues about
colors of metals and shapes of equipment in the alchemical laboratory while
developing mythic motifs (Evola 1948; Klossowski de Rola 1973).

D Other Occult Sciences

I.Hermeticism. When the Islamic texts of astrology and alchemy passed into
Europe, during the high Middle Ages, they brought with them the ancient myth of
the Egyptian Hermes, a teacher of great antiquity whose basic message was
summed up in the words of an emerald tablet found atop his miraculously
preserved corpse. The first line of the inscription is commonly summarized in the
words As above so below (Ruska 1926; Plessner 1954; Linden 2003, 2728). The
message was applied to a large body of writing known as the Corpus Hermeticum
(Hermetic corpus), recorded only in the early Christian centuries but claiming
great antiquity (Fowden 1986). Indeed, because Hermetic thought was largely a
revelation, passed on from initiatic father to initiated son son, a traditio mystica
soon developed in which every father was Hermes (Egyptian Thoth) addressing
his son That (Sint 1960, 6061). Before long, Hermes was putative founder of
Egyptian astrology, alchemy, and magic (Festugire 1967; Luck, 1985, 3637;
6164; Faivre 19851988). The major Hermetic writings reached Europe in 1484 in
the Latin translation by Marsilio Ficino (14331499), providing fuel for the Hu-

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Astrology, Alchemy and other Occult Sciences 115

manism of the Italian Renaissance; however, the name of Hermes Trismegistus,

the thrice-great teacher also known as Thoth the ibis-headed scribe of the Egyp-
tian gods, appeared frequently in both Arabic and Latin texts of alchemy. He was
sometimes called Idris in the Arabic textsi.e., the Islamic counterpart of Enoch
in Genesis 5: 24and thus identified with a prophet in the Quran (19.57, 21.85).
Arab writers on alchemy gave special veneration to him (Plessner 1954).
The major texts in the Corpus Hermeticum did not reach Western Europe until
the late fifteenth century. However, the Latin Aesclepius was available throughout
the Middle Ages (Hermetica 1992). St.Augustine in his City of God discussed it at
length, claiming that it revealed the truth of divine revelation while exposing the
falseness of the Egyptian religion and of pagan idols generally (Augustine 1972,
8.2223). The text is cast as a dialogue in which the semi-divine Hermes enlight-
ens Aesclepius and three other students about the nature of the universe and the
place of man within it. The overall message is positive and remarkably close to
what is found in the Bible, including the New Testament. As in the Psalms, God
has made man a little lower than the angels (8: 5) and has made the heavens to
declare His glory (19: 1); as in the Epistles, He has made it possible for man to
know the invisible truths of creation through the things that are made (Romans 1:
20). All this seemed quite remarkable to medieval readers, who thought that
Hermes was almost as old as Moses if not older. It was not until the seventeenth
century that the Hermetic writings were dated to the fourth or fifth centuries
(Yates 1964). Details known only in Byzantium during the Middle Ages were
collected by Macedonian scholar Joannes Stobaeus in the fifth century. The truth
of the matter probably lies somewhere in between, as the writings may well
contain knowledge that was once passed down through oral tradition, from the
adept to the initiate.

II.Kabbalah. The word Kabbalah, variously spelt, has the basic meaning of
reception or tradition. It refers to an oral tradition in Judaisma tradition
dating back to the Old Testament Apocrypha and the tradition that Ezra hid
seventy books of divinely inspired wisdom for which humans were not ready
(2Esdras 14: 3648). Such wisdom was said to form an oral Torah (instruction)
that was passed down by enlightened rabbis and that formed a mystical counter-
part to the scriptural commentary in Talmud. The major texts of Kabbalah were
written in Spain during the eleventh through thirteenth centuriesthe very time
at which the major texts of Arabic astrology and alchemy were being translated
into Latin, often with the assistance of Jewish scholars whose knowledge of
Aramaic gave them a distinct advantage. However, some of the concepts found in
the earliest of these texts also appear in documents dating back to the sixth

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116 Thomas Willard

Perhaps the most basic concept is that of emanation. The early Sefer
Yetzirah (Book of Formation) describes the whole creation as having ema-
nated from a single point in the mind of God (Matt 1994), through a process
which modern rabbis have likened to the Big Bang theory in cosmology. The ten
emanations (sephira) represent the major qualities of God; however, they are
also the qualities of humanity, for they are arranged to form the body of the
primordial man, Adam Kadmon. They also form the tree of life, and the lines
between one emanation (sephiroth) represent the letters of the Hebrew alphabet,
in which the Torah is written. The world is thus a physical expression of Gods
Word (dabar) as it was conceived before He said, Let there be light. Much of
the work in later books of Kabbalah, such as the Zohar (Splendor) attributed
to Moses of Leon (ca. 12501305), attempted to work out the connections
between the written Torah and the mystical teachings of God through his
emanations (Zohar 1949).
The possibility of a connection between Scripture and nature had a strong
appeal to Christians, who had long celebrated the parallels between the books of
God and nature (Curtius 1948, 311326). Christians developed their own Kabbalah
in the later Middle Ages and began studying Hebrew, convinced that they would
then be able to convert the Jews or at least better understand the Hebrew
Scriptures (McGinn 1995). Kabbalistic ideas also appealed to Muslims. In Cordo-
ba, the Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi (11651240) envisioned three concentric spheres
beyond the fixed stars. He identified the first as starless sky and the others as the
pedestal and throne of God. From these higher spheres, qualities like the Kabba-
listic sephira flowed through the visible heavens, conveying a different divine
name and quality to each of the seven planetary bodies; and from there they
flowed to the earth below. The totality of qualities, as shaped by the planets and
changing through the phases of the moon, made up the complete or cosmic man
(Burkhardt 1950). Meanwhile, realizing that the constellations were moving
through the zodiac signs, as a result of the precession of the equinox, he
estimated the length of each zodiacal age, ranging from 1000years for Pisces to
12,000 for Aries, or a total of 78,000. More practically, he calculated the length of
the reciprocal positions of the sun and moon, which, he said, repeated themselves
every eighteen years.
Meanwhile, Kabbalism promoted new interest in astrology and especially
alchemy among Jewish scholars (Patai 1994; Scholem 1974 and 2006). For alche-
mists, the ten sephira contained the elements of fire, air, and water; for astrolo-
gers, they contained the four cardinal directions as well as what was above and
below; and for both they contained the concept of the cosmic center. Kabbalism
also sparked new interest in numbers.

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Astrology, Alchemy and other Occult Sciences 117

III.Numerology. In their scriptural exegesis, Kabbalists often relied on gematria,

a term that may have derived from Greek geometria. Gematria assigned numerical
values to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and Kabbalists used these numbers
to calculate the meanings of words. If two words with distinct denotations had
the same numerical value, then there was a kind of equivalence between them.
Through Kabbalah, rabbis determined that the three men who visited Abraham
in Genesis 18: 2 were in fact the angels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. There was
a similar system in ancient Greek, which, for example, used the first ten letters of
the alphabet to represent the numbers 110 and the next nine letters to represent
the numbers 20100. Christian theologians knew about gematria from the num-
ber of the beast (Revelation 13: 18); they calculated the number 666 to represent
KAISER NERON (Emperor Nero), using the values of the letters when they were
transposed into Hebrew.
Most numerology was far simpler. The number 1 represented unity; 2, duality;
3, the Trinity or spiritual order; 4, the cardinal directions or physical order; and so
forth. There were six days of creation and seven days of the week, including the
Sabbath. There were ten commandments and twelve tribes of Israel or disciples of
Jesus, the number 12 being the product of 3x4. Medieval numerology was largely
the legacy of Pythagoras and Plato (Hopper 1938), though it had been popularized
in writings by the Church Fathers. Augustine, for example, wrote that the creation
occurred in six days because 6 is the first perfect number (1+2+3). The study of
number dominated the medieval education in the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geo-
metry, music, and astronomy), the counterpart of the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric,
and logic), and even in the verbal arts numbers figured in such areas as prosody
or versification, which constituted the fourth part of grammar. Astrologers
learned numerology from late Classical works like the commentary on Ciceros
Somnium Scipionis (Dream of Scipio), written by Macrobius in the fourth century
C.E. Their prognostications often relied on numerological associations (Lucas
2003). Alchemists, meanwhile, took clues from the magic square of Jabir al
Hayyam (Laszlo 1996, 3032). They also drew upon geomancy (Skinner 1980), a
form of divination based on random arrangements on the ground, and not unlike
Chinese feng shui. Here too number was important, as in the weights and quan-
tities of substances they used in their laboratories.

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118 Thomas Willard

E Conclusion
With the advent of printing in the 1450s, texts became more available than ever
before. Within a century, classic texts of astrology were available as well as new
almanacs and ephemerides to assist the makers of horoscopes. Similarly, classic
works of alchemy were issued in Latin followed by texts in the vernacular
languages. Perhaps the first vernacular text of alchemy, the Rosarium Philoso-
phorum (Philosophers Rose Garden), written in German with Latin sayings
after the model of the Turba Philosophorum, was published in 1550 (Rosarium
Philosophorum 1992). Soon afterwards, anthologies of alchemical texts began to
appear, first in Latin during the sixteenth century, and then in English, French,
and German in the centuries following. Meanwhile, large general studies of
natural magic, such as Cornelius Agrippas, drew together information from a
wide range of occult sciences, including numerology and divination.
The term occult sciences is useful as a reminder that practices as distinct
as alchemy and astrology were ultimately parts of a larger cosmological science
or outlook. This sort of science is often termed pseudoscience today because it
does not displayindeed often flauntsthe criteria of the scientific method,
such as communicable procedures and reproducible results. Alternately, it is
called pre-science because it led the way toward modern scientific methodology
and knowledge. Historians of science have long approached medieval alchemy
and astrology, along with related studies, from the outside, emphasizing what
made them different from the modern counterparts in chemistry, astronomy, etc.
However, the last century has seen increasing efforts to understand them from
inside and thus to recognize how they were explained and taught in times past
and what they did aim to achieve, as well as what they happened to discover
(Powrie 2010).
Meanwhile, some historians of science and technology have challenged the
conventional dating of the Middle Ages. One leading authority has argued that
medieval ideas about magic and experimental science did not die out in the
fourteenth or fifteenth century but persisted up to the Enlightenment in the
seventeenth century and the industrial revolution in the eighteenth (Thorndike
1958). The concept of occult or hidden sciences is not unique to the Middle Ages; it
would persist through later centuries up to the present, just as as it has been traced
back to the beginnings of recorded history. Nevertheless, the sciences of alchemy
especially and astrology to a lesser extent became defined during the late Middle
Ages in ways that have remained fundamentally unchanged in subsequent cen-
turies. In the language of alchemy, the ideas and observations of the ancient world
and the Islamic world may be said to have been tried in the fire of European
experimenters, and to have been transmuted in the alembic of their writing.

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Select Bibliography
Aquinas, Thomas, Aurora Consurgens, ed. Mariel-Louise von Franz, trans. R. F. C.Hull and

A. S. B.Gliover (New York 1966).

Corsetti, Jean-Paul, Lhistoire de sotrisme et des sciences occultes (Paris 1992).

Coudert, Allison P., Alchemy: The Philosophers Stone (Boulder, CO, 1980).
Ferngren, Gary, ed., The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition: An Encyclopedia
(New York and London 2000).
Klossowski de Rola, Stanislaus, Alchemy (London 1973).
Turner, Howard R., Science in Medieval Islam: An Illustrated Introduction (Austin, TX, 1997).

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A Astronomy, Astrology and the Spread of

Astronomical Knowledge
The clear distinction between astronomy and astrology is a modern one, and
therefore it is impossible to separate them when describing medieval concepts of
the stars and the universe. However, it is possible to distinguish medieval physi-
cal concepts of the cosmos from ideas about divination, which is the main
purpose of astrology. This article only refers to the scientific discourses and their
cultural implications for medieval society (for astrology, i.e., the occult sciences,
see the contribution to this Handbook by Thomas Willard).
In the medieval world view, the universe was an intrinsic part of Gods
creation, and the forces that moved the stars also influenced human existence.
This was particularly true in the Neo-Platonic concept of the world, which was
most influential in high- and late-medieval thought. In contrast, in late antiquity
and the early Middle Ages, Christian thinkers and especially the Church Fathers
criticized the idea that a connection between human life and the stars existed. In
their perspective, such a proposition contradicted the concept of individual free
will, and therefore orthodox Christians rejected any study of the stars that inter-
preted them as having meaning for a persons life course. St.Augustine (354
430) reflected on his own experiences with astrology in his Confessions: By now I
had also rejected the lying divinations and impious absurdities of the mathemati-
cians; here, the word mathematicians refers to astrologers (Augustine 1992, 60
[7, 6]). Looking at the Church Fathers position, one could argue that astronomy
and astrology were first distinguished from each other because the early Chris-
tians criticized divination; however, the medieval approach to the stars did not
strictly distinguish astronomy from astrology.
Most influential religious authorities in both the Christian Latin West and the
Muslim-Arab East condemned astrology because foretelling the future contra-
dicted not only the concept of free will, but doubted Gods own ability to intervene
in the course of his creation. On both sides of the Mediterranean, though,
religious reservations did not ultimately have much effect, and during the entire
Middle Ages, astronomical knowledge remained of interest because the stars
provided life guidance and foretold the future. However, the theological problem
was of increasing interest in medieval society, and beginning in the high Middle
Ages, Western theologians reconciled both ways of thinking about the heavens by

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Astronomy 121

conceiving of a two-layered creation inspired by Platonic ideas (for this, see D

There was also a more practical use of astronomical knowledge. A study of
the stars enabled people to determine time and the change of the seasons, which
meant it was highly useful for pre-modern agricultural production. It is difficult to
grasp the extent of such astronomical knowledge in daily life as it was not related
to written intellectual culture, but to an oral tradition of farmers and rural people.
But there is little doubt that pagan societies in Europe shared an interest in the
stars and especially examined the movement of the sun. The origins of many later
Christian festivities and saints days can be traced back to special days in the solar
calendar (McCluskey 1997, 320; McCluskey 1998).
It is much easier to evaluate the intellectual and written discourse on the stars
during the Middle Ages. Astronomy was an integral part of medieval education.
Since antiquity, it was regarded as part of the seven liberal arts. Isidore of Seville
(ca. 560636) identified it as one of the seven liberal arts, as the seventh,
Astronomy, that includes the laws of the stars. Together with Arithmetic, Music,
and Geometry it formed the quadrivium (Isidore of Seville 1850, 74 [1,2]). These
four arts were based in mathematics, in contrast to the trivium (Grammar,
Rhetoric, Logic), which were based in speech, and therefore they were the
foundations of science, in the modern sense of the word. However, in
Boethiuss (ca. 475/480524) codification of the quadrivium in the early sixth
century, astronomy did not play a major role, and thus much of the antique
knowledge was lost. This holds especially true for Greek writings, since the
knowledge of Greek was neither central to the Occidental church nor to learning
in the West in general (Grant 1977, 1112; Masi, ed., 1981; Hoskin 1997b, 68;
Hoskin and Gingerich 1999b, 6869). However, the Latin commentary on Ambro-
sius by Theodosius Macrobius (early fifth century), a popular handbook on
astronomy, was available to the medieval Occident (Httig 1990). Therein, Pla-
tonic and Pythagorean ideas were explained and became part of the basic astro-
nomical knowledge of the Middle Ages (as to this cosmological model, see C
Older scholarly research tends to stress the scarcity of early medieval astro-
nomical knowledge. In this view, Christians in the West only needed enough
knowledge of astronomy to determine the date of Easter in any given year, so
some ecclesiastics were therefore needed who could understand something of
the course of the stars (Pannekoek 1961, 173). This somewhat negative stance
toward early medieval astronomy has been corrected in recent decades by scho-
lars who have focused on this topic in general and on the Carolingian Renais-
sance in particular. Recent research has shown that there were two main reasons
for the interest in astronomy. The first one was the wish to master the computus

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122 Romedio Schmitz-Esser

and that meant getting the calendar right. This was indeed especially important
for determining the date of Easter, since Easter and the whole complex of
important dates surrounding Easter in the religious calendar such as Good Friday,
Palm Sunday, Pentecost, and the Lent period before Easter, were dependent on
the cycle of the moon. Thus, the determination of the date of Easter became a
complex astronomical problem (Warntjes and Crinn, ed., 2011; as to its
calculation, cf. Grotefend 1991, 48). The second reason for an interest in astro-
nomical knowledge was the worry about the correct times for prayer. In monas-
teries, the correct time for prayer was crucial, since monastic rules like those
attributed to St. Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480ca. 560) dictated regular and punctu-
al services in the communitys church. Chapter43 of the rules states that as soon
as the sign for the hour of service is heard, you should leave everything that is in
your hands and haste to come together, since nothing shall be more important
than the service to God. In chapter47, the abbot is ordered to oversee that the
sign for prayer is punctual so that all can be done at the fixed time (Die Regel
des heiligen Benedictus 1984, 20716; 23132; 234 [chpt. 820, 43, 47]). In daily
life, this not only resulted in the search for ways to measure time during the day
by observing the sun, but since some of the prayer times were at night, the stars
and the night sky were important as well (Hoskin 1997b, 71; Hoskin and Gingerich
1999b, 7172). Since the correct liturgy (and, as part of this, the correct time for
liturgical ceremony) was a major concern of the Carolingian reforms, the interest
in astronomy was especially great in the monasteries. Manuscripts that provided
astronomical knowledge were not only copied, but systematically circulated, in
the Frankish Empire and beyond. They not only provided knowledge to serve
communities liturgical needs, but also sparked widespread discussions about the
movements of the stars in general (see section C below). Scholars like the Vener-
able Bede (673/4735), Alcuin (ca. 730804), and Notker of St. Gall (ca. 840912)
engaged in astronomical research. Bede wrote the definitive treatise on the Easter
calculation in 725, thus providing a solution to the problem of this moveable
feasts date for centuries to come (Borst 1990; Warntjes 2010).
However, the medieval knowledge of astronomy was not nearly as good as it
was in antiquity, since the Greek treatises were not yet translated into Latin. The
situation south and east of the Mediterranean was very different. Since its con-
quest of huge parts of the Byzantine Empire, the Arabic and Islamic world had
shown great interest in Greek astronomy and developed the science still further.
Caliph Harun ar-Rashid (766809) and his successors sent agents to the Byzan-
tine Empire to buy Greek manuscripts. In Baghdad, a school cared for the transla-
tion of learned texts. Moreover, the spread of Islam to the borders of India
introduced the Islamic world to Indian approaches to astrology, although the
Indian tradition never became as influential as the Greek tradition. Liturgical

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Astronomy 123

calendar problems made astronomy a useful tool in the Muslim world: astronom-
ical knowledge enabled the calculation of the Islamic lunar calendar, helped to
establish daily prayer times, and indicated the direction of Mecca for the daily
exercises of the faithful. Although the Islamic worlds reasons for pursuing
astronomical knowledge were similar to those of the medieval West, the scale and
sophistication of this science achieved a completely different level in the East. In
big cities like Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova, and Toledo, astronomers used tools that
were developed from, and improvements upon, Greek models. Ptolemys Alma-
gest (second century B.C.E.), which was translated into Arabic several times
beginning in the eighth century, was discussed and reevaluated on the basis of
own experiences by astronomers such as Muhammad al-Battani (858929) in the
early tenth century (Berry 1899, 7681; Hartner 1977; Gingerich 1992a, 4547; 52;
Hoskin and Gingerich 1997, 5263; Hoskin and Gingerich 1999a, 5155). One
astronomer from Baghdad was Ahmad al-Fargani (ninth century); his work Ele-
ments (Jawami) was translated by John of Seville (twelfth century) and again, two
decades later, by Gerard of Cremona (ca. 11141187). Gerard helped spread Ptol-
emys ideas of an Earth-centered cosmos, and al-Farganis work influenced Dante
Alighieris (12651321) cosmography in the Divina Commedia (Gingerich 1992a, 45;
Dante Alighieri 1999).
When these sophisticated Arabic studies finally made their way into the
Christian West, they had a major impact on Western astronomy. Spain (and, to a
lesser degree, Sicily) were centers for the translation and spread of astronomical
knowledge. One scholar whose work demonstrates this Arabic influence is Ger-
bert of Aurillac (ca. 9501003), the later Pope Sylvester II, who was very inter-
ested in this science and went to Spain in order to study it. When he returned to
France, he became the head of the cathedral school of Reims (Lindgren 1976;
Borrelli 2008, 68; Montecchio 2011, 2334). In the first half of the twelfth century,
the influence of Arabic astronomy grew. For example, Adelard of Bath (ca. 1070
after 1146) went to Spain and translated the astronomical tables of Musa al-
Khwarizmi (flourished 80047) and the work of Abu Masar (Albumazar; 787886)
(Suter, ed., 1914; Bliemetzrieder 1935; Neugebauer, trans., 1962; Burnett 1987;
Yamamoto 2007). In the second half of the century, Gerhard of Cremona trans-
lated into Latin works like Ptolemys Almagest and the Toledan Tables of Ibn
al-Zarqiyal (d. 1100). First Latin translations of authors like Aristotle (384322
B.C.E.), Archimedes (ca. 287212 B.C.E.), and Euclid (flourished ca. 300 B.C.E.)
subsequently spread throughout the West. The Toledan Tables stimulated an
interest in astronomy among scholars, since they predicted the planetary posi-
tions for any given moment in time, predictions that could be verified by direct
visual experience (Mercier 1987). The Alfonsine Tables, compiled in Toledo in
1252 by Jewish and Christian astronomers appointed by Alfonso X (12211284),

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124 Romedio Schmitz-Esser

which predicted the planetary motions with even greater precision, replaced the
Toledan Tables (Poulle 1984; Gingerich 1992b; some scholars do not believe that
the Alfonsine Tables originated in Spain and believe them to be of French origin;
Hoskin and Gingerich 1999b, 78).
These works were much discussed in the emerging European universities,
especially in Paris. In the universities, there was an effort to improve the status of
the liberal arts in relation to that of theology. The works of Aristotle received
special attention, since they were independent of, but not necessarily opposed to,
the canonical Christian scriptures and therefore opened up fresh perspectives on
science (Hoskin 1997b, 75; Hoskin and Gingerich 1999b, 7475). Many outstand-
ing authorities on astronomy were members of the new mendicant orders and at
the same time erudite, renowned scholars of theology. Two famous Dominican
friars became especially important for the course of astronomy during the thir-
teenth century: Albertus Magnus (ca. 120080) and Thomas Aquinas (1224/1225
1274) referred to Aristotle and Ptolemy in their writings, and Thomas Aquinas
proposed a cosmology that reconciled Aristotelian ideas with Christian theology.
On the British Isles, the Franciscan friar Roger Bacon (ca. 1219ca. 1292) and John
of Holywood (Sacrobosco; thirteenth century) became important scholars with
major interests in astronomy. John, who taught in Paris and died there in 1256,
wrote several short works on astronomy, compiling the astronomical knowledge
of the time into texts for students; his works became most influential in the later
Middle Ages (Pannekoek 1961, 175; Pedersen 1985; Hoskin 1997b, 7577; Hoskin
and Gingerich 1999b, 7578).
The next stage of development in the science of astronomy was triggered in
the fifteenth century by the Renaissance interest in learned texts from antiquity.
Greek and Byzantine knowledge about astronomy came to the West. In particular,
the expansion of the Ottoman Turks forced the learned Byzantine elite to flee to
Italy, often with their libraries. The visit of the Greek scholar Cardinal Bessarion
(14031472) to Vienna, for example, aroused the interest of Georg Peurbach (1421/
14231461) and his assistant Johann Mller of Knigsberg (14361476) from
Franconia in such texts, and they tried to get a more accurate manuscript of
Ptolemys writings by comparing and studying Greek manuscripts. Later, Johann
Mller, better known by his humanistic pseudonym Regiomontanus, established
a learned circle in Nuremberg and became one of the most influential German
astronomers of the time (Zinner 1938). Christopher Columbus (ca. 14511506) took
one of Regiomontanuss books with him on his fourth voyage. He used the book
to predict a lunar eclipse on 29February 1504, a prediction that helped him to
impress the hostile natives of Jamaica. He told them that the eclipse was a sign
that his God would punish them if they did not provide him and his men with
food. The account, attributed to Columbuss son Fernando (14881539), recounts

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Astronomy 125

the story and concludes that after Columbus prayed to God and the eclipse had
reached its climax, he told the Indians that his God was willing to pardon them:
From that time forward they were always careful to provide us with what we
needed, continually praising the Christians God, because they believed that the
eclipses they had seen in the past were to harm them, and not knowing what
caused them or that they occurred at certain intervals, and believing too that no-
one on earth could know what would happen in the heavens, they were certain
that the Christians God must have revealed it to the admiral (Coln 2004, 223
[chpt. 103]). Astronomy was a handy tool for European expansion, as the knowl-
edge provided by handbooks like those of Regiomontanus could impress at least
some native tribesmen of the Caribbean.
At the end of the century, Copernicusthat is, Niklas Koppernigk (1473
1543), born at Torun (Poland)paved the way for radical new approaches to
astronomy. He did not believe that the earth was the center of the universe, but
instead favored a heliocentric model. In his opinion, the universe had multiple
centers of rotation: the moon revolved around the earth and the planets revolved
around the sun (Blumenberg 1965; Schmeidler 1970; Zinner 1988). There is a
scholarly debate regarding whether or not Copernicus was influenced by the
critics of Ptolemaic cosmology by Islamic scholars, namely Ibn al-Shatir (1304
1375). However, in the light of the immense importance of Arab astronomy on the
medieval West, this may not be the important point here. As Owen Gingerich has
remarked, the whole idea of criticizing Ptolemy and eliminating the equant is
part of the climate of opinion inherited by the Latin West from the Islam
(Gingerich 1992a, 55).
Thanks to developments in knowledge and technology in the late Middle
Ages, astronomy increasingly became part of the medieval travel experience
(Schechner 2008). In the nautical sciences, astronomy helped in cartography and
the navigation of ships. Stars had always been important for navigation at sea,
but they became even more important by the late medieval and early modern
epoch. Although instruments like the astrolabe were well known, it was not until
the late medieval period that astrolabes were used on ships (Paselk 2008). In this
sense, the mainly theoretical disputes on astronomy in the high and late Middle
Ages set the foundations for the European expansion of the early modern period.
Astronomical knowledge and instruments were increasingly put to practical use
in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The discoveries that resulted from this
practical knowledge of astronomy in turn increased the knowledge about astron-
omy to an extent that would have been unthinkable within the mainly theoretical
discourse of the Middle Ages.

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126 Romedio Schmitz-Esser

B Astronomical Instruments
The major contribution of medieval astronomers to modern astronomy was the
invention of astronomical instruments (for a bibliographically rich research over-
view on astronomical instruments, cf. King 2010). These instruments could be as
simple as the viewing pipe (or viewing staff), an instrument that helped the
observer to concentrate on one celestial object at a time. On p.43, the Carolingian
cod. 18 from the Stiftsbibliothek at St. Gall depicts a monk using such an instru-
ment in his observation of the stars (Zinner 1979, 21415; Euw 1989, 2223).
The most important medieval astronomical instrument was the astrolabe.
This instrument is comprised of a disk with a ring on top (so that the instrument
can be suspended), and an observing bar that rotates about a pin in the disks
center, used for measuring (Hoskin 1997a; Hoskin 1999). It was widely used by
Islamic astronomers, and many Arabic star names became part of the learned
language of this science in the West. These names were not only transmitted
through written texts, but through the epigraphic writing on the astrolabes
themselves. For example, two astrolabes from the fourteenth century, today at
the Merton and Oriel Colleges of the University of Oxford, carry Latinized Arabic
star names (Gingerich 1992a, 4951; Gingerich 1993, 81114). Gerbert of Aurillac,
already mentioned above (see A), certainly encountered the astrolabe in Islamic
Spain and may have introduced it to Christian Europe. In the early eleventh
century, the instrument was known in the West, and Latin scholars like the
monk Hermannus Contractus, that is Hermann of Reichenau (10131054) and
Ascelin of Augsburg (early eleventh century) wrote treatises on its use. It
enabled astronomers in the West to measure the angle between the horizon and
the position of a heavenly body (Zinner 1979, 13545; Pannekoek 1961, 174;
Hoskin 1997b, 7273; Hoskin and Gingerich 1999b, 72; Borrelli 2008). Recent
research has scrutinized surviving astrolabes from the Middle Ages and the
Renaissance. There is some debate as to whether or not there were Carolingian
forerunners to high medieval astrolabes from the West; if so, astronomy might
have been influenced by an independent, surviving Roman tradition of such
instruments as well as an introduced Islamic one (King 2011; for Renaissance
astrolabes, cf. Turner 2003).
Another instrument was the old quadrant, a brass quarter-circle with a
plumb bob. This instrument was first used in Europe in the first half of the
thirteenth century to measure altitudes and was useful as a sundial at any
latitude. It was described in an encyclopedia compiled by the astronomers of
Alfonso X. The Montpellier astronomer Profatius the Jew, Jacob ben Machir (ca.
12361304), combined it with the astrolabe (Hoskin 1997b, 8081; Hoskin and
Gingerich 1999b, 7980; King 2010, 12728).

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Astronomy 127

For measuring the distance between two celestial objects, the cross staff was
widely used. The Jacobs staff was the most common instrument used to measure
the altitude of the sun or a star above the horizon. The latter was invented by the
Jewish astronomer Levi ben Gerson (12881344) in the first half of the fourteenth
century (Zinner 1979, 20710; Goldstein 1977; 1985). This instrument was one of
several that were used by navigators. The nocturnal was especially helpful for
navigation. It consisted of two concentric circles: the outer circle had a handle
and was graduated with an annular calendar, and the handle was attached at that
point where two of the stars from Ursa Major (the so called Guards) crossed the
meridian at noon. The inner circle rotated freely and was graduated into twenty-
four hours. This instrument could be used for telling the time at night or for
calculating the latitude of the navigator using the position of the Pole Star (Hoskin
and Gingerich 1999b, 8081).
During the fourteenth century, sophisticated clocks came into use. They
illustrate the close link between time telling and astronomic observation, since
they were often used for astronomical purposes. Richard of Wallingford (ca. 1292
1336), abbot of St.Albans in England, built one of these astronomical clocks
during the first half of the fourteenth century. It showed the phases of the moon
and eclipses. Several even more complex astronomical clocks followed, like the
famous astrarium by Giovanni de Dondi (13181389) from the University of
Padua (Zinner 1979, 1446; Dohrn-van Rossum 1995, 17075).
In the fifteenth century, several instruments were built on the basis of descrip-
tions found in Ptolemys writings. Regiomontanus describes the triquetrum
(Dreistab), mainly used to measure the altitude of the sun at midday. It consisted
of a lath about 9 feet long (with two sights to direct it toward a star) which was
hinged at the top of a vertical pole; the lower end was pressed against a second lath,
graduated and hinged at a lower point on the pole; the distance from this point to
the lower end of the first lath indicated its inclination (Pannekoek 1961, 18182; cf.
Zinner 1979, 199202). Another instrument found in Ptolemy, the armilla, was
both depicted and built in the fifteenth century (Zinner 1979, 20203; Pannekoek
1961, 182; Hoskin 1997b, 8687); however, there is already a depiction of such an
instrument in the Libros del Saber de Astronoma, which was compiled during the
reign of Alfonso X in the thirteenth century (Gingerich 1993, 11617).
Although there were already observatories in major cities of Asia and the
Arab world like Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Maragheh, Samarkand and Istanbul,
they were not found in the Latin West before the late sixteenth century, when
Tycho Brahe (15461601) was active (Berry 1899, 768; Hartner 1977; Hoskin
1997b, 81; Hoskin and Gingerich 1997, 5559; 1999a, 5558; 1999b, 78). In contrast
to the Islamic world, medieval astronomical devices in Europe were portable and
not permanently associated with given locations.

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128 Romedio Schmitz-Esser

C Cosmographic Concepts and Astronomy in

Medieval Culture

Astronomy was a central part of medieval culture. It was not just perceived as a
science, but cosmographic concepts were part of a complex belief system that
included all contemporary knowledge on geography, cosmology, political theory,
and the religious otherworld at the same time. Depictions of the heavens are
therefore common in medieval art, and these depictions could function as sym-
bols of divine and worldly power.
Only a few Christian thinkers offered a cosmography that was consistent with
the Scriptures as an alternative to ancient Greek models of the heavens. The
Byzantine scholar Cosmas Indicopleustes (sixth century) imagined a flat earth
that was situated in a somewhat rectangular cosmos (Doig 1950, 44; Dilke 1987,
26163; Euw 1989, 3). But such a model could not really supplant the older
concept of a spherical Earth in the center of a spherical universe. The prevalent
geocentric worldview, too, was not uncontested since antiquity, and heliocentric
theories, often ascribed to Heracleides of Pontus (fourth century B.C.E.), were
known to medieval astronomers through the highly influential allegorical work
De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii by Martianus Capella (probably fifth century
C.E.). Martianus describes Venus and Mercury as encircling the sun. From Martia-
nus work arose the medieval idea that the sun was the first center of the course of
those two planets, although they were at the same time indirectly circling around
the Earth together with the sun (Hoskin 1997b, 69; Hoskin and Gingerich 1999b,
6970). In Carolingian astronomy, there were many discussions about the move-
ment of the planets since their erratic movements seemed inconsistent with the
idea of an Earth-centered universe. Fol. 160v of the Ms. Nouv. acq. lat. 1615 of the
Bibliothque Nationale in Paris shows some planets moving forward and back-
ward on their way around the Earth to explain these unexpected movements
(Stevens 1999, 678). Such ideas of the planetary movements were widespread in
the Middle Ages and are found in the popular thirteenth-century text Theory of the
Planets, whose author discussed the retrograde motions of planets (Hoskin 1997b,
7880; Hoskin and Gingerich 1999b, 78). These debates on the planetary move-
ments indicate that the Earth-centered model of the cosmos was challenged
during the Middle Ages and that medieval astronomers were as puzzled by the
erratic appearances of planets as were their forerunners in antiquity.
Despite these well-known contradictions (geocentrical cosmos, but inconsis-
tent planetary movements in regard to this assumption) in cosmographical theory,
the main medieval model of the cosmos was still based on Platonic and Pythagor-
ean ideas: the Earth, itself a globe, lay in the center of many similar spheres; a

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Astronomy 129

planet was fixed in each of these seven crystalline spheres. Behind them, a starry,
bluish-dark sphere, the sphaira, rotated daily from east to west (cf. Grant 1977, 60
82). Heaven was thought to be above the sphaira, which was itself identified with
the throne of God, described in Revelations 4:23 and 6; Ezekiel 1:26.
In art, both the Earth and the cosmos could be indicated by a sphere or by its
two-dimensional counterpart, a circle. Since both the Earth and the cosmos as a
whole were thought to be spherical, a simple sphere could mean both of them.
This ambiguity became important in the representation of power in the Middle
Ages. The orb became an imperial symbol, first used in the seals of Otto I (912
973) in the West. (There is one notable Carolingian exception: a statuette of a ruler
with an orb, today in the Louvre. For a summary of interpretations regarding this
object, cf. the critical remarks in Hack 2008.) Most probably, the Ottonian court
copied the Byzantine court, which in turn imitated the late Romans, who had
used orbs as signs of universal power and the rule of the Emperor. In the West, the
Roman kings and emperors, the kings of France (Robert the Pious, d. 1031) and
England, quickly followed the Ottonian example in adopting the orb as a sign of
sovereignty. At first, these orbs suggested that the sovereigns whom they symbo-
lized ruled not merely the earth, but the cosmos, as well. The Star Cloak of Henry
II (9731024), today in the treasury of Bamberg Cathedral, placed the wearer
virtually in the center of the universe, residing on the sphaira in analogy to God.
But these imperial, cosmic connotations became less prevalent after the first half
of the eleventh century. As a consequence, the orb changed and a ring and
another horizontal division were added to it; now, it represented the mundus
tripartitus and became a symbol of earthly (and not universal) power (Schramm
1958; Schramm 1983; Baumgrtel-Fleischmann 1990; Schmitz-Esser 2007).
Cosmography did not merely appear in the insignia of power, but in medieval
architecture, as well. Since every circle or sphere could be seen as a depiction of
either Earth or the cosmos, it is nearly impossible to track all of these architectural
allusions (vaults, apses, balls, windows). In many places, a circle or sphere is
flanked by cosmic iconography. The thirteenth-century window rose of Lausanne
Cathedral shows zodiacal signs, Sol and Luna; the window itself allows celestial
light to enter the sacred space, thereby becoming a perfect symbol of the cosmos
itself (Beer 1956, 4850). The central vault of the tomb of Galla Placidia (ca. 391/
394450) is not only covered by stars, but also decorated with a cross flanked by
the four symbols of the Evangelists; the vault thus becomes a representation of
the sphaira, the throne of God, which, according to the Book of Revelation, is
flanked by the tetramorph (Rev 4:67). Like the orb, this iconography was a
Christian adaptation of an older model from Imperial Rome. According to Sueton
(ca. 70after 128), Nero (3768) in his Roman Domus aurea had had a rotating
ceiling installed that depicted the stars of Heaven (Suetonius Tranquillus 1908,

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130 Romedio Schmitz-Esser

60 [Nero 31,2]). Cassius Dio (ca. 164after 229) had remarked that the form of the
Pantheon resembled that of the firmament (Cassius Dio 1961, 13536 [53,27,2]).
Medieval cosmography was frequently depicted in iconography, and these depic-
tions show the indebtedness that medieval cosmography had to antiquity.

D Microcosmos and Macrocosmos

According to Plato (428/427348/347 B.C.E.), the cosmos can be compared to a
spindle with eight whorls. Seven of them, representing the planets, circulate in
the opposite direction of the spindle, and the axis of this movement runs through
the eighth whorlthe Earthwhich is the center of the universe. In this model, the
spindle itself is the sphaira, fixed with stars. But Platos account does more than
provide a metaphor for the erudite pre-modern vision of the cosmos, and his
underlying concept of a connection between macrocosm and microcosm survived
even the loss of popularity of the idea of the geocentric cosmography in the
sixteenth century. Plato writes: But on every circle stands a siren that partici-
pates in its turn and makes thereby a specific sound. All eight together form a
harmony (Platon 1973, 617 [book 10]). This Platonic idea of celestial harmony
makes it clear why music, together with astronomy, was part of the mathematical
quadrivium (see A above). Translations of Plato were well known in the Middle
Ages (e.g., Beierwaltes, ed., 1969; von Bredow 1972; Leinkauf and Steel, ed.,
2005). In medieval theory, there were three musics: the musica mundana,
created by the sirens in Platos metaphor and mirroring the harmony of the
world; the musica humana, which is the counterpart of the musica mundana
within the human being; and the musica instrumentalis of musical instruments.
The last is the only music that humans can hear (Euw 1989, 24; Naredi-Rainer
1999, 21). These musics, particularly the musica mundana and musica huma-
na, were interconnected, which was the reason for the influence of the stars on
human life.
According to an Aristotelian analogy, the macrocosm, or the course of the
stars, influenced the microcosm, the individuals life. The microcosm was less
perfect than the cosmic harmony; although originally God made Man perfect, the
Fall alienated Man from this perfect harmony (Braunfels 1973, 46). These both
Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic views became fashionable beginning in the twelfth
century and served to increase the importance of astrology. As a consequence,
theories like the Melothesia Theory influenced the belief systems of the elite (Euw
1989, 25; Holl 1972, 574). According to this theory, every zodiacal sign is related to
a part of the body, starting with Aries (head) to Pisces (feet). A zodiacal man is
depicted in the famous fourteenth-century Trs Riches Heures of the Duke of

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Astronomy 131

Berry, today in the Muse Cond, Chantilly, Ms. 65, fol. 14v. The theory recom-
mended that certain types of bodily activities and the medical treatment of
particular body parts be undertaken during the times that constellations were in
particular positions in the sky. It is therefore not surprising that the Physician in
Geoffrey Chaucers (ca. 13431400) Canterbury Tales (ca. 1400) is said to have
been well grounded in astrology and so hed found a favorable hour, by means
of astrology, to give treatment (Chaucer 1998, 11; for Chaucers own interest in
the astrolabe, cf. Eisner 1976 and King 2010, 128). The Italian physician Paolo dal
Pozzo Toscanelli (13971482), born at Florence and a friend of Nicholas of Cusa
(14011464), had studied medicine at Padua and dedicated a lot of his time to
astronomy. Similarly, Galileo Galilei (15641642) himself had studied medicine,
as well (Abetti 1952, 5462). We can see how far things had changed between the
early Middle Ages and the Renaissance when we look into the canons of the
Council of Braga, held in 563, which damned the Melothesia Theory. The Spanish
heretic Priscillian, who believed in the theory, had been executed during the
fourth century (Holl 1972, 574; Reimer and Chuaqui de Reimer 1989).
But the relationship between music and astronomy had more than just
astrological and medical implications, since in a medieval perspective both
shared the same mathematical foundations that made up the cosmos. High-me-
dieval theologians saw in this relationship between music and astronomy the
potential to understand Gods creation in a new way, and as a consequence, many
aspects of medieval culture, such as architecture and painting, were influenced
by these ideas. The underlying principle of the quadrivium could be seen in the
connections between its four sciences with numbers. The perfect harmony of
Gods creation was found in numbers and proportions. In music, the intervals and
their mathematical formulae were thought to mirror the same proportions that
determined the movement of the heavens, of planets and stars. From this perspec-
tive, God had created the world twice: first, he created the numbers and the
harmony of proportions as universal principles, and later he created the world
according to these standards. These ideas were in accordance with the writings of
the Church Fathers.
An examination of the number six will provide an illustrative example for this
understanding of numbers. Six was seen as one of the few perfect numbers that
equal the sum of their divisors (excluding the number itself, i.e., 3+2+1=6).
Augustine stated that we cannot say that six is perfect, because God did all of his
work in six days; rather it took God six days to do all his work, because six is a
perfect number (Augustine 1845, 301 [De Genesi ad litteram, IV,7,14]). Conse-
quently, the measurements of church buildings like Cluny III, the biggest medie-
val church in the West, was built with measures directly referring to perfect
numbers like six, 28 and 496 (Naredi-Rainer 1999, 7477). Fol. 1r of Cod. 2554 in

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132 Romedio Schmitz-Esser

the sterreichische Nationalbibliothek, a bible moralise illuminated around 1250

shows God as architectus mundi, measuring the cosmos with a pair of com-
passes whilst creating it (Braunfels 1973, 48; Grant 1996, 8388). In the twelfth-
century mosaics depicting the Creation in the cathedral at Monreale, God sets the
planets in place and sets their circular path, as well as their speed, around the
Earth within the blue sphaira with its golden stars.
As Nicolas Weill-Parot has shown recently, there seems to be a relationship
between astronomical (or astrological) images that were used for magical pur-
poses and the high- and late-medieval debate on astronomy, in which Scholastic
authors defined a natural, and thus licit, reason for astrological activity (Weill-
Parot 2002). The idea of the two creations and the Platonic-Aristotelian ideas of
macrocosm, microcosm, and universal harmony paved the way back to astrologi-
cal divination, thereby helping to convince early Christians of the value and
orthodoxy of such divination. The lines between intellectual, scientific discourse
and popular belief regarding the interdependence of the cosmic and the human
in other words, the lines between astronomy and astrologyare never clear in the
Middle Ages.
Medieval people were startled by disturbances of heavenly harmony. Co-
mets were one such sign of disturbance and frequently reported in medieval
accounts. The movements of comets were not explained by the model of the
universe in which planets and fixed stars were thought of as mounted on crystal
spheres. Stars have this name because they stay, because they always stay
fixed in heaven and do not fall, explains Isidore. The stars cannot fall,
because they areas said beforeimmoveable, and they [just] move [because
they are] fixed to Heaven (Isidore of Seville 1850, 179 [lib. 3, cap.71,3]). Thus
any independent movement of a star was interpreted as a potent divine sign
that was, with the notable exception of the Star of Bethlehem, decidedly
negative. The Roman astrologer Marcus Manilius (fifth century) had mentioned
that comets induce crop failure, epidemics, and war, and even foretell great
defeats like that of Varus (d. 9 C.E.) in the Teutoburg Forest (Manilius 1990, 84
94 [1,813926]). Isidore agreed that the appearance of a comet signifies illness,
hunger or war (Isidore of Seville 1850, 180 [3,71,16]). The Bayeux tapestry
shows an unusual star in the picture that follows the depiction of the coronation
of Harold (ca. 10201066) as king of England, clearly implying that the corona-
tion was not in tune with celestial harmony. The star is not a mere invention of
the artists, since a comet did indeed appear in 1066: in February of that year,
Halleys Comet was visible in the sky. However, it appeared four months after
Harolds coronation, not immediately after it; the tapestry changes the chrono-
logy of the story to underline the injustice of Harolds usurpation of the crown
(Schmitz-Esser 2007, 13740).

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Astronomy 133

From the medieval perspective, astronomy was more than a science of the
stars; its study touched the very foundations of creation, astronomers asked for
the place of men in Gods Heilsgeschichte, and therefore celestial appearances
could even provide political arguments. This was possible because astronomy
seemed to reveal a part of the inner truth of the universe, and by depicting the
heavens medieval artists tried to illustrate the functioning of celestial harmony
and Gods creation.

Select Bibliography
Grant, Edward, Planets, Stars, and Orbs: The Medieval Cosmos, 12001687 (Cambridge 1996).
Hoskin, Michael, ed., The Cambridge Concise History of Astronomy (Cambridge 1999).
King, David A., Astrolabes from Medieval Europe (Aldershot 2011).
McCluskey, Stephen C., Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1998).
Naredi-Rainer, Paul von, Architektur und Harmonie: Zahl, Ma und Proportion in der abendln-
dischen Baukunst, 6th ed. (1982; Cologne 1999).
Turner, Gerard LEstrange, Renaissance Astrolabes and their Makers (Aldershot 2003).
Warntjes, Immo and Dibh Crinn, ed., The Easter Controversy of Late Antiquity and the Early
Middle Ages: Its Manuscripts, Texts, and Tables (Turnhout 2011).
Weill-Parot, Nicolas, Les images astrologiques au Moyen ge et la renaissance: Spculations
intellectuelles et pratiques magiques (XIIeXVe sicle) (Paris 2002).
Zinner, Ernst, Deutsche und niederlndische astronomische Instrumente des 11.18.Jahrhun-
derts, 2nd ed. (1956; Munich 1979).

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Stephen Penn
The Bible and Biblical Exegesis

A Introduction: the Medieval Bible

In his Summa Theologiae, the great Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas
described Holy Scripture simply as the Law of the Faith, to which nothing must
be added and nothing taken away (Aquinas 196475, 2.2., q. 1, art. 9, a. 1). This
concise expression of a fundamental belief, in the form of an orthodox sola
scriptura position, serves to highlight not merely the centrality of Scripture in
medieval culture, but also offers, in a self-conscious echo of the book of Deuter-
onomy, a tacit anticipation of its potential abuses (cf. Deuteronomy 4:2). Copied
in whole or in part more widely than any other educational or literary text, the
Bible was subjected to intense exegetical scrutiny by students, scholars and
ecclesiastics across Europe throughout the medieval period.
In the east, biblical texts were translated into Syriac (the Aramaic language of
the Peshitta, a translation that circulated widely), Coptic (the language of ancient
Egypt, into which the Greek New Testament and the apocryphal Gnostic Gospels
were translated), Ethiopic (Geez), Arabic, Armenian, and Georgian. These trans-
lations sometimes omitted one or more books, often because of their unavailabil-
ity rather than anxiety about canonicity, but occasionally lost texts were uniquely
preserved in these versions, and many included apocryphal books within their
translated canon. Syriac was also the language of the Gospel harmony known in
the west as the Diatessaron, produced in the second century by the Assyrian
writer Tatian, who converted to Christianity during a visit to Rome. The Diatessar-
on became the standard version of the gospels in Syriac Christianity until the
Peshitta translation displaced it in the fifth century. There is general agreement
that the Peshitta drew on the Diatessaron, though scholars are divided as to
whether the Diatessaron also draws on the Old Testament of the Peshitta (Joosten
2001). The original Syriac text of the Diatessaron no longer remains, so most
scholars look to the Arabic translation as the most authoritative available text.
The Diatessaron was also influential in the western church, through a variety of
translations (see below).
Jeromes Latin Vulgate Bible, commissioned by Pope Damasus during Jer-
omes visit to Rome in 382, gradually became the authoritative translation of the
medieval Christian church in the west. It was not officially recognized as an
orthodox document until the Council of Trent (15451563), at which the expres-
sion editio vulgata, in the sense understood today, was first officially applied to

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The Bible and Biblical Exegesis 135

the translation (Sparks 1970, 518). The term vulgate, therefore, though widely
used as a convenient term, is potentially misleading as a label for the Latin Bible
of Jerome known to medieval readers, or indeed as a term to identify the text that
Jerome worked on. Indeed, Jerome himself used the adjective vulgata in a rather
different sense, to identify the Greek Bible and the Latin derivatives that preceded
his own translation (Bogaert 2012, 69). The Vulgate was preceded by the so-called
Old Latin (Vetus Latina) translations, which relied only on the Septuagint rather
than the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Errors and infelicities inevitably arose
in the extensive process of copying this text, and it was largely due to inconsis-
tencies in the many renderings of identical sections of the scriptural text that
Jeromes edition was commissioned.
With a sound knowledge of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, Jerome was eminently
qualified to offer a new, more accurate translation, and to rectify the pervasive
issues that the Old Latin versions presented. He began his translation by looking at
the Gospels, which he revised from the Septuagint. When he came to the Old
Testament, he again began by comparing the Vetus Latina text to that of the
Septuagint. Increasingly, however, he felt inclined to privilege the Hebrew Old
Testament over the Septuagint. Hence, he produced two versions of some Old
Testament books. The so-called Roman Psalter was corrected with reference to
the Septugint, but the later Gallican Psalter, which appears in the Vulgate, was
read alongside the Greek Old Testament translations that appeared in Origens
Hexapla, a parallel rendering of the Hebrew, the Septuagint and other Greek
versions of the text that survives in only a fragmentary form. A third version was a
new translation prepared according to the Hebrew (generally known as the iuxta
hebraicum version). By the end of his life, he had carefully consulted the Hebrew in
relation to the whole of the Old Testament in the preparation of his final Latin
version. Comparison of the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate reveals a number of
differences, not all of which are explicitly highlighted in the Hexapla. Below is a
clause from Genesis 3:1:
Serpens autem erat sapientior omnibus pecoribus terrae quae fecerat Dominus Deus.
(Vetus Latina)
[But the serpent was wiser than all of the animals that the Lord God had made.]

Sed serpens erat callidior cunctis animantibus terrae quae fecerat Dominus Deus. (Vulgate)
[But the serpent was craftier than all of animals of the earth that the Lord God had made.]

Jeromes translation rests on his interpretation of the Hebrew adjective arum and
the Greek phronimotatos. The Hebrew word is genuinely ambiguous, and can
mean either wise or crafty, but the Septuagint adjective phronimos, of which
phronimotatos is the superlative form, is more obviously suggestive of wisdom (or
prudence), which seems to account for the preference for this interpretation in the

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136 Stephen Penn

Vetus Latina version. Jerome presumably felt that the serpent would be more
fittingly described as crafty, which the Hebrew text sanctions. In spite of the
fidelity of his translations, however, Jeromes innovations were not readily wel-
comed by a church that knew the older Latin translations intimately.

I Germanic

Many vernacular translations of the Bible and of biblical material were made from
the Vulgate, but the earliest of the surviving vernacular versions is a translation
of the gospels from Greek into Gothic, the only member of the eastern branch of
the Germanic languages and also the oldest member of the Germanic language
family. This was produced by Wulfila (Latin Ulfilas) in the fourth century, prob-
ably for Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths. Though the antiquity of the
Gothic language and its unique script, which Wulfila himself invented (drawing
conspicuously on the Greek alphabet), have made it into something of a philolo-
gical curiosity, its status as the language of the earliest vernacular scriptural
translation (by several centuries) is no less remarkable. The most comprehensive
fragment is the sixth-century Codex Argenteus (Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek,
DG.1), so called because of its predominantly silver lettering. The codex has a
distinctive purple colour, a result of the application of dyes to the fine vellum, a
process that belonged to a broader tradition of prestigious manuscript prepara-
tion that dates from antiquity. What remain of the Codex Argenteus are 188 folios,
of which 187 are held in Uppsala and the other, which was discovered in 1970, in
Speyer Cathedral in Germany. The text is presented in scriptura continua, like the
texts of ancient Greece and Rome, and it is therefore likely that it would have been
read aloud (Murdoch, 2004; Heather 1996; Saenger 1997, 26).
Biblical material in the vernacular was copied in a sporadic manner in
Germany up until Charlemagne became king of the Franks in 768, even though
Christianity in Germany is traditionally seen to date from the baptism of Chlodowig
in 496. The Latin Gospel harmony that survives in the sixth-century Codex Fulden-
sis was influential in early medieval Germany, as its name confirms. It was taken to
Fulda, the sight of an important Benedictine monastery, by Boniface in the eighth
century. The preface to the codex, written by Victor, Bishop of Capua, Italy, tells
how fortituo in manus meas incideret unum ex quattuor euangelium compositum
et absente titulo non inuenirem nomen auctoris (By chance a book without a title
came into my hands, made out of the four gospels, but I could not find the name of
an author) (Ranke, ed., 1848, 1; my translation). He concludes finally, after con-
sidering the possibility that this might be the work of Ammonius of Alexandria,
that the most likely source is Tatian. Yet the text is an oblique descendant of

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The Bible and Biblical Exegesis 137

Tatians Diatessaron, drawing upon much material from the Latin Vulgate. The
Latin text of the Codex Fuldensis was translated into the so-called Fulda-Diates-
saron, a close Old High German rendering of the original document. Beneath are
the Codex-Fuldensis (left) and the Fulda-Diatessaron (right) (Tatian 1872, 67):

In principio erat verbum et verbum In anaginne uuas uuort inti thaz uuort
erat apud deum et deus erat verbum. uuas mit gote inti got selbo uuas thaz uuort.
Hoc erat in principio apud deum. Thaz uuas in anaginne mit gote.
Omnia per ipsum facta sunt et sine Alliu thuruh thaz gitan inti uzzan sin
ipso factum est nihil quod factum est. ni uuas uuiht gitanas thaz thar gitan uuas.
In ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum. Thaz uuas in imo lib inti thaz lib uuas lioht manno.

The resemblance between the two passages is striking, even if the literary merits
of the latter are arguably few. Indeed, this east Franconian version of the Codex
Fuldensis has been described by Andrew Colin Gow as a wooden, rather literal
translation (Gow 2012, 202). But the vernacular translation does illustrate the
influence of the Codex Fuldensis beyond the Latin language in the west. It was
translated into many other vernaculars, including Flemish, Dutch, Italian and
English (Metzger 1977, 2025).
Old Saxon, the distant ancestor of Low German, was the language of a
number of metrical retellings of biblical material. The first of these, Genesis,
survives in only a fragmentary form (discovered in the Vatican library at the end
of the nineteenth century), but also serves as the basis for the Old English
Genesis B, which preserves in translation some of the most interesting portions
of the text. Parts of the narrative deviate very markedly from the biblical Genesis,
a point that inclined critics to assume that the author of the Old Saxon text must
simply have interpreted the scriptural story imaginatively, but F.N. Robinson
has argued that a likely source is the apocryphal Vita Adae et Evae (Robinson
1906, 390). One departure that has traditionally been identified, and which
survives only in the Old English version, is the representation of Satan not as a
serpent, but as an angel when he addresses Eve. The text itself, however, is not
terribly clear about the form that Satan takes. Certainly, he is a serpent when he
initially attempts and fails to lead Adam into sin, after coiling his body around
the Tree of Death. When he claims to be Gods messenger, Adam tells him, u
gelic ne bist/negum his engla, e ic r geseah (you are not like / any of his
angels that I have seen previously, ll. 53839) There is nothing very explicit
about the form he assumes when he goes on to address Eve, telling her, t
isses ofetes (eat of this fruit). He manages to convince her that obedience to
his words will allow her to avoid Gods wrath, but it is not until she speaks to
Adam about what she has done that it becomes clear that she perceives Satan to
be an angel, whatever his actual form is:

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138 Stephen Penn

Adam, frea min, is ofet is swa swete,

bli on breostum, and es boda sciene,
godes engel god: ic on his gearwan geseo,
t he is rendsecg uncres hearran,
hefon cyninges: his hyldo is unc betere
to gewinnane onne his wiermedo. (65560)

[Adam, my master, this fruit is so sweet

pleasant in my breast, and this bright messenger
[is] Gods good angel: I see in his dress
that he is our Lord the king of Heavens
messenger: it is better for us [to have] his kindness
than his antagonism.] (655660)

Eve attempts to persuade Adam that he is mistaken, but that the messenger is
willing to forgive him and not to disclose his earlier hostility to the Lord. Prior to
tempting her to take and eat the fruit, Satan had told Eve that he had known the
angels of heaven (ic can ealle swa geare engla gebyrdo (583), but had not
himself claimed to be one. The degree to which this particular episode departs
from Genesis therefore remains debatable (especially given that it only survives in
Old English rather than Old Saxon).
The ninth-century Heliand (OSax. healer), a modern editorial title, offers a
retelling of the gospels as an heroic poem in Old Saxon. This draws heavily,
though not exclusively, on the Codex Fuldensis, and hence also loosely follows
Tatians Diatessaron. Like the Diatessaron, the Heliand draws its narrative from
across the gospels, and follows Johns chronology. Its opening song tells how four
men were given power from God to produce the gospels, though many others had
wished to record Christs work (Heliand, 112). There is no close parallel to this in
Victors preface, which concentrates rather on the fact that the gospels are not
uniformly concordant, and on the need to arrive at a single narrative that draws
upon all of them. This, of course, was the original purpose of the Diatessaron, but
the Heliand is an heroic poem rather than a theological treatise, so it is hardly
surprising that its author should wish to celebrate the heroic achievement of the
four authors of the gospels, and of their mighty leader (mahtig drohtin), Christ
himself (Heliand, 37). It survives in five European manuscripts, though a sixth
fragment, running from lines 582370, has recently been discovered in Leipzig
University Library (Schmid 2007; Pakis 2010, 281304).
The Frankish monk Otfried of Weissenburg produced the Evangelienbuch or
Liber Evangelium at the end of the ninth century, which resembles a vernacular
Gospel harmony. It owes nothing, however, to the Codex-Fuldensis or the Fulda
Diatesseron, even though its author was educated at Fulda (and was seemingly
familiar with the text of the Heliand). It is arranged into five books, and Otfrid

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The Bible and Biblical Exegesis 139

labours to explain why the four Gospels should be arranged into a five-book
narrative (Otfrids Evangelienbuch, ed. Erdmann, 1957). The chapter headings
throughout the book are in Latin, and the first chapter (Cur scriptor hunc librum
theotisce dictaverit [Why the author wrote this book in German]) is a careful
justification of the decision to relate the narrative of the Gospels in Franconian,
rather than Latin. It contains exegetical material (under the headings Spiritualiter
and Moraliter in chapters26 and 28 of the first book, and as needed in the four
that follow), as well as the literal vernacular rendering of the biblical story.
As in the early medieval period, the later Middle Ages saw numerous verse
adaptations produced in the Germanic vernaculars. No complete Bible survives
from medieval Germany, though Andrew Gow suggests that because Bible-
centred people were being accused of being Waldensians in the later medieval
period, it is not unlikely that such translations would have existed (Gow 2012,
206). The Augsburg Bible of 1350 contained the whole of the New Testament,
whilst the Wenzel Bible (1389), a translation of the Old Testament, was widely
copied and circulated. Recent research suggests that the Wenzel Bible, which
was produced for Wenceslas IV of Bohemia, who was king of Germany from
1376, was possibly composed earlier than 1387, the date recorded in the
The most extensive example of Old English translation of the Old Testament
are the late eleventh-century Old English Hexateuch (the first six books of the Old
Testament, from Genesis to Joshua, now held in the British Library, MS Cotton
Claudius B.iv) and the early eleventh-century Old English Heptateuch (the first
seven books of the Old Testament, from Genesis to Judges, held in Oxford,
Bodleian Library, Laud Misc 509). The first of these is distinguished by its several
hundred lavish illustrations (Withers 2007). Seven further fragments existed until
the seventeenth century, of which six now survive. The English scholar lfric, a
monk in Winchester and then Dorset, who later became the first abbot of a new
abbey in Eynsham, translated significant portions of the Heptateuch, though the
surviving text is clearly the work of more than one translator. He also prepared a
valuable preface to the Book of Genesis, in the form of a letter addressed to his
patron thelwrd, in which he describes his anxieties about producing a transla-
tion that might easily be misinterpreted by ignorant readers, who fail to under-
stand the difference between the Old and the New Laws, or even by ungelredan
priests who do not appreciate the spiritual signification of its words. However, he
is clear that in spite of the spiritual profundity of this text, he will offer nothing
more than the naked narrative:

We secga [] foran to, t seo boc is swie deop gastlice to understandenne and we ne
writa na mare buton a nacedan gerecednisse. (Praefatio to Genesis, 4, 435.)

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140 Stephen Penn

[We say at the outset that this book is exceedingly profound to understand spiritually, and
we write nothing more than the naked narrative.]

lfric is clear in his preface that he is keen to adhere as closely as possible to the
Latin of the Vulgate, but indicates also that the different syntactic conventions of
the two languages mean that he cannot always imitate it in its every detail. The
Old Testament translations find their companions in the Old English Gospels (once
known misleadingly as the West Saxon Gospels), which survive in six complete
copies (Liuzza 1994, xvixlii). There are also two fragmentary copies, as well as
some that are known to have existed but which do not survive (including Bedes
Old English translation of St Johns Gospel). Alongside translations into the Old
English vernacular, literary interpretations of biblical books or particular epi-
sodes in the biblical narrative are common in the Anglo-Saxon period. Among the
most extensive of these are Genesis A and Genesis B, the latter a newly discovered
portion of the former (Genesis A 1978; Behagel 1903, 20540). Other examples
include Exodus, Daniel, Christ and Satan, The Fates of the Apostles and a series of
poems devoted to Christ. The Dream of the Rood is a dream poem that offers a
depiction of the crucifixion in which Christs suffering is transposed onto the
crucifix itself, which addresses the dreamer and tells of its experience. The
Phoenix, a loose translation of an earlier Latin poem by Lactantius, is generally
interpreted as an allegorical representation of the resurrection.
The Wycliffite Bible was the first complete translation of the Bible into the
English vernacular, which was produced in the late fourteenth century and
circulated in around 250 copies, exceeding any other Middle English text. To
place this in perspective, Chaucers Canterbury Tales, a popular text, has only
56 complete manuscripts (Seymour 1997, 1). It was accompanied by a lengthy
prologue outlining the need for a Bible in English, and also some important
comments on Wycliffite exegetical strategies, was produced by the followers of
the Oxford theologian and heresiarch John Wyclif in the late fourteenth century.
The author of the prologue remains unknown, though many assume that it was
the heresiarch John Purvey, a close follower of Wyclif (though there is no clear
evidence to support this assumption). It now seems unlikely that Wyclif was
himself personally involved in the translation process, though he may have
participated in the production of this translation of the Bible in a supervisory
role. Indeed, the only name that can be associated with any certainty with the
translation is that of Nicholas Hereford, though even here, the evidence is a
reference in a single manuscript to Hereford as translator of the Bible as far as
Baruch 3:20. William Caxton identified John Trevisa as a translator of the Bible,
though this evidence comes rather too late to be conclusive. What is perhaps
more certain than either of these possibilities is that the Wycliffite Bible was the

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The Bible and Biblical Exegesis 141

product of more than one translator, and most probably a group of translators
working as a team.

II Romance

The Romance languages served as the vehicles for an equally rich array of
translations, paraphrases and poetic adaptations. The twelfth-century theolo-
gian Peter Comestor (, whose name (Latin devourer) has often been
regarded as a humorous allusion to his voracious appetite for books, made
perhaps the most significant contribution to later biblical translations. A student
of Peter Lombard at Paris, he produced the Historia Scholastica, a Latin histor-
ical biblical paraphrase that was influential in France, England and throughout
Europe, and won papal approval at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 (Morey
1993, 6). The text proceeds by presenting a section of the scriptural text and
then paraphrasing it historically, often drawing on other scriptural material
where relevant. It was immensely popular both within and outside the schools,
and fast became a standard prescribed text (Smalley 1984, 17879). A compar-
able Latin paraphrase is the Aurora of Peter Riga (d. 1209), latterly canon regular
of Reims Cathedral. This is an extensive metrical narrative that he completed
early in the thirteenth century, and which was widely copied (it survives in over
400 manuscripts). The Aurora, unlike the Comestors text, generally gives prior-
ity to the spiritual senses, offering a predominantly allegorical commentary.
Nevertheless, we are told in the prologue that the literal sense is the foundation
of all of the others, and the means by which to gain a rapid understanding of
the text (De Hamel 2001, 112). In spite of its popularity, the Aurora was seem-
ingly designed as a convenient way into the Scriptures, and not a resource for
the experienced scholar. The name Aurora (daybreak), as Riga explains, gives
a clear indication of its purpose:

Sicut enim Aurora terminum nocti imponit, principiumque diei adesse testator, sic et
libellus iste tenebras umbrarum et veteris legis obscuritates discutiens veritatis fulgore et
allegoriarum scintillulis micantibus totus refulgeat. (Fragmenta ex Aurora, Patrologia Latina
112, col. 19)

[Just as daybreak forces the night to end and the arrival of the day to be seen, so likewise
this little book brings light by dispelling the darkness of the shadows and the obscurities of
the Old Law with the brightness of the truth and the flickering sparks of allegories.]

Just as the angel said to Jacob after their nocturnal struggle, let go of me, for it is
daybreak, (Genesis 32:26), so Peter, we are told, after the struggle and labour that
went into his book, speaks the same words, as if to say, I bring about an end to

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142 Stephen Penn

this book, because I have dispelled the darkness and the shadows (Aurora, pros.
The Comestors Historia Scholastica was possibly completed by Peter of
Poitiers (d. ca. 1215), who extended it with a compendium of Acts (Smalley 1983,
214). He also produced his own biblical paraphrase, in which he sought to
abbreviate what had been made available by Riga and the Comestor. What he
produced was the Compendium Historiae in Genealogia Christi, which, as its
name suggests, presents biblical history in the form of a genealogical study of
Christs ancestry, beginning with Adam. The Compendium was presented as a
kind of family tree, with accompanying biographical sketches. It was often
copied onto parchment rolls rather than codices, for ease of reference, and was
translated into a number of European vernacular languages, including English.
It served partly as an aid to memorisation, as is indicated in the prologue
(Carruthers 1990, 329). Often, this text was copied together with the Comestors
Historia Scholastica.
The thirteenth century witnessed the arrival of a significant number of com-
plete, or virtually complete, French vernacular translations. The celebrated Bible
Historiale of Guyart des Moulins (b. 1251), canon and then dean of St Peters
church at Aire, was an extended prose translation of the Historia Scholastica, and
also drew on material from the Vulgate. Many of the manuscripts in which it is
preserved are lavishly illustrated. It was completed in 1295 (Robson 1959, 448).
Earlier vernacular Bibles include the Acre Bible, possibly produced for St Louis IX
of France during his visit to Acre (12501204), then capital of the Latin Kingdom
of Jerusalem, and La Bible Franaise du xiiie sicle, as it is now known. The latter
is generally regarded as the first complete French vernacular translation of the
Bible, whose existence came to light only after manuscripts of Guyarts Bible
Historiale had been studied closely, revealing that the Vulgate translations in the
text were not Guyarts own, but were drawn from an existing translation of two
volumes length. This translation also exists in three independent manuscript
copies (Sneddon 1979, 130). It probably originated in Paris, which had become an
important centre of manuscript and codex production by this time. The Acre Bible
is preserved in seven manuscripts, the oldest of which is held in the Bibliothque
de lArsenal (La Bible dAcre 2006, xviixxiv). Some of the later manuscripts
include a series of marginal glosses that seem to have belonged to the original
copy, but which were omitted by the scribe who produced the Arsenal version (La
Bible dAcre 2006, xxxvii).
Prior to the thirteenth century, vernacular translations generally extended to
one or more scriptural books. One of the great monuments of twelfth-century
scholarship is Li Quatre Livre des Reis, a prose translation of the four books of
Kings (1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, which were grouped together in the

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The Bible and Biblical Exegesis 143

Vulgate, following the Septuagint). The translation proceeds verse by verse, and
commentaries are appended where they are perceived to be necessary. An exam-
ple is 1 Kings 1 (1 Samuel 1), in which the infertile Anna, one of Elcanas two
wives, is blessed with a child after praying to God and vowing to dedicate her son
to his worship for the whole of his life. The commentary interprets the story of
Elcana and his two wives allegorically:

Lestorie est paille, le sen est grains; le sen est fruit, lestorie raims. Cist lives est cum armarie
des secreiz Deu. Plein est de figure et de significance. [] Helchana, o est la possession
Deu, e signifie le fiz Deu. (Li Quatre Livre des Reis, ed. Curtius, 1911, 5)

[The story is straw, [and] its meaning is the grain; the meaning is the fruit, [and] the story
the branch. This book is like an armoury of Gods secrets. And this is clear in respect of
the figure and its meaning. [] Elcana is in the possession of God, and signifies the son of

The interpretation of Elcana as an allegorical representation of the son of God was

a popular one throughout the medieval period, as was the suggestion made later
in the commentary that his two wives, Anna and Phenenna, represent Holy
Church and the synagogue, respectively. Both of these allegorical readings are
found in the Glossa Ordinaria, the standard scholarly commentary that was itself
assembled in the twelfth century (see Section B, below), in which they are
attributed respectively to Jerome and Gregory.
The most widely copied of the earliest vernacular biblical fragments in
France, as throughout much of the rest of Europe, was the Psalter. Among the
best known of the early translations is the Montebourg Psalter, produced around
1200 and used at the Benedictine monastery at Montebourg in Normandy. This is
a Norman rendering of Jeromes Gallican Psalter, and is now held in the Bodleian
Library (MS Douce 320). The accents in the text, which occur regularly over
stressed syllables, have been regarded as evidence that it was used in public
readings (Berger 1884, 10). An earlier example is the trilingual Eadwine Psalter,
which was probably composed around 1160 and was based on Jeromes iuxta
hebraicum translation of the Psalms. It contains a Latin text with Old English and
Anglo-Norman glosses.
In Italy and Spain, vernacular Bible translation developed rather later. The
Italian vernacular Bible emerged from the thirteenth or possibly the twelfth
century onwards, though the earliest manuscripts date from the fourteenth cen-
tury (Foster 1969, 452). Evidence for the early circulation of sections of the Bible is
therefore largely derived from literary sources. Most prominent among these, of
course, is the Divina Commedia of Dante Alighieri (Leonardi 2012, 269; Hawkins
1993/2007; Kleinhenz 1986). The Bible is the most cited text here, appearing in the
region of 575 times (Kleinhenz 1986, 125). The earliest surviving manuscripts of

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144 Stephen Penn

discrete translations (one of books from the New Testament and one of the
Psalter) date from the fourteenth century, though both were translations of
French vernacular renderings, with accompanying glosses (Leonardi 2012, 269
70). Copies of the Vulgate, needless to say, were made rather earlier, and include
the famous Giant Bibles of the eleventh and twelfth century, many of which were
produced in Rome (Ayres 1994).
In Spain, vernacular translations into Spanish and Catalan appeared from the
twelfth century onwards. Most early Spanish vernacular translations were pro-
duced in the Castilian dialect, and the impulse behind these was the monarch of
Castile, Alfonso X (reigned 12521284), widely regarded as the first Spanish
monarch to demand a Spanish vernacular translation of the Vulgate Bible (Ave-
noza 2012, 289; Morreale 1969, 470). The result was a lengthy text, but not a
pandect. Indeed, Alfonso prioritized historical material that could be construed
literally in his General Estoria, a kind of world history based on close biblical
paraphrase, initially of the Old Testament (Avenoza 2012, 289). This was possibly
inspired in part by the Latin Historia Scholastica of Peter Comestor (see above),
which the translators are likely to have known. The Hebrew Old Testament was in
several cases translated directly, and the Hispanic Jewish community played a
vital role in this process. Begun early in the twelfth century, and thereby predat-
ing the General Estoria, is the Fazienda de Ultramar. It is preserved uniquely in
the Biblioteca Universitaria de Salamanca (MS 1997; see http://www.lafazienda [last accessed on March 1, 2014] for images of the manuscripts
and a transcription of the text). A later vernacular Bible translated from the
Hebrew is the lavishly illustrated Alba Bible, which was translated by Rabbi Mos
Arragel de Guadalajara for Don Luis de Guzmn, Grand Master of the Order of the
Calatrava. This is a rare example of a Bible that survived in its entirety (Morreale
1969, 466). Jewish translations from the Hebrew continued throughout the re-
mainder of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but attracted suspicion during
the Inquisition, which began in 1478. Catalan Bibles were subjected to censorship
from an early stage, and none survive from earlier than the fourteenth century.
Early translations, such as that commissioned by Alfons III of Aragon in 1287,
which was translated from a French Bible, do not survive (Avenoza 2012, 301). Nor
does the fifteenth century Valencian version made by Bonifatius Ferrar, except for
a single sheet (the others were deliberately destroyed) (Morreale 1969, 467).
Evidence of a Bible commissioned by Pere IV of Aragon (13191287) survives in
later manuscripts. Versions from the fifteenth century mainly survive in fragmen-
tary forms, if at all. A variety of other translated fragments remains in existence
today, as well as a fifteenth-century of a gospelbook, Evangelis del Palau (Aveno-
za 2012, 30104).

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The Bible and Biblical Exegesis 145

B Biblical Exegesis
Throughout the medieval period, the Bible was interpreted according to its four
senses: the literal (the historical sense), the allegorical (used to reconcile the Old
and the New Laws), the tropological (or moral) and the anagogic (dealing with the
last things). Medieval exegesis followed the techniques inherited from the Patris-
tic period, just as it prized the Patristic Latin translation of the Scriptures prepared
by St Jerome. The distinction between letter and spirit, or literal and figurative
interpretations of the text of the Bible, was central to Patristic and medieval
exegesis: like many who would follow him, Jerome saw the letter of the text as the
word made flesh (Smalley 1983, 1). But to see beyond the letter, for the fathers and
for medieval readers, was to gain access to the spirit, which, like the human soul,
was eternal and incorruptible. Scripture was produced by human authors and
scribes, who physically committed the words to the manuscript, but scriptural
truths were recorded under the influence of divine inspiration: God was working
through the authors in order to make his word known. To this end, early medieval
exegetes believed that the spiritual senses were to be accorded priority.
The Venerable Bede is now remembered principally as an historian, but his
exegetical work (mainly in the form of commentaries) was regarded as authorita-
tive throughout the medieval period. Bedes writing sought to expound carefully
the teaching of the church fathers, whose learning he applied diligently to the
study of the Vulgate Scriptures. Indeed, Beryl Smalley goes as far as to suggest
that the patristic tradition ends with the Venerable Bede (Smalley 1983, 35).
Bede produced commentaries on a wide range of biblical books, including Mark
and Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, the Pauline Epistles, and the Apocalypse (from
the New Testament), and Genesis, Proverbs, and the Song of Songs (from the Old
Testament). This list is far from comprehensive, and it is essential to point out that
not all of Bedes commentaries survive: the commentaries on Isaiah, Esdras, and
Nehemiah, Kings and Chronicles, and Job, among several other Old Testament
commentaries, have disappeared. Bede is keen to highlight his indebtedness to
the fathers, who are frequently cited. Unsurprisingly, he devoted particular atten-
tion to Jerome, Gregory the Great, and Augustine (his commentary on the Song of
Songs contains extracts from the writings Gregory the Great at the end).
During the Carolingian Renaissance, academic study of the Bible took place
in monasteries and (latterly) cathedral schools. Carolingian exegesis was seldom
original: the fathers and their interpretations were reproduced largely uncriti-
cally. Alcuin, a preeminent scholar of the period, was called to Charlemagnes
court at Aachen in 782. His work at the Palace School in Aachen, including
personal tuition of the Emperor, transformed educational practice there. His
respect for the fathers is epitomized in the final lines of his poem addressed to

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146 Stephen Penn

scribes: Vel nova vel vetera poterit proferre magister / Plurima, quisque legit
dicta sacrata partum (Anyone who reads the hallowed sayings of the fathers /
can expound many subjects both old and new; Godman 1985, 13839). Other
significant exegetes of this period include Hrabanus Maurus, Walafrid Strabo,
Claudius of Turin, John Scotus Eriugena, Haimo, and lastly Remigius of Auxerre.
The latter had some knowledge of Greek.
If the period between the beginning of Charlemagnes reign as Holy Roman
emperor and the tenth century was a period of exegetical reflection, characterized
largely by a reliance on the hermeneutic insights of the fathers, the twelfth
century can be characterized as the period during which logic made its way into
the analysis of Scripture, and descriptive commentary was supplanted by the
quaestio. Hugh, Andrew and Richard of St. Victor, all of whom studied and taught
at the Abbey of St Victor in Paris, are among the most outstanding exegetes of this
period. Hughs Didascalicon de studio legendi is, as its title suggests, a guide to
the reading process. Here, in the last three chapters, he guides his students
through the interpretation of Scripture, suggesting in the second chapter of
Book 5 that Scripture conveys its meaning according to three senses, the histor-
ical, the allegorical and the tropological (he fails to mention to anagogic). He
dwells at length on the second of these, arguing in the third chapter that the
spiritual sense, in which things signify, is the voice of God, whereas the historical
(or literal) sense is merely the voice of men. In Chapter4 of Book 6, he introduces
an architectural analogy. The foundations of a building, he suggests, unlike the
building itself, may be constructed from stones that do not fit together precisely.
This, he suggests, is often the case with the literal sense: it may contain contra-
dictions or inconsistencies. The spiritual sense, however, like a building, can
have no contradictions. This privileging of the spiritual sense above the literal has
Pauline foundations, as Hugh points out.
The twelfth century also saw the arrival of a standardized biblical gloss,
known today simply as the Glossa Ordinaria. This document, which took the form
of marginal and interlinear glosses (many of which were extracts from patristic
sources), remained authoritative throughout the medieval period. The assump-
tion that it was assembled by Walafrid Strabo (to whom it is ascribed, for
example, in Jacques-Paul Mignes Patrologia Latina) is no longer accepted. In-
deed, the glosses that constitute this massive document have their origins across
centuries of scholarship. The Glossa Ordinaria arrived in the form of a unitary
sequence of glosses at the hands of the brothers Anslem and Ralph of Laon, but
was significantly improved upon by Peter Lombards and Anselms student
Gilbert of Poitiers (Swanson 2001). Peter Lombard, of course, produced his own
monumental theological document, the Sententiarum libri quattuor, in the second
half of the twelfth century. This gave rise to many academic commentaries, and

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The Bible and Biblical Exegesis 147

became a standard theological guide, extending to four lengthy books. It was

structured according to distinctiones, each of which contained several chapters
dealing with a common theological topic. The document proceeds rationally,
drawing its authority from a selection of illustrative scriptural passages, together
with a range of patristic and medieval scholarly authorities.
The exegetes considered thus far were united in their reverence of the spirit-
ual senses of Scripture. With Thomas Aquinas and the tradition of Aristotelian
exegesis that grew out of his work, this position shifted radically. In the Summa
Theologiae, he argues that the literal sense of the Bible is the sense that God, its
divine author, intends. The literal sense, thus construed, contains all of the senses
that a passage from Scripture might have (the three spiritual senses, as well as the
historical sense). Aquinas deals with this issue whilst considering whether one
passage in Scripture can have more than one sense:

Quia vero sensus litteralis est quem auctor intendit, auctor autem sacrae Scripturae Deus
est, qui omnia simul suo intellectu comprehendit, non est inconveniens, ut dicit Augustinus
XII confessionum, si etiam secundum litteralem sensum in una littera Scripturae plures sint
sensus. (Aquinas 19641975, 1a.1.article 10)

[Because the literal sense is the sense that an author intends, and the author of Holy
Scripture is God, who comprehends all things together in his understanding, it is not
inconsistent, as Augustine says in the twelfth book of the Confessions, there are more
meanings in one passage, even if [interpreted] according to the literal sense.]

This interpretation of the literal sense necessarily invests it with supreme author-
ity. Whatever the divine author intends must necessarily be most authoritative.
This notion was embraced and elaborated upon by the Franciscan exegete Nicho-
las of Lyra, who argued in his Postilla Literalis that Scripture in fact had a twofold
literal sense (duplex sensus literalis), which encapsulated both literal (historical)
and spiritual significations. Like Aquinas (following Augustine), he insisted that
the literal sense had to serve as the foundation of any argument, and that the
spiritual senses should always be consistent with what is found in the literal
sense. He illustrates this with an architectural analogy: just as a building which
begins to part company with its foundations is inclined to collapse, so a mystical
exposition which deviates from the literal sense must be considered unseemly
and inappropriate (trans. Minnis and Scott in Minnis 2010, 268). This principle
was followed in the late fourteenth century by the Oxford scholar and heresiarch,
John Wyclif, who borrowed a term from the fashionable logicians of his day
(whose work he deplored) to argue that all parts of Scripture are de virtute
sermonis true.
For the logicians, to argue that something was de virtute sermonis true was to
suggest that it was literally true according to the immediate signification of the

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148 Stephen Penn

words, or the force of the utterance. Wyclif turned this expression against them,
interpreting as the sense intended by the divine author, the sense produced by the
inspired human authors of Scripture.
Wyclif was not the last medieval exegete, but his literalistic exegesis was
significant in bringing about the first complete vernacular English translation of
the Bible. Its translators, like Wyclif himself, believed that divine intention could
be communicated no better in one language than another. Implicitly, an accurate
translation of the Bible relied as much upon the grace and inspiration of God as
the product of its original human authors. To this extent, Wyclif serves as a
convenient conclusion of this summary of medieval biblical exegesis, even
though medieval exegesis continued well into the fifteenth century.

Select Bibliography
Ackroyd, P. R. and C. F.Evans, The Cambridge History of the Bible: From the Beginnings to Jerome

(Cambridge 1970).
Evans, Gillian R., The Language and Logic of the Bible: the Road to Reformation (Cambridge
Evans, Gillian R., The Language and Logic of the Bible: the Earlier Middle Ages (Cambridge 1984).
De Hamel, Christopher, The Book: A History of the Bible (London 2001).
Lampe, G. W. H., ed., The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Fathers to the

Reformation (Cambridge 1969).

Lubac, Henri de, Exgse mdivale: les quatre sens de lcriture (Paris, 19591964), 4 vols.
Marsden, Richard and E.Ann Matter, ed., The New Cambridge History of the Bible, vol.2 (Cam-
bridge 2012).
Metzger, Bruce, M., ed., The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origins, Transmission
and Limitations (Oxford 1977).
Minnis, Alastair, Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle
Age, 2nd ed., with a new preface by the author (1984; London 2010).
Morey, James H., Book and Verse: A Guide to Middle English Biblical Literature (Chicago 2000).
Smalley, Beryl, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 3rd ed. (1940; Oxford 1983).

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Daniel Pigg
Children and Childhood in the Middle Ages

A Changing Views of Childhood in the Middle

Ages Among Scholars
When readers encounter texts written during the Middle Ages, they find many
different representation of childhood in the period between the fall of the
Roman Empire and 1500 C.E. Depending on the particular literary and historical
paradigm that scholars use, how these children are viewed can vary widely. A
traditional notion developed in Medieval Studies, following the assertions of
Philippe Aris Enfant et la vie familiale sous lAncien Rgime (1960; Centuries of
Childhood: A Social History of the Family, 1962), asserted that childhood was not
really a separate category for understanding human life in a full sense. A
quotation such as Henceforth it was recognized that the child was not ready
for life and that he had to be subjected to a special treatment, a sort of
quarantine, before he was allowed to join the adults (Aris 1962, 412) suggests
an attitude built on an understanding of childhood during the Renaissance or
early modern period which constructed childhood as a significant category for
perceiving life. From the scholarly work of Barbara A. Hanawalt (1993), James
A.Schultz (1995), Albrecht Classen (2005), Ruth Karras (2003), Nicholas Orme
(2001), and Paul B.Newman (2007), to name just a few, childhood has been
reclaimed as a category of significance for the Middle Ages. Ariss stridency
about adults not having emotional expressiveness toward their children based on
the misreading of texts was actually an important catalyst for reconsideration of
what literature, historical records, conduct literature, philosophical and theologi-
cal documents, and material cultural practice as revealed through archaeology
could tell observers.
How to read the evidence has been the source of considerable attention.
Schultz does, however, still support certain aspects of the older thesis: Middle
High German [MHG] writers regard childhood as a time of deficiency that warrants
little attention for its own sake. At the same time there is much evidence to
support the revisionist critics of Aris: those who challenge Ariss charge of
parental indifference will find vocal allies in MHG parents, who are extravagant
in expressing love for their children (Schultz 1995, 19). For Schultz, then, it is
important to separate children and childhood in some way. Hanawalt examines a
considerable body of archival evidence, but warns historians in particular not to
use evidence of the raucous behavior of adolescents, particularly court cases

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150 Daniel Pigg

involving theft and homicide to create the images of the age category (Hanawalt
1993, 89).
For scholars such as Classen (2005), Karras (2003), Orme (2001), and Newman
(2007), literary study, informed by the work of social historians, challenges the
understanding of our ability now to write a macro-history on this topic and
instead provide an avenue for understanding the subtle nuances of the topic. In
the midst of these newer methods of study, Shulamith Shahar, working from a
psychological paradigm, finds a good deal of precedents in medieval texts for
some of what we might today call a psychological awareness of childhood and
adolescence (Shahar 1990, 142). Childhood in the Middle Ages was indeed a rich
and varied experience depending upon geographical location, gender, social
class status, disease, and time period. As Paul B. Newman observes, adults in
medieval Europe did recognize childhood as a time in which children learned and
developed and that they did not treat children simply as little adults (Newman
2007, 1). How to separate the boundaries of childhood from adolescence and
adolescence from adulthood can be understood both from the perspective of
biology and development as well as the social construction of roles in society.
Each social class seems to have had different ideas. Shahar notes a tripartite
division of ages that can serve as a basis for understanding childhood, commonly
known to medieval people: birth to age seven (the infant stage), seven to fourteen
or fifteen as the stage of boys and girls, and adolescents beginning around age
fifteen (Shahar 1990, 28). Such a tripartite division finds literary expression in a
Middle English text called The Parliament of the Three Ages. The ages of the
human being are a standard topos of medieval literature.

B The Boundaries of Age

How to determine the parameters of childhood was certainly a question that had
a number of different answers in the Middle Ages, depending if one looks at
medical sources. For those who consult medical sources, the ages of 13, 14, and
15 arise, with some discrepancy between boys and girls as markers for the onset
of typical hormonal changes, but as Hildegard of Bingen (10981179) main-
tained, the processes for both males and females were not complete until
around twenty years of age (Newman 2007, 241). Adolescence meant that
marriage was now a possibility, particularly for girls, and the evidence suggest
a variety of ages from 12 to 18 as normative across various segments of the class
structure. At the same time, it also shows that males married later, and that in
most cases married younger women, particularly if they were a part of the crafts.
While modern medicine might quibble over the ages here slightly, one might

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Children and Childhood in the Middle Ages 151

say this understanding accords well with a modern understanding of the ma-
turation process.
Given the abundance of literature about childhood and adolescence available
and the characterization of adolescence with a lack of discretion, there also seems
to have been some mild awareness that mental growth was not complete during
the childhood and adolescent years. In the early twentieth century, G. Stanley
Hall suggested a date of 30 as the end of adolescence (Hall 1904, 1: 256); there is
evidence that the medieval world considered adolescence lasting well into the
20s (Havinghurst and Dreyer 1975, ix). While it might be tempting to end a study
of childhood at an age between 7 and 15, if the motif of protection and education
are important concepts in childhood, some consideration should be given to the
adolescent years. As scholars such as Karras (2003), Hanawalt (1993), and Fitzger-
ald (2007) have shown, there is a rich literature of instruction for the noble classes
and a rich body of evidence for the life of the guilds in cities such as London and
York to demonstrate parental roles and guardianship extend well into the late
teens and twenties in this social class.

C Childhood and Law

The world of law also attempted to define childhood with respect to punish-
ments, if a person became involved in some kind of crime. Determining what
could be termed an age of understanding and accountability suggests differ-
ing results as the Middle Ages progresses. The ages seven and twelve emerge in
legal texts. As Edward James has noted in the Merovingian law code, boys
under twelve are protected by wergild three times that of an adult Frank, and
that cutting the hair of a long-haired boy (puer criminis), or cutting the hair of a
free girl, is punishable by a heavy fine (James 2004, 12). The code distinguishes
between a boy and a boy with long hair, and the consensus is that long hair
indicated a free-born status (James 2004, 12). What is more intriguing is that the
wergild assigned a woman who could bear children was three times that of a
young girl (James 2004, 12). While drawing conclusions here would be difficult
and premature, the evidence suggests a higher status for boys than girls, but
understands the procreative abilities of females as a central commodity less in
its future than in its present state. The protected status of childhood moved
quickly to the responsible status of adolescence noted as either twelve or fifteen
in various Frankish law codes (James 2004, 12). They could be officially charged
with crimes and sentenced. In Anglo-Saxon England, a male was considered of
age to serve on a jury at age 15 and at age 12, he was to swear to keep the
peace (Orme 2001, 322).

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From the time of King Aethelstan (ca. 893939) in the 10 century C.E., a male
could be charged with theft of property if he were older than 12 (Orme 2001, 322).
Children as early as the thirteenth century could apparently serve time in prison
for homicide, whether intended or accidental (Orme 2001, 323), except for cases
where the church or crown intervened. Later in the Middle Ages, the age of 14
seems to have become fixed as an age after which a person would have to bear
the full weight of responsibility for a felony (Orme 2001, 324). From these diverse
references across multiple centuries and countries, it seems apparent that age
seven and fourteen are important in establishing the passages of childhood. Even
with these clearly noted age distinctions, Orme notes that Most peoples adult-
hood, in the modern sense, was postponed until much later. Noble and gentle
heirs did not inherit until twenty-one, allegedly because their military duties
needed greater strength and understanding. In the world of work, apprentices
came out of service only in their twenties, and in that of the Church, clerks could
be made priests only at twenty-four (Orme 2001, 327). These last observations
suggest just how fraught the educational process for adulthood could be and
precisely how much was expected.

D Birth and Early Years

No doubt the birth of a child produces feelings of happiness along with potential
anxiety. Those feelings are likely transhistorical, but in the medieval world,
problems existed around delivery that complicated matters more directly. Scho-
lars differ on the actual number of infants who died in delivery or shortly after,
with some theories suggesting one in three. At the same time, the number of
mothers who died during delivery might range from one in ten to one in forty
(Newman 2007, 2021). While some very poor women might have delivered their
children in a hospital, it seems that midwives delivered the majority, with little to
no assistance from a physician. In the midst of a Christian Europe, many of these
midwives were Jewish women (Shahar 1990, 3345; Newman 2007, 1022). Some-
times midwives performed emergency baptisms, if the infant was not expected to
live. With a successful birth, godparents would likely present the infant for
baptism often one week after birth, given that women had to be readmitted to the
church formally after the birth of a child (Shahar 1990, 4551; Newman 2007,
2135). In Jewish communities, circumcision ceremonies might occur as early as
eight days after birth, but more likely later, either at home or the synagogue
(Newman 2007, 3537). Depending on the economic fortunes of the family, the
infant would be assigned a wet nurse, if the mother did not nurse her own child.
Nursing itself might continue for up to three years for males, with a typically

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Children and Childhood in the Middle Ages 153

shorter period given to females (Hanawalt 1993, 5859). The care of infants,
involving such activities as bathing and swaddling, was also functional, for
swaddling was seen as actually contributing to the shape of the newborn who had
little shape and, of course, to keep the body warm (Shahar 1990, 8390; Newman
2007, 6266). As can be imagined, the period from birth to age 7, the typical end
of the infancy stage, was not without its own perils. As children began to move
outside the house, their potential for injury increased, and even inside the house,
there was the potential for falling into the cesspits under the houses and drown-
ing (Hanawalt 1993, 28). Medieval homes were probably less child-proof than
modern homes. Moving outside the house, however, also provided a space to
introduce children to the world of play and formal education.

E Older Childhood
I Play and Education

If social historians disagree on the role of conduct books and moralizing rhymes
on the daily lives of children, they are united in their consideration of the place of
play in the life of the child during the infant and child stages. These texts do give
significant windows onto the culture of the period, so a popular one is provided

By street or way if thou shalt go

From these two tings thou keep thee fro:
Neither to harm child nor beast
With casting, turning west nor east
(Orme 2001, 131)

On the surface, the lyric seems innocent enough, but it suggests a knowledge that
children do throw things at other children or animals. In doing so, they would
anger either child or animal and might pay significant consequences for the
action. At the same time, the lyric builds in parental advice at a level that the
advice goes with the child even when the parent is not present. That it might have
been memorized is clearly possible.
In a chapter devoted to childhood play, Newman notes a variety of toys made
from wood and other substances, kites, balls, marbles, and dolls; and he also finds
what we might now call leisure activities such as swimming, water jousting,
tennis, football, wrestling, and archery (Newman 2007, 7695; also noted in
Shahar 1990, 10305). Clearly, some of these kinds of play and instruments of play
are for older children, and their ability to engage in them would have been related

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154 Daniel Pigg

to the economic fortunes of the family. It is hardly surprising then that when
children do surface in literary texts, they are often engaged in the world of play.
While it is certainly easy to see the development of play connected with the
improvements in technology in the Middle Ages, there is also ample evidence as
Sally Crawford has shown that Anglo-Saxon (seventheleventh century C.E.)
children had toys and games as evidenced by their appearance in burial findings
(Crawford 1999, 13945).
Education certainly occupies the life of the child as well. That would cer-
tainly begin at home amidst a childs parents and other siblings, but it would
also involve more formalized for some. Certainly educational attainment varied
a great deal, with some never learning basic literacy skills at all to those how
where able to debate in Latin at the university. Where there actual expectations?
At one end of the scale, Hanawalt notes that by 1478 the Goldsmiths of London
would only take as an apprentice a person who could read and write, and that as
much as 40percent of the London non-clerical male population might have been
able to read Latin (Hanawalt 1993, 82). Such a rate may sound astounding, and
the rate would certainly not be that high in other cities or in the countryside.
Orme suggests that the first free standing schools began in the eleventh
century, and that from the early Middle Ages, education to some level would
have been available at local cathedral and monastic schools (Orme 2001, 239
41). Since there are some liturgical books that include rudimentary instruction in
liturgical Latin, we may assume that there was some expectation of learning
open to many, yet we are certainly not at the early modern period when we find
the beginnings on more compulsory educational expectations. Chaucers (1343
1400) litel clergeon of The Prioress Tale is seven years old and has a primer
from which he is not only learning his letters, but is also learning Latin according
to the tradition of paradigms, while an older student at the school is learning his
Latin through singing, with only the awareness of the sense of the text. Certainly
the average medieval family would never have envisioned their offspringmale
offspringas future scholars at Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Bologna, or Heidel-

II The World of Work and Apprenticeship

The lure of the city was certainly significant, and there is quite a body of evidence
that social historians can point to with reference to the education of children as
early as fourteen as they move into the structures of apprenticeship. As Hanawalt
observes, society in the late Middle Ages extended the period of social childhood
for males well into biological puberty and proportionately raised the age of exit

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Children and Childhood in the Middle Ages 155

from adolescence well into biological adulthood (Hanawalt 1993, 111; Karras
2003, 11629). In this period of liminal time, Karras notes they were more than
boys, less than men (Karras 2003, 129). The charge of the family providing the
male or female moved to the family with whom the person contracted an appren-
ticeship. One size, however, does not fit all in our day or this period. Orme notes a
significant division here related to the economic. In fact, Newman suggests that
as much as 90percent of the population was employed as servants in agricultural
labor (Newman 2007, 170).The children of the poor thus become servants to
noblesincluding working on their estatesbut to become an apprentice typi-
cally meant they were young people of some status and money (Orme 2001,
312). Work was thus multifaceted and dependent at times on social location as
well as timing. An apprenticeship would last approximately seven years, and then
the possibility of being admitted to the freedom of the city provided significant
prospects for the future. Chaucers (13431400) Cooks Tale presents an image
of a young man, Perkyn Revelour, whose desire for dicing, gaming, and dancing
destroy his prospects of becoming a master of the craft. The rules of the contract
were quite extensive and certainly intended to curb the behaviors of the adoles-
cent whose judgment was not well formed yet. That experience, of course, lies
well beyond the consideration of childhood, but at the beginning of the experi-
ence, the earliest years were still those most closely guarded by the watchful eyes
of the master and the family of the craft.

F Representation in Literature
Scholarly studies of literary texts in which children are presented are not new, but
a study which focuses on the manner of representation in light of a newer under-
standing of the social, psychological, and cultural dimensions of childhood opens
up the possibility for revisionist thinking. A collection of essays that has served as
a catalyst for further revision of the paradigm of Philippe Aris is Childhood in the
Middle Ages and Renaissance, edited by Albrecht Classen (A.Classen, ed., 2005).
Many of the essays address children as an historical issue, but for those that
address literary texts some intriguing patterns emerge. Classens introductory
essay, in addition to setting up the parameters for the new study, examines texts
such as Floire and Blanchefleur, the Roman de Renart, Mai und Beaflor, Aucassin
and Nicolette, the writing of Hartman von Aue (ca. 1160ca. 1220), the Hildes-
brandslied, Oswald von Wolkenstein (13761445), and several saints lives and
suggests the depth of devotion to children and their education and material well-
being across a number of centuries in French and German literature (Classen 2005,
165). The relationship between the Virgin Mary and the Christ child can be seen

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156 Daniel Pigg

in a tender way through a study of Frau Avas (ca. 10601127) Leben Jesu, an early
twelfth century text, by Eva Parra Membrives (Membrives 2005, 87103). Mary
Dzons examination of a selection of Middle English poems about Jesus reflect the
care of medieval parents, perhaps somewhat heightened as in the case of Mary,
but with a Jesus who possesses some childlike perversity (2005, 13557). In
Hartmann von Aues (ca. 1160ca. 1220) Der arme Heinrich, David Tinsley explores
the representation of a peasant girl who is willing to die in order that her lord can
be saved to suggest childrens ability to understanding suffering and loss as well
as triumph and altruism (Tinsley 2005, 22946). In her study of the Old French
prose Lancelot, Carol Dover demonstrates the texts sensitive to the growth in both
physical and mental ways of the young Lancelot and the special connection that
develops with the fairy mother who raised him (Dover 2005, 24763). Such a
study of this topic in one collection cannot be exhaustive, nor can the reference
summaries here. Readers are likely to find a mental awareness among these
children that some might label as precocious. At the same time, however, these
scholars have uncovered writers who have tapped into a consideration of the
development of the childrens ethics. While childlike perversity and selfishness
may dominate some presentations, these writers suggest how children may rise
above these classifications.
In the literature of the late Middle Ages in England, childhood figures promi-
nently. In the canon of Chaucers Canterbury Tales, we find not only the young
girl who accompanies the merchants wife in the Shipmans Tale, the crying
infant of the Man of Laws Tale as well as those of the Clerks Tale, but also
Virginia who is willing to be sacrificed by the hand of her father to avoid being
corrupted by an unjust judge in the Physicians Tale. In a more studied way
Chaucer presents a detailed presentation of the litel clergeon of the Prioresss
Tale. The last of these is one of Chaucers most concentrated representation of
childhood at age seven. In this tale, a seven-year old boy, the only son of a poor
widow, is killed by Jews who throw the body into a wardrobe used as a place for
waste. His desire to learn O Alma Redemptoris, a hymn in praise of the Virgin
Mary, is presented as an emblem of childlike perversity and play, given that he is
willing to be beaten three times in a single hour. He has forsaken the study of the
grammar lesson in his primer for the grammar of song. A miracle story, The
Prioresss Tale suggests the value of children in society, the deep level of concern
of the mother for her son who does not return home, and the profound lament of
those in the monastic community who prostrate themselves on the ground in grief
for the childs death. Told as a religious act by the Prioress who describes herself
as a child who has not reached one year of age, The Prioresss Tale is a
significant statement about medieval childhood deeply engulfed in the mire of

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Children and Childhood in the Middle Ages 157

As readers can imagine, a good deal of scholarship has been devoted to the
anti-Semitic issue, but seen through the prism of children and childhood, the
voice of the child emerges as one of playful confidence and obsession with
religious devotioneven one that leads to his death, even if it is unintentional.
Chaucer (13431400), however, complicates what appears to be a straightforward
story with a reference to Hugh of Lincoln, who was discovered in Chaucers day
(13431400) to have died through an accident rather than a murder. The pathos of
this story would bring into question the assertive claims of Philippe Aris. There
are clear parallels between the Virgin Mary and Christ and the widow and her son
in the tale that suggest how deeply the Marian paradigm of child care is written
into the deep structures of the late Middle Ages. This widow cares about her son
and the community even laments his loss. Such a loss of life of a child is also felt
in Pearl, a poem of the Sir Gawain-poet (ca. 1360s). In the poem, the speaker
laments the death of his daughter Pearl whose untimely death has lead him into a
period of inordinate mourning. Through a series of logic-based sequences as
through several exegetical moments in biblical parables, the Pearl maiden
emblematic of his soulhelps the dreamer to come to terms with the loss.
Represented as the unapproachable maiden, she is included in the train of virgins
of the Virgin Mary, thus reinforcing the connection between the death of a child
and the place of Mary as mother to her child. What these texts taken as a ground
suggest is the powerful feelings of loss and self-reflection that are produced by
the loss of a child.
What seem apparent is that children and their particular ways of being in the
world were of value to their parents and to their society as a whole. That legal
considerations were given to their ability to understanding themselves and their
environment is an indication that the medieval legal system was not filled with
blind unfeeling persons when it came to children and their mistakes. What also
seems clear is that the material history of the period which covers the possibility
of the death of children during the period of infancy and later would have bound
parents and children together in a way that would be reflected in the literature
when children become ill, are injured, or are orphaned. It would be wrong to
conclude that the Middle Ages had a sentimental view of children and childhood
in the way that the nineteenth-century Romantic period writers had about chil-
dren and their understanding, growing out of a neo-Platonic vision of life. At the
same time, the literature does show a level of understanding of children and
others and separates them from the world of the adult, but does not render their
understanding as deficient and unworthy. A balanced approach to reading the
archaeological, historical, archival, theological and literary evidence is signifi-
cant in re-visioning the place of children in the understanding of what it meant to
be human.

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158 Daniel Pigg

Select Bibliography
Aris, Philippe, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, trans. Robert Baldick
(1960; New York 1962).
Aris, Philippe, Enfant et la vie familiale sous lAncien Rgime (Paris 1960).
Classen, Albrecht, ed., Childhood in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: The Results of a
Paradigm Shift in the History of Mentality (Berlin and New York 2005). [= A.Classen, ed.,
Crawford, Sally, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England (Stroud 1999).
Hanawalt, Barbara A., Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History
(Oxford and New York 1993).
Karras, Ruth Mazo, From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe
(Philadelphia, PA, 2003).
Newman, Paul B., Growing Up in the Middle Ages (Jefferson, NC, and London 2007).
Orme, Nicholas, Medieval Children (New Haven, CT, and London 2001).
Shahar, Shulamith, Childhood in the Middle Ages (London and New York 1990).

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Ken Mondschein
Chivalry and Knighthood

A Overview
The self-conception of the medieval ruling elite was that of the professional
warrior. Chivalry, combining the ideas of militia (military service), chivalry (the
physical skills, notably horsemanship), and courtesy (an aristocratic way of life),
was the code by means of which members of this elite related to one another. It
thus had very real political, social, and military repercussions. Emerging from the
confluence of classical values, barbarian culture, and Christian piety, ideas of
chivalry and knighthood raise issues of conduct in war, class and habitus, and
problems of Christian warfare. Though its importance was somewhat downplayed
by the emphasis placed on common experience by the social-historical turn of the
late twentieth century, a new generation of historians is rediscovering the signi-
ficance of the mentalit of chivalry and knighthood for our understanding of
the Middle Ages. The business of knighthood was, after all, the business of
warpolitics by other means as Clausewitz put itand is critical for under-
standing not only medieval culture, but understanding the making of modernity.
Historiographical controversies abound. Many scholars have debated the rea-
lity and effect of such an idea, from Johan Huizinga calling it an aesthetic ideal
assuming the appearance of ethical ideal and accusing its practitioners as being
out of touch with reality (1919; Huizinga 1924, 58), to Malcolm Vale (1981) and
Maurice Keen (1984) rehabilitating the idea, to Matthew Strickland, in his land-
mark War and Chivalry, arguing that, at least in the Anglo-Norman world, it was
more observed in the breach than the observance (Strickland 1996). More
recently, historians such as Steven Muhlberger (2002; 2005) and Richard Kaeuper
(2009) have used the texts of chivalry to illustrate dynamic conversation within
To write on such a fraught and significance-laden subject as chivalry is no
easy matter. The sources themselves are difficult to contend with: fantastic
romances, anti-knightly clerical harangues, ideological tracts by knights and
churchmen alike, chroniclers accounts that may or may not be filtered through
the lenses of idealism and patronage. Added to this is the fact that the study of
chivalry reaches into many categories of concern to modern historianspower
structures, religious observance, gender, and violence, to name a few. My aim in
this brief article is not to discuss the definition or role of the nobility (for this, see
Nadia Pawelchaks article on Courts and Aristocracy in this handbook), but

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160 Ken Mondschein

rather to limit myself to the major points made in the scholarly literature and
major issues in the history of chivalry and knighthood. I shall begin with a
historiographical overview, then proceed to discuss secular and religious concep-
tions of chivalry, the transformations of the late Middle Ages, the role of tourna-
ments and deeds of arms, regional variations, and, finally, the afterlife of chivalry
in the early modern period.

B Historiography
Nineteenth-century scholars saw chivalry through the lenses of both romanticism
and historical positivism. While there was never any doubt as to the reality of
such a code, it was seen as a figment of irrational barbarism, a symptom of the
benighted feudal age from which Western civilization would need to awaken. Sir
Charles Oman, for instance, called chivalry an absurd perversion of the art of
war (Oman 1885, 125). While writers such as Scott and Hugo and painters such as
Waterhouse, Leighton, and Rossetti might romanticize the days of old when
knights were bold, and certainly chivalry could make for picturesque (or picar-
esque) literary scenes, insofar as the science of war went, a strategy based on
notions of chivalry was seen as a fundamentally unsound idea.
This critical perspective of the military historians was continued in a cultural
vein by Johan Huizinga in his Waning of the Middle Ages (1919 Dutch: Herfsttij der
Middeleeuwen; 1996 The Autumn of the Middle Ages), the Dutch historian elo-
quently argued that late medieval society was a time of decadence and decline.
Whereas the high Middle Ages had been a time of high culture and ideals made
manifest, by the fourteenth century the eloquent language of chivalry and courtly
love was a fair skin concealing a rotten core. In many ways, the sense of decay
and the worthlessness of norms found in Huizinga is typical of post-World War I
thinkers such as Spengler; Huizinga participated in Hegels idealistic impulses,
but the dominant theme in his narrative is decline, not progress.
While Huizingas pessimism was echoed by Kilgour in his Decline of Chivalry
(Kilgour 1937) and Fergusons The Indian Summer of English Chivalry (Ferguson
1960), Malcolm Vale, in his War and Chivalry (Vale 1981), and Jean Flori, in his
Lidologie du glaive (Flori 1983) did a great deal to rehabilitate the idea of chivalry.
Not only does the idea of jus in bello seem to be a human universal (even if one
more honored in the breach than the observance), but chivalric orders were
integral to the development of the state. Similarly, for Maurice Keen in his seminal
monograph Chivalry (Keen 1984), chivalry was not only the self-conception of the
elite, and thus valuable to study in its own right, but a means through which
Christian ethics could be absorbed into society at large. Amongst its legacies was

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Chivalry and Knighthood 161

that it provided the currency for an economy of honor. For Vale, Flori, and Keen,
chivalry was something real, meaningful, and valuable to later ages.
Matthew Strickland (1996, 19), looking at chivalry as overwhelmingly
something that happens on the battlefield, has questioned Huizingas assumption
of a golden age. While not disputing the essential utility of a code of chivalry,
Strickland argued that the pragmatic and often savage actions wartime of the
Anglo-Norman aristocracy rendered it a code more honored in the breach than
the observance: The tensions between ideals of conduct and actual behavior in
war itself were present ab initio in the Anglo-Norman period, if not indeed existing
as a universal paradox within the culture of any warrior aristocracy.
More recent historians have sought to resolve contradictions by looking more
closely at the ideology and internal logic of chivalry. In his several works, Steven
Muhlberger (2002; 2005; 2012; 2014) has examined tournaments and deeds of
arms as activities integral to the identity and performance of the medieval elite.
Malcolm Vale has identified the lordly court as the locus of advancement as one
of the reasons behind the growth of courtesy (Vale 2001), while C. Stephen Jaeger
has identified its origins with neo-classical virtues in tenth-century German
episcopal courts (Jaeger 1985). For his part, Richard Kaeuper has stressed the
knights own role in recognizing and debating the various paradoxes that so
concern modern historians (Kaeuper 1999a) including the religious ideology of
chivalry (Kaeuper 2009). In his forthcoming Medieval Chivalry, Kaeuper will
provide a capstone to his work by emphasizing the practicality of chivalry for its
practitioners and how it affected, and was affected by, the emerging ideals and
institutions of modernity (Kaeuper, forthcoming).

C Secular and Sacred Chivalry

Secular Chivalry

Knighthood emerged from the disorder of the post-Carolingian world. In the tenth
century, Europe was in a state of anarchy: There was no central authority, but
rather local powers claiming legitimacy by building fortresses in a process known
as encastellation. Magnates, exercising bad lordship, oppressed, extorted, and
bullied the peasantry. Underlying this was an economic malaise and endemic
violence and feuding between the various local powers. The manner in which
these magnates and their followers fought, as the word for knight in most
European vernaculars reveals, was as mounted warriors. This was the Frankish
way of war, developed in the Carolingian era (see Weapons, Warfare, Siege
Machinery, and Training in Arms in this handbook). (It is worth mentioning here

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162 Ken Mondschein

that we are speaking of the Anglo-French conception of chivalry, which we will

take as the normative one.)
In its most basic form, we can see the emergence of a code of chivalry as a
series of rational choice decisions amongst the members of this fighting elite: If
you spare my life today, my people will spare yours tomorrow; you can profit from
capturing me, if you trust me to ransom myself. Likewise, in civil life, the feudal
relationship of vassal to lord was essentially one of service. This included perso-
nal service, such as carving at table and pouring wine. In time, this courtesy
(how one behaves at court) became an elaborate code of behavior specifying
the ideal behavior of the knight to all he might encounter, friend or foethe
habitus of the ruling class. Chivalry was, in other words, the self-conception of the
Frankish warrior-elite. To be a miles was not just the profession of soldiering, but
part of ruling-class identity. Thus, while not all knights were high nobles, high
nobles thought of themselves as knights.
However, to take such a reductionist view would be to ignore the ethical and
religious qualities of chivalry. The Transformation of the Year 1000 resulted from
a conflux of factors ranging from agricultural innovation to the institution of
primogeniture to the reform of the Church. For our purposes, the crucial element
in this cultural revival was the Peace of Godthe assertion of moral authority by
ecclesiastical leaders, the condemnation of internecine war between Christians,
and the insistence on the idea that the rights of the Church and of non-combatants
should be respected (Landes and Head, 1992; Contamine 1987, 27077). Not only
was the Christianization of the miles a crucial step in the transformation from
soldiers to knights, but it introduced the idea that the life of the militia could
be a sanctified one. Chivalric ideology became intimately bound up with religious
service, and fighting could become a path to salvation. So successful was this that
by 1096, Urban II could issue a call for the European nobility and have it received
with mass enthusiasm.

D Knighthood in Christian Society

The discourse of chivalry existed in dynamic relation with other social symbolic
discourses, especially those of the Church. Richard Kaeuper (2009), in his Holy
Warriors, takes a broad synthetic overview of the religious ideology of secular
chivalry, examining how knights appropriated symbols, rituals, and forms of
practice; accepted those ideologies and rituals laid out for them by churchmen;
and invented their own meanings. In short, they exhibited considerable creativity
in formulating an ideology and set of symbols meaningful and useful to their
profession. Chivalry could become a form of lay independence, a way to appro-

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Chivalry and Knighthood 163

priate and establish norms of belief and practice independent from the Church.
Such analysis brings the study of chivalry into the broad historiography of the
roots of the Reformation and thus, of modernity.
While many of the aspects of this mentality, such as toughness, a taste for the
rigors of the campaign, and a disdain for luxury are to be expected, knighthood
also developed its own ceremonies and symbolism similar to those of the priest-
hood. This can be seen in the late thirteenth-century Rationale divinorum officior-
um (Order of the Divine Office) of Guillaume Durand, Bishop of Metz; the anon-
ymous thirteenth-century LOrdne de Chevalerie (The Order of Chivalry) and an
allegorical painting in Harleian MS 3244 discussed by Richard Kaeuper (Kaeuper
2009, 15); the Catalan mystic and polymath Ramon Llulls early fourteenth-
century Llibre de lorde de cavalleria (Book on the Order of Chivalry); the Livre de
chevalerie (Book of Chivalry), and Demands pour la joute, les tournois, et la guerre
(Questions on the Joust, Tournaments, and War) of the French knight Geoffroi de
Charny (ca. 13001356); and Christine de Pizans early fifteenth-century Fais
darmes et de chevalerie (Deeds of Arms and Chivalry). These works share a
common interest in the elements of the knightly panoply, and, through these
symbols, the virtues of the knight.
Though the symbols often vary between sources, what we find in common
amongst all is that there is something sacramental about being dubbed, akin to
the sacrament of ordination, and the knights equipment participates in this. The
candidate stands vigil, he is cleansed physically and spiritually, and he is girded
with a two-edged sword to administer justice and a white belt for chastity. This, of
course, is chastity within lawful marriage: Medieval writers were concerned about
how nobility is passed on through the generations (Keen 1984, 15860), and
Geoffroi de Charny even called marriage, that sacrament so key to maintaining
the secular world and continuing a lineage, an order. This, in some ways,
foreshadows Reformation thought and gives us an additional example of the
independence lay piety in the Middle Ages.
The writings of these various authors also give us a further anatomy of
ideology. From them, it is apparent that a set of knightly virtues arose not in
opposition to, but in dynamic conversation with, those espoused by theologians.
Virtues such as courage, fortitude, and prowess, or skill at arms, are of course to
be expected amongst military men. Others were aimed at constructing social
difference: Largesse was magnanimity of spirit, the willingness to sacrifice not
just ones body, but ones substance, which we can contrast with the ideology of
an elite of commerce. Courtesy was not just etiquette, but literally the culture of
the courtthe habitus of the ruling class.
Good counsel, which a vassal owes to his lord, was often considered as a
virtue. This is shown in the concept of the preudhomme, which may be translated

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164 Ken Mondschein

literally as a trustworthy man or man of judgment, but which carried the

connotation of knightliness. This, as the name implies, had as much a connota-
tion of behavior as of lifestyle: Car grant difference disoit estre entre preuhomme
et preudhomme, as Jean de Joinville has St.Louis put itthere is a great
difference between a preuhomme [man of judgment] and preudhomme [warrior].
Finally, there was the rather diffuse virtue known as franchiseliterally, to
act as a free man (the term for which is, interestingly, etymologically derived from
the Frank). This was not just the idea of political enfranchisementin other
words, lordshipbut also that which was concomitant with itthe right to admin-
ister justice and the right to lawful violence. Ultimately, in Scholastic legal theory,
this was derived from the prince. In other words, to wield the secular sword was
to exercise franchisebut this was more than an office, an entire way of being
that encompassed an idea of gravitas. Thus, a single term encompassed both
classical ideas of the statefor the knight, in theory, serves a princeand Germa-
nic warrior-culture.

E The Military Orders

The military orders were perhaps the most explicit linking of Christianity and
violence. These were, in the most general terms, monastic orders of knights and
their retainers founded to aid in the defense of the Holy Land. Though the Crusader
states were definitively lost by the late thirteenth century, military orders figured
large in the Baltic Crusades of the later Middle Ages and in the struggle against
Ottoman dominance of the Mediterranean in the early modern era.
The first of these orders to be founded, the Hospitallers (also called the
Knights of St. John) actually began in the 1020s, before the First Crusade, in order
to provide aid to sick and injured pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land. Prominent
early orders included the Order of St. James of Altopascio, which may have been
the first order to have a military wing; the Spanish Order of Santiago, and the
Teutonic Knights. The Templars, founded by Hugues de Payens, originated ca.
1120. At the time, Bernard of Clairvaux was preaching a militia Christi to aid the
Holy Land, and the idea quickly gained popularity. The Rule of the Templars,
attributed to Hughes and Bernard, was confirmed in 1129, and firmly established
the knight-monks as a disciplined group of soldiery. The loss of the Holy Land
weakened the rationale for the Knights Templar and, combined with the inordi-
nate wealth the order had acquired, contributed to the rationale for their dissolu-
tion in 1312.
The Crusading orders were marked by their discipline, but more importantly,
they prominently linked military service and service to God. The Christianization

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of the milites was complete: Fighting on behalf of the Church could be seen as
meritorious and even a path to salvation.

F Transformations of the Later Middle Ages

By the end of the fourteenth century, the diffuse lower limit of who belonged to
the chivalric class had become a subject of contention. The realities of the
Hundred Years War meant that thousands of armed men claimed the right to
lawful violence and a successful soldier could assemble all of the accouterments
of knighthood, from armor to horses to followers. Likewise, the Black Death
enabled unprecedented social mobility while imperiling the landed class as the
price of grain plummeted, with a corresponding reduction of income from estates.
Much of the discussion hinged on idea the gentilhommethat is, someone
who literally came from gens, people but having the connotation of good
family. This amorphous boundary was a zone of anxiety; the general under-
standing was that, much as with the Paston family of Norfolk, only the passing of
generations could distinguish nobility from common ancestry (see Time and
Timekeeping in this handbook). It is also true, as Contamine points out, that a
certain stratification took place in England between the high nobility and what
would become the gentility such that an earl would be insulted to be called a
mere gentilhomme, whereas in France, to be gentilhomme was unquestionably part
of the noblesse and thus was regarded as having more in common with a count or
baron than this English counterpart (Contamine, 1987). A gen darmes (man at
arms), even if not a knight, if properly and lawfully clad in full armor, was fit to
contest with even a king on the field of battle. Yet, in civil life, we also see the
lowest rungs of the noblessethose who could only be called gentilhommes in
France, and, later, the hidalgos or sons of someone in Spainregarded as almost
a parody of knightliness, poor country cousins desperately holding onto claims of
status that, from the point of view of the true grandees, were all but imaginary.
It is also in the late Middle Ages that we begin to see, in association with the
consolidation of modern states, high chivalric orders come into being. Notable
early orders include the Garter in England (1348) and the Star in France (1352),
though most, such as the Order of the Golden Fleece in Burgundy (1430) and the
Order of St. Michael in France (1469), are fifteenth century. The goals of these
orders were rooted in politicsto tie the high nobility to the monarch, and to bind
him, in turn, to them in mutual obligation (Vale 1981). The Duke of Burgundy, for
instance, had to consult with the members of the Order of the Golden Fleece
before going to war. We can thus recognize in them a step toward the creation of
the nation-state and parliamentary government.

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G The Role of Tournaments and Deeds of Arms

The origins of the tournament likely lie in late Roman military exercises, filtered
through Carolingian military drill. By the eleventh century, it had taken the form
of nominally friendly battles that nonetheless ranged over hill and dale and often
employed archers and foot soldiers. These rough-and-tumble events strongly
shaded into internecine war and drew condemnation from the Church and secular
rulers alike.
The tournament was also a useful way to gather together the notables of the
land, and thus politically expedient. In time, these activities became more regu-
lated, with accepted rules and often an emphasis on state-theater, such as in the
round tables held by Edward I and his grandson Edward III. Conversely, the earls
who murdered Edward IIs favorite Piers Gaveston used the pretense of a tourna-
ment to organize their forces. As prizes were awarded and other participants
could be captured for ransom, tournaments were also a path to upward mobility:
William Marshal began his career as a successful veteran of the tournament
circuit. In addition to politics, personal aggrandizement, and, of course, combat
training, such events were also an opportunity to evaluate horses under the
stresses of combat and exchange equine breeding stock.
Besides the political and economic uses of tournaments, an argument can be
made that tournaments helped to define class and gender difference. Participa-
tion in a tournamentor ones ancestors having done sowas prima facie evi-
dence of nobility and of the right to bear a coat of arms. Ruth Mazo Karras, in her
From Boys to Men (2002, 2166), discusses the performative aspect of the tourna-
ment: In a sense, one only becomes male under the gaze of others, displaying
prowessskill at armsin front of both men and women.
Combat-by-convention transformed along with the anxieties and needs of
the knightly class. The early-to mid-fourteenth century tournament as de-
scribed by Geffroi de Charny in the early fourteenth century was still primarily
a mle, albeit one that had become civilized, with defined boundaries and
rules. However, Froissart, in his late fourteenth and early fifteenth-century
Chronicles, concentrates more on deeds of arms which took the place of
individual combat, interspersing scenes of the destruction of societythe
realities of warwith its reaffirmation, that is, men-at-arms meeting in idea-
lized combat. These encounters were quite different from tournaments proper.
They could be conducted with sharp weapons and were often more antagonis-
tic than agonistic, taking on more the character of judicial duels, or, as with
the Combat of the Thirty in 1351, Homeric contests of champions. Others, such
as the St. Inglevert Jousts of 1390, were troublesome to royal authority, but
helped to reassure both the participants and audience (both first- and second-

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Chivalry and Knighthood 167

hand) of their common social status despite the reality of war between their
kingdoms. Because they were so troublesome to royal authorityfor the issu-
ing of challenges to the English without royal permission bordered on lse
majestthe obvious solution was to put them under royal control, with
CharlesVI paying the expenses from his own pocket. Thus began the royal,
centralized sponsorship of tournaments that would become the norm over the
next two centuries.
Normative writings on chivalry also give us insights into the elite concept of
jus in bello and an elite concept of war as, ideally, a sort of grand (if potentially
lethal) tournament with expected norms. Charny, in his Questions Concerning the
Joust, Tournaments, and War (Muhlberger 2002; 2014), is very much concerned
with how knights should conduct themselves in the liminal regions of expected
behavior, offering questions, but no answers, to his reader. The central issue in
his questions on the tournament and jousting is interpreting the rules of the
tournament to determine who gets the horse?, while many of his questions on
war center on when, and if, someone has broken their word. This at first seems at
odd with the Vegetian nature of fourteenth-century warfare (see my article on
Weapons, Warfare, Siege Machinery, and Training in Arms in this handbook).
However, it was a way of negotiating between the realities of war and the
ordained structure of medieval society.
In the same way as the deeds of arms of the fourteenth century resolved the
disorder of the Hundred Years War, we can see the class anxiety of the fifteenth
century played out in tournaments. Jousting, with its greater emphasis on indivi-
dual performance and display, began to replace mle, though this latter form
continued to be popularmost famously, in the ca. 1460 tournament book of
Ren of Anjou (14091480), who also specifies that if anyone who is not of
unimpeachably gentle descent comes to be lightly beaten by the great princes as
a sort of ritual welcoming into the company. The Burgundian court was particu-
larly famous for its theatrical, allegorical pas darmes. This form of deed of arms,
sprung from the custom of a knight holding a bridge or gate against all comers, is
attested as early as the eleventh century and probably has Germanic roots. In the
fifteenth century, such deeds took on the form of state theaterthough the
combat was no less real or intense.
Noel Fallows, in his excellent Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia
(2010), gives a detailed description of expected behavior in similar events in
fifteenth-century Iberia. Jousting manuals detailed all elements of comportment,
from the manner of riding to the quality and type of armor used to the handling of
the lance. By the fifteenth century, the tournament may thus be called a martial
performance: a means of demonstrating, through learned gesture, acquired
taste, and carefully practiced skill, ones class and status.

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Rens sumptuous book detailing plans for a tournament that was probably
never actually held, also shows the decreasing role of and increasingly dependent
nobility, from sponsor of tournaments to arbiter of taste. From the other end of
the social scale, burghers and others whose estates were rising were also becom-
ing increasingly interested in the tournament and martial performance. Early
civic jousts are ill-attested, but probably took place in the Low Countries by the
thirteenth century. By the later Middle Ages, fencing schools were flourishing,
jousts and civic festivals were commonly held in Italian town squares, and several
German cities kept jousting equipment for loan to the sons of the burghers in the
municipal armory. One early sixteenth-century jouster, Walther Marx of Donau-
wrth, Bavaria (14561511), even made light of his humble origins by bearing a
helmet crest of three sausages on a spike.

H Regional Variations of Chivalry

The preceding passages referred to the Anglo-French understanding of knight-
hood and chivalry. This was not, however, the only understanding of the concept,
though a case might be made that, as they were a Frankish ideas, they were the
normative one. Nonetheless, substantive variations of ideas of chivalry and
knighthood existed in other parts of Western Europe.

I Chivalry in the Germanic World

The institution of knighthood was different in German-speaking lands. As nobles

were not inclined to take service under other nobles, a class of ministeriales, or
unfree knights, arose in the eleventh century. Such status was passed on in
matrilineal line. These knights could perform valuable administrative tasks,
including holding castles, judgeships, and stewardships, could enjoy high social
rank, and even had vassals of their own. Others found themselves in dire financial
straits and even reduced to banditry. Yet, these ministeriales all shared common
legal status: They were unfree, not able to marry without their lords consent, nor,
in theory to pass on their holdings to their spouses and heirs. This last, of course,
was not universal, and ministeriales could and did enjoy both heritable fiefs and
social mobility. Since holding castles and performing a knights military role
meant having access to considerable wealth, the status and lifestyle of this
group tended toward that of the nobility of the rest of Europe, and their unfree
status tended to serve the purpose of binding them to their liege lords (Arnold

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Chivalry and Knighthood 169

By the fourteenth century, this class had come under two types of stress: the
contraction of the manorial economy, which further bifurcated the divide be-
tween rich and poor knights, and the consolidation of what Arnold calls more
state-like territorial lordships (Arnold 1985, 252). Further, the ties of personal
unfreedom had become legally outmoded. Arnold, who interprets the minister-
iales in the light of classical feudal models and state-formation, holds that those
who survived the crisis formed the basis for the Freiherren who carried over the
ministeriales tradition of military and administrative service into the princely
territories and states of early modern and more recent times (Arnold 1985, 253).

II Chivalry and Chivalric Performance in Italy

Knighthood in Italy was a more malleable idea than in northern Europe, as a

semipermeable membrane existed between those born to the purple of commerce
and those risen from the ranks of the aristocracy. This was complicated by the
omnipresence of successful mercenaries, favored bastards, nobility exiled in
internecine conflict, occasional imperial grand tours, and burghers placed in
charge of communes and endowed with landed estates. As William Caferro points
out, in the late fourteenth century the term sir could equally be applied to the
English mercenary John Hawkwood (ca. 13201394); Ambrogio Visconti (1344
1373), bastard son of the ruler of Milan; and Francesco Carmagnola (13801432),
son of a cowherd (Caferro 2006, 9). Political events such as the Ciompi revolt of
1378 were likewise accompanied by frenzies of knight-making. Many of these
knights were highly unmartial: The fourteenth-century writer Franco Sachetti
(ca. 1335ca. 1400) tells a comic story of a meek knight who is chosen podest of
Padua and, to make himself seem more impressive, has a crest of a ferocious bear
made for his helmet. On his journey to the city he has been elected to govern, he
encounters a gigantic and bellicose German knight who happens to carry the
same crest of a bear. Rather than fight, the Italian knight sells his crest at a profit,
and each man departs thinking he got the better of the bargain.
Leonardo Bruni, in his De Militia (1440), called for a reform of knighthood and
cast it in a return to classical values. The knight, in this humanist rendition, was
the defender of the city-state or body politic. But, in fact, most of the performance
of chivalry in Italy took in a conventional form: the splendid pageants of the dEste
and Visconti were echoed by Lorenzo de Medici (14491492), and Italian knights
such as Galeazzo da Mantova (d. 1406) took part in deeds of arms with no less
gusto than their northern counterparts. And, while the elite of the communes
liked to imagine themselves as chivalric warriors, mercenaries, including both
scions of noble houses and those of lesser birth, ruled the battlefield.

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I Chivalry in Literature
The subject of chivalry in literature, and the chivalric romance, is far too vast a
subject to give a proper account here (see the contribution to this handbook by
Cristian Bratu on Literature). Chivalry and chivalric themes can be found in all
genres of medieval literature: history, poetic epics, didactic works, satire, travel
accounts, etc. Certain characters occur and reoccur over the centuries, altered,
from the Chanson de Roland at the very beginning of the formation of the chivalric
ethos to Boiardos Orlando Innamorato (published in 1495) and Ariostos Orlando
Furioso (151632), written to flatter Renaissance despots. Biblical heroes such as
David were recast in a chivalric light as the Nine Worthies.
Most famous, of course, is Arthur, King of the Britons, who went from a
reference in the ninth-century Historia Brittonum to Geoffrey of Monmouths fanci-
ful twelfth-century Historia Regum Britanniae, to Chrtien de Troyess romances a
generation later. In his train we find agglutinated other characters, such as
Lancelot and Gawain, Catalan stories of the Grail, and Provenal ideas of courtly
love. The German tradition of Minnesang (love-songs) began in the late twelfth
century and is best exemplified by works dated from that century such as the
poems and verse narratives of Wolfram von Eschenbach, Gottfried von Strassburg,
and Hartmann von Aue. Though the Minnesnger were clearly influenced by
the Provenal troubadours and northern French trouvres, the minnelieder were
clearly designed for a court milieu, matching the importance of courts as centers
for social advancement east of the Rhine (see Albrecht Classens contribution
on Love, Sex, and Marriage). Similarly, in the late fifteenth century, Thomas
Malorys Le Morte DArthur reflects the anxieties of the chivalric class in the rapidly
changing early modern era. In short, what we can say for the Matter of Britain is
what we can say for chivalric literature in general: It bears the imprint of its times.

J The Sixteenth Century and After

Most authorities see the decline of chivalry as brought by the military revolution
and the increasing emphasis on large, state-sponsored infantry armies (Keen
1984). The economic, social, and military justification for the knight was ended;
his modern descendent is the military officer. As for the performance of social role
at swords point, factional conflicts and the desire to prove oneself with arms
were channeled into the private duel (Anglo 2001, Neumann 2010). Even as
ritualized tournaments became sundered from military realities during the course
of the fifteenth century, private quarrels became matters carried out in shirt-
sleeves, decried by traditionalists such as the fencing master Pietro Monte in 1509

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Chivalry and Knighthood 171

as fit for pimps, blasphemers, and shopkeepers (Anglo 1989, 266). The private
civilian duel, not requiring a field granted by the ruler, became firmly established
by the Chataigneraie-Jarnac debacle in 1547 and the condemnation of the Council
of Trent in its twenty-fourth session.
Nonetheless, concepts of knighthood and chivalry remained important to
early modern statecraft, and jousts became a de rigueur state ritual. Elizabeth Is
(r. 15581603) official program of propaganda included the Accession Day jousts
and other chivalric spectacles in which the nobility vied for her favor, as well as
literature such as Edmund Spensers Faerie Queene and the works of Philip
Sidney. In ancien rgime France, equestrian carousels, jousts, and other state
theater had distinct chivalric overtones (van Orden 2004). In Italy, such efforts
were attempts by regional princely rulers to bolster their images even as they
became increasingly marginalized. For instance, in the 1560s Alfonso II dEste
attempteddisastrouslyto imitate the French show-tournaments in order to
improve the status of his regime and city (Marcigliano 2003). Likewise, Cervan-
tess picaresque humor in Don Quixote relies on his readers familiarity with
tropes of chivalric literature. Long after the armored knight lost his place of honor
on the battlefield (if he ever held itsee my article in this handbook, Weapons,
Warfare, Siege Machinery, and Training in Arms), chivalry as an ideology and a
cultural touchstone remained very much alive in Europe.

Select Bibliography
Huizinga, Johan, Waning of the Middle Ages (1919; Chicago, IL, 1997).
Kaeuper, Richard W., Holy Warriors: The Religious Ideology of Chivalry (Philadelphia, PA, 2009).
Kaeuper, Richard W., Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford 1999). [= Kaeuper 1999a]
Keen, Maurice, Chivalry (New Haven, CT, 1984).
Muhlberger, Steven, Charnys Men-at-Arms: Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments, and
War (Wheaton, IL, 2014).
Muhlberger, Steven, Royal Jousts at the End of the Fourteenth Century (Wheaton, IL, 2012).
Muhlberger, Steven, Deeds of Arms (Highland Park, TX, 2005).
Muhlberger, Steven, Jousts and Tournaments: Charny and Chivalric Sport in 14th Century France
(Highland Park, TX, 2002).
Oman, Charles, The Art of War in the Middle Ages (London 1885).
Strickland, Matthew, War and Chivalry: The Conduct and Perception of War in England and
Normandy, 10661217 (Cambridge 1996).
Vale, Malcolm, The Princely Court: Medieval Courts and Culture in North-West Europe
(12701380) (Oxford and New York 2001).
Vale, Malcolm, War and Chivalry (Athens, GA, 1981).

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Linda Rouillard
Church and the Clergy
There are many ways to analyze and categorize a society: by gender, occupation,
civil status, region, social class, literacy, wealth, education, political association,
and so forth. How did the medievals themselves categorize members of their own
communities? In the late classical period, St. Augustine (354430), for instance,
classified people according to their status as being married, celibate, or as clerics
(Reynolds 2001, xvii). Adalberon, Bishop of Laon (d. 1030), divided the world into
categories of those who pray, those who fight, and those who work, or the
religious, the knights, and the laborers, a division maintained by his contempor-
ary Gerard of Cambrai (ca. 9751051) (Duby 1977, 8889). This article is specifi-
cally devoted to those members of medieval society who prayed, that is members
of what we call the clerical culture. While some definitions of the term clergy
range from the learned clerks of minor orders to men who have been ordained
priests, other definitions of the term also include women who have taken formal
religious vows as nuns. This article considers medieval clergy in the wider sense
and will discuss specifically the culture and lifestyle of both medieval religious
men and women in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. While clerics
such as Abbot Alcuin of York (735804) and Bishop Jonas of Orlans (d. 843)
certainly saw the clergy and the laity as two distinct classes of people, they
nonetheless saw much commonality between the two ways of life, namely in the
call to live a virtuous life pleasing to God (Romig 2010, 4243). Of course, there
were tensions between secular and ecclesiastical leaders, but numerous also were
the internal tensions of clerical culture, for hierarchy, authority, and prestige are
certainly issues within the Church as well. We find instances of conflict up and
down the different levels of clerical positions: bishop against bishop, pope over
bishops, English or French Church versus the pontiff, mendicant friars against
secular clergy, abbots against bishops, and so forth (Nelson 2001, 57882; Burns
2001, 539). Boniface the VIII (12351303) in his 1302 bull Unam sanctam made his
opinion clear: everyone who expected to be saved was to acknowledge the
supreme authority of the pope (Burns 2001, 542). In the last quarter of the four-
teenth century during the period of the Great Schism, the question then became:
which pope was supremeUrban VI or Clement VII?
The evolution of the church is a sweeping saga: from isolated groups of
Christians in the first centuries, to persecution, to tolerated religion, to state
religion, the Christian Church of the Middle Ages drew on its Roman legacy in the
development of canon law and in its elevation of a pope reminiscent of Roman
monarchs and emperors (Southern 1970, 25; Kantorowicz 1997, 19). Medieval

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Church and the Clergy 173

iconography depicted these blurry lines between secular power and ecclesiastical
authority. For instance, the crucified Christ with an emperors crown was typical
of certain Romanesque crucifixes, referred to as Volto santo. By the same token,
secular powers were often depicted with divine characteristics. For instance, a
miniature in the Aachen Gospels (ca. 975), a product of the Abbey of Reichenau,
depicts the Emperor Otto II with divine iconographic motifs: the encapsulating
mandorla or halo, and the hand of God above the Emperor (Kantorowicz 1997,

A Clerical and Secular Conflicts

This clerical imitation of a Roman secular society set the stage for subsequent
ambiguity, tension and conflict. Secular rulers implicated themselves in certain
types of spiritual appointments: from naming priests to their resident churches, to
participating in consecrations of bishops with the symbolic gift of the staff and
ring, powerful laity were often seen by the Church as too active in clerical affairs.
Spiritual leaders who received material possessions and political authority from
powerful laity were thus beholden to their benefactors (Logan 2002, 11315). The
Church, in its turn, however, could dominate secular powers by imposing excom-
munication on recalcitrant or overly ambitious rulers, effectively withholding
sacraments from everyone of every class in that kingdom, or by supporting a lay
rulers adversary (Southern 1970, 20). For instance, in 1075, when King Henry IV
of Germany (10501108) attempted to assert his royal authority in the question of
appointments of bishops, Pope Gregory the VII (d. 1085) responded with an
excommunication of Henry and a declaration that the German people were no
longer subject to the monarch. Henry responded by refusing to recognize Gregory
as Pope. In 1077, Henry reversed his position and humbly begged for and received
forgiveness from the Pope, who then promptly supported Henrys opponent
Rudolph of Swabia. Henry then turned on Pope Gregory once more, and drove
him out of Rome, named a new pope and declared himself now to be emperor
(Logan 2002, 11315). In short, the relationship between Henry IV and Pope
Gregory VII exemplifies the potential for perpetual conflict when lay rulers were
involved in spiritual appointments, and when the clergy were beholden to the
laity for material wealth and authority.

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B Secular Clergy
Medieval male clerical cultures were divided into secular clergy and regular
clergy, the former designating men who lived with and served the public in
parishes, and the latter designating men and women who lived according to
monastic rules (regulae) in abbeys set off from public life for the most part.
Secular clergy was then organized into a regular canonry or Canons Regular,
made up of ordained priests bound by the Rule of St. Augustine, such as the
Victorines whose order survived from the twelfth century to the end of the eight-
eenth century; and secular canonry or Canons Secular, made up of priests who
were not organized around any rule in particular (Logan 2002, 137; 142). Canons
regular were responsible for collegiate churches and cathedrals. Secular canons
lived together in a household, sometimes under a bishops watchful eye, as they
carried out their pastoral duties or even missionary functions (Lynch 1992, 209
10; Logan 2002, 79). In contrast to regular clergy who lived cloistered lives
according to extensive rules or regulae, secular priests lived and ministered in
parishes and were responsible for the spiritual welfare and instruction of their
congregations. Parish priests said mass, administered sacraments and preached
the gospel. John Capgrave (13931464) presented St. Gilbert of Sempringham (d.
1189) as an ideal pastoral example: learned, gracious, Gilberts parishioners were
said to be distinctive and recognizable, since he had taught them so well to bow
their backs and their knees to God, and so devoutly to say their beads (Ross,
McLaughlin 1949, 75). Vicars and chaplains, while ordained priests, typically did
not have their own assignments or benefices (salary), but rather were subject to a
rector (not necessarily a priest) who was beneficed and responsible for a particu-
lar parish church (Thibodeaux 2010, 14452). Guibert of Nogent (ca. 10551124)
described a plan to procure a prebend or a benefice for him through his brother
who was owed money by a nobleman. It was hoped that the said nobleman might
be convinced to give Guibert a canonry appointment in lieu of payment. Guibert
would have been about 12years old at the time and obviously not even an
ordained priest (Benton 1984, 51). A cousin of Guibert, also owed money by the
same nobleman, attempted to procure the same canonry for him as well; finally,
Guiberts mother found another position for him with fewer complications
(McAlhany 2011, 1820).

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Church and the Clergy 175

C Clerical Orders
In addition, male clerical culture was also divided into minor and major orders
leading up to ordination and priesthood. Members of all these categories, minor
and major orders, were considered to be clerks. Within the category of minor
orders were the positions of porter in charge of church doors; lector who per-
formed some of the readings for the services; exorcist who helped with ceremonial
blessings and the casting out of demons; and acolyte who was allowed near the
altar (Thibodeaux 2010, 142). Within the major orders were subdeacon, deacon,
priest (presbyter), and finally bishop who controlled his diocese (a collection of
parishes), a designated region subject to his authority and decisions. It must be
added, though, that land owners and villagers sometimes constructed their own
churches, independent of the bishop, as were any moneys raised in that church
(Lynch 1992, 14; 3839).
Clerics at any level, or from any category were subject to the laws and courts
of the Church, but were not subject to secular laws and courts, a decided perk
since Church courts did not use the death penalty. Physical violence aimed at
members of the clergy entailed immediate excommunication, which must have
provided a modicum of protection from rowdy laity (DAvray 2005, 157; Logan
2002, 166). Additionally, clerical property was exempt from taxes imposed by
secular rulers (Southern 1970, 39). Abbots sometimes even saved criminals from
secular punishment if they entered religious orders (Speed 1997, 69).

D Regular Clergy
Monks were members of the regular clergy. Early monastics of the fourth and fifth
centuries were comprised of isolated hermits as well as coenobites, or monks who
lived together in communities. Initially, these individuals and groups were self-
directed, though bishops eventually asserted their authority over such initiatives.
Monks were not necessarily ordained priests, though the abbot typically was and
hence was able to administer the sacraments to the faithful, monks and laity
included. By the twelfth century, monks were more frequently ordained as priests
(Brooke 2003, 10607).
Medieval female religious culture had functional designations, if not quite as
stratified a hierarchy as in male clerical houses. At the head of the convent or
monastery was the prioress, or abbess who exercised administrative authority
over activities and monastic properties. Other offices included the infirmaress,
cellaress, wool-mistress, and the porteress as described by Caesarius of Arles Rule
(cited in Amt 1993, 226). One category of abbess was that of canoness with such

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176 Linda Rouillard

privileges as the right to own property, if not administer it, and the right to baptize
women. Lest we be too quick to assume the continual and complete subjugation of
nuns to priests and monks, we should remember the Benedictine canoness Hrosvi-
ta of Gandersheim (b. ca. 930), who said of her own abbess: The authority of the
abbess was supreme; she had her own court; she sent her own men-at-arms into
the field; she coined her own money (Allen 1985, 254). Of course the abbess in
question, Gerberga (9401002), was a noble woman with powerful family mem-
bers and material resources at her disposal; but, nonetheless, as an abbess, she
still exerted a formidable authority both within and without her abbey (Bodarwe
2006, 14).
Monastic daily life was regulated by the Divine Office, though secular clergy
also followed to a degree this division of time. The Divine Office divided the day
into matins (which occurred in the middle of the night), lauds (shortly after
matins), prime (at approximately 6am), terce (approximately 9am), sext (noon),
none (3pm), vespers (late afternoon) and compline (evening) with accompanying
prayers, assigned psalms, readings and hymns, in addition to daily mass and
meditation (see also the contribution to this Handbook on Time and Timekeep-
ing by Mondschein and Casey). In addition, in the segregated space of the
monastery, monks relied on the product of their own labors, making manual work
a foundation of daily life (Burton and Kerr 2001, 107).
Benedictine monks spent a great portion of the day in silence, relying on sign
language for basic communication (Brooke 2003, 72). The Custumal of Syon
Monastery (n.d.) includes some of the following signs that enabled monks to
observe silence and yet communicate their needs when asking for the following:
BookWag and move the right hand, as if turning the leaves of a book. Drink
Bend the right forefinger and put it on the lower lip. FishWag the hand side-
ways, in the manner of a fish tail. MustardHold the nose in the upper part of the
right fist and rub it. TextKiss the back of the left hand and cross the breast with
the right thumb (cited in Speed 1997, 81).
Monasteries were often known for their bibliographic collections; Saint Gall,
for instance, established in the seventh century, was celebrated for its exemplary
compendium. And indeed, one of the daily tasks of monks was typically manu-
script production; abbeys played a major role in the translation, transmission and
preservation of classic texts, both religious and secular, for clerical and lay use,
as exemplified by Cassiodorus in the Italian monastary of Vivarium (Brooke 2001,
5253). Examples of some of the more spectacular monastic manuscripts are the
late seventh-century Lindisfarne Gospels (British Library Cotton MS Nero D.IV)
copied and translated into Old English by the monk Eadfrith from Northumbria;
the Irish Book of Kells (Trinity College Dublin MS 58), another gospel manuscript
with luxurious illustrations and decorations, dated from the late eighth century.

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Church and the Clergy 177

Nuns were equally prolific and celebrated for their manuscript production with
dedicated scriptoria in their convents.
The Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480547), adapted in large part from
the Rule of the Master, dates from about 530 and is the foundational text for
Benedictine monasteries; it centers on opus dei or works of God, as well as on
vows of poverty, obedience and chastity (Logan 2002, 20; Brooke 2003, 48;
Lynch 1992, 32). It is important to note that Benedict envisaged monks as
individuals engaged in constant regular prayer and religious reading, and as
also responsible for their own material sustenance (Lynch 1992, 32), though
monastic houses often accumulated great wealth and demonstrated consider-
able business affinity (Burton and Kerr 2001, 169). His directives included the
stipulation that the monks choose their own abbot and also allowed for oblates.
Benedictine monks were sometimes referred to as the black monks for the color
of their habits (Lynch 1992, 199).
The Benedictine Order, begun at the monastery of Monte Cassino, was the
main player for about six centuries and also had women followers. St. Benedicts
sister, Scholastica (ca. 480542), observed the Benedictine rule in her nunnery
not far from Monte Cassino. Devoted to prayer and governed by a rule of silence,
the Cluniac order, a reformed Benedictine order, was founded by a charter of
William I, Duke of Aquitaine (875918) who named Berno (850926) as the first
abbot of the monastery. Peter the Venerable (10921156) was one of Clunys best
known abbots, appreciated for his promotion of orthodox Benedictine discipline.
Clunys original charter created the order as one answerable only to the pope and
not to any local authority. Additionally, the abbot was to be elected and not
appointed. The Clunaic order lasted for nearly 700years (Logan 2002, 10607;
Burton and Kerr 2011, 2).
The Carthusian Order dates from 1084 and was a combination of community
life and ermetic life. With the exception of mass and prayers, Carthusian monks
inhabited their individual quarters and worked in solitude, engaged in manual
labor and in manuscript work.
The Cistercians (or white monks), an order founded in 1098 by St. Robert of
Molesmes (10291111), attempted to re-assert a more orthodox engagement with
the Rule of St. Benedict. Originating in the Burgundian town of Cteaux, the order
spread throughout Europe, thanks in large part to Bernard of Clairvaux (1090
1153). Bernards Cistercian way life accentuated a literal adherence to the rule of
St. Benedict and to manual labor though later Cistercian monks shifted the more
laborious chores to a category of lay monks or conversi, or second-class monks
(Southern 1970, 257; Logan 2002, 140). Generally uneducated, these lay monks
did the bulk of the heavy labor. A class of lay sisters also performed similar
functions for Cistercian nuns (Burton and Kerr 2011, 153).

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178 Linda Rouillard

Bernard in fact stressed the differences between the Cluniac order and his
preferred Cistercian lifestyle: the former, he believed, was softened by its over-
appreciation of the material world, while the latter was more austere and hence,
in his opinion, a more genuine spiritual order (Logan 2002, 140). William of
Malmesbury (1090ca. 1143) said admiringly of the Cistercians: Their efforts are
all spent on the adornment of the character and they prefer pure minds to gold-
embroidered vestments (Burton and Kerr 2011, 20). When the Cistercians were
criticized, it was often for their business acumen and territorial acquisitions, as
exemplified in Walter Maps (ca. 11401209) sarcastic judgment of the order that
with their agricultural holdings they have such a reserve of wealth accruing from
their care that they could enter the ark in the same spirit of security as Noah who
had nothing left outside to look to (Burton and Kerr 2011, 149). Gerald of Wales
(11461223) demonstrated more admiration for the Cistercian business sense in
comparison to the Cluniac order, declaring that one need only give Cluny some
land to see it go to waste while Cistercians would turn a forest into a thriving
property (Burton and Kerr 2011, 186).
The Cistercian order, both male and female houses, participated in the fight
against heresy, the mission underlying the Crusades. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, for
instance, campaigned for the Second Crusade. Numerous Cistercians preached
against the Cathars in Southern France; Abbot Arnaud Amaury (d. 1225) even led
battalions of knights to battle with the purpose of slaughtering heretics. Nuns
were recruited by the Cistercian order to specifically pray for such military opera-
tions (Burton and Kerr 2011, 19798).
In the thirteenth century, friars appeared on the scene as new caretakers of
the souls of the laity, challenging and competing with traditional secular clergy.
A hybrid of the monastic orders and the secular clergy, the mendicant friars were
wandering ascetics who lived in poverty, begging for alms, at least in their
beginnings. They eventually challenged the authority of the traditional parish
priests and universities: they taught, preached and pardoned sins (Miller 2010,
24344). Followers of Dominic de Guzman (11701221) and the Rule of St. Augus-
tine were known as Dominicans; part of their preaching mission was devoted to
attacking heretical sects such as the Cathars and the Waldensians (Lynch 1992,
235). Followers of Francis of Assisi (ca. 11811226) were known as Franciscans or
Friars Minor. Some Franciscans lived a form of community-eremetism (eno-
cak 2012, 41), that is they lived in small groups in seclusion, with rotating
responsibility for gathering alms in the public sphere. While the women orga-
nized around Clare Favarone of Assisi (ca. 11931253) were prohibited from
wandering the world, or preaching in public, these Franciscan women lived in
communities as the Second Order of Franciscans and strictly adhered to the rule
of poverty.

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Church and the Clergy 179

The friars contributions to the fight against heresies were bolstered by their
university training, both for Dominicans and Franciscans (enocak 2012, 18; 147).
enocak notes the increasing emphasis by the Franciscan order on requiring that
new admissions be educated individuals. A mid thirteenth-century statute de-
clares: No one is to be received into our order unless he is a cleric competently
educated in grammar or logic or medicine or canon law or civil law or theology
(enocak 2012, 78). The friars public preaching mission, in addition to hearing
confessions, often led to confrontations and conflicts with secular clergy who
keenly felt the competition (enocak 2012, 12829; 14950). The friars, however,
were protected in large part by the pope (Lynch 1992, 236).
The friars perceived determination to live in poverty was in great contrast to
the material wealth accumulated by the Church in general and by particular
churches and abbeys. For instance, an early thirteenth-century Franciscan ser-
mon says: The means to go to God is poverty, which is proved by the argument
from oppositesIf riches are the way to go to hell, then poverty is the way to go to
paradise (enocak 2012, 123). In the twelfth century, Abbot Suger had justified
his stunning expenses for Saint-Denis by professing that contemplation of beauti-
ful material things can lead one to understand the beauty of the divine (Panofsky
1979, 6367). And yet, even the friars organizational mission to live without
riches eventually gave way to the collection of material goods, including books
(enocak 2012, 20108).

E Clerical Education
Educational levels among clerical groups varied greatly, from clerics who thrived
in the cultural and intellectual centers of monastic houses during the reign of
Charlemagne, to individual parish priests who could be virtually illiterate (Lawr-
ence 2001, 661). The eighth-century Bede (ca. 672735), for instance, concedes
that there are those clerics or monks who are ignorant of the Latin language
(DAvry 2005, 35, from the letter of Bede to Archbishop Egbert). Monastic schools,
often located outside cities, ensured that the members of the cloistered commu-
nity were literate. In addition, they sometimes accepted noble boys for instruc-
tion. By contrast, the secular clergy, most often those from wealthy noble
families, received their education in urban cathedral schools staffed by peripate-
tic and sometimes controversial instructors, such as Peter Abelard (10791142)
(Lynch 1992, 24344). The establishment of the College of Sorbonne by Robert of
Sorbon (12011274) was founded in the desire to meld theological studies with
pastoral training in imitation of the mendicants who claimed that their lengthy
university studies made them better ministers to the laity (enocak 2012, 15455).

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180 Linda Rouillard

Indeed, it was the appearance of the friars that undermined the traditional
position of monks as the guardians of knowledge (Nelson 2001, 584). For most
women, the best way to acquire an education was to become a nun, for women
were not admitted to cathedral schools or monastery schools. For instance,
Beatrice of Nazareth (12001268), a Cistercian nun at Florival, was sent to another
abbey specifically to learn to write so that she could make copies of manuscripts
at her home abbey (Burton and Kerr 2011, 118). Hildegard of Bingen (10981179), a
German nun and mystic, was widely respected for her knowledge and wisdom, in
addition to her musical compositions and a morality play entitled Ordo virtutum;
Hrothvita (ca. 9351002), a German canoness, was a playwright, and the abbess
Hilda of Whitby (614680) was a noted teacher.
Whatever the location, the basic curriculum was the trivium (grammar, rheto-
ric and logic) and the quadrivium (astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, music).
Monastic schools favored traditional approaches while the cathedral schools
presented more innovative methodologies and subjects such as Aristotelian logic,
though the latter schools still remained under the thumb of the bishop. Medieval
universities developed in part to emancipate teachers and students from the
bishops authority; while still staffed by clerics as teachers, these new schools
were now, for the most part, self-regulating institutions (Lynch 1992, 24651).
Religious houses often became repositories for children, offered as oblates or
gifts to God by their parents. Such institutions also served as refuges for children
considered to have no viable future due to other heirs or due to physical deformi-
ties. The sixth-century Caesarius of Arles (ca. 470542), in his rule for nuns,
stipulated that no girl younger than six or seven would be accepted into a
monastery (Amt 1993, 222). Guibert of Nogent describes his fathers promise that
should his wife safely deliver her child after prolonged labor, he would offer that
child to the Church. Guibert then professes to be glad of his fathers early death
when he was still an infant, for he feared that his father would have eventually
broken his promise, though Guibert more pointedly criticized the practice of
turning children over to the Church at a young age. Religious houses also served
as refuges for husband and wives, mothers and fathers. For instance, Guiberts
memoirs also narrate his mothers entry in a monastery at Saint-Germer de Fly
where she lived as a nun, and the disastrous effects this decision had upon him as
a twelve-year old child. Upon hearing that her son was fast becoming a delin-
quent, she prevailed upon the abbot of the monastery at Fly to allow Guibert to
study there, taking advantage of the abbots receipt of his benefice from Guiberts
grandfather. Not long after, Guibert became a monk there (McAlhany 2011, 9, 12,
21, 4145).

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Church and the Clergy 181

F Celibacy
One of the distinguishing features of the Roman church was the requirement that
priests be celibate, and by implication that they also be chaste, though both these
initiatives proved gradual and difficult. Pope Siricius (ca. 334399) had decreed
as early as the fourth century the requirement for priests and deacons to live apart
from their spouses. In the fifth century, Pope Leo I (d. 461) declared that this
requirement applied to subdeacons, too. Priestly celibacy was not definitively
imposed until the eleventh-century Gregorian reform and later articulated by the
1123 First Lateran Council, by the 1139 Second Lateran Council, and outlined by
Gratians Decretum in the mid-twelfth century (Baldwin 1970, 337; Thibodeaux
2010, 188). Indeed the numerous articulations of this requirement testify to the
difficulty of imposing celibacy and chastity on priests. Even after the Gregorian
reform, however, there were still outlier priests whose sons sometimes succeeded
them in their church (Lawrence 2001, 660).
The underlying reason for this requirement that priests be unmarried and
sexually abstinent stems in part from the need to distinguish the priestly class,
specifically the secular clergy, from the laity, though celibacy was already a
traditional feature of the monastic orders. By removing ordained priests from the
sexual arena, Gregorian reformers purified them from the ordinary, secular life
and created a spiritual elite who were still presented and regarded as virile
warriors, protectors of the Church, and spiritual parents who paternally guided
and directed their children in Christ (Thibodeaux 2010, 67, 24).
The obligation of celibacy applied only to the major clerical orders, while the
minor orders of clerics were allowed to marry. The dilemmas that resulted from
this partial obligation is exemplified in the story of Abelard and Helose (ca.
11011164). As a teacher at the cathedral school of Notre-Dame in Paris and as a
canon, Abelard lived in the house of another canon, Fulbert who also employed
Abelard to tutor his niece Helose. There ensued a tumultuous affair and a
pregnancy. Abelards solution to this situation was to marry Helose, keeping the
marriage secret, though, from everyone except Fulbert. When Fulbert made pub-
lic the news of this marriage, Abelard sent Helose to stay in a nunnery (though
she did not become at nun until later), not to repudiate her, but rather to maintain
a certain amount of discretion to protect his professional clerical ambitions.
Fulbert, however, interpreted this as abandonment of his niece and charged his
men to punish Abelard by castration. Abelard then entered the monastery at St.
Denis and Helose took vows to become a nun (Logan 2002, 15557).

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182 Linda Rouillard

G Recent Scholarship
The mark of the clergy, tonsure, or the shaving of the crown of the head, is
believed by some scholars to have signified a rejection of masculinity, in addition
to being an outward sign of the clerics submission of all his heart and mind to
God. Lay brothers in fact sometimes grew a beard specifically to signify their
different status from monks (Murray 2008, 44). If masculinity is determined by
making war, making love, having children and accumulating wealth, and if the
clergy were required to reject such masculine behavior, how then did medieval
clerics identify themselves as men?
This is indeed one of the most important recent developments in the scholar-
ship on clerical culture: the study of celibacy and its consequential effects on
masculine identity among clerics, and on the lay perception of clerical male
identity. Ruth Mazo Karras for instance, reminds us that chastity or more specifi-
cally virginity, was not the exclusive purview of clerics, for it was certainly
expected of unmarried laity, but obviously only until the day of their nuptials.
Clerics of the major orders were marked by the expectation of perpetual chastity,
though the practical reality was that even though such clerics might remain
celibate or unmarried, they were not always sexually abstinent. Karras cites the
example of a fifteenth-century priest who was known to live with his concubine.
His more serious offense, however, was considered to be his adulterous relation-
ship with a parishioners wife (Karras 2012, 5354).
How then did celibate priests identify themselves as masculine when they
renounced sexual relationships and the establishment of a family line as well as
military prowess? Some research suggests a rhetorical strategy that claimed a
virtual military characteristic: clerics sometimes presented themselves as soldiers
of Christ fighting for the spiritual well-being of the laity and as parents aggres-
sively protecting their charges (Werner 2010, 163; Thibodeaux 2010, 86, 99100).
They advised crusader knights engaged in just wars; such knights could and
should fight in exchange for forgiveness of their sins. Bernard of Clairvauxs In
Praise of the New Knighthood explained how military valor could serve God (Holt
2010, 18990). The Chanson de Roland, the twelfth-century Old French asso-
nanced epic poem, includes numerous lengthy descriptions of Roland and Oli-
vier, engaged in mortal and spiritual combat with the enemy Saracens; and it also
includes descriptions of the Archbishop Turpin who fought, killed, and died
alongside the secular heroes of Charlemagnes army, a stunning literal example
of a clerical soldier of Christ (Moignet 1969, laisses 95, 108, 121).
Some of the current discussion focused on religious men and women of the
Middle Ages is framed by the modern concept of a third gender which can include
a variety of life circumstances such as celibacy and castration, or more simply

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Church and the Clergy 183

anyone who does not satisfy the masculine or feminine categories (Murray 2008,
35). It is important to note, however, that medievals did not consign themselves to
a third gender. Rather than embracing asexual images, medieval religious men
and women often embraced hybrid sexual images. For instance, spectacularly
virtuous women were ascribed to the category of virago, or manly women. The
word abbess is derived from abbas which designates an abbot or a father,
and thus implies a woman-father (Bodarwe 2006, 1). Caroline Bynum Walkers
scholarship has amply demonstrated the sexually ambiguous images associated
with Christ as savior. The Abbot Guerric of Igny refers to the Holy Spirit as sent
from Heaven like milk poured out from Christs own breasts. Especially humble
and paternal abbots did not shy away from maternal images for Christ, even
presenting themselves as mother hens to their monks. In an amplification of
Matthew 23:37, one of Anselm of Canterburys prayers refers to Jesus as a mother,
then to Saint Paul who in his imitation of Christ also becomes a mother to
Christians. Bernard of Clairvaux, in his position as abbot, regularly portrayed
himself as a maternal, nurturing figure (Bynum 1992, 122).

H Nuns
Like male clerics, nuns were enjoined to remain celibate and chaste, and like their
male counterparts, some women infamously ignored the rule. In the thirteenth
century, Eudes (d. 1275), archbishop of Rouen, visited nunneries in Normandy
and reported on the compliance or lack thereof to this rule. At Villarceaux, in
addition to his discovery of such infractions as eating meat, wearing luxurious
clothing, talking too much, not singing in time and keeping pets, Eudes professed
to be shocked by fornicating and procreating nuns (Amt 1993, 24748).
For the most part, religious men and women lived separately in their respec-
tive monasteries or convents, though there were double monasteries where men
and women lived in segregated quarters in one abbey. Seventh-century Gaul had
several of these double monasteries, one of the first located in Luxeuil, with
others in Chelles, Jouarre, Faremoutiers, and Remiremont. Abbesses in these
institutions heard confessions, though not with sacramental effect, and adminis-
tered benedictions, practices which still demonstrated a fair amount of respect for
womens religious authority (Bodarwe 2006, 2). Some of these monasteries estab-
lished co-ed schools and ran scriptoria for the important work of copying of
manuscripts. In seventh-century England, Hilda of Whitby founded a double
convent at Whitby where the monks were in fact subject to Abbess Hildas
authority even as they provided the nuns with the necessary sacraments and
rituals. Hilda was also a recognized teacher and several of her male students went

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184 Linda Rouillard

on to be named as bishops (Allen 1985, 253). By the ninth century, however, the
authority of abbesses was seriously curtailed, though in the twelfth-century
double orders or monasteries of Fontevrault in France and Sempringham in
England, the chaplains or canons remained dependent on their female charges in
financial matters. Yet, Simeon of Durham (d. ca. 1130), in his late eleventh- or
early twelfth-century description of a double house at Coldingham, writes that
some of these co-ed monasteries had changed into resorts for feasting, drinking,
conversation, and other improprieties, those very residences which had been
erected as places to be dedicated to prayer and study (Amt 1993, 23132). Double
monasteries in Italy continued with the orders of Humiliati and Humiliatae, from
the twelfth to the fourteenth century when Pope John XXII (12391334) deter-
mined that such establishments were taking in women of ill repute.
In addition to nuns who lived in an abbey or cloister, there also existed a
group of religious women known as anchoresses, anchorites, recluses or hermits.
These women devoted themselves to a spiritual life without necessarily being
members of an organized order, sometimes living in isolation, though they some-
times chose to live in a convent without taking vows. A variation on this group,
particularly associated with the Low Countries, the Beguines of the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries were religious women who lived in the lay community, took
no vows and worked for a living. In general, men and women who wanted to
devote their lives to spiritual devotion without pledging to a closed community,
could become members of Third Orders: as tertiaries they received spiritual
guidance from monasteries and nunneries, but they pursued their religious devo-
tions in the lay world, as for instance the Third Orders of Franciscans (enocak
2012, 39).
Together with observing the rule of chastity, religious women were expected
to be obedient and responsive to their religious superiors. Hildegard of Bingen
(10981179), however, demonstrated on more than one occasion her own determi-
nation to go beyond mere obedience and do the virtuous thing, the right thing. In
one instance, she refused orders from her bishop to exhume an excommunicant,
resulting in an interdict placed upon her community of nuns by local canons. This
punishment forbade the nuns communion, until the interdict was rescinded by an
archbishop. In another instance, Hildegard refused to be subservient to the abbot
of her Benedictine double monastery at Disibodenberg, insisting on and even-
tually winning the right for her nuns to live in a segregated abbey at Rupertsberg,
rather than be continually subject to the abbot. Her plans to found a nunnery at
Rupertsberg were temporarily frustrated by the abbot who refused to release the
nuns dowries, but Hildegard prevailed (Allen 1985, 312; Berger 1999, 13). In-
deed, the tendency of the eleventh century was to establish single-sex convents
with an abbess. The twelfth-century Abelard, however, in the rule for female

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Church and the Clergy 185

monasteries which he wrote at Heloses request, states that nuns should be

governed by the rule of spiritual men (Allen 1985, 280), though he acquiesces
that the abbess or deaconess as he called her, should always be consulted on any
matter pertaining to the life of these religious women.
Hildegard of Bingen is also an important example of a formidable, learned
abbess of renown, even within her own lifetime. She was known both for her
scientific writings, spiritual texts, musical compositions as well as for her preach-
ing and sermons. She was praised by Pope Eugenius III (d. 1153); and even
allowed to preach in cathedrals. Hildegard was bold enough to scold Emperor
Barbarossa (ca. 11231190) and reproach popes. Of particular importance in
Hildegards biography is her experience and interpretation of what is currently
believed to be intense symptoms of migraines: Hildegard vividly described vi-
sions she had, interpreting them as divine gifts that could offer spiritual teachings
which she chronicled in her Scivias (Logan 2002, 17682).

I Clerical Culture and Art

Monastic orders did not only export religious culture and practice, or offer
prayers: they could also circulate other products such as architectural styles,
calligraphy styles and even agricultural products. For instance, some scholars
credit the Cistercian order with the dissemination of the Reinette Grise apple and
the Warden pear from France to different European sites (Burton and Kerr 2011,
97). On a higher level, Abbot Suger (ca. 10811151) of Saint-Denis (a Benedictine
abbey and royal necropolis just outside of Paris), is credited with the introduction
of the Gothic style in northern France, in addition to his diplomatic service to the
French King Louis VI (10811137). Renovations of the abbey church of Saint-Denis
contributed to the economic development and enrichment of both the abbey and
the town: these renovations in part improved access to relics which then in-
creased pilgrimages to the church and hence improved revenues for both the
church and its surrounding region.
Woven throughout the centuries of numerous clerical orders, both male and
female, remain the spiritual convictions, devotions, and dedication of genera-
tions: men and women who believed that their faith and their prayers could save
the world. While people of the twenty-first century may have difficulty compre-
hending the medieval traffic in relics, repetitions of formulaic prayers, or the
insistence on celibacy for priests and nuns, we must remember that clerical
culture also commissioned and created some of the greatest inspirational works
of art that we know. One need only open the early thirteenth-century Peterbor-
ough Psalter or examine an illuminated page from the late twelfth-century

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186 Linda Rouillard

Winchester Bible to be confronted with the artistic incarnation of religious belief.

The monophonic repertoire of Gregorian Chant constitutes an aural legacy of
clerical culture and daily life, along with the development of polyphony begin-
ning with Leonin and Perotin, clerics associated with the twelfth-century Notre-
Dame School. Our legacy from Hildegard of Bingen includes her musical composi-
tions compiled in Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum. Guillaume de Ma-
chaut, fourteenth-century priest and composer, recreated his faith through his
compositions of music for the mass, in addition to his secular compositions.
Bishops organized campaigns to construct some of the most beautiful edifices
ever designed to manifest human faith in a holy being. While there certainly were
political motivations behind ecclesiastical building campaigns, nonetheless, Ro-
manesque basilicas and Gothic cathedrals, along with all the other examples of
medieval art created within and for clerical culture, exemplify a collective belief
in something greater than mere human beings.

Select Bibliography
Brooke, Christopher, The Age of the Cloister: The Story of Monastic Life in the Middle Ages
(Mahwah, NJ, 2003).
Burton, Janet and Julie Kerr, The Cistercians in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge and Rochester, NY,
Bynum, Caroline Walker, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages
(Berkeley, CA, 1982).
Linehan, Peter and Janet L.Nelson, ed., The Medieval World (New York 2001).
Logan, F.Donald, A History of the Church in the Middle Ages (New York 2002).
enocak, Neslihan, The Poor and the Perfect: The Rise of Learning in the Franciscan Order,
12091310 (Ithaca, NY, 2012).
Thibodeaux, Jennifer D., ed., Negotiating Clerical Identities: Priests, Monks and Masculinity in
the Middle Ages (New York 2010).

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Johannes Bernwieser

A Critical Issues
The question, What is a city? at first seems to be easy to answer when it comes
to the medieval era in Europe: Densely built, with towers, castles, or churches and
surrounded by walls, the silhouettes of these settlements are noticeably different
from those of the surrounding areas. Often, medieval cities were located at
important traffic intersections, such as rivers or traditional trade routes. Inside
the city walls the inhabitants would form a distinct society with a specific sense
of community and culture, its own legal system, and lively mercantile activity
(Jschke and Schrenk, ed., 2007). John of Viterbo, who was a jurist in Florence in
the first half of the thirteenth century, points out some of these aspects of cities in
his Liber de Regimine Civitatum (ca. 1228):
The word city (civitas) implies the following: The freedom of citizens (civium libertas) or of
inhabitants (habitantium immunitas); this interpretation is based on the three syllables of
the word civitas: ci stands for citra, which refers to the interior that is surrounded by walls, vi
stands for vim, the military strength of the inhabitants, and tas stands for habitas, referring
to the living space of the inhabitants that is protected against foreigners and enemies (John
of Viterbo 1901, 218).

At the same time, it is important to note that no medieval city was identical to any
other. Each city had its own shapes and its own particular social, political,
judicial, and economic aspects that caused it to develop in a particular way
(Johanek and Post 2004). In order to explore medieval cities in greater depth, it is
necessary to differentiate between formal, regional and chronological aspects. In
the following, three different types of cities shall be discussed: first, Roman cities
from late antiquity in central and southern Europe; second, trading cities from the
early and high Middle Ages, which mainly emerged in Northern Europe; and last,
market towns that developed in Central Europe at about the same time (Brach-
mann 1991; Schwarz 2008). In addition, some basic features of urban life will be
discussed, including how an urban citizenry developed (Schulz 1992) and the
peculiarities of city councils. Finally, living conditions in cities during the early
and high Middle Ages will be explored, including the constant threat of epi-
demics. Urban fringe groups and city chronicles will be the final topics (for a
comprehensive discussion of the medieval city, see the contributions to Classen,
ed., 2009).

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188 Johannes Bernwieser

B City Types
I The City of Late Antiquity

When talking about the city of the early Middle Ages (fifth to tenth centuries)
one usually refers to cities that were founded in Roman times and had endured
the political end of the western Roman Empire (Clemens 2003). Many of these
early medieval cities are located on rivers or coasts, like the southern French
city of Arles (Brhl 1975, 23444). This settlement, located at the southern end
of the Rhne delta, used to be inhabited by the Celts and was probably founded
by the Greeks. At the end of the second century B.C.E., Arles was used by the
Romans as a military base (Fossae Marianae) because it was close to the sea. In
46 B.C.E., Julius Caesar granted Arles the status of a colonia (Colonia Iulia
Paterna Arelate Sextanorum). However, the rapid rise of Arles began only under
Constantine (306337), who decided to make the city one of his residences. In
417, Pope Zosimos ( 418) made Arles a metropolitan see. In the sixth century,
Arles was conquered by the Frankish kings, who arranged circus games there,
according to the report of Procopius of Caesarea (ca. 500ca. 565) (Procopius
Caesariensis 2001, 442). Although the Franks took over the Roman prefectures
constitution, they moved the prefecture from Arles to Marseille at the end of the
sixth century.
The citys harbor was of great importance, because it helped the settlement to
become a center of trade, including long-distance trade. Eugen Ewig has referred
to sixth-century Arles as the gateway to the world (Ewig 1952, 673). In the
following centuries, the city seems to have lost its prominence. The Carolingian
and Burgundian rulers of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries stayed there
only on rare occasions. However, when Pope John VIII (ca. 852882) escaped from
Rome in 878, he first went to Arles in order to meet up with Boso of Provence
( 887) (Grat, ed., 1964, 223). Arles suffered greatly from the invasions of the
Spanish Muslims (737/738, 842) and the Normans (859/860). In the second half of
the ninth century, Arles and its surrounding area were invaded by the Saracens,
who settled down close to present-day Saint-Tropez. In 869, they even captured
Archbishop Roland of Arles (852869), who was only released in exchange for an
enormous ransom. Other cities of late antiquity are London, Marseille, Genoa,
Cologne, Trier, and Mainz.

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Cities 189

II The Medieval Trading City

Apart from these very old civitates, there are many cities that do not have roots in
antiquity, but were instead founded in medieval times. These cities were usually
trading centers, and in areas where Germanic languages were spoken, their
names are identifiable by the suffix -wik (Old High German for trading place)
(Schtte 1976). Trading cities emerged in the Early Middle Ages as commerce
developed quickly in Northern Europe, especially in the areas of the Baltic Sea
and the North Sea. The estuaries of navigable rivers, such as the Rhine, the
Scheldt, or the Meuse, were situated along the most important trading routes and
were therefore particularly attractive sites for trading cities. Haithabu (Old Norse
for place on the heath), which is today deserted, is one of the earliest settle-
ments of this kind. This city is located close to the River Schlei, on the Jutland
Peninsula and is part of the current administrative district of Schleswig-Flensburg
in northern Germany (Brandt, Mller-Wille, and Radtke 2002). Goods and pro-
ducts were shipped from Haithabu to Scandinavia and the entire Baltic area. Salt,
fish, wheat, timber, metal, flax and fur were loaded onto ships at Haithabu and
transported to Norway, Sweden, and Russia. The city, which probably consisted
of a few shacks at the beginning of the ninth century, rapidly became a flourish-
ing trading post. According to legend, a church was built in Haithabu under the
auspices of the missionary Ansgar of Hamburg-Bremen (ca. 860); soon afterward,
a wall was constructed around the city. Although this city became a popular
destination for Christian merchants, its population was probably mainly pagan.
This is, at least, what the Maghrebi traveler al-Tartushi of Cordoba suggests in his
account dated 950:

In honor of their god, they are celebrating, eating and drinking. Everyone who slaughters a
sacrificial animal has a wooden rack in front of his door where he puts the animal [] so that
everybody can see that this person is honoring their god (Giese, ed., 1988, 43).

The heydays of Haithabu lasted only for a short period of time. It was probably
the siltation of the harbor in the eleventh century which forced larger ships to call
at other ports. Additionally, the raids of the Norwegians and Slavs (1050/1066)
destroyed the city so extensively that it was not rebuilt afterwards. Haithabus fate
was shared by a few other important northern European trading sites, such as
Quentovic (dp. Pas-de-Calais), Kaupang (southern Norway), and Birka (west of
Stockholm). Today, none of these sites exist.

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190 Johannes Bernwieser

III Market Towns in the European Inland

Normally, market towns developed in the vicinity of already-existing structures

such as Roman settlements, episcopal sees, monasteries, royal palaces, and
castles. They can often be found in northern France, Flanders, the Lower Rhine,
and eastern Germany. One such market town is Bruges, which grew rapidly in the
eleventh and twelfth centuries and became the international trade center of
Northern Europe (Peyer 1987, 69). Archeological findings show that Bruges,
which had been a Roman settlement, was well developed as early as the third
century B.C.E. Apparently, in the early Middle Ages, a second settlement was
founded in the immediate vicinity of the original settlement. Sources from the
eighth century identify this second settlement the main site of the pagus Flandren-
sis (i.e., the County of Flanders) (Ryckaert 1983, 742). However, nothing remains
of the old Roman city. It was destroyed in the second half of the third century by
German tribes and the sea flooded its ruins.
Bruges rapid rise began in the ninth century, around the time that the a
castrum was built for protection. The marketplace was situated just west of the
oudeburg (todays Simon Stevinplein). As the population increased, the city
grew to the north and east. At the beginning of the twelfth century, the city was so
densely populated that the politically significant Peoples Assembly could no
longer be convened in the city center but had to be moved outside of the city to
provide space for every inhabitant. In the thirteenth century, the mendicant
orders moved to Bruges and built hospitals. Franciscans (ca. 1225), Dominicans
(1234), Carmelites (1266), and Augustinians (1276) came to the city. Bruges became
one of the most important centers for the arts in fifteenth-century Europe. Jan van
Eyck (ca. 13901441), Hans Memling (1433/14401494), and Gerard David (ca.
14601523) worked there. The population reached its peak in the fifteenth century
at about 40,000 inhabitants.

C Basic Conditions of Urban Life in the

Middle Ages
I Population growth

One cannot describe the development of medieval cities without also describing
the immense population growth at that time. After the period of the great migra-
tions and the plague of the seventh century that decimated a large part of the
European population, a demographic revolution started in the tenth century

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Cities 191

(Bairoch etal. 1988). It is estimated that between the years 300 and 1340, the
population rose from 4 to 9.3million in Italy, from 5 to 19million in France, and
from 3.5 to 11.6million in the Roman-German Empire (including Scandinavia).
Agricultural improvements like the three-field crop rotation system and innova-
tions like the cold-turning plough were responsible for this development (Rsener
1986). Although it is very hard to estimate the population with any accuracy, it is
safe to say that Europes population doubled between 1000 and 1400. This
development caused extensive deforestation and led to the expansion of cities. As
with Bruges, mentioned above, cities often outgrew their boundaries. In response,
new neighborhoods were built, existing structures were expanded, and some-
times remote regions were settled.
The greatest influx of people into cities occurred during the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries. City living became more and more attractive. Everyone who
hoped to improve his living conditions left the countryside and moved to the city
(Nicholas 1997). The biggest cities in medieval times were Paris, Milan, Florence
and Venice. In the thirteenth century between 20,000 and 40,000 people lived in
each of these cities. Bonvesin dela Rivas (ca. 1240ca. 1315) work On the Marvels
of the City of Milan illustrates very well how life was in late medieval cities.
Although this text is painting an idealized picture, it gives rare insights into the
life, culture, and proportions of a medieval city:

In regards to housing [] the truth is there before the eyes of those who see. The streets in
this city are quite wide, the palaces beautiful, the houses packed in, not scattered but
continuous, stately, adorned in a stately manner. [] Dwellings with doors giving access to
the public streets have been found to number about 12,500, and in their number are very
many in which many families live together with crowds of dependents. And this indicates the
astonishing density of population of citizens. [] The roofed commons (open to all) neigh-
bors in those squares which are popularly called coperti (roofed arcades) almost reach the
number of 60. [] The court of the commune [] spreads over an area of 66 acres. [] In the
midst of it stands a wonderful palace, and in the court itself there is a town, in which are the
four bells of the commune. [] The city itself is ringed as a circle, and its wonderful rounded
shape is a mark of its perfection. [] Outside the wall of the moat there are so many suburban
houses that they alone would be enough to constitute a city. [] The main gates of the city
are also very strong, and they reach the number of six. The secondary gates [] are ten. []
The sanctuaries of the saints [] are about 200 in the city alone, having 480 altars. [] (In
honor of the Virgin Mary) 36 churches have been built in the city alone, and undoubtedly
there are more in the surrounding city. [] The steeples, built in the manner of towers, are
about 120 in the city. [] Then there are [] 94 chapels [], six convents of monks, and the
nunneries are eight. [] In the city [] there are ten hospitals for the sick, all properly
endowed with sufficient temporal resources. The principal one is the Hospital of the Brolo,
very rich in precious possessions; it was founded 1145 by Guffredo da Bussero. In it [] there
are [] more than 500 poor bed patients and just as many more not lying down. All of these
receive food at the expense of the hospital itself. Besides them, also, no less than 350 babies

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192 Johannes Bernwieser

and more [] are under the hospitals care. Every sort of the poor people [] except the
lepers, for whom another hospital is reserved [] (Lopez and Raymond, ed., 1955, 6165).

II Urban Law and Freedom

The boom of the cities was certainly one of the most important turning points in
medieval Europes history. Societies that had been predominantly agricultural
were now becoming urban. This led to the development of an urban law. The
most important feature of this law was that every citizen had the right to personal
freedom and the right to own and inherit land (Schwarz 2008). The often-quoted
phrase city air sets you free made sure that serfs from rural areas did not have
to suffer from a lack of freedom when mingled with citizens. Free citizens, who
sometimes elected their own judges, formed their own judicial communities. This
community was liberated from the general constitution of the courts and had its
own city district. Due to the fact that in those districts a higher peace was
applied, they formed an island of free law. This model of city in a legal sense
(Planitz 1973) constitutes itself for the first time in eleventh-century northern
Italian cities (Milan, Piacenza), as well as in the Roman-German and Northern
French cities of the twelfth century (Cambrai 1077, Laon 1107/12, and Freiburg im
Breisgau 1120) (Schulz 1992). In the old cities with a bishop residence at the Rhine
and the Danube, this development set in later. Only at the end of the twelfth
century was the struggle of the citizens against the lords of the towns successful.
Thus, local autonomy could develop. This is illustrated by the Charter of Lorris
(dp. du Loiret) of 1155, which was imitated by the charters of many cities:

(1) Everyone who has a house in the parish of Lorris shall pay as rent only 6 pence for his
house, and for each acre of land he possesses in the parish.
(2) No inhabitant [] shall be required to pay a toll or any other tax on his provisions; and let
him not be made any measurage fee on the grain which he has raised by his own labor.
(3) No burgher shall go on an expedition, on foot or on horseback, from which he cannot
return the same day to his home if he desires.
(4) No burgher shall pay toll on the road to tampes, to Orlans, to Milly or to Melun. [].
(6) No person while on his way to the fairs and markets of Lorris, or returning, shall be
arrested or disturbed, unless he shall have committed an offense the same day. [].
(7) No one [] shall exact from the burgers of Lorris any tallage, tax, or subsidy. [].
(16) No one shall be detained in prison if he can furnish surety that he will present himself
for judgment [].
(17) Any burgher who wishes to sell his property shall have the privilege of doing so [].
(18) Anyone who shall dwell a year and a day in the parish of Lorris, without any claim
having pursued him there [] shall abide there freely and without molestation. (Ogg, ed.,
1908, 32830).

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Cities 193

III Development of the Urban Citizenry

All of that provides the background for the development of an urban bourgeoi-
sie. Modern research often points out that the charter exemplifies a struggle for
civil self-determination or civil liberty. However, this assumption falls short
of the mark: the overall aim of the citizens was to ensure permanent peace within
the city walls (Oexle 1996). As mentioned above, some cities gained a measure of
autonomy in northern Italy at a remarkably early date, the eleventh century.
During the church reform movement and the so-called Investiture Controversy
(eleventh and twelfth centuries) the traditional episcopal lords of the cities lost
their authority. They had been accused of simony and criticized for allowing
priests to marry. Because of their loss of authority, they were no longer capable of
settling intra-city conflicts (Zumhagen 2002), so the inhabitants of the cities took
the initiative. Evidence from different places suggests that at the end of the
eleventh and the beginning of the twelfth centuries, the urban nobility, the
nobiles from the area surrounding the city as well as the non-aristocratic clergy-
and laymen, tried to settle conflicts peacefully in the context of peoples assem-
blies. It seems that the commitment on oath played a central role in these peoples
assemblies. After the debates, a common oath was taken that obliged all parties
involved to uphold everything that had been laid down before (Zumhagen 2002).
Anyone who did not take the oath and did therefore not join the coniuratio, or
even broke the oath he had taken, risked being excluded from the community.
The dissenter usually had his house destroyed and the rubble dumped outside the
city walls.

IV The City Communes

The forms of common decision-making and mutual duty on oath directly led over
to the constitutional municipalities. At the heads of constitutional municipalities
were consuls, who are mentioned from the middle to the end of the eleventh
century. The consuls rulings, which originated from arbitral settlement, sup-
ported the community, even without the legitimation of a traditional ruler. The
inhabitants elected consuls on an annual basis and gave them authority by
swearing that they would follow all of their lawful instructions (Schulte 1998). It
is important to point out that the development of municipalities was not the result
of a revolutionary transformation linked to the religious restlessness of the North-
ern French and Lombard cities. It seems that, in many places, municipalities
developed with the blessing of the local bishop. The bishop still claimed sover-
eignty over the city and held his vassals responsible for keeping order (Grieme,

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194 Johannes Bernwieser

Kruppe, and Ptzold, ed., 2004). Within this complex the sworn unity led to new
forms that brought order into society. Beginning around the year 1100, certain
local constitutions determined the overall constitution not only in the cities, but
also in rural areas. There were rural communities with their own consuls that
were elected from the classes of both the nobility and peasantry. In other villages,
the local peasant consuls were subordinant to a noble or ecclesiastical lord. How
strange this municipal movement, which was limited to Northern Italy in the first
half of the twelfth century, must have appeared to a nobleman from north of the
Alps, is nicely illustrated by an excerpt from the Gesta Friderici by Otto of Freising
(ca. 11121158):

They (the Lombards) are so attached to their liberty that, to avoid the insolence of rulers,
they prefer to be reigned over by consuls than by princes. And since, as it is known, there
are three orders among them, of captains, vassals, and the commons (plebs), in order to
keep down arrogance, these consuls are chosen, not from one order, but from each, and, lest
they should be seized with a greed for power, they are changed nearly every year. From
which it happens that that territory is all divided into cities, which have each reduced those
of their own province to live with them, so that there is hardly to be found any noble or great
man with so great an influence, as not to owe obedience to the rule of his own city. And they
are all accustomed to call these various territories their own comitatus (county), from this
privilege of living together. And in order that the means of restraining their neighbors may
not fail, they do not disdain to raise to the badge of knighthood, and to all grades of
authority, young men of low condition, and even workmen of contemptible mechanical arts,
such as other people drive away like the plague from the more honorable and liberal
pursuits. From which it happens that they are preeminent among the other countries of the
world for riches and power. And to this they are helped also, as has been said, by their own
industrious habits, and by the absence of their princes, accustomed to reside north of the
Alps (Schmale, ed., 1965, 30809).

D The Council in the Medieval City

The constitutions and institutions of medieval cities were so diverse that only a
few aspects shall be discussed, including the creation of the city council. At first,
the lord of the city and his representatives were responsible for the citys adminis-
tration. In the high Middle Ages, the citizens of a city could, as described above,
develop their own administration departments; these departments eventually
transformed into city councils (Rigaudire 1993). In the empire north of the Alps,
the earliest council structures can be found in Utrecht (1196) and Lbeck (1201).
The council was a committee of variable size, depending on the citys population,
whose members belonged to the citys prominent families. Cities had different
regulations regarding how one became a city councilor and how long one could

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Cities 195

stay in office. In some cities, a councilor could only serve a one-year term; in
others, he would be elected for life. A mayor was at the head of each city council;
the mayors period of office could last from a few weeks up to several years. Over
the course of the Middle Ages, the structure of the city council became more
complex. Often, city policy was not discussed in the council itself, but only in
special committees. For the most part, councils were simply named after the
number of membersa committee of five, of nine, or of thirteen, for
example. The councilors always had to attend committee meetings, and one
could be fined for arriving late. The council met frequently, particularly in larger
cities like Nuremberg; at first the council only met three days a week, but later
they met on every workday.
Often the council judged in trials of lower jurisdiction, while high justice and
blood court were not passed on to the classes. Besides the council meetings, the
council had other tasks as well: taking over offices, making lengthy journeys,
commanding the urban contingent, and participating in other boards. Council
members were usually unpaid; only beginning in the fourteenth century do
sources show that attendance money was paid. In return for their service, council
members received free meals and did not have the obligations of ordinary
citizens. Nevertheless, rich families complained about the having to serve on
councils, which was very time-consuming. Due to the great demands placed on
council members time, the number of potential candidates remained relatively
small. A simple craftsman who had to live from what he earned simply could not
afford to be a council member.
In the late Middle Ages, city councils typically evolved into authorities that
demanded obedience (Meyer 2009). The citizens assembly was increasingly less
politically powerful. Only in times of tax increases or crisis did the council send
for members of the citizens assembly in order to authorize its decisions. The city
council regulated ever more facets of medieval life. Among other things, the
council expanded the regulations concerning markets and trading, and controlled
measures and weights. It also established price regulations for basic foodstuffs,
supervised sanitation, inspected meat, coordinated the sale of meat and bread,
and set quality standards for various items sold in the marketplace. The council
also regulated the distance between properties, coordinated fire protection, over-
saw the diversion of water, and regulated the number of buildings that could be
built and the height that those buildings could be. The council was also in charge
of the defense of the city, the construction of city walls, and warfare. The Regula-
tions on the Sale of Meat and Fish enumerates many of the regulations put in place
by the local council. It was valid from 1365 to 1409 in Beverley (Yorkshire). An
excerpt reads:

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196 Johannes Bernwieser

Orders as to the butchers market: Also, it was ordered, in 1365 [] that no market should be
held for selling meat anywhere in Beverley except in the ancient butchers market and in
Barleyholme, fair and market days only excepted.
Of meat kept or sold out of season: Also, it was ordered [], that if a butcher sell, or put out
for sale, meat maggoty or kept beyond the proper time, or dead from murrain, or carrion, for
every time any of them has been duly convicted of any of the crimes or offences aforesaid,
he should pay, without remedy, to the community 6 shillings 8 pence.
Of blood or any tainted matter placed in the streets: Also, it was ordered by the community
that if a butcher or any of his men put offal, blood or any tainted thing in the high streets
[], everyone so offending is to pay the community 40 pence.
Of the custody of butchers dogs: Also, because of diverse complaints made about butchers
dogs it was ordered [], by the keepers of the town of Beverly, that if any butchers dog be
found in the road without a keeper, or if he bite a strangers pig or dog, he whose dog
commits the offence should pay to the community 40 pence.
Of meat for sale: [] proclamation was made, [] that every butcher must sell his meat
within four days from the time of killing, or on the fourth day put in in salt (Leach, ed.,
1900, 2829).

E Methods of Building and Housing Conditions

in Early and High Medieval Cities
It is not clear how long, or to what extent, Roman stone buildings were used in
the cities north of the Alps. However, it can be said that the knowledge of how to
build stone houses nearly disappeared in the sixth century in this area. Once the
knowledge was lost, experts from southern Europe were consulted whenever
stone buildings were constructed; however, stone was rarely used as a building
material except in the cases of churches, monasteries, and imperial palaces
(Binding 2006; 2010). In suburban settlements, it is likely that simple post houses
were predominant until they were replaced by framing constructions, probably in
the eleventh and twelfth century: Shim-like bricks, which were in parts only
loosely connected to the foundation, protected the sleeper beams better from
humidity and rotting than had the buried posts of the earlier buildings. At first,
tamped clay probably served as a ground floor and the fireplace was elevated just
slightly above the ground. In Lbeck, archaeologists found the remains of a six-
meter-tall building that was probably built in the twelfth century. This structure
seems to have had two floors, so that its inhabitants were no longer forced to
sleep on the cold ground (Dirlmeier 1998). It is possible that the first stone houses
in the cities of the early and high Middle Ages were primarily erected by the lords
of the city, the ministeriales, or the noble upper class. It was very expensive and
difficult to produce bricks and red bricks, so it was not until the thirteenth century
that stone buildings began to shape the cityscape. An early example of a stone

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Cities 197

building is an eleventh-century structure, which was excavated in Mnsterhof

Square in Zurich. It had two stone floors and an additional wooden floor. Its
relatively small groundplan of 5.7 by 7.0 meters meant that this three-story
building gave the impression of being a tower. The walls (or a wall) of the top
floor was/were decorated with the oldest known mural in the city. This mural, as
well as a valuable drinking cup, childrens shoes, and other artifacts indicate that
the people living there were of a higher social class (Fuhrmann 2006).
Around 1200 a widespread building activity of an unprecedented intensity
started, not only in the Holy Roman Empire. Open space in cities disappeared
almost entirely in the thirteenth century, and land parcels were now made much
smaller. The closely-spaced buildings could only be enlarged if additional floors
were added, and taller buildings meant that less sunlight could shine into
neighboring houses. In the thirteenth century, the streets had buildings that stood
right next to each other, the classic medieval cityscape. Previously, upper floors
of buildings had been reachable by means of upper entrances or external stair-
cases, but these external stairs vanished. However, there was no clear line of
development from wooden houses to stone houses, because stone houses were
often superseded by half-timbered houses in the thirteenth and fourteenth centu-
ries. This indicates that timber was a very popular building material. Bigger
windows, which became more common in the thirteenth and fourteenth centu-
ries, were probably considered an essential improvement. Not only did the rooms
become brighter, but it also became easier to ventilate them. Closed stoves, which
were used by the middle of the eleventh century, ensured smokeless rooms and
had a positive impact on standards of living. An early example of this invention
can be found in Basel. In the living room of the Basel house there was a closed tile
stove that was heated by the fireplace in the kitchen. Such tile stoves were first
used by the upper class. Their use probably spread from castles to the cities
beginning in the twelfth century (Dirlmeier 1998; Fuhrmann 2006).
Not much is known about the furnishings of the high and late Middle Ages.
The custom of using a large table for shared meals was spreading slowly and
probably was not common until the late twelfth or rather thirteenth century. The
custom may have spread slowly because a table used up too much space. It is
therefore assumed that everyday life mostly took place close to the ground. Stools
and benches, which were fixed to the wall and used for sleeping as well, were the
main seating accommodations. Stoves remained open fireplaces for a long time,
but they were increasingly raised from the ground; a stovetop, which was coated
with clay, rested on a brick or stone construction. Stoves were also moved from
the center of the room to the outer walls, making it easier to build chimneys; this,
in turn considerably improved the kitchen atmosphere. Iron fragments of locks
that belonged to chests in which acquired property was stored are frequently

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198 Johannes Bernwieser

found during archaeological excavations. Initially, ceramic vessels and pots with
convex bottoms were used for cooking. Tripod stands and pots that stood on legs
first appear around 1200, and cooking utensils increasingly became flat. At the
same time that urbanization was occurring, craftspeople began to specialize in
their trades, which led to the development of a great variety of shapes of house-
hold appliances (Carlier and Soens 2000).
Supply and waste disposal problems became more and more serious as cities,
and urban populations, expanded (see the contribution to this Handbook by
Gerhard Jaritz on Waste). Municipalities solved these problems in very different
ways. It may be true that medieval cities did not live up to modern sanitation
standards, but the image of dirty and stinking medieval cities does not depict
reality and is an invention of nineteenth-century historiography. It is true, how-
ever, that these issues were addressed slowly and in the beginning the authorities
only rarely issued regulations. However, one question must remain open: were
regulations repeatedly proclaimed because they were so successful or rather
because they were rarely obeyed and therefore had to be reiterated?

F Epidemics in Late Medieval Cities

Apart from hunger, cities were constantly threatened by epidemics that were
caused by the dense living conditions. It is very hard to identify which diseases
were responsible for specific epidemics (Jankrift 2003). Thus, three of the most
frequent diseases will be discussed: leprosy, ergot poisoning, and plague, parti-
cularly the plague of 13471351.

I Leprosy and Ergot Poisoning

Leprosy has been known since antiquity. It is a disease that takes a wide range of
forms. In the most severe cases, lumps and pus patches appear on the face,
followed by abscesses in the nose and throat. Vital organs are affected later. Facial
lumps eventually merge together, creating the classic sign of leprosy, and changes
in the larynx cause the voice to roughen. Ultimately, the disease can cause
mutilation and loss of sight. It is remarkable, however, that the disease progressed
without any symptoms in 98percent of all cases. The first leper houses in the
imperial area north of the Alps are documented in the seventh century. Their
number rose notably in the high and later Middle Ages (Rosskopf 2006). The leper
house in Cambridge, UK, is still standing today. The third Council of the Lateran
(1179) completely separated lepers from the remaining population, and separate

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Cities 199

churches and graveyards were even allocated to sick persons. People who were
suspected to be suffering from leprosy were inspected at so-called leprosy exhibi-
tions. In Cologne, for instance, sufferers were examined by a committee of three
persons in broad daylight, in order to prevent a false diagnosis. It was not until the
fifteenth century that the responsibility of diagnosis was handed over to the
medical departments of universities. The patients who lived in these segregated
leper buildings formed a kind of confraternity. They lived according to a special
organization and elected a master leper. Lepers had possessed the right to beg
since the early Middle Ages, although this right was often subject to regional and
temporal limitations. Alms paid for the upkeep of leper houses, which achieved
significant wealth from these donations and foundations.
Saint Anthonys Fire or Holy Firethat is, ergot poisoningwas caused
by a parasitical fungus that infected the ears of rye and turned their grains black.
It occurred particularly often in the late Middle Ages, when the climate was
particularly humid. When infected grains were used to bake bread or eaten in any
other form, they caused cramps, hallucinations and tissue necrosis that could
ultimately be fatal. The sufferers arms and legs turned dark blue or black and
eventually fell off. The cause of this disease, which mostly occurred in times of
hunger and generally affected the poor, was not revealed until the eighteenth

II The Plague of 13471351

The recurring plague was certainly the worst event in the later Middle Ages. The
medievals perceived this disease as something completely new and, like so many
other times before, it seemed like an instrument of divine justice to them. The last
pandemic, which historians call the Plague of Justinian, returned periodically
as bubonic plague between the years 541542 and 746748. However, in the
decades and centuries following the last plague in the eighth century, knowledge
about this epidemic disappeared. It was only in 1894 that the bacterium was
isolated and detected. The germs main vectors were small rodents, primarily rats,
but various other animal species (like the rat flea) spread the disease also. With
an increasing number of infections within the population, a mechanism kicked in
that increased the mortality rate by making it possible for the disease to spread
from human being to human being. Bubonic plague was carried by rat fleas and
it caused vomiting, circulatory collapse, and changes in vital organs. After some
days, the patients lymph nodes swelled up and buboes, which gave the bubonic
plague its name, developed. If these swellings burst, there was a higher chance
that the patient might survive, but once the barrier of the lymph nodes was taken,

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200 Johannes Bernwieser

death was almost certain. Although they knew that the disease was highly
infectious, the medievals knew very little about its cause and cure.
The physicians of the late Middle Ages relied on authorities from late anti-
quity, who believed that diseases were the result of a deficiency of one of the four
bodily fluids (blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile). By removing some blood
from the patient, the physicians tried to regulate the amounts and relative propor-
tions of these fluids. Emetic agents, laxatives and enemas were supposed to
eliminate foul gases and rotten food from the body. The air in hospital rooms was
cleaned with aromatic fires. Aromatic substances were also put into the masks of
doctors, while hands and faces were fumigated with water mixed with vinegar
(Bergdolt 1994). Giovanni Boccaccio (13131375) describes the epidemic of 1348 in
Florence in the introduction to his famous collection of short narratives, the
Decameron, with the following, most dramatic words:

I say, then, that the years of the beatific Incarnation of the Son of God had reached the
tale 1348. The mortal pestilence then arrived in the [] city of Florence. Whether through
the operations of the heavenly bodies, or sent upon us mortals through our wicked deeds
by the just wrath of God for our correction, the plague had begun some years ago in
Eastern countries. It carried off uncounted numbers of inhabitants, and kept moving
without cease from place to place. It spread in piteous fashion toward the West. No
wisdom or human foresight worked against it. The city had been cleaned of much filth by
officials delegated to the task. Sick persons were forbidden entrance, and many laws were
passed for the safeguarding of health. Devout persons made to God not just modest
supplications and not just once, but many, both in ordered processions and in other ways.
Almost at the beginning of the spring that year, the plague horribly began to reveal, in
astounding fashion, its painful effects (Rigg, trans., 1921, 5).

G Fringe Groups and Outsiders

In all the cities of the Middle Ages there was a more or less extended circle of
inhabitants who could not obtain citizenship and were therefore not allowed to
participate in the political decision-making process. Among them were in most
cases clergymen, Jews, journeymen, farm hands, maids, and day laborers. This
phenomenon becomes especially obvious in the case of persons who practiced a
dishonorable profession, like executioners, hangmen, knackers, wandering
bandsmen, and gravediggers (Dankert 1979). Often, these people were not al-
lowed to join guilds or visit drinking parlors. Prostitutes occupied a similar
position: while womens shelters were considered to be an important part of many
cities in the fourteenth century, their reputation considerably worsened in the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Moreover, barber surgeons, maids, and bar-
bers often gained a doubtful reputation, too. Abbey sweepers and cleaners of

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Cities 201

latrinespeople who performed important tasks for the public goodwere con-
stantly in danger of becoming outsiders. Any contact with dishonest people,
such as those who removed carcasses, or doing the tasks relegated to dishonest
people could make a person dishonest or diminish his honor. Science could
not resolve the question of which actions could lead to the label of dishonesty,
a status which was normally passed on to following generations. However, it can
be assumed that a persons prestige was reduced by performing dirty services
that were considered reprehensible (Schubert 2005). Dishonest people were
also those with physical disabilities or other peculiarities. These people were
constantly at risk of having their social status lowered. This was especially the
case for people who carried visible marks of physical punishment (like a missing
ear, a cut-off nose, a mutilated hand, a gouged-out eye, or a stigmatized fore-
head). They all belonged to a fringe group.

H Urban Historiography
Town chronicles recorded the events and deeds of urban communities. They were
written between the eleventh century and the end of the Middle Ages by clerks,
notaries, members of the mendicant orders, clergy, and burghers. The main
purposes in writing a town chronicle were to increase the honor of the city (honor
civitatis) and to benefit the communal leaders. The intended audience were the
inhabitants of the city, especially the urban elites. The subject was the town as a
place, a legal entity, and a community, as well as its interaction with political
partners and enemies. Urban chronicles were written in towns stretching from
northern Italy to the North Sea, throughout the German lands and in Barcelona,
London, and Riga. The typical author of a town chronicle sought to address both
the needs of his readers (by providing information about specific events, rights,
conflicts, or rhetorical strategies) and of himself (by writing the chronicle, he
could better his own position within the urban community) (Dale, Lewin, and
Osheim 2007).
In the high Middle Ages, towns were often ruled by noble groups (Maire-
Vigueur, 2003). These groups acquired a political culture of their own without
losing their connections to the courts of bishops, kings, and emperors. The
nobility were often patrons of historical writing as well as chroniclers themselves.
For example, Jans Enikel ( 1302; perhaps better: Jans of Vienna), the author of
the earliest known Austrian town chronicle, was also a member of the Viennese
patriciate (upper social class of the city population). However, clerks of the urban
chancelleries, notaries, and lawyers serving the city councils (especially in
France, Italy and Spain) were the most common town chroniclers. Their work was

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202 Johannes Bernwieser

very intimately linked to the government of their cities, as they usually were
members of the government. Notable examples of such chroniclers include Gott-
fried Hagen (12301299) in Cologne, Peter Eschenloher in Breslau, Nicolaus Rsch
in Mulhouse, and Basel, Bernardo Maragone in Pisa, and Caffaro and his succes-
sors in Genoa. Chronicle-writing also had a very practical aspect: a detailed
knowledge of friends and enemies, prizes, weather conditions, behavior in battles
or at the royal court, the organization of public rituals, and royal acts of grace
could be very useful in day-to-day politics (Schweppenstette 2003).
All events affecting urban life were noteworthy: fires, hailstorms, and floods
damaging the buildings in the city; the settling-down of the mendicant orders,
which changed the religious, social, and cultural life in the town as well as its
architecture; visits of kings, emperors, and popes that secured or heightened the
prestige of the town. In accordance with the rise of humanist practices and
interests, the range of quotable sources became wider as Roman inscriptions, the
topic of the founding father became more urgent, and the town, its citizens and
leaders could be praised in even more flowery phrases with an antique model in

(I would like to express my gratitude to Frieder Dlugosch, Tony Ziegler, and Kevin
Rodgers for their great assistance.)

Select Bibliography
Coleman, Edward, The State of Research: The Italian Communes. Recent Work and Current
Trends, Journal of Medieval History 25 (1999): 37397.
Dale, Sharon, Alison Williams Lewin and Duane Jeffrey Osheim, Chronicling History: Chroniclers
and Historians in Medieval and Renaissance Italy (University Park, PA, 2007).
Ennen, Edith, The Medieval Town, trans. Natalie Fryde (1972; Amsterdam 1979).
Jones, Philip, The Italian City-State: From Commune to Signora (Oxford and New York 1997).
Kowaleski, Maryanne, ed., Medieval Towns: A Reader (Toronto 2006).
Verhulst, Aadrian, The Rise of Cities in North-West Europe (Cambridge 1999).

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Lia Ross
Communication in the Middle Ages

A Introduction: Oral vs. Written Communication

The emphasis of current research on medieval communication rests on its means
of conveying information, in particular the topic of oral versus written method.
The consensus is that medieval society was traditionally oral, and that orality has
affected written production and even literary style. For example, narrative poems
were long and lacked unity of action, as they were meant not to be read silently
but to be recited in episodes, much like modern television series (Chaytor 1950,
58). [H]eavy reliance was placed on oral transmission even by literate elites.
Insofar as dictation governed copying in scriptoria and literary compositions were
published by being read aloud, even book learning was governed by reliance
on the spoken word producing a hybrid half-oral, half-literate culture that has no
precise counterpart today (Eisenstein 1983, 7). Some scholars push the influence
of orality as far back as late antiquity. For example, Brian Stock argues that the
early Latin versions of the Bible, which drew heavily on colloquial usage,
influenced speech patterns among Christian communities [] reflecting in turn
the often low social origins of the converts (Stock 1983, 22). Popular oral influ-
ence was also felt in techniques of writing, with the introduction of a new cursive
in the third century, the scripta latina rustica, which took its vocabulary, morphol-
ogy and syntax from popular usage, and adopted new graphic signs to express
the sounds actually spoken (Stock 1983, 21). Early medieval society was com-
posed of a tiny literate minority and a large majority who only communicated
through word of mouth, in fact through distinct vernacular dialects, as a common
standard language was lacking. However, after the eleventh century society came
to rely increasingly on the written word (Stock 1983, 14, 16, 19). By the late Middle
Ages the process seems to have accelerated: Johan Huizinga attributes the diffu-
sion of prose version of poetic literature in that period to the fact that silent
reading was superseding recitation (Huizinga 1924 [1919], 295).
The matter is complicated by the duality of Latin versus vernacular use (and
extremely so in the trilingual atmosphere of England in the fourteenth century), a
fact that has led medieval scholars to propose subcategories with such formula-
tions as secondary orality, vernacular literacy, and textuality (Gellrich
1995, 57). While oral communication remained central to the day-to-day work-
ings of English society, in the form of speeches delivered in parliament, pleadings
in law courts, teaching in schools, and preaching and catechizing in church

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204 Lia Ross

(Crick and Welsham, ed., 2004, 17), the persistent presence of Latin as the written
language added confusion to communication in general. On the one hand, being
the only language whose grammar was widely available, Latin continued to
represent literacy and make possible an education in formal disciplines like
Roman and canon law, theology, and from about the time of Abelard, in philoso-
phy. On the other hand, at least from the eleventh century onward, its identifica-
tion with written tradition was a source of conflict, as it also opened the door to
controlling fiscal, property, and more general economic relations, which from the
later twelfth century were increasingly written down (Stock 1983, 26). Latin came
to be seen as a foreign tongue employed by a minority of clerici (Stock 1983, 31)
that left its elitist mark even on orality, being the language spoken within
university precincts even outside the classroom (Cobban 1975, 209).
Leaving aside the blurry duality of oral versus written and the controversial
one of vernacular versus Latin, this chapter proposes a simply utilitarian categor-
ization of formal (official) and informal (personal) communication. Both include
oral and written components in Latin and vernacular, and both aimed at convey-
ing information, either for didactic purposes or in order to elicit a certain behavior
from the recipients. Most surviving sources for either category show the flow of
information in one direction only. In some cases this was intentional (for exam-
ple, in charters and manuals), but in other cases this is due to the whim of fortune
(for example, it is quite rare that we possess both sides of personal correspon-
dence). Examples of formal communication include charters and other legal
documents, official letters, manuals (including textbooks), lectures, public de-
bates, and sermons, while informal communication includes autobiographical
narrative, personal letters, and books on personal conduct and self-help for non-
academic readership. This is a partial list only, as it can be argued that art and
literature, official chronicles, gestures, and graphic symbols (especially maps)
also convey information. However, these broad topics are left out, either because
the communication aspect is subordinate to self-expression and tradition, or
because they are discussed in dedicated sections of this volume (for example,
medical texts, navigation aids, and sermons).

B Diffusion: Medium and Delivery

Before the invention of printing a major reason for the limited diffusion of written
communication was its medium. The earliest, wide-spread writing material in the
Middle Ages was parchment, made from animal skins, and the process to render it
usable was lengthy and costly (Wigelsworth 2006, 58). The tenth or eleventh
century saw the introduction of a cheaper substitute made from a mixture of linen

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Communication in the Middle Ages 205

rags and water. In the thirteenth century paper mills appeared in Spain and Italy,
and in the fourteenth century in France. But it was not until the fifteenth century
that paper became widespread, thanks to the increased demand associated with
the invention of printing in Europe (movable type was known in China at least since
the eleventh century). Until much later, however, important documents were still
written on parchment, while non-permanent information was still inscribed in wax
tablets as in antiquity (Wigelsworth 2006, 59; Vickery 2000, 59). Some documents
have generated great interest and launched an entire branch of scholarship thanks
to their unusual medium. The so-called Novgorod birchbark letters are disparate
documents impressed on birch bark with a stylus (only one was written in ink), first
discovered in 1951 in Novgorod and since then also in other Russian cities, and now
numbering over a thousand. They date from the eleventh through the fifteenth
centuries, when cheap paper started becoming more available, and consist of
private letters and memoranda, contracts, students exercises, dispatches to city
authorities, and one intense letter of an eleventh-century lady to her lover. Given
that birch bark was considered a temporary medium, the letters were probably read
and discarded, only to be rediscovered centuries later because the bark, once
stripped and boiled in alkaline water, remained supple and easily preserved in the
muddy layers of the city streets that were paved with successive strata of wooden
planks. As a group, they are testimonies of social mores, economic trends, rate of
literacy, and the evolution of the Cyrillic alphabet (they also include a sample of
ancient Germanic text) (Ianin 1997, 1440).
After Johannes Gutenberg (ca. 13981468) and at least four contemporaries
had invented printing with movable blocks in the mid-fifteenth century the
technology spread fast. By 1480 over one hundred towns had printing presses,
and by 1500 the number had tripled, and over thirty-five thousand titles had been
in print. The impact of this invention is still debated. While in the past scholars
thought that the boundary between script and print demarcated the barrier
between the medieval and early modern eras (Crick and Walsham 2004, 3), more
recent studies tend to blur such contrast. Apart from the fact that the first Guten-
berg bibles were extremely costly and still illustrated by hand, the same period
saw the evolution of increasingly sophisticated systems of glossing and mechan-
isms of reference, including the use of running titles, indexes and tables of
contents [and] an entire hierarchy of cursive scripts [] to facilitate the rapid
copying of sought after texts (Crick and Walsham 2004, 10). The highly compe-
titive commercial character of printing, which catered increasingly to the needs
of a lay intelligentsia, also stimulated the introduction of footnotes and dia-
grams (Eisenstein 1983, 21). Another innovation was the separation of words, and
by 1500 modern punctuation and the introduction of page numbers, to facilitate
the use of indexes. The consequences of the printing revolution were also not

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206 Lia Ross

immediately obvious as for a long time print was regarded as a cheaper surro-
gate for manuscripts and was accompanied by techniques that attempted to
preserve the more intimate and personalized qualities of manuscripts, such as
margin annotations (Crick and Walsham 2004, 1012; 16; Wigelsworth 2006,
6869). Even after the invention of the press most books were still manually
produced by scribes, mainly professional copyists paid by the book and working
for private booksellers, who could complete one book every few days upon
request (but booksellers would carry a few popular books, like devotional texts,
in stock). Universities created a demand for standard books, and this, in turn, for
a standard system for producing textbooks known as the pecia system. A proto-
type (pecia) was agreed upon by the faculty and distributed among scribes to
produce as many copies as needed for a particular course. For students who could
not afford a personal copy booksellers would rent out the finished books for the
duration of the semester (Wigelsworth 2006, 64; Vickery 2000, 49; Chaytor 1950,
136; Cobban 1975, 215).
Even after the increased diffusion of texts in the late fifteenth century, it took
a while for libraries to reach previous levels in circulation. Since 4000 B.C.E.
libraries existed in Egypt and Mesopotamia, where books were kept on papyrus
scrolls and clay tablets (the library of Alexandria supposedly held well over half a
million scrolls). With the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, libraries
continued to exist only in the Byzantine Empire, where the library of Constanti-
nople remained a center for learning until 1453 when the Turks sacked the city
(Wigelsworth 2006, 64). In the West it is known that Charlemagne (ca. 742814)
owned a library, which was sold upon his death. Monasteries owned modest
libraries where books were kept within chests and on small shelves, while
cathedral schools offered more diversity and included devotional and philosophi-
cal titles. But the core collections of both libraries were the same: bibles, patristic
authors, devotional manuals, Books of Hours, and Latin grammars, with scientific
works poorly represented. By the fifteenth century book chests had been replaced
by small rooms with entire sections of monasteries dedicated to libraries, parts of
which were public, where books were chained to the shelves to prevent theft
(Wigelsworth 2006, 6465). Private libraries were also in existence, but they were
usually owned by nobles and their access was strictly limited (Chaytor 1950,
A significant aspect of communication is its delivery system, which in the
Middle Ages deteriorated considerably, if unevenly. The efficient public postal
service of the Roman Empire, the cursus publicus, did survive as an effective
institution in the Byzantine Empire at last until the sixth century, while in the
West its survival was more spotty: King Theodoric (454526) of Italy still main-
tained a system of messenger relays to Spain and the Visigoths in Spain attempted

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Communication in the Middle Ages 207

to maintain one in the seventh century, but in Merovingian Gaul it worsened

dramatically. Messages, often in duplicate, were entrusted to clergymen, but even
they were not immune from capture by rivals of the sender, a situation that
necessitated various ruses to deliver messages safely. Further, the decline of
literacy was probably also accompanied by the increased use of couriers to carry
oral messages, who were often just servants. A different type of envoy appeared
in the time of Charlemagne. The missi dominici not only carried information but,
being noble, were empowered to act for the monarch as they made their rounds
inspecting conditions and hearing cases (Leighton 1972, 21). They usually tra-
veled in pairs, a bishop and a count. When central authority declined after the
death of the emperor, however, the institution also declined and messengers once
again became people of lower status, from armed retainers to serfs, who travelled
by foot, boat, or horseback. The Church, which had the most to gain in fostering
communication, and that was the moving force behind the increase in record-
keeping since the eleventh century, organized congregations to repair roads,
build bridges and hostels for messengers and travelers and thus filled the void left
by the demise of the cursus publicus (Leighton 1972, 1820, 42; Stock 1983, 18,
Pedestrian travel was much more common than by horse or light wheeled
vehicle. The messenger had the right of way and was empowered to make short
cuts across any mans fields or crops (Leighton 1972, 62). He carried a spear as
symbol of authority and could use it as vaulting pole to cross small streams and
low hedges. Stilts were used in swampy countries like the lands in Gascony,
Flanders, and the English fen country in Lincolnshire. The roads were unsafe due
to persistent wars and brigandage, and expensive due to the multiplication of
tolls. There are few precise data on the speed of letter delivery: a letter from
London to Rome via Marseille would take approximately a month, the same as it
took in the first century B.C.E., as attested by Cicero (10643 B.C.E.). During
peacetime, news would take months to cross the continent; during wars and
emergencies less time but still at least days or a week (covering an average of
twenty miles a day). Towns often employed their own couriers, but France had a
central poste royale from the fifteenth century onward and the Empire since the
thirteenth (Leighton 1972, 62, 17677; Wigelsworth 2006, 67).
A new medieval institution associated with relaying messages was that of
heralds. There is sporadic mention of them as early as the twelfth century, when
apparentlythey were employed by nobles in war thanks to their ability to
recognize combatants completely covered in mail. By the late thirteenth century
they began to have more stable employment and regular pay, and perform official
duties for their masters. At this point, too, there is a firm definition of the
vocabulary of heraldic terms and a cursus honorum in the heralds profession

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becomes established, from pursuivant (apprentice) to herald and ultimately to

King of Arms (Keen 1984, 125, 137). They achieved increasing dignity, reflected in
the elaborate pomp of the ceremonies for their appointments, where they took a
formal oath and received a new name reflecting their heraldic title. By the four-
teenth century heralds accrued more functions: they recorded promotions to
knighthood, noted the names of those who had distinguished themselves in
battle, and identified the dead. Most important, they had achieved immunity
from hostile action, and therefore acted in war as messengers between belliger-
ents, either to deliver a challenge or to seek a truce. In tournaments they became
the ultimate arbiters, both to register prowess and to inspect the arms and
crests of all those proposing to take part; and verify from their records that all are
of sufficient gentility in blood to enjoy the privilege of participating (Keen 1984,
13438). Because of their neutrality and reliability, heralds came to fulfill another
role in communication: they were the favorite primary sources for chroniclers,
who would then rework the information into complete histories. It is not a
coincidence that the late Middle Ages, the period that saw the ascendance of
heralds, is also when a great part of medieval historical works were written (for
example, Le Fvre 18761881, I: 4; Chartier 1858, xxx; dEscouchy 1863, 23).

C Examples of Formal Communication

I Charters and Legal Documents

Charters served a variety of purposes, but most commonly to transfer property or

rights, and because of their importance are some of the most abundant surviving
medieval documents issuing from royal chanceries. Written in their own unique
script and style and cast in the form of letter addressed to specific individuals or
to posterity, they consist of a protocol (or greeting to the recipients), a corpus or
text, which conveys the purpose of the charter and includes prohibitions and
punishments; and an eschatocol (sometimes called the final protocol), which
includes the names of those present at the issuing of the grant, the date, and a
formulaic ending (Clemens and Graham 2007, 22223). These would be followed
by signatures and a seal of authentication. A well-known example is the Magna
Carta, first issued by King John (11661216) of England in 1215 and subsequently
re-issued with modifications. Like other medieval charters, it took the form of a
legal letter, recording agreements that the parties had already made verbally and
authenticated by the kings Great Seal (Breay 2002, 34). Its text, originally in
Latin, has circulated widely in modern translations. It is addressed to his
archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards,

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servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects (Breay 2002, 49) and shows
the signs of being put together in haste, as it was the result of concessions
extracted from a weakened sovereign by third parties. Some of its articles were
soon abolished under the reign of Johns successor Henry III (12071272), while
others persisted in English tradition to become a set of constitutional rights.
Yet, most of its clauses deal with specificand often long-standinggrievances
of the baronial class rather than with general principles: one clause confirms the
freedom of the Church to elect and appoint its own officials, and about two-thirds
of the rest address royal abuses of feudal custom in the areas of inheritance fee,
wardship of minors, and scutage, while others reflect the fear of barons of being
subjected to arbitrary justice or to the exactions of moneylenders (Breay 2002,
Another example is the lesser known Ordonnance cabochienne, issued almost
exactly two centuries later. It is a much longer catalog of two hundred fifty-eight
articles, in French, extracted from the court in 1413 at the height of a popular
revolt in Paris nominally led by a butcher nicknamed Caboche (but with backing
from an aristocratic party). Each article starts with the expression le Roy or-
donne [the king commands] but the king, the mad Charles VI (13681422), had
probably not much of a say in it, just as he was too little in touch with reality to
have been truly responsible for the bankrupt state of his household that prompted
the document. The primary difference from the earlier charter is that it bears the
imprint of its bourgeois origins and concerns. There is no mention of abuses of
feudal rights (which were still practiced and much resented). Rather, the vast
majority of its clauses address budget issues, such as the enormously inflated
royal administration and remuneration of greedy officials. Specific demands are
for transparency in the functioning of the royal treasury and equity in the applica-
tion of the salt tax (gabelle). The largest group attempt to redress injustices (false
arrests, extortions, arbitrary confiscations) and abuses of power (nepotism, mis-
use of per-diem and paid travel, excessive legal fees). Another set addresses the
management of public waters and forests, and here the difference with Magna
Carta is the most striking, as the majority of these provisions rectify the abuses of
royal officials vis--vis common people, who were harassed when hunting, fish-
ing, and collecting wood to support their families, and often arrested without
specific charges and then released only after payment of what amounted to a
ransom (Coville 1891, 1181). The provisions of this document were never enacted,
although they received the praises of contemporary historians (Religieux 1842,
V: 4852; Jean-Juvnal 1836, 479; 486; Classen, ed., 2009, 447).
Other medieval legal documents differ in two ways from modern ones. First,
they were confined to fewer areas of life, mainly birth, death, baptism, marriage,
terms of service, and transfers of property. And second, they were suffused with

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oral tradition as often they merely recorded an agreement that had already taken
place. The new Germanic kingdoms in the West did adapt (vulgar) Roman law,
but maintained the northern tradition of formalism in recognizing the legal
validity of words, rituals, and symbols. For example, in place of the authors
signature one had a sign, a cross, or simply manumissio, the ceremonial placing
of hands on the parchment. Another case in point is the ceremony of the levatio
cartae: before a contract was written, the parchment, pen, and ink were placed
on the land to be sold so that the very instruments of the contract became
impregnated with earthly forces [] It was both a legal record and a quasi-magical
object. The role of legal texts within oral culture became an integral part of
feudalism: oral features were either translated into written termsfestucare, for
instance, which earlier denoted symbolic traditio, coming to mean to ratifyor,
like ceremonies of investiture, were framed as verbal ritual within an ever-widen-
ing network of written law (Stock 1983, 18; 4649). As written records became
more widespread, the late Middle Ages witnessed a growing body of police and
trial records. For example, Jacques Rossiaud has based his study of medieval
prostitution in great part on a large collection of documents from the archives of
the city of Dijon related to criminal investigations, trials, briefs of pardons, and
sentences dating from the fifteenth century through 1550. And Sue Walkers
collection of essays on medieval wives and widows in England is largely based on
court records and wills. Among trial records, the most notorious relate to Joan of
Arc ([ca. 14121431] Hobbins 2005) and the infamous mass murderer Gilles de Rais
([14041440] Bataille 1991), both dating from the first half of the fifteenth century.
Their preservation may be due to being ecclesiastical trials (that of Gilles was
actually a dual trail, but only the records pertaining to the ecclesiastical proceed-
ings are preserved in a state of near completeness). Both documents are in Latin,
including transcription of witnesses statements which were originally recorded
in French, so they offer only indirect samples of speech, except for the rare textual
quote (Classen and Scarborough, ed., 2012, 359402).

II Official Letters

Sovereigns issued a number of official letters other than charters that were often
transcribed inside other texts (such as chronicles). The earliest were in Latin, but
starting from the fourteenth century native languages were most often used,
except by prelates and by princes when the occasion was particularly solemn (for
example, a treaty). Seals played an important part in authenticating correspon-
dence and were of utmost importance in royal letters. As in charters, dating
differed from modern usage, did not follow precise standards, and is therefore

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often ambiguous (dating methods are discussed in Clemens and Graham 2007,
22325). Their structure, on the other hand, was rather consistent. In general,
when addressing subordinates or civic magistrates within their dominions, they
opened with expressions that we would find surprisingly intimate (such as
dearly beloved), and often mitigated gracefully the warnings about incurring
our displeasure if the orders were not followed. Most letters reflect an over-
whelming concern with money: for example, sale of new or confirmation of old
civic privileges against payment and requests for forgiveness of loans long over-
due. In some cases the persistent demands of princes met with delicate but
obstinate stonewalling that could turn into overt resistance, witness the series of
lively exchanges between Duke Charles the Bold (14331477) of Burgundy and the
Estates of Flanders (a parliament made up of guild leaders) in the 1470s, during
his incessantand expensivecampaigns against France and the Empire (Ga-
chard 18831885, 25266). A special case of official letter is the papal bull, so
called after the round lead seal (bulla) that authenticated it. Bulls were written in
Latin with a distinct sentence structure based on accent (unlike classical texts)
and are traditionally identified by their first two or three words (for example,
Unam Sanctam). Papal letters represent some of the most ancient medieval docu-
ments, dating from the ninth century, as the papal chancery was the longest
continuing governmental organization in the Middle Ages (Clemens and Graham
2007, 230).
Another typical formal communication was the chivalric challenge, whether
sent in writing or delivered orally by a herald (usually both). Princes often
resorted to elaborate personal challenges to set the stage for a dynastic claim or to
declare intent to avenge a family injury ostensibly without the costs and
bloodshed of a true war. While chroniclers apparently took them at face value and
reverently recorded them, they were nothing but posturing and actually never
carried out. However, the custom became pervasive also among the gentry: the
chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet (ca. 14001453) opens his voluminous
Chronique in the year 1400 with the account of an ill-fated challenge between an
Aragonese squire and an English knight. Thanks to missed deliveries and cross-
communication, the series of elegant letters specifying the minute details of the
planned duel (location, weapons, and so forth) dragged on for four years, causing
much distress and offended pride on both parts. Despite the actual duel never
taking place, the chronicler devotes over twenty pages to the affair, which was so
scandalous as to prompt the intervention of the kings sergeant-at-arms in
defense of English chivalry (De Monstrelet 18571863, I: 1131).
The fifteenth century saw the birth of new type of formal letter: the diplomatic
dispatch was inaugurated by Italians, who were the first to keep permanent
ambassadors at the major foreign courts of Europe to monitor their political

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activities and report to their masters (prior to this time ambassadorial functions
had been performed informally by businessmen or clerics). Among the most
significant are collections of dispatches sent by Milanese ambassadors assigned
by the dukes of Milan to the courts of Burgundy and France during the critical
period of rivalry and occasional open conflict between the two states in the
1450s1470s. The dispatches were sent frequently, often a few days apart or even
daily, and usually were quite brief and telegraphic in style. However they reveal
a day-to-day sequence of official and semi-official meetings, private confidences,
or simple gossip, not unlike modern-day journalistic coverage of international
events (an amusing dispatch about a quarrel between the elderly duke of Orlans
and his young wife is recorded in De Mandrot 19161923, II: 59).
Other formal letters dealt with business matters (purchase orders and bills,
requests of mediation, or instructions to servants) and testify to a certain degree
of literacy at least among members of the gentry. The common form of the
letter was to begin straight away with the salutation, suitably couched accord-
ing to the rank of the addressee as either inferior or superior to the writer, and
then to press on with the matter until the end, without breaking it into para-
graphs, and then follow with an indication of the date and place at which it was
written (Crowford 2002, 7). Letters often were read aloud to a community or
circulated publicly. They served as legal documents as well as means of perso-
nal communication. The Paston letters (which will be examined under DII),
for example, were saved as potential evidence in future litigations (Cherewatuk
and Wiethaus, ed., 1993, 4).

III Public Speeches

Three types of public speeches were the object of extensive practice: university
lectures, public debates, and sermons (the last are discussed in a separate chapter
of the present volume). The university lecture is one of the most originally
medieval communications. It was a component of the comprehensive approach to
learning known as scholasticism, which had adopted the dialectic method since
the twelfth century but reached its mature form only in the thirteenth century,
when the curricula of the famous universities, Paris, Oxford, and Bologna were
formalized (Leff 1968, 120; 125). Study took the form of the critical evaluation and
discussion of a prescribed corpus of writings by means of the commentary, the
disputation and the question. [] The mastery of a difficult discipline, the sharp-
ening of the critical faculties, the ability to expound logically, the careful diges-
tion of approved knowledge, these were the features of the average university
education. Teaching and learning were innately conservative processes and, at

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Communication in the Middle Ages 213

the ordinary student stage, questioning was conducted as a form of training

within an accepted intellectual framework (Cobban 1975, 167). By the late twelfth
century the dialectical form of disputatio became universally practiced and profi-
ciency in it a requirement for graduation in the most important faculties. For
example, in Paris a candidate for the bachelor degree in arts had to attend a
minimum of four years of lectures and do class exercises, but also participate in
public disputations for a further year. To achieve the mastership, beside the study
of additional texts, he had to deliver a lecture in the presence of the vice-
chancellor, commit to lecturing for a further two years, and dispute for forty days.
If successful, he then had to undergo the inception, which consisted of a series of
formal acts (such as attendance to some religious services), among which another
solemn disputation on the night before graduation, followed by the delivery of an
inaugural lecture (principium). The ceremony ended with the new master hosting
his new colleagues at a favorite tavern, where (presumably) a more friendly
discussion could finally take place (Leff 1968, 14857).
The series of formal disputations for the inception was even more complex for
candidates in theology, especially in Paris, which was the doctrinal and intellec-
tual nerve center of Christendom until the late fourteenth century (Leff 1968,
164). All masters and students had to attend, while all other lectures and activities
were suspended. The candidate (inceptor) had to choose four questions, two to be
disputed at Vespers and two at the aula (bishops hall) on the following day. The
disputes were presided over by a master and carefully choreographed between
questions, answers, and counter-arguments to continue for days. After success-
fully passing this ordeal, the candidate received his cap (biretta), and gave his
first formal lecture (principium). Once licensed to teach, the master might also
face quodlibeta (free questions) that could be raised by any student and cover a
range of topics. The structure of the quodlibet consisted of the disputatio (the
general debate) and the determinatio (a separate session in which the presiding
master alone drew together the threads of the preceding disputation). There were
also private disputations held in school or religious house by its members, a sort
of practice disputations called collationes (Leff 1968, 165, 16873; Cobban 1975,
214). It is evident from this complex form of communication distinguished by
extreme formality but also carrying the potential for unruly aggression that the
master had to be completely versed in the texts and be ready to discuss them at
any time and from every point of view. In the faculty of theology the student was
essentially trained to defend the Church from attacks by building a veritable
encyclopedia of quotes, examples, anecdotes, and associating them in the most
disparate ways to create logical constructs. This technique owed much to the
influence of Peter Abelard (10791142). In his Historia calamitatum (discussed
also under section DI) he recalls how enthusiastically the student body received

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this teaching style, before it became channeled into the later rigid curriculum,
and how they attended rival lectures, pitting a teacher against another (Bellows
1958, II: 13). The popularity of the dialectic method was reflected in written
debates, dialogues, and disputes that dominated religious literature of the ele-
venth and twelfth centuries, the so-called altercatio or conflictus, usually between
two individuals, but at times among three or more, as in Abelards Dialogue
Between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian (Constable1996, 12829).
There are several mentions but few examples of public debates preserved in
medieval records. A rare instance is related to one of the most famous criminal
acts of the fifteenth century: the murder of Duke Louis of Orlans (13721407),
brother of King Charles VI of France, in 1407, perpetrated by assassins at the
service of the victims rival at court, Duke John the Fearless (13711419) of
Burgundy. The culprit, who at first tried to hide his deed, eventually confessed,
but brazenly presented it as a necessary political act to protect the royal family
from an unscrupulous tyrant. The chronicler de Monstrelet reports how Master
Jean Petit (ca. 13601411), doctor of theology at the University of Paris, delivered
a four-hour long oration in defense of the murderer, attended by lords and faculty
(and later repeated to members of the royal family). Petit, who was not a lawyer,
chose to deliver essentially a sermon on covetousness, filled with erudite biblical
references, using the victim as an example of this sin. His thesis was that the
dukes mad desire for power had led him to treason and tyranny (for which he
brought specific examples, ranging from the barely believable to the totally
absurd) and that Duke John had rescued the kingdom with a distasteful but
necessary act, not unlike the killing of King Davids rebellious son Absalom.
Tyrants must be killed for the sake of public welfare, and the more powerful they
are the more necessary is their death, in obedience to the spirit, if not the text, of
the law (and to drive home this point, he provided twelve reasons in honor of the
twelve apostles, a well-known preaching technique) (De Monstrelet 18571863,
I: 6181; Guene 1992, 18998).
Few pages later the chronicler records the reply on behalf of the widow and
orphans of the victim, delivered at the Louvre in the presence of the dauphin,
from a prepared text, by a monk (who is not explicitly mentioned as the author).
His argument rested on much more solid legal grounds and appealed to contem-
porary views of royal power: it is a main duty of the king to apply impartial
justice, in addition to the moral duty of protecting widows and orphans. Burgun-
dy not only had killed an innocent man out of covetousness for power (turning
the charge of tyranny against him), and certainly not for the public good, but
out of jealousy of his powerful rival. To the abstract sermon of Petit the author
responded with a simple and emotional speech, at times evoking the widow and
orphans tearfully begging for justice, at others summoning the ghost of the victim

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Communication in the Middle Ages 215

to address the king directly. Then the author moved to the practical implication of
not punishing the murder: end of respect for the law, people taking justice into
their own hands, potential for bloody feud and civil war (which became only too
real). He also argued that Orlans was not a tyrant because he did not act accord-
ing to the definition of tyrant found in the fourth chapter of the Ethics by Aristotle
(384322 B.C.E.). There is a passage of the oration that exhibits a notable critical
spirit, akin to the nascent historicism of the Italian Renaissance, as the author
rejected en bloc the biblical examples of the defense on the ground that customs
mentioned in several biblical passages were not applicable to contemporary
mores (for example, killing by a priest or repudiation of a wife). An analysis of
these two speeches reveals both similarities (the result of scholastic training with
its emphasis on disputatio) and differences in views between the faculties of
theology and law, as the second work revealed rather the jurist than the theolo-
gian (Guene 1992, 20307).

IV Manuals

The influence of university teaching affected also the way formal textual informa-
tion was conceived and organized. The Compendium ascribed to Bartolomeo da
S.Concordio (ca. 12601347) shows how moral philosophy was taught in the early
fourteenth century. This book is actually an extract from the De regimine princi-
pum of the Augustinian friar Giles of Rome (ca. 12431316), one of the chief
ancillary texts in use in Paris and around Europe. It drew from Aristotles Ethics,
Politics, and Rhetoric, and from De re militari by Vegetius (fifth century?) a
combination not surprising to medieval readers (for example, Christine de Pizan
[1363/65ca. 1430] also incorporates ethical precepts in her famous military
treatise the Livre des faits darmes et de chevalerie based on Vegetius). The
chapters of the Compendium devoted to war exhibit a bizarre combination of high
principles and down-to-earth practical advice. They bear titles like That is useful
for an army to construct ditches and fortified encampments, and how fortified
encampments should be constructed, and what things should be considered
when building these encampments, That in war it is useful to bear banners, and
to appoint generals and officers, How to stand and fight (which includes the
chapter of the De regimine titled, That all those who slash with their swords are
worthy of derision, and that is preferable to stab). Other sections deal with
virtues and vices, passions, the character of men at various ages and social status,
rules for household management and child rearing. This organization follows
Aristotles taxonomy: rule of self (ethics), household (economics), and state
(politics), cast in Christian terms. Sometimes Bartolomeo disagrees with his

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source Giles: for example, where the latter credits philosophers with inventing
Latin so that they could have a broad (latum) idiom, Bartolomeo affirms that it
derived rather from the kingdom of Latini, who in turn took their name from their
ancient king Latinus (Begley and Koterski, ed., 2005, 18591).
The last argument is illustrative of the medieval obsession with etymologies,
which are ubiquitous in medieval texts and usually wrong. Traces of the platonic
concept that names are the essence of things inspired many medieval etymologies,
and most strongly, the Etymologiarum sive originum libri XX of Isidore of Seville (ca.
560636). This bias is evident in the technique used to prove a point in most
medieval scriptural commentaries and philosophical texts: the authors string
together a series of quotations from disparate sources, so long as they have in
common a concept or even just a word, in order to prove the truth of an argument.
In the simplest instance the texts are cited integrally, and the association of ideas
is quite evident. But in other cases they are simply invoked, leaving the reader to
recall the full text and thus establish the full meaning of the argument (and
theologiansas already seenknew those passages by heart). Another expression
of this peculiar reasoning is to replace a foreign term (most often a Hebrew name:
for example Jacob becomes luctator) with a translation designed to convey a
meaning that the author believes true, usually based on Liber interpretationis
hebracorum nominum by Saint Jerome (ca. 347420) and Isidore of Seville. Medie-
val writers were so convinced that to discover the nature of a thing one had only to
interpret its name, that they thought it possible (for example) to prove the dogma
of the Trinity from the very name of Jerusalem through a tortuous process in
which one name leads to another (Gilson 1932, 15569).
This method of thinking went beyond etymologies of biblical places and
personalities, and infected with obvious deficiencies medieval scientific texts, for
example the Speculum maius by Vincent of Beauvais (ca. 1190ca. 1264), librarian
and tutor of King Louis IX (12141270) of France. Conceived as encyclopedia that
covered applied sciences, history, and a dictionary, it actually approached natur-
al science in the form of commentary on the first chapter of Genesis. The value of
medieval scientific manuals is debated: some modern scholars emphasize the
variety of scientific topics covered, yet the majority of scientific texts in use were
translations of Aristotle (both authentic and spurious) primarily by Arab commen-
tators (Leff 1968, 120; 13236). Some scholars have noted that technical literature
was handicapped before the introduction of printing because of the difficulty of
reproducing tables and diagrams. Only with print visual aids multiplied, signs
and symbols were codified and made available to several readers simulta-
neously, thus facilitating the diffusion of scientific scholarship and science (Ei-
senstein 1983, 17, 37, 41). Among the few medieval scientific authors, Robert
Grosseteste (ca. 11751253), bishop of Lincoln and first chancellor of the Univer-

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sity of Oxford, wrote original works on sound, heat, color, geometry, comets,
optics, the astrolabe, poisons, and other subjects, which earned him the reputa-
tion among some modern scholars as the father of scientific thought in England
and of having influenced the Franciscan Roger Bacon (ca. 12141294) toward
practical experiments (Vickery 2000, 4546). Other critics concentrate on the
quality of the information conveyed and come up with less complimentary judg-
ment. For example, William Brandt finds many faults with the mental process of
medieval authors, from whose writings the natural world emerges as a collection
of discrete objects not organized in any meaningful structure. They are described
through spurious analogies that would not always hold (hence the use of terms
such as at times or usually to qualify statements) or unfathomable internal
principles. Attributes of objects appear unique, not related to anything else, and
also impermanent because of the pre-existing belief in a nature whose essence is
a capacity for spontaneous change. Thus, they could not explain why light
produces heath, but could only list some circumstances under which it does so,
and had to resort to pseudo-mechanical explanations, such as like attracts
like to explain physical forces (Brandt 1968, 3; 1718). In his opinion the Aristo-
telian revival of the thirteenth century changed little, except to add the belief that
the natural state for all bodies is rest and that in order to be moved they need an
external mover. This carried within itself the moral implication that immutability
was a godly virtue, while on the earthly plane everything is possible for things
change into other things without a clear distinction of cause and effect. Inevita-
bly, changeability became associated with moodiness and frivolity (Brandt 1968,
22; 25; 29).
There is more agreement on the quality of medieval manuals dealing with
non-scientific subjects. A particularly successful (and innovative) genre was the
ars dictaminis (or ars dictandi), the rhetorical study and practice of epistolary
compositions. This field of rhetoric had its roots in Italy where the professional
teacher of epistolography, the dictator, first appeared. The manual of Alberic of
Monte Cassino (d. 1088), the earliest handbook of ars dictaminis to survive, lists
the five parts of the letter which became standard in medieval Europe: the
salutatio or epistolary greeting, which articulates the recipients social position;
the benevolentiae captatio, which usually consists of a proverb or quotation from
scripture intended to secure the recipients good will; the narratio or statement of
particular purpose; the petitio in the form of an argument deduced from premises
established earlier in the letter; and the conclusio. The format derived from the
divisions of classical oration, with the letter adding a formal salutation. Formul-
aries or dictamina, books of sample letters, survive from all parts of medieval
Europe, indicating the popularity of the ars dictaminis at cathedral schools and
universities. By the thirteenth century such treatises had appeared in Italian

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dialects and in the following two centuries in other languages (French, German,
Czech, and Polish) (Cherewatuk and Wiethaus ed.,1993, 5; Cobban 1975, 221).
Eventually, dictamen became associated with the study of law (at first in Italy) as
the art of drawing up legal documents, and grew with the increased needs for
notaries from the eleventh century onward (Leff 1968, 125).
In the course of the thirteenth century Franciscans and Dominicans entered
the universities in large numbers, and after graduation dispersed into provinces
as preachers, confessors, and teachers in the provincial studia. It is not surprising,
then, that universities taught the art of composing sermons through teaching aids
that would become collectively known as ars predicandi (or ars concionandi). An
early author, Alain de Lille (twelfth century), had listed the various categories of
audiences in his Summa de arte praedicatoria: the faithful, obstinate, minors,
luxurious, poor, rich, soldiers, orators, doctors, prelates, princes, cloistered and
religious men, married, widowed, and virgins, and had recommended diverse
sermons ad status for each. Others followed his lead, even if the categories varied
slightly (Constable1995, 329). Thirteenth-century manuals advocated using dif-
ferent styles depending on the nature of the audience, laic (extra) or clerical
(intra), using more concrete images for the first and abstract for the second. Once
the orator has decided for an intra or extra argument, he ought to use appropriate
techniques, called claves (keys) to facilitate the understanding and memorization
of scriptural text. For example, reinforcing each argument by discussing the
opposite; presenting and then refuting objections to arguments; resorting to
concurring scriptural sources to buttress an argument; making use of scriptural
metaphors to build ideas, moving from the literal meaning to the allegorical,
moral, or anagogical; and substituting words of a sacred text with others to
produce assonance or even rhyme (a common mnemonic practice [Eisenstein
1983, 34]). Above all, the presentation must allow members of the audience to
come to conclusions on their own, thus reinforcing their convictions, and should
never be allowed to lapse into a scholastic argument, more appropriate for a
university setting (Gilson 1932, 11314, 11848).
Subsequent authors, such as Thomas of Chobham (ca. 11601233/36), master
at Paris and author of a Summa de arte praedicandi (12101215) and Robert de
Basevorn (fourteenth century) who wrote a Forma praedicandi, developed the
precise structure and language of what would be known as the thematic ser-
mon, where a main subject (thema), always derived from the Scriptures, would
be interrupted by a brief digression into a different subject (prothema), whose
relation to the thema could appear incongruous, but that served to lead the
audience back to the thema after a propitiatory prayer. Another theoretician, Jean
de Galles (thirteenth century), listed four categories of subjects appropriate for the
sermon: what one must be and do; the duties of preacher and audience to induce

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Communication in the Middle Ages 219

them to invoke God; the sacred Scriptures themselves, to implore divine light to
enlighten; and direct invocation of God and Virgin (Begley and Koterski 2005,
9192; Gilson 1932, 99104). Beside artes praedicandi masters had numerous
other teaching aids at their disposal for developing sermons: the Scripture with its
glosses, collection of biblical reference works such as exampla, florilegia, similitu-
dines, and distinctions (which explained the possible meanings of terms at various
levels, from historical or literal, to tropological, allegorical, and anagogical),
alphabetical lists and topic charts to locate materials, and collections of model
sermons. New techniques made those tools accessible and useful: by the four-
teenth century the development of layouts for both book and page; the adoption
of Arabic numerals; and acceptance of alphabetical order to arrange words and
ideas (a concept that was long resisted on the ground that it would have been
unthinkable to discuss the Filius before Pater or Angelus before Deus just because
the alphabet required it!). Biblical glosses came also to be widely circulated, with
the lecture-commentary becoming a source for sermon making. Various types
of annotations appeared in manuscripts to facilitate their use: marginal notes or
headings that indicated the suitability of certain passages for specific sermons;
indexes by subjects; breaking up the commentary and re-transcribing it as subject
matter for sermons arranged according to the liturgical year (Smalley, 1960;
Rouse, 1979; cited in Begley and Koterski 2005, 9295).
Probably the most notorious (late) medieval manual of clerical origin is the
Malleus maleficarum (The Witches Hammer), a treatise for preachers and eccle-
siastical and secular judges on how to identify and combat witchcraft. First
released in 1486, it was the work of two German Dominicans: Jacobus Sprenger
(1436/381495), lecturer, reformer, and administrator, and Heinrich Kramer (Hen-
ricus Institoris, ca. 14301505; being the prime author), a preacher, inquisitor,
and rather prolific author (however, the double authorship is disputed). It is
composed of four parts: proof of the existence of sorcery; elements involved in
sorcery (demons, sorceresses, Gods permission); the practice of inflicting sorcery
and how to cure from various sortileges; and judicial prosecution of sorceresses
(investigation, witnesses, when to apply torture, ruses to facilitate confession,
methods of passing sentence, appeals). After the first print several followed
throughout the seventeenth century, but its influence is not clear as it was often
lumped with other treatises on witchcraft (Mackay 2006, 80103, 14851, 17071).
Its style is typically scholastic. It makes heavy use of deductions from disparate
authoritative sources, which could be combined to reach conclusions that had
little to do with the thought of the works being quoted. It also displays a
pervasive intellectual argumentativeness [] ascribable to the methods of scho-
lastic pedagogy, which placed a heavy emphasis on formally structured open
disputation with others. Therefore much of it is written in the form of the

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220 Lia Ross

standard quaestio disputata, which begins with an indirect question to which

first is given an incorrect negative answer which the author eventually refutes
[and] it is suffused with arguments in the form of syllogisms, or presented in the
form of a reply to theoretical question: If it is asked why then it should be said/
responded that (Mackay 2006, 16, 17, 2223).
The content of the work is quite informative as to the mentality of the authors,
contemporary scientific knowledge, and legal traditions. For example, in discuss-
ing how witches influence love and hatred in human minds, it conveys some
interesting ideas on dreams; and in the section on protecting people, animals,
and crops from spells it regales the reader with a curious list of enchantments
based upon the authority of Saint Thomas (Mackay 2006, 2: IVII; IIVI). The
section dedicated to the prosecution of witches is probably the most illustrative of
diverse styles of communication, as it details how to examine witnesses and what
constitutes a valid deposition; how the defense attorney should advise his client;
and how to deal with appeals. In particular, from the chapter devoted to torture
one learns that torture should only be applied when the accused refuses to
confess and must be interrupted for an interval of days to allow the subject the
chance to confess spontaneously (or risk invalidating the proceeding). Finally,
the judge should feel free to lie to the accused to entice confession, for example
by promising clemency: but after a short incarceration to save appearances the
accused should be burnt in any case (Mackay 2006, 2: IIIV).
On the political plane, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were a period of
augmented princely powers, which caused a growing need to codify both the
behavior of princes and the manners and functions of those serving them. Hence
a veritable flurry of what have come to be known mirrors for princes (for
example Christine de Pizans Livre de Trois Vertus written in 1405 for a young
princess see Barnhouse 2006, 13) and courtesy or conduct books. The most
famous manual of this second type is the LEstat de la maison du duc Charles de
Bourgoingne, dit le hardy by Olivier de La Marche (14251502), which so impressed
King Edward IV (14421483) of England that he had a similar one made for his
own household. In this booklet de La Marche describes the composition of the
household of his master the duke of Burgundy (chapel, council, kitchen and
dining, personal wardrobe and chamber), with the relative functions of staff
members. This is a world of men only, rigidly ranked through their specific duties:
maitre dhtel, panetiers, sommeliers, garde joyaux, personal physicians, squires,
and so forth. It establishes who eats and sleeps at court and even who is tasked
with fluffing up the dukes pillow and sleep in the dukes chamber. The most
peculiar aspect of the handbook is the quasi-religious language that pervades the
exposition of household rituals, especially those surrounding the dukes meals,
which were choreographed as public spectacle, and therefore managed by high-

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Communication in the Middle Ages 221

ranking men. These were the panetier, chanson, cuyer tranchant, and cuyer
dcurie: all four had the same pay and status, because they served the body and
the mouth of the prince, but the panetier was the most important because he
served the bread, which represents the body of Christ, and to underlie his
preeminence, he was assisted by fifty squires in his functions (De La Marche
18831888, 1128). It is to be noted, also, that during special banquets offered by
and for royalty, the usual servers could be replaced by figures of princely rank,
who would be expected to be honored by the choice (see an example in Austin
1888, xii).

D Examples of Informal Communication

I Autobiographical Narrative

Medieval autobiographies were modeled on the Confessions of St.Augustine

(354430), focused on the interior transformation of the writer rather than on
events of his external life. The two best known were written in Latin by twelfth-
century abbots. One is the work of Guibert abbot of Nogent (ca. 10551124), De
vita sua sive monodiarum suarum libri tres written in 1115. Only the first of the
three books contains appreciable autobiographical material, related to his own
childhood as an oblate (vowed to monastic service from birth) in the abbey of
Saint-Germer, where he was subject to Benedictine Rule since the age of thirteen
until the time he was elected abbot of Nogent. Like Augustine the author is
ostensibly engaged in a conversation with God and attempts introspection but
with less insight (Benton 1970, 21; 31; 101). Another notable parallel with Augus-
tine is the writers open ill will toward his dead father, whom he hardly knew and
who would have certainly led him to a life of worldly sin (but he offers no
evidence for this opinion, and in fact makes it clear that his father had vowed him
to the church in exchange for his safe birth) and admiration for his mother, who
alone provided for his upbringing. She placed him under a sternif unskilled
tutor who forced him to a harsh life of study apart from other boys his age, to
forestall any potential rebellion on the boys part, and who used to beat merci-
lessly his otherwise gifted pupil for not learning fast enough, as he was unable to
admit his own shortcomings as teacher (Benton 1970, 4748).
The author, however, seems to be more comfortable with less personal topics.
He devotes quite a few chapters to historical trends in monasticism, edifying tales
of conversions of contemporary noblemen, colorful stories of ghosts and demons,
and (usually critical) vignettes of contemporary prelates. This tendency is more
evident as he expands his horizons in Book II with the history of Nogent from

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antiquity, the foundation of its church and small monastery (again based on a
long anecdote), and the deeds and qualities of its abbots, only briefly touching
upon his own tenure (Benton 1970, 11929). And it culminates in Book III which is
dominated by the account of the revolt of nearby Laon against its bishop and the
murder of the same (in which the narrators part is only incidental and not quite
edifying), and an inquiry against heretics in which he took part. In total, the
portion of the memoirs dedicated to matters other than his life is almost twice as
long as the one dedicated to himself. Despite this being considered the first
comprehensive medieval autobiography, the work stretches the concept of
autobiography or even of personal confession, as the author wrote for the
edification of his readers and to provide material for sermons (Benton 1970, 78;
11). Works like this have led some scholars to doubt that there was a true
autobiography until modern times (Aris and Duby, ed., 1988, II: 541). As to the
accuracy of some of his anecdotes, it is useful to recall that oral tales or exempla
were also influenced by rhetoric and used for sermons, and later gathered into
collections of dreams, advice, and miracles (Constable1996, 128).
Probably the most famous medieval autobiography is Abelards Historia
calamitatum, mentioned under CIII. Unlike the previous example, which was
cast in the form of confessio, this work assumes the structure of consolatio, a genre
popular since antiquity. The author ostensibly writes to console a friend through
the example of his own history of conflicts and persecutions that would follow
him wherever he would go and teach. It is notable, however, that no clear
identification of this friend has been made, and that the writer never makes
concrete mentions of the others alleged misfortunes. Such audience may be no
more than straw men for public (and self-serving) airing of Abelards views
(Ziolkowski 2008, xlv). The personal confession is limited to an episode of his
adult life, the seduction of his pupil Heloise (ca. 11011164) and continuing
relation with her. The author seems far more interested in giving an account of
intellectual life in Paris while venting his frustrations at ex-teachers and rivals, as
he reworks his philosophical and theological positions, synthesizing for the read-
er the contents of his theories, and reliving his dialectic successes for his own
consolation and perhaps to present a positive self-image to posterity. His auto-
biography shares with that of Guibert the driving idea of an exemplary life
through confession of its less bright aspects. The genre continued to be popular,
and can be recognized in the early fifteenth century Book of Margery Kempe, an
autobiography apparently dictated to a priest by an English bourgeois woman to
narrate her spiritual awakening and conflicting relations arising from the need to
share her intense religiosity with others. However, unlike the previous works, she
maintains a third-person narrative, perhaps to import more authority to the book
as issuing from a male writer, or to protect herself from charges of heresy, by not

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Communication in the Middle Ages 223

presenting herself directly as a figure of authority (Staley 1996, xxi). Hers is an

autohagiography, not yet written from the posthumous retrospect of accepted
sanctity in which tortures have been replaced by societys humiliation and
character assassination (Windeatt, ed., 2000, 1920).
A rare example of diary outside literary models is the so-called Journal of a
Bourgeois of Paris (14051449). The anonymous author, who was likely a clerk
attached to the University, left a series of entries, in chronological order but
irregular in frequency, on the dramatic political events of the Hundred Years
War, as partisan violence and rival armies exacted their human and economic toll
on the city. It is difficult to determine who the intended audience was supposed to
be: perhaps it was nothing more than an attempt at recording exceptional events
for his own later use. Public events dominate the entries, often accompanied by
angry commentaries, and reflect the intense partisan spirit of the times that was
shared by the leaders of his city and institution (largely pro-Burgundian and anti-
Orlanist). Whatever his intentions, this is an invaluable source for cultural
history of the late Middle Ages in northern Europe (and also a most believable
one, given its unofficial nature), rich in indelible vignettes of the horror of the
civil wars. He records, for example, that hungry wolves would swim up the Seine
at night under the bridges to snatch the cadavers of those who had been publicly
executed on the previous day and whose bodies were left to rot on the city gates
(Beaune 1990, 172). An emotional passage of this journal provides a rare example
of allegory in non-literary context. In describing the massacre of political prison-
ers during an uprising in 1418, the writer imagines a dialog between the city
provost, flanked by personifications (Pity, Justice, and Reason) urging modera-
tion, while others (Anger and Madness) shout back through the angry voice of the
people (Beaune 1990, 117). This outmoded device, which a modern reader sees as
encumbering communication, provided instead a reference easily comprehensi-
ble to the allegorists audience, and taken in the sum of its components (dialo-
gue, allegory proper, and symbolism) results in a form of communication of an
extraordinary complexity and comprehensiveness (Piehler 1971, 19, 78).

II Personal Letters and Conversation

Recently there has been growing interest in medieval private correspondence,

which, given the volume of material uncovered, scholars tend to collect in
selected works based on some common characteristics of authors. For example, a
particularly rich trove of letters, numbering in the hundreds of thousands of
leaves, has been discovered over a century ago in the Cairo Geniza (an annex of
the synagogue that was torn down at that time) thanks to the Jewish tradition of

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224 Lia Ross

burying sacred writings, but also any texts on which the name of God was or
might have been written [] in order to preserve them from desecration. Cur-
iously, this cache includes a huge quantity of writings of a purely secular
character, such as official, business, learned, and private correspondence, court
records [and] prescriptions because of the custom of appealing to God even in
mundane correspondence. Most material belongs to the eleventh and twelfth
centuries, when Cairo was the economic center of the country and was written in
a semi-literate Arabic with Hebrew characters, even if the better merchants were
fluent in Arabic (Goitein 1973, 36).
Another popular category is correspondence of medieval women. An example
is Anne Crawfords rich collection of letter of women living in England between
the twelfth and the fifteenth century (most in English and others translated from
the original Latin or French). The editor introduces the collection with a descrip-
tion of the physical appearance of medieval letters that were quite different from
modern ones. In the earlier part of the Middle Ages they were written on parch-
ment, usually a long thin strip in landscape shape with a tag on which a seal
could be affixed. In the fifteenth century paper started to be used, in sheets
usually ten or twelve inches wide and sixteen or eighteen inches long. This was
a large area to fill, so most correspondents would simply cut off the rest when
they came to the end of their letter. The paper letter could then be folded into a
small oblong packet and fastened by passing a thread or strip of paper through
the folded thickness and sealing the ends. The letter was then superscribed with
the recipients name and location, a style which remained in use until the
introduction of the envelopes in the nineteenth century. As in the case of official
documents, discussed under CI, dates were rarely precise, often given by refer-
ence to the nearest saints day, and if the year was given at all, it was only the
regnal year of the current king. At times it has been possible to date a letter by its
content (specific reference to another letter or to a known event), but often the
date of composition remains guesswork. Whatever the relationship between
writer and recipient, the salutation was almost invariably formal, and a child
would write my right worshipful father and not dear father and there was no
place for endearments or even Christian names. [] Women sometimes addressed
their husbands as sir, other times as cousin. Terms like brother and son were
used more loosely than today, to indicate a bond of friendship or patronage. The
line between personal and formal is thus difficult to detect (Crawford 2002, 68).
The authors almost exclusively belonged to the aristocracy, and while prob-
ably all could read, some may not have known how to write, as they could rely on
secretaries for that task. It is apparent that manyat least many secretarieswere
familiar with the principles of the ars dictandi discussed under CIV, especially
where the distinction between personal and formal is blurry, such as the diplo-

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Communication in the Middle Ages 225

matic missive (ca. 1279 and originally in Latin) in which Eleanor, wife of Prince
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (ca. 12231282) of Wales, addresses her cousin King
EdwardI (12391307) of England to proffer friendship and submission in her own
name and in that of her husband (Crawford 2002, 137). The greatest numbers of
samples belongs to the fifteenth century, and specifically originate from two
families of the gentry, the Pastons and the Stonors. Their subjects are generally
mundane: shopping lists, requests for favors, courtesy calls to solicit news, but
very few deliver personal news of an intimate nature or even idle gossip. Corre-
spondents were often uneasy at entrusting their secrets to paper and a letter
often served only as a brief introduction to a confidential messenger who carried
it (Crawford 2002, 67; 56). Therefore, the boundary between speeches and
letters was less clear at that time than is today, since letters were frequently read
aloud to their recipients (Constable1996, 128). This may be why there is also a
noteworthy scarcity of love letters. In the entire Paston collection there is only one
letter that can be assigned to this genre, written by Margery Brews to her
betrothed John Paston III (Paston Letters no.897, Feb. 1477 in Crawford 2002, 93
94). In it she addresses him as well-beloved valentine (in itself a break from the
formal address to relatives and spouses), lingers less on news than on her feelings
(even if expressed with modesty and reserve), breaks into poetry twice, and ends
by signing herself your own Margery Brews.
As expected, monastic letters may touch on different topics. [S]pecial sub-
genres were formed by letters of vocation proposing entry to religious life, letters
of recruitment praising a particular house or order [] and letters of encourage-
ment to monks and nuns whose resolution was weakening (Constable1996,
128). However, mundane and practical topics were also common. For example, in
the collection edited by Joan Ferrante and dedicated to correspondence between
women, the majority of letters written by nuns are requests for funds or for
permission to elect an abbess. The few that contain personal advice were
authored by Hildegard, abbess of Bingen (10981179) and her younger contem-
porary Elisabeth, magistra of Schnau (112864/65), two scholarly visionaries
who served as role models for other nuns, and whose advice was widely sought.
Hildegards full extant collection numbers three hundred and ninety letters, and
Elisabeths (who died younger) twenty-two. Even in such a vast gathering true
intimate subjects are seldom breached: Hildegard did send a revealing letter to a
young protg, Richardis of Strade, who had apparently helped Hildegard on a
project but was later called away from the monastery to become abbess in her
turn. A distraught Hildegard laments feeling abandoned by her daughter and
confesses that her excessive personal attachment had elicited criticism (Ferrante
1997, 1822).

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226 Lia Ross

Sometimes intimate letters are revealing less as tools of communication than

for the miscommunication they engender. The short but famous series usually
known as love letters of Abelard and Heloise (in Latin) are rather an exercise in
self-definition arising from the autobiographical impulse that continues Abe-
lards own in the Historia calamitatum, discussed under DI. In these letters
Heloises voice is finally heard, as she switches between the roles of lover, wife,
and abbess, and casts Abelard in that of master, father, husband, and brother. In
her first missive she obliquely asks him to share in the responsibility for her loss
of identity. When he replies ignoring her appeals and referring to her only as
beloved sister in Christ, she becomes more insistent, hinting at repressed anger
as she suggests that her conversion is not as complete as Abelards own, while
asking for his strict but wise advice and encouragement (perhaps to revive their
initial bond between brilliant master and gifted student). After his second non-
committal answer, she finally accepts their changed relationship. Addressing him
now only as spiritual father, she reverently requests of him a history of nuns and
a rule more apt for women than the one envisioned by St. Benedict (ca. 480543),
to which her monastery adhered (Cherewatuk and Wiethaus, ed., 1993, 6479).
The French translation of this famous correspondence by Jean de Meung (ca.
1240ca. 1305), and his misogynist comments that Heloise was admirable for
having overcome her female nature through her studies, inspired yet another
type of epistolary, the humanist epistolary polemic on literary questions by
Christine de Pizan, through which she argued that culture was universal and
misogyny represented a fundamental perversion of literary tradition. With this
collection she followed Petrarch ([13041374] who had consciously imitated
Cicero) in what would become the common humanistic practice of collecting and
polishing her own correspondence. The rest of her vast epistolary production in
verse and prose synthesized the [] traditions of vernacular courtly verse and
Medieval Latin dictaminal writing. Once again, she had models to follow: for her
verse epistles the Heroides by Ovid (43 B.C.E.17/18 C.E.), the chanons royaulx
by Eustache Deschamps (13461406), which addressed a prince always in rever-
ent tone, and Petrarchs erudite epistola metrica (he wrote sixty-six of them in
13311361, addressed to contemporaries and dealing with specific historical
events) (Cherewatuk and Wiethaus, ed., 1993, 13949). Both her verse and prose
epistolary stress erudition rather than the expression of personal feelings. This
tendencyas already seenis present to a varying degree in most medieval
letters. In conclusion, we are left with Giles Constables observation that in the
Middle Ages letters were for the most part self-conscious, quasi-public literary
documents, often written with an eye to future collection and . They were
therefore designed to be correct and elegant rather than original and sponta-
neous (Cherwatuk and Wiethaus, ed., 1993, 15259).

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Communication in the Middle Ages 227

Perhaps because of the general uniformity, the few letters that do not fit the
mold are particularly striking. Most surprisingly, two were written by highly-
placed fifteenth century men, and reveal a truly intimate side of communication.
The first was penned by the chancellor of Burgundy Guillaume Hugonet to his
wife on the day of his execution, April 3, 1477. He was condemned to be beheaded
by the guilds of Ghent, who had rebelled against the party of his late master the
duke, and who were determined to prevent any influence of his servants on their
new ruler, the young duchess Marie of Burgundy (14571482). The letter is notable
for its loving tone and repeated use of terms of endearment, and for the eloquence
with which it conveys both concern for family and personal resignation (the full
text, in old French, is in Duclos 1968, 37172). The other was sent by the young
Duke Maximilian of Austria (14591519), the future emperor Maximilian I, to a
childhood friend describing in tender terms his beloved wife, the same Duchess
Marie of Burgundy, and concluding with a thrilled she is the most beautiful
woman I have ever seen (Bartier 1970, 236). This young couple, destined to a
sudden separation by Maries premature death, is likely the subject of the least
celebrated, but most authentic, love story of the Middle Ages (Hommel 1959, 134).
The other set of correspondence that defies classification consists of the three
hundred eighty-two extant letters that were dictated by the famous mystic
St.Catherine of Siena (13471380) in the last decade of her life and were devoutly
copied and preserved by her disciples. They form a genre of their own for several
reasons. The author was from humble artisan origins, and yet the missives were
addressedbeside family, friends, and total strangersalso to princes, sover-
eigns, and popes. They were all written in a Tuscan dialect rather than Latin and
share the same blunt, passionate, concrete and spontaneous style regardless of
the rank of the addressee (in itself a departure from dictaminal principles). They
have been called, with good reason, individually tailored sermons, both be-
cause they seem to be motivated by the need to elicit a reformed behavior,
whether from a wayward brother or a king, and because they are imbued with
orality to a degree not found in most other correspondence. They are rich in
religious imagery, and yet only rarely did the author give a supernatural or
prophetic flavor to her statements, while her advice never departed from the
practical (Cherewatuk and Wiethaus, ed., 1993, 96, 101, 105, 110; Noffke, ed.,
1988, 3, 7, 11). Significantly, given the similarities in social origin, gender, and
unlikely political visibility, the same style is reflected in the memoranda dictated
by her near-contemporary Joan of Arc (see examples in Quicherat 1965, vols. 34).
Not surprisingly, there is little documentation on conversation, which may be
viewed as the oral counterpart of personal letters and narrative. While eloquence
was appreciated, in this period there seems to be no real equivalent to classical
or modern discussions of ordinary conversation. The famous treatise on courtly

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228 Lia Ross

love De amore by Andreas Capellanus (twelfth century) does not belong to this
genre, as its model speeches are rather examples of stylized flirtation or
dalliance mentioned in medieval romances (Burke 1993, 90; 97). Conversation,
according to Roman models (Cicero and Varro [11627 B.C.E]) applies more
properly to groups of at least three persons, usually at dinner parties. Following
their example even early modern manuals on this topic avoid specifics, and limit
their advice to rules of politeness: keeping subjects light to be discussed without
passion, avoidance of malicious gossip, and the general and rather vague
recommendation to avoid the extremes of garrulity and taciturnity. [] From the
Middle Ages, all that remains are fragments overheard, tantalizing echoes of
speech conventions of the period. Formalization of informal talk (so to speak)
does not occur than from the seventeenth century onward with the institutions of
salons and coffee-houses. In Peter Burkes survey of Early Modern conversation
there is also scant reference to parlor games, which did have predecessors
in medieval times, and, most likely, well before then (Burke 1993, 97, 10719;
Classen 2002).

III Conduct and Self-Help Books

Conduct books are the popular complement to the mirrors for princes men-
tioned under CIV. They are characterized by the tendency to mix lofty religious
and moral concepts with advice of an extremely utilitarian nature. Rather than
being safeguarded in libraries they were kept within private homes and presum-
ably also lent out, thus increasing the chance of being lost (for a estimate of
general manuscript loss see Crick and Welsham, ed., 2004, 5558). The two best-
known belong to the last decade of the fourteenth century. The Mnagier de Paris
is a manual of good housekeeping written by an anonymous elderly Parisian
bourgeois for the benefit of his inexpert adolescent wife. Throughout the work he
addresses directly both her and two domestics in a conversational tone. The first
part contains general advice on religious duties and good behavior, but then he
addresses practical matters like airing sheets and pillows, removing stains from
clothing, caring for servants and horses (in the same chapter!), and ridding the
house of pests (with a recipe for rat poison). A large section is dedicated to food:
where to buy meat and other foodstuff and how to appraise its quality (there is a
charming little poem on how to judge good cheese), methods to preserve and
cook meat, fish, eggs, casseroles, and soups, and complete menus (he specifically
mentions weekly consumption of princely households) (The Good Wifes Guide
2009, 49, 55103, 21528, 253339). The departure from modern communication
styles is most evident in this section: while modern recipes follow a fixed format

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Communication in the Middle Ages 229

(ingredients and dosage, preparation, cooking time, serving), here the author
often digresses from a topic and follows a tangential trend of through. Most
remarkably, two standard components of modern cookbooks, precise doses and
cooking time, are usually absent, as the concept of standard measures was yet
unknown, and the cook (or a substitute) was expected to stand by the fire until
the food was ready.
The other well-known conduct book is the Livre pour lenseignement de ses
filles du Chevalier de La Tour Landry, a didactic work written by the French knight
Geoffroy IV de la Tour Landry (ca. 13201391) in 13711372 for the instruction of
his daughters on virtuous behavior. The widowed nobleman had apparently
written a similar book for his sons (now lost). This work became the most popular
educational treatise of the Late Middle Ages, and was translated into German and
English (one version by William Caxton [ca. 1415/22ca. 1492] in 1483). The work
is essentially a long sermon on the proper behavior in private and public and
consistent religious practices, but is enlivened by a simple and entertaining style
that emulates conversational language, and by a wealth of parables, some of
biblical or classical origin and others derived from contemporary life, to illustrate
a point. For example, in one curious tale he talks of a rich lady who spoiled her
dogs by feeding them fancy meats that she should have properly reserved for the
poor. In another he recalls an argument between himself and his late wife on
whether it was appropriate for young ladies to have lovers, and turns the story
into a long cautionary tale of the ever-present danger of seduction for women of
his class (Barnhouse 2006, 3; 89; 134; 15758).
A curious late-medieval self-help genre was the Ars moriendi, a guide for the
common man on how to die in a state of grace even in the absence of proper
confession and absolution. These books became popular after the plague epi-
demics of the fourteenth century and the continuous wars of the following
century contributed to a general sense of the precariousness of life, while the
papal schism of 13781417 diminished respect for ecclesiastical authority (Beaty
1970, 3839). There are about three hundred exemplars of this type in block books
in various languages, all apparently abbreviated forms of an anonymous Tracta-
tus artis bene moriendi. They were translated in various languages and structured
in a way to reach the widest audience including (at least partially) illiterate
people. A typical example addresses five temptations that the dying person must
overcome: disbelief, despair, impatience, pride, and avarice. The bulk of the
booklet consists of five double sets of illustrations, each set accompanied by a
one-page explanation in Latin. The first image of each set is a temptation,
represented by hideous demons that surround the bed on which lies the ema-
ciated figure of a dying man. The second image of each set is an uplifting one of
heavenly rescue, usually dominated by an angel who sends the demons scurrying

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230 Lia Ross

away. Frequently the various figures are shown speaking, with text coming out of
their mouths inside flowing ribbons, like in comic strips. One final plate illus-
trates the last breath of the patient as his soul ascends to heaven (Ars moriendi ca.
1475, 5r15v; Beaty 1970, 23, 1016). The whole is accompanied by directions for
specific prayers to be recited in the last hour with the help of family and friends,
directed in turn to God, the Virgin, angels, and then martyrs, apostles, confessors,
and virgins. The insistence on litanies and their correct order of recitation, while
representing one more expression of the ritualizing tendency of the late-medie-
val spirit (Beaty 1970, 48), presumably served the therapeutic purpose of dis-
tracting the mind from the distressing thought of imminent death.

E Conclusion
Communication has left abundant and varied, if uneven, records of its presence
in the Middle Ages, so that it is possible to draw some general conclusions even
from the limited samples presented here. First, scholasticismand in particular
its dialectic form of teachingwas so entrenched among educated people as to
permeate both oral and written formal communication (manuals and speeches).
Second, the continuing presence of orality affected the composition of written
texts (for example, the cryptic content of some correspondence destined to be
completed orally). This second point deserves special emphasis: when the written
text was only a mnemonic device for a more complete verbal message, the
comprehension of the text diminishes greatly with the passage of time (as a
parallel, modern readers may consider grasping the meaning of a presentation
developed with a common software tool and isolated from its accompanying live
delivery). And third, what survives likely constitutes a minuscule portion of the
total medieval communication, and not necessarily the most important.
While it is true that many documents and texts considered important at the
time of their issue were stored as safely as possible (for example, in government
archives or libraries), many have been lost due to accidents to those same build-
ings (for example, the library of Alexandria). In other cases the most improbable
repositories have proven to be the safest. For example, the Cairo Geniza (Goitein
1973, 3) or the old streets of Novgorod, where it is estimated that an additional
twenty thousand birchbark documents remain still unrecovered (Ianin 1997, 17).
In all cases, however, the critical factor in the preservation or loss of texts seems
to be the medium on which the original or subsequent copies of the communica-
tion were preserved. As it is true today, its choice was mainly determined by price,
availability, and deliverability (including the ease of hiding a sensitive message).
And as of today, this choice affected the life-span of the text itself, either because

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Communication in the Middle Ages 231

of its intrinsic properties (such as the short shelf life of cheap paper made of rags)
or because it was associated with an outdated technology (for example, the
abandonment of vellum with the diffusion of printing). The result of these
fortuitous choices may affectat least in partfuture appraisals of a culture, and,
paradoxically, even destine what may be known to contemporaries as an age of
information to be labeled in the future as a dark age.

Select Bibliography
Abelard, Peter, The Story of my Misfortunes: the Autobiography of Peter Ablard, trans. Henry
Adams Bellows, rpt. ed. (1922; Glencoe, IL, 1958).
Begley, Ronald B. and Joseph W.Koterski, ed., Medieval Education (New York 2005).
Benton, John F., Self and Society in Medieval France: the Memoirs of Abbot Guibert of Nogent
(1064?c. 1125) (New York 1970).
Cherewatuk, Karen and Ulrike Wiethaus, ed., Dear Sister: Medieval Women and the Epistolary
Genre (Philadelphia, PA, 1993).
Clemens, Raymond and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca, NY, 2007).
Cobban, Alan B., The Medieval Universities: Their Development and Organization (London 1975).
Crawford, Anne, Letters of Medieval Women (Stroud 2002).
Crick, Julia C. and Alexandra Walsham, The Uses of Script and Print, 13001700 (Cambridge and
New York 2004).
Ferrante, Joan M., To the Glory of Her Sex: Womens Role in the Composition of Medieval Texts
(Bloomington, IN, 1997).
Gellrich, Jesse M., Discourse and Dominion in the Fourteenth Century: Oral Contexts of Writing in
Philosophy, Politics, and Poetry (Princeton, NJ, 1995).
The Good Wifes Guide (Le Mnagier de Paris): A Medieval Household Book, trans., with critical
intro. Gina Greco and ed. Christine M.Rose (Ithaca, NY, and London 2009).
Leff, Gordon, Paris and Oxford Universities in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries: an
Institutional and Intellectual History (New York 1968).
Leighton, Albert C., Transport and Communication in Early Medieval Europe AD 5001100
(Newton Abbot 1972).
Stock, Brian, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the
Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton, NJ, 1983).
Wigelsworth, Jeffrey R., Science and Technology in Medieval European Life (Westport, CN, 2006).

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Mark T. Abate
Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in
Medieval Spain

A Convivencia: Historiographical Debate and

Historical Subject
Few terms in scholarship on medieval Europe have been as loaded as the term
convivencia. With the exception of feudalism, so much has never been packed
into so short a word. Literally meaning living-together-ness, the term refers to a
historical subject (interrelationships between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in
medieval Spain), an ideologically charged historiographical debate (the making
of the Spaniard and Spanish-ness), and some would argue a historical methodol-
ogy (examination of inter-cultural exchange as a motor for historical develop-
ment). All three meanings were or came to be interrelated.

I Spanish National Identity and Origins of the Debate

Convivencia as a debate and methodology began as an exchange between

Americo Castro (a philologist and literary historian) and Claudio Sanchez-Albor-
noz (an institutional historian). Both were members of the Generation of 1898
movement, both were Spanish Liberals, and both became exiles from Francos
Spain. The Generation of 1898 movement made the roots and nature of
Spanish identity the center of national intellectual and political debate. The
Spanish American War, which to some Americans might have seemed to be a
splendid little war, was a devastating and humiliating blow to the Spanish
national psyche. With the loss of Cuba, the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico
the tattered remains of the once great Spanish Empire were reduced to a slice of
Morocco, a piece of the Sahara, and the Canary Islands. The movement was also
a belated response to the failure of Spanish Republicanism. Representative
government had become the hallmark of modern states; the First Spanish
Republic created in 1873 lasted only 22 months before conservative forces orche-
strated a royal restoration. Industrial production, that other great marker for a
great power at the turn of the century, also lagged in Spain. What went
wrong with Spain? became the crucial cultural question for the Generation of

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 233

Who were Spaniards? How and why did they differ from other Western
Europeans? Were Spaniards inferior to other Europeans? If so, how did this
happen, what was the cause, and could it be corrected? The Spaniard became an
enigma, a riddle to be solved by the intelligentsia. Spanish national identity
became the preeminent preoccupation of a generation. The search began in earn-
est for Homo Hispanus. Franco and the Nationalists provided their answers to the
question. Two political exilesAmerico Castro in the U.S. and Claudio Sanchez-
Albornoz in Argentinaprovided their answers as well and in the process created
the Convivencia Debate or the Polemic of Spanish History (Gomez-Martinez
1975; Barcia, ed., 1976; Araya 1983; Glick 2005).
While resident at Princeton University in 1948, Americo Castro published his
Spain and Its History: Christians, Muslims, and Jews and ushered in a new period
in the historiography of Spain. Castros central thesis, which he elaborated upon
and further developed over the years but never deviated from, was that the
Spaniard (Homo Hispanus) was forged over a period of approximately three
centuries (roughly from the late eleventh to the late fourteenth) through the
comingling and interactionsthe convivencia or living-together-nessof Chris-
tians, Jews, and Muslims in the Iberian peninsula. Through contact, conflict, and
cultural cross-fertilization Christians, Muslims, and Jews created a hybrid culture
that came to be known as Spanishness and it was this, more than anything else,
which made the Spaniard so different from other Europeans. Seneca, Trajan,
Isidore, and all the Visigothic kings might have inhabited Iberia but they could
not properly be called Spaniards because, simply put, the Spaniard did not yet
exist (Castro 1956).
Language and literature were focal points for Castros analyses and his
preferred approach was the case study. This focus was not simply because he was
a philologist and literary historian but because he believed language and litera-
ture were the most accessible windows through which to view the mesh of
interconnected values from which the Spaniard became articulated. Still,
Castro gave considerable attention to institutions and historical events and was
forging a methodology similar to what today is called the New Historicism and
he did so long before Michel Foucault published his first book. Two historical
developmentsthe Cult of Santiago and the concept of purity of blood held by
the Spanish Inquisitioncan serve as excellent examples in describing what
Castro meant by convivencia. Both were uniquely Spanish and both were used by
Castro as exemplary case studies in understanding the process.

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234 Mark T. Abate

II Santiago and Purity of Blood: Two Examples of Castros


Castro saw Santiagothe saint, the cult, and the pilgrimageas central to Span-
ish identity and as products of convivencia. How did Santiago, a peaceful apostle
and for some the brother of Christ, become the iconic Moor-Killer and his shrine
the destination for the greatest pilgrimage site outside of the Holy Land? For
Castro, the Galician location played a crucial role in Santiagos militarization. In
the wake of the Islamic conquest the northwest remained a tiny bastion of
Christian independence in the peninsula. The need for divine assistance was great
and produced an intense desire for a tangible manifestation of it. Shouts of
Muhammads name by Muslim troops gave them a type of unity and confidence
that Christians needed. The militarization of Santiago, Castro believed, was
produced by a cross-cultural appropriation of the Muslim example and the need
for a sort of counter-Muhammad to unify Christians. Refashioning Santiagos
shrine into a pilgrimage site followed through the creation of what can be
considered a counter-Kaaba. Today Santiago and Compostela are as Spanish as
tapas; for Castro, however, they originated as transplants from Islam that re-
created, in Christian form, the functional roles played by Muhammad and Mecca
(Castro 1956).
Just as Santiago and Compostela were Christian recreations of Islamic con-
cepts, the Spanish Inquisition owed its distinctiveness, Castro believed, to the fact
that it was a Christian recreation of rabbinical courts. Before the fifteenth century
there was no sense of purity of blood in Christian society. Christians, even ones
from extremely distinguished families, intermarried with Jews frequently enough
for it to be no real shock to sensibilities. Penalties were levelled against Christian
women having sexual relations with non-Christian men but this was usually the
case only with repeat offenses. Conversion after the fact, moreover, was an
acceptable remedy because the problem was a religious not a racial one. Spanish
Jews, however, were very much concerned with maintaining and policing the
purity of bloodlines and saw the corruption produced by miscegenation as pollu-
tion. Castro cited responsa and verdicts in rabbinical courts that included such
punishments as facial mutilation for Jewish women convicted of miscegenation.
For Castro it was not a paradox but an elemental truth that as more Jews
converted to Christianity, Jewish views on blood and purity first emerged and
then became increasingly more pronounced in Spanish Catholicism. Converts and
descendants of converts retained Jewish scruples about blood yet also wanted to
separate themselves from their Jewish past. Torquemada and several other priests
who manned the apparatus of the Inquisition were of Jewish ancestry. The nature
of rabbinical courts and the Jewish emphasis on blood crossed the cultural

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 235

boundary, was recreated in Christian terms, and became the Spanish Inquisition
with a new found focus on the purity of blood (Castro 1956).

III Claudio Sanchez-Albornoz and the Eternal Spaniard

The riposte to Castros convivencia thesis came from Claudio Sanchez-Albornoz

in 1956 with the publication of his Spain: A Historical Enigma. His thesis, a polar
opposite to Castros, was the Eternal Spaniard theory: it held that one could
clearly trace the immutable line of Spanishness from Seneca to Unamuno.
Influenced by Darwinian and evolutionary theory, Sanchez-Albornoz posited the
existence of a temperamental inheritance (herencia temperamental) that was
resistant to external cultural forces. Just as the nature of a frog cannot be
transmuted by proximity to a fox the long-extant nature of the Spaniard could not
be transmuted by proximity to Jews and Muslims (Glick 2005). Detectable influ-
ences of Islam on Spaniards, for example the existence of Arabic loan words in
Spanish dialects, were purely cosmetic and had no substantive cultural effects.
He also questioned how truly Islamic Islamic Spain was given the mass conver-
sion of Neo-Muslims (Hispano-Romans who converted to Islam) and their role as
the demographic backbone of the peninsula. It made much more sense to speak
of a Spanishizing of Islam than an Islamization of Spain. The only significant
influence Islam had on the Spaniard was the Reconquista. Much time, energy, and
resources were expended in trying to expel the Muslim occupational force; this
waste of resources delayed certain aspects of subsequent Spanish development in
comparison to other European societies that did not confront a similar threat
(Barcia 1976; Araya 1983; Gomez-Martinez 1975; Glick 2005).

IV The Transformation of Convivencia

This Polemic of Spanish Historythe debate on the origins of the Spaniard and
Spanishnesswas transformed in the 1970s. Historians from outside Spain with
no vested ideological interest in Spanishness began to use and modify Castros
convivencia construct for different purposes. In 1969, Thomas F. Glick published
a seminal article, Acculturation as an Explanatory Concept in Spanish History,
which began the process of rebuilding Castros construct using anthropological
and sociological theory to underscore the value of convivencia as a methodologi-
cal approach to historical cultures and culture creation. Ten years later Glick
published Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages which expanded
the article into a full-blown recreation of convivencia using the social sciences.

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236 Mark T. Abate

R. I. Burns combined intensive archival spadework with social sciences theory to

depict Christian colonial societies in creative symbiosis with their defeated
Muslim populationsalong with a fascinating recreation and application of Turn-
ers frontier thesis for medieval Iberia. With Francos death in 1975 the po-
lemic lost much of its polemical importance for Spaniards themselves. The idea
of convivencia was now fully cut from its original ideological moorings and free
to float in subsequent scholarship.

B Reconquista and Conquest

I Origins and Nature of Reconquest

Pelayo, a figure drawn from a potpourri of history and legend, begins the begin-
ning of the story of post-Visigothic Christian Spain. Rodrigo, the last Visigothic
King, was allegedly his grand-uncle. When Rodrigo was betrayed and killed, and
the onslaught of the Muslim advance plowed through Iberia, legend has it that
Pelayo retreated to the far north-west of the peninsula with a rump-army and
made a final stand at the Battle of Covadonga. Some, like Oppa the Bishop of
Seville, advised submission and collaboration. Pelayo had none of it. Here legend
became far more important than history. Pelayo and his army won for the day. For
the Muslim chronicler ibn Hayyam, Pelayos forces were nothing more than
thirty barbarians perched on a rock who were doomed to die. For the soon to
emerge Christian states he was iconic as the great religious patriot who stood his
ground and whose foot marked the toe hold from which the reconquistathe
Christian reconquest of Iberiawould begin.
Whether this centuries-long military movement was a reconquest or a
conquest has been debated. Traditionally-minded interpretations have consid-
ered the Christian expansion into, and absorption of, territory in Islamic Spain to
be a reconquest. Pelayo, mythically or in reality, represented the original
Visigothic polity that was stripped of power and authority in the early eighth
century. A rump Visigothic government formed in the northwest and began a
concentrated response to recover territory from the victors. Whatever territory this
surviving Visigothic polity subsequently gained in the peninsula would constitute
a recovery of land or reconquest. Revisionist historians have been much more
sanguine. The movement was a conquest rather than a reconquest because the
populations (and cultural roots) were quite different. The builders of the northern
Christian states did not even speak the Germanic tongue of the Visigoths. The
northern extremities of the peninsula, moreover, were never completely Roma-
nized or Germanized, making their Hispano-Roman-Visigothic pedigree question-

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 237

able. From the revisionist perspective the nuclei of the northern states were
distinct from the Visigoths, were never themselves actually conquered, and thus
could not be agents initiating a reconquest. Reconquest was a concept manufac-
tured a century after the arrival of Islam by the kings of Asturias to justify their
expansion. To meet that need they mingled their lineage with that of the toppled
Visigothic line (Lomax 1978; Fletcher 1987; OCallaghan 2004).
Conquest or re-conquest, the Christian advance into al-Andalus was not a
unified movement. It was produced by small independent states pursuing their
own interests, states which over time expanded and coalesced with others
through arms, shrewd marriages, and occasional fratricideto create larger
states. Larger states, on the other hand, could sometimes split and then later re-
coalesce in different combinations. Leon and Castile, for example, were unified
three separate times within a one hundred year period of time. Leon, Castile,
Navarre, Aragon, Catalonia clashed with each other just as much as, if not more
than, the Muslims across the strip of no mans land to the south which served
as the frontier. The collapse of the Cordoban Caliphate in the fitna years and the
emergence of the taifa states made the picture even more complex with a mosaic
of Muslims states (Arab, Berber, and Slav) competing with one another as well.
Alliances of Christians and Muslims against Muslims, or Christians and Muslims
against Christians, could easily occur, not just in the sense of mercenary recruit-
ment but actual alliances between states. Political pressure or military support
could affect affairs of state or succession across the religious divide: a Muslim
state might have its candidate in mind for succession in a Christian state and
the reverse was true as well. There really was not much of a religious divide to
speak of in terms of state relations. Balances of power, political gain, and
territorial expansion were the clear driving forces. As Christian states grew
stronger and the balance of power shifted in their favor, financial shakedowns of
taifa states resulted in much gold flowing north. Paria (protection money) was
extorted from taifa states and this, in turn, increased the power of Christian states
in the north and gave them the ability to apply even more military pressure.
Extortion shifted eventually shifted to conquest (OCallaghan 1975; Lomax 1978;
Wasserstein 1985; OCallaghan 2004).
The rules of convivencia in Christian Spain were established by a combination
of conquest and diplomacy. Understanding its logic and rules requires some
understanding of the conquest itself. Two excellent examples for understanding
the process of conquest and the foundations for convivencia in the Christian
Spanish kingdoms are Alfonso VI of Castile and James I of Aragon.

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238 Mark T. Abate

II Alfonso VI: An Example of Conquest Strategy

The career of Alfonso VI of Castile, the conqueror of Toledo and the first great
(re)conquistador, is an excellent early example of the dynamics involved in the
advance to the south. His grandfather Sancho the Great managed to unify Leon,
Castile, Aragon, and Navarre but then divided it among his sons upon his death.
Fernando I, Alfonsos father, inherited Leon and subsequently absorbed Castile.
He exacted heavy paria payments from taifa and ravaged their countryside when-
ever payment was refused. Upon his death Fernando, too, divided his lands (and
significantly divided paria payment rights) among his sons. When Alfonso was
driven out of his kingdom by his older brother Sancho, the future conqueror of
Toledo was given asylum by that very city. There he enjoyed the hospitality of
king al-Mamun until the death of Sancho. Previously, Sancho had also driven his
youngest brother, Garcia, into exile in the taifa kingdom of Seville. When Garcia
finally returned Alfonso had him imprisoned for life. Alfonso reunified the king-
doms into one polity and became King of the Spains. Muslims could be allies
but brothers were always enemies. This was power politics pure and simple
without even a slight indication of anything approximating religious warfare
(Lomax 1978; Reilly 1988; OCallaghan 2004).
Alfonsos strategy was quite clear: weaken the taifa states by extracting
exorbitant paria tribute, strengthen his own position with their gold, turn them
against each other when possible, wait until their economies and armies wasted
away, and then absorb them with little trouble. This strategy was by no means
secret: Alfonsos envoy very clearly explained it to the king of Granada himself. It
was an incredibly effective strategy as well, one which resulted, after the taking
of Toledo, in the request for assistance from the Almoravids. Al-Mutamid, the
King of Seville, summed up the logic well: he would rather be a camel-driver in
Marrakesh than a swineherd in Castile. Domination seemed a foregone conclu-
sion at this point; the only real question now was who would dominate or absorb
the taifa states: Marrakesh (the Almoravids from North Africa) or Castile (Alfon-
sos juggernaut).
Toledo was the natural target for the transition from tribute to annexation.
Strategically it was positioned well on the Tagus. Even greater in importance was
Toledos political significance: it was the capitol of the Visigothic monarchy. The
capture of Toledo was not the result of a mass storming and massacre of a hated
religious enemy. Alfonsos siege of the city was actually requested by al-Qadir
the new Muslim king of Toledo. Al-Qadir, grandson of the king who gave Alfonso
asylum during his exile from Leon, had to flee Toledo after being deposed by his
subjects. Alfonso and al-Qadir reached an arrangement: Alfonso would put al-
Qadir back on his throne in exchange for hefty tribute payments, control over

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 239

regional fortifications protecting the city, and the understanding that al-Qadir
would eventually surrender Toledo to Alfonso and relocate to Valencia. Alfonsos
re-imposition of al-Qadir to the throne of Toledo agitated the population even
more. Added to their list of complaints against their king was now the exorbitant
tribute money that had to be extracted to pay off Alfonso. Attempted negotiations
between the Toledan population and rulers of other taifa states to depose al-Qadir
all failed; they, too, were reduced to making tribute payments to Alfonso and so
were in no position to take advantage of the offer. Isolated and with no real
options, Toledo surrendered to Alfonso, after an uneventful siege, on 6May 1085.
Alfonso took possession of Toledo and a contingent of his troops dutifully
marched east to install and defend, as previously negotiated, al-Qadir as the new
ruler of Valencia.
At the time, the immediate significance of the capture of Toledo would have
seemed to be political (the reconquest dimensions of taking the old Visigothic
capitol) and strategic (pushing the Christian-Muslim border from the Duero to the
Tagus and firmly establishing Christian regional hegemony). Intermediate signifi-
cance, from the viewpoint of Granada, Seville, Zaragoza, and Badajoz, would
have been chills down royal backs regarding an imminent end to the paria-
payment relationship. Long term significance, however, surely lay in the fact that
much of the Muslim population chose to remain and live under Christian rule.
Previously, Muslims tended to migrate when faced with such a possibility.
Following the conquest of Toledo in 1085 many Muslims chose to stay. Alfonsos
terms seemed reasonable and it should be noted that they were drafted in
conjunction with al-Qadir. Muslims wishing to emigrate were permitted to do so
and could take property with them. Muslims deciding to remain would retain their
property and the right to practice their religion in exchange for an equivalent of
the jizya poll tax (which came to be known as bezant money). Jews would retain
their existing status. Alfonso appointed a Mozarab as governor. The citys main
mosque would remain in Muslim hands. The last stipulation was violated without
Alfonsos knowledge: while the king was away the new archbishop seized the
main mosque and consecrated it as a cathedral. Enraged by this undermining of
his policy, Alfonso planned to take stern measures with the archbishop but the
Muslim population asked him to desist. They did not want the sort of trouble that
such a confrontation would produce for them.
Among his several monikers (including Emperor of All Spain), Alfonso took
the title emperor of the two religions. Surely this was in part prompted by his
desire to stake a claim, even if theoretical and in title only, over all inhabitants of
the peninsula. Alfonso was not (nor was anyone in medieval Spanish history) a
representative or advocate of what is today considered tolerance or multicultural-
ism although Muslims and Christians can be found equally both in lists of his

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240 Mark T. Abate

allies and his enemies. Such a split can even be found in his own family history:
some of his most difficult opponents were his brothers but his son, Sancho, was
born from the Muslim princess Zayda hailing from Seville. Papal political and
economic ambitions were a concern; Alfonso, however, responded to Gregory
VIIs claims (rooted in the fraudulent Donation of Constantine) that Spain was the
property of St. Peter with assuming the title of emperor of Spaina not so subtle
rejection of the claim. Other Iberian Christian states gave grudging nods to the
title with, of course, the provision that they were completely independent and
could act as they please in their own states. They were, in other words, amenable
to what we today would call a letter-head change.

III James I: An Example of Conquest Strategy

By the time James I of Aragon conquered Mallorca in 1230 much had changed
regarding the nature of the reconquest. The Almoravids, followed by the Almohads,
broke the momentum of the mid-eleventh century Christian push to the south. The
real age of reconquest was delayed until the thirteenth century. Crusadingin
ideological, judicial, organizational, and financial respectstransformed the re-
conquest in innumerable ways even if territorial expansion and political consolida-
tion were still very much the major driving forces. Just as significant, possibly more
so, were growing royal interests in and uses of Roman law. Roman law, favoring
centralized authority as it did, was an extremely useful tool in attempts to curtail
feudal claims and rights of the aristocratic potentates. The patchwork way in which
Spanish states were coming into existence, moreover, introduced yet more com-
plexity. The Aragonese and Catalans of James Is kingdom, for example, were of
very different temperaments, had their own legal traditions, and often had different
(sometimes even contradictory) goals (Bisson 1986). All of these issues were influ-
ential in shaping the conquest of Muslims and thus played roles in how subject
Muslims would be integrated into a Christian state.
James I became king at the age of five. A truce with the Almohads made for a
relatively peaceful minority on the border but he learned much (far more even
than most minor royals) during that time about baronial intrigues and internal
challenges to royal authority. At age 17, immediately following the expiration of
the truce, he made a failed attempt to take Peniscola. It did, however, enervate
King Abu Zayd of Valencia enough to make substantial paria payments to James
and, after later being deposed as king of Valencia, to convert to Christianity and
swear homage to James. Jamess Aragonese subjects favored a push into Valencia
while his Catalan subjects advocated the conquest of the Balearics. James was
receiving tribute from Valencia while Mallorca was, in addition to being a rival

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Islamic state that was not a source of revenue, a major base for piracy. The causus
belli that prompted the invasion of Mallorca its king Abu Yahyas rebuff to Jamess
demand for Catalan compensation for piracy. After receiving Abu Yahyas dismis-
sive response James reportedly claimed he was not worthy of the title of king
unless he grabbed Abu Yahya by the beard. Aragonese subjects, who favored
striking Valencia, remained aloof and the invasion was generally organized as a
Catalan venture, although its status as a crusade facilitated much foreign assist-
ance and participation (Burns 1973; OCallaghan 1975; Bisson 1986; Lourie 1990;
OCallaghan 2004).
The taking of Mallorca was particularly bloody. Although the only enemy the
Christians faced at sea was the weather, resistance was fierce enough on land.
The capitol (modern Palma) resisted the siege and all attempts at negotiated
surrender collapsed. Failure to negotiate surrender terms and the fact that the city
was secured by storming rather than dealing meant the population was vulner-
able to anything and everything. Wholesale massacre followed. One Islamic
source estimated that 24,000 citizens of the city were butchered on the spot and
that Abu Yahya was tortured to death in captivity (true or not he died shortly after
being taken into custody). Guerilla bands continued to fight in the hinterland but
by and large the island was conquered by May 1230. A majority of the Muslim
population opted to flee when given the opportunity, many of them heading for
asylum in North Africa. Resettlement activities generally replaced them, not
surprisingly, with Catalans. Mallorca was taken by force not diplomacy and this
entailed a wide division of the spoils to the constituencies that took it. Spoils and
rights of conquest were not restricted to seized property. James also had to decide
which legal system would be established in Mallorca. Not surprisingly, he chose
Barcelona law for the conquered island. When the dust settled, Mallorca was a
New Catolonia and the newly constituted population decidedly Christian (Burns
1973; Lourie 1990).
The conquest of Valencia was quite different. It was produced by negotiated
capitulations rather than bloody conquest and resulted in a Muslim dominant
regional demographic. A five month siege of the capitol city resulted in minimal if
respectable terms for the conquered: the Valencian king and his entourage could
leave unmolested, the general population was to be evacuated within five days
taking with them all portable items, general safe passage without search or
seizure was permitted for twenty days, and Muslims were allowed to sell non-
movable goods to the conquerors. Real estate would be apportioned to Christian
immigrants. Outside the capitol, Muslims would negotiate their own variable
terms of surrender which, frequently, were actually quite good. Technically a
crusade, the venture was jointly led by a Christian king and a deposed (but
converted) Muslim. Muslim and Spanish Christian troops, augmented by crusa-

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ders (mostly from southern France) together plowed the trail into creating a
Christian Valencia.
James certainly presided over slaughters and enslavements but usually his
preferred approach was negotiated settlement. Benefits of negotiated settlement
were obvious, so obvious politically that his barons often fought against it and
pushed for direct conquest. Kings gained much more from negotiated surrender
than they did from direct conquest. Negotiations produced much lordless land
that would revert, according to Roman Law, to the king. If an area was stormed,
however, feudal rights of conquest created a cacophony of judicial and financial
claims. Although not a zero-sum game per se, kings gained more for negotiated
surrenders and barons profited more and were strengthened by direct conquests.
James had on occasion employed agents to negotiate a Muslim surrender to
himself without the knowledge of his feudal warriors prosecuting the siege.
Negotiations rather than assaults strengthened royal power with, of course, the
opposite being equally true (Burns 1973; Lourie 1990).
Centralization of royal power was an obvious benefit to capitulations. So, too,
was their strategic importance in conquest. Medieval Spanish armies were feudal
armies and hence, generally speaking, seasonal armies. From the moment they
mustered the clock began ticking and, progress or lack thereof notwithstanding,
the term of service eventually ran out on variable timetables. When the clock ran
out service would be withdrawn and armies disappear. If paid more, or convinced
that continued service would benefit them, armies might decide to stay. If not,
they would leave and a strategically strong position could collapse. An example
of how problematic this could be can be found in Fernando IIIs siege of Cordoba.
Cordoba, after having negotiated surrender terms to lift the siege, promptly
reneged on the arrangement after learning that the Leonese contingent decided
not to remain as its three month term of service concluded. Pressuring key
positions into negotiated settlements, while bypassing defensive sites dependent
on them, were a brilliant strategy that James knew how to work well. It kept
momentum speedily moving forward, created a virtual critical mass in further
negotiated settlements not requiring force, and left in its wake centers of Muslim
power that would collapse beneath the weight of supply and morale problems.
Finally, negotiated surrenders often made great economic sense to monarchs
like James. Conquest often wreaked havoc on defenses and infrastructure and
both were costly and time consuming to repair. Food stores in protracted sieges
could be reduced to nothing. Cordoba, the former ornament of the world,
provides a stark example. Possession of the city had great strategic promise: it
provided a gateway for hegemony in the Guadalquivir valley. The problem with
the newly won prize was the citys acute food shortage produced by the siege
itself. Financially, the city was a bleeding wound that drove Fernando to the

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papacy, hat in hand, for desperately needed relief. Negotiated settlements (the
earlier the better) resulted in the least amount of destruction and dislocation and
provided for the maximum amount of continued economic productivity. Christian
immigration might always be welcome. Valencia, however, was not Mallorca, and
relatively quick population replacement was by no means feasible. In a region
such as Valencia the bedrock of the economy, at least for some time to come,
would be in the existing Muslim population and making some degree of accom-
modation not only made strategic sense but was an economic necessity.

C Surrender Contracts and the Rights

of the Conquered
The Dhimma contract and the legal constructs Christian states developed to deal
with their Muslim and Jewish subjects shared similarities. The Muslim model
certainly provided much inspiration in devising a means to regulate a religiously
pluralistic society. It would, however, be a gross oversimplificationwhich would
produce fairly misleading resultsto view the latter as nothing but borrowed
versions of the former. Both had the same primary goals and functions: to create
segmented, segregated societies that maximized benefits for the ruling class. The
dhimma arrangement was a concept obviously known to the conquered and thus
could serve as a readily understandable model for negotiating the new relation-
ships. The foundations, justifications, articulations, applications, and enforce-
ment, however, were quite differentas were the cumulative results on minority
Religious minorities in al-Andalus, through the dhimma arrangement, had
legal protections that were rooted in revelation. Jurists could have different
interpretations on specific points but all agreed that the basic arrangement and
its general features flowed from divine rather than human will. This fusion
between safeguards for minorities and Islamic law created a marked degree of
stability. When some terms were not rigorously enforced or tacitly ignored it
usually worked in favor of dhimmis. Gross violations of basic dhimmi rights
generally occurred only under very weak or very tyrannical rulers, or under
puritanical fanatics like the Almohads. When violations did happen it was usually
justified as a response to dhimmi violations of the contract. Dhimma contracts
were not written out per se between the state and its minorities; the religious
weight behind the arrangement, however, made the contract far more solid and
secure than could any written document. Provisions for exploitation were just as
solid as protections but the system itself was as stable as could be expected.

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While the religious roots of the dhimma system made it universal and fairly
resistant to change, the decidedly secular legal arrangements Christian states
made with their religious minorities (which in the case of Muslims could often
be the demographic majority) were contingent and subject to modification and
long-term erosion. Conquered communities rights and obligations were defined,
piecemeal and subject to variations, through individually negotiated terms of
surrender that were articulated in written contracts and charters. From the con-
querors perspective the main objective was to produce as little dislocation as
possible for the population and thereby maintain peak economic productivity.
From the perspective of the conquered the main objective was to maintain their
property and lifestyles as best possible knowing full well that if an agreement was
not reached the results would be expulsion, enslavement, or slaughter (examples
exist for all three). Significantly, once terms were successfully negotiated the
contract was often written out in two copies: one in Arabic to be retained by the
conquered community and one in Latin to be held by the conqueror.
Terms for surrender contracts were not standardized but were the products of
separate negotiation processes. Different communities, therefore, could have
different rules for convivencia. Details varied, sometimes drastically, but surren-
der contracts typically contained common features and areas of concern. Cash
ransoms per person could be demanded. Muslims who wanted to emigrate (and
were capable of doing so) were usually allowed to leave, sometimes with a grace
period during which they could decide to return. Muslims remaining would pay
the besant tax, a poll tax that was similar to, and no doubt inspired by, the jizya.
Crucially important was the right to be segregated in semi-autonomous commu-
nities regulated by their own communal leaders who they themselves would
select. Often they received the right not to have Jews or Christians live among
them and sometimes even the right to deny them access to their neighborhood.
Muslims in Chivert, for example, received a communal wall separating them from
Jews and Christians built at state expense. This might have been more of a
concern in pluralistic urban and town settings than in the rural countryside,
which would often be much more homogenous and segregation probably hap-
pened by default. Muslims could acquire the right not to be moved although at
times, as was the case in the surrender of Tudela, the entire community could be
relocated outside the city walls. The moreria itself, the Muslim living area or
neighborhood, could range in size from a single street to an entire village or town
(Burns 1973; 1975; Boswell 1978; Powell, ed., 1990).
Religious organization would undergo little to no change: they would retain
mosques, their qadi and sharia court (even their own jail), a muezzin for the call
to prayer, the right to hold Friday religious services, the right to conduct daily
prayers in the street, and the right to practice marriages and burials in accordance

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with Muslim ritual. In large cities, for example Cordoba, Huesca, Murcia, and
Lisbon, the main mosque needed to be surrendered to the Christians to be
cleansed of filth (an ubiquitous phrase), consecrated, and turned into a cathe-
dral (OCallaghan 2004). Provisions were often made for the religious education
of Muslim youth. Making the pilgrimage to Mecca, water rights for ablution
fountains in mosques, and Muslim maintenance of their own halal butcher shops
an issue of exceptional importancewere frequently addressed. Particularly
interesting were continuations of tax-exempt status for many religious properties.
Jews experienced virtually no change in the initial transition. They were already
subjugated communities and all that changed at first was to whom they were
subjugated. Continuity seems to have been something that all had some stake in
(Burns 1973; 1975; Boswell 1978).
Economic concessions loomed large. To lubricate the transition, holidays for
major taxes, for one or two years, could be granted to the conquered population.
Existing property rights were acknowledged and Muslims retained full rights
regarding possession and inheritance of property. Sale of property to other Mus-
lims was almost always permitted; property sales to Christians, however, could be
prohibited without royal approval. If the new Christian rulers needed to appropri-
ate certain properties the Muslim owners might be compensated with new proper-
ties, often coming from the land of co-religionists who fled before the surrender.
Limited guarantees of the proprietary status quo ante were offered to those who
had fled through a grace period in which to return and reclaim their property or at
least receive its fair value. Taxes on agricultural products (crop or animal) were
clearly defined. Military service to protect the immediate community was assumed;
any other forms of military service, which clearly had economic ramifications,
needed to be articulated, as did any sort of feudal labor service (if any).
Terms could also be exceptionally harsh, if the land was exceptionally valu-
able or the population particularly distrusted, granting little more than life itself.
The conquest of Minorca is instructive in this (Lourie 1990). We know little about
the conquest itself. It involved a siege but only a short one, just three weeks,
nothing that in and of itself would have prompted draconian measures. The ruler
along with his family and friends (about 200 people) were given free and safe
conduct to North Africa but could take nothing but clothes and bedding with
themwith the exception of books and 50 swords. Men, women, and children
within the castle fortifications could each pay a ransom, within six months, to
prevent their sale into slavery. Those captured outside the fortifications could be
ransomed as well but without the niceties of a six month grade period. They were,
at least temporarily, the immediate property of the king who could rent their labor
or pawn their physical persons as collateral on loans (both of which happened
within a month). There was an expectation that the Muslim ruler would ransom

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246 Mark T. Abate

many of his people although it is puzzling where this money was to come from as
all his assets were seized. Ransomed captives were subjected to full body searches
upon departure to make sure they were carrying nothing of value. Provisions were
made for Muslim women to be searched by women. Beyond that, the terms
essentially end with the guarantee that ransomed women would not be raped or
de-veiled (Burns 1973; Lourie 1990).
An important backdrop to all charters, one that might not have been expli-
citly clear in the beginning, was that all Muslims, in the final tally, were under
royal jurisdiction. Kings directly enjoyed the fruit of the labor of Muslims on royal
lands but they also technically had jurisdiction over urban Muslims and Muslims
living on seigneurial estates. This legal provision, which could roughly be com-
pared to federal law trumping state law, was rooted in Roman jurisprudence and
thus favored central authority over feudal remonstrance and protections of aristo-
cratic privileges. To what extent this royal prerogative was pushed varied by time,
place, and circumstance. The impact on Muslims themselves varied as well: the
exercise of royal prerogative could be advantageous or troublesome depending
on the case. Muslims in any case were seen as both useful and important to
Christian monarchs ruling over them. In the words of the Crown of Aragon,
Muslims were the royal treasure and the servants of our household (Burns
1973; 1975; Boswell 1978).

D Mudejars
Mudejar is the general term used for Muslim subjects of the Christian states.
Etymologically speaking the term is anything but flattering; it comes from the
same root as the term for domesticated animal, which, in the very least,
captures the essential subjugated nature that broadly defined the group and its
experience. Mudejars first came into existence in the eleventh-century push
south. Almoravid and Almohad occupations, however, delayed their true prolif-
eration until the thirteenth century. Historians of medieval Spain often speak of a
Mudejar experience or of Mudejarism in general terms but it must be remem-
bered that Mudejars, despite the occasional appearance of homogeneity, were a
rather diverse group. Mudejars in Navarre had a different experience than those
in Castile and those Castile had experiences different from those in Valencia. Such
differences were not just cosmetic as they included, for example, such core issues
as daily language (Burns 1973; 1975; Boswell 1978; Guichard 19901991; Harvey
1990; Harvey 1992a).
The genesis of Mudejar communities began with conditions far below ideal.
Long before a Muslim community was conquered much of its intellectual and

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administrative elite had usually fled. Many more, at least those who could afford
to do so, emigrated after negotiated surrenders. Some leaders fled, some were
killed, and some converted. Generally speaking those who remained did so
because they had no other choice or because they feared giving up what they had
to start life all over again further south in the peninsula or in North Africa.
Although surrender contracts always made provisions for religious freedom for
Mudejars, most Islamic jurists believed that living under non-Islamic rule was
prohibited. Living alongside non-Muslims was only permissible in an Islamic
state and only in accordance with the terms of the Dhimma contract. Emigration
was incumbent upon all conquered Muslims, if at all possible, to Islamic territory
as quickly as circumstances permitted. Muslim intellectual elites were already in
a state of serious decline due to previous Almohad excesses. The mass exodus of
elites following Christian conquest probably just killed a class that was already
terminally ill.
Mudejar and Moor eventually became synonymous with poverty. Sharecrop-
pers, serfs, and the urban workers are the most common images conjured up
when discussing Mudejars. Like all stereotypes it does not withstand close scru-
tiny. There were prosperous multi-generational Mudejar farmers in Aragon but
they do not seem to have retained such status past the mid fourteenth century. In
some areas prosperous urban merchants survived through the fourteenth century
at least. Mudejars could create and own businesses and enter into business
partnerships with Christians or Jews. The Belvis family, probably the most power-
ful Mudejar family known, provides a notable success story. Very wealthy Mude-
jars in Aragon, they loaned large amounts of cash to the crown, mingled in royal
circles, and had a legal dispensation making them exempt from all Mudejar dress
and service regulations. For the most part, however, the majority of Mudejars did
not even have their freedom by the close of the fourteenth century.
Mudejars, comparatively as a group, were economically and intellectually
impoverished in relation to Jews and Christians. The roots of this reality undoubt-
edly stretch back to the initial years of conquests and the mass hemorrhaging of
members of the political and intellectual elite. The Quran, unlike for example the
Talmud, did not even conceptualize much less address the possibility of the
faithful living under infidel rule. Emigration and resistance were the two sanc-
tioned options. Jews had much more religious flexibility (and historical experi-
ence) regarding such a transition. Jewish communities also experienced no com-
parable migration of elites during the reconquest and their social structure
remained intact. While Mudejars were seen largely as rural and poor, Jews were
generally viewed as urban and prosperous. Jewish intellectual life not only
continued under Christian rule but flourished. Not so with Mudejars. We know of
no great Mudejar poet. We know of no great Mudejar philosopher. We know of no

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great Mudejar mathematicians, astronomers, logicians, or even theologians

(Burns 1975; Boswell 1978; Harvey 1990; 1992a).
Mudejars did, however, make an enormous contribution to architectural
craftsmanship and art through the Mudejar Style. Construction historically has
often been the grand artistic canvas of the laboring-man and it is not surprising
that it was in this area that Mudejars reached their historical height of expression.
Mudejar style was characterized by the use of simple, low cost, modest materials.
Its ultimate origins were rooted in the ferocious anti-sumptuary tenor of Almohad
religious ideology. Railing against the opulence in lifestyle, art, and architecture
that they found in Spain after conquest, the Almohads launched a campaign of
demolition and whitewashing to remove the physical signs of spiritual laxity that
they believed could be found everywhere. Brick would substitute for marble. The
humble, pure beauty of plaster would replace decadently designed ceramic.
Muslim craftsmen working under the Almohad artistic yolk were innovative and
developed a remarkable ability to create beauty within the confines of simplicity
and modesty. The style survived the withdrawal of the Almohads and as free
Muslims became Mudejars they continued the technique. Emancipated from its
original religious context, Mudejar style flourished and crossed interfaith bound-
aries. Public buildings were constructed in Mudejar style. Mudejar style, however,
was not considered plebeian in any way. Christian aristocrats employed Mudejar
workers to decorate their estates. Palaces would be adorned in Mudejar style. In
addition to constructing mosques, Mudejar craftsmen built churches and synago-
gues. Some of the best surviving examples of Mudejar architecture, in fact, are
synagogues (later transformed into churches). Santa Maria la Blanca and El
Transito (both in Toledo) are outstanding exemplars (Harvey 1990; 1992a; 1992b;
Mann, Glick, and Dodds, ed., 1992).
Mudejar language has been one of the most hotly debated aspects of their
history. One must always be sensitive to the constant shifting of time, place,
purpose, and possible venue of language use. Paucity of evidence is also a major
factor in trying to ascertain the historical realities of mudejar language. The
traditional/linguistic school of thought has argued that Mudejars were Arabic-
Romance bilingual speakers but primarily, and in personal life, Romance speak-
ers. Here this school further breaks down into two views. One group holds that
Romance was the practical day-to-day language of Mudejars and that Arabic was
retained only as a language of religion, scholarship, and officials. Another group
envisions a class-based division: Arabic speaking elites alongside Romance
speaking masses. Yet another group places the linguistic divide along a city/
countryside axis: urban Mudejars were bilingual while rural ones spoke only
Romance. Some have pointed out that chronology is the determining factor in
understanding who spoke what language and when. This traditional/linguistic

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school is really unified only in the claim that, for one reason or another,
Romance was the dominant language for Mudejars. Some revisionists, however,
have claimed that the Mudejar population was overwhelmingly one of monolin-
gual Arabic speakers; bilingualism was exceptional, if not idiosyncratic, rather
than the norm. Others have seen geography and demographics as being the
deciding factors: southern regions with Mudejar majorities like Valencia had
Arabic speaking Mudejar populations while northern areas with Christian major-
ities, such as Navarre and Aragon, had Romance speaking Mudejars (Burns
Evidence regarding the use of interpreters seems to support the last view best.
In 1363, for example, the King of Aragon had to send to Lerida for a translator
because he heard there was a Mudejar there who could read Arabic and, as it
turned out, he did not seem to be very good. The emergence of aljamiado
Castilian or Catalan written in Arabic charactersfor religious texts certainly
seems to indicate a mass loss of Arabic in favor of Romance. In the far south the
opposite problem seems to have existed: nearly every town had official transla-
tors to render documents and edicts from Romance into Arabicwhich seems to
have been the most commonly spoken language (Boswell 1978; Burns 1984;
Harvey 1990; 1992a; 1992b).

E Aljamas
Corporate identity was something that Christian conquerors, vanquished Mus-
lims, and Jewish bystanders all understood and valued. Conquest resulted in
the designation, or in some cases reaffirmation, of physical space in which
subjected communities could live: for Muslims it was called the moreria and for
Jews, depending on where, it was known as the juderia or call. For segregated
semi-autonomy to work functionally the local Muslim and Jewish communities
needed corporate organizations, not only to regulate themselves but to repre-
sent their interests before the Christian state; such organizations were also
needed to discharge their communal responsibilities to the state such as tax
collection. They would define, direct, and defend the community and provide
the necessary oversight in maintaining communal life and satisfying communal

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I Aljama Structure

Aljamas, Muslim, and Jewish were these corporate bodies. The best known and
most studied have been the Muslim aljamas of Aragon and Valencia. Their organi-
zation followed a rough model but regional variations, emergent traditions, and
internal as well as external issues arising gave them all their own individual forms
and logic. At the head of an Islamic aljama was usually the qadi who served as
chief administrator. Qadis were religious judges and trustees for charitable organi-
zations and endowments. They were the obvious choice for heading internal
community regulation. Usually from influential families, they had powerful con-
nections within the community and occasionally had some literary talent or
theological training. Judicial, moral, and internal administrative functions were
their focus. The amin was, at least in Valencia, the second ranking position in the
aljama. He was the chief liaison between the qadi and the population as well as
between the qadi and Christian authorities. As chief financial officer, the amin was
the primary tax supervisor, aljama treasurer, customs officer, and also supervised
probate issues and the care of orphans. The amin could also be in charge of internal
law enforcement although that task seems to have been frequently entrusted to
another officer, the alami. The positions of qadi and amin could be held by the
same individual but it was not the norm. Creating the position of amin might have
been partially influenced by its Christian functional equivalent in the bailiff. If the
bailiff did not play a role in the creation of the position at the very least, over time,
it influenced it. In the original surrender contracts Muslim communities were
almost universally granted the right to select their own qadis. By the middle of the
fourteenth-century all but a few of the community qadis were royal appointments
and almost all amins were selected by the state (Burns 1973; 1975; Boswell 1978;
Lourie 1990; Guichard 19901991; Harvey 1990; Meyerson 1991).
Adelantati were another tier in aljama officials. There could be two or three
adelantati on a panel but usually four served at a time. Their task was regulating
the internal affairs of the community on the ground. As was the case with the
amins and bailiffs, there was a rough equivalent to the adelantati in the Christian
jurados. Adelantati were elected officials. Although the position was assigned no
salary the post surely provided benefits to the holders. Possessing very little real
power in the community itself, their main official responsibilities were handling
the basic mechanics of fiscal obligations of the aljama to the crown as well as
being the official spokesmen and liaisons for the king. Tax agents and public
relations representatives, they were, in essence, de facto royal agents in the
community and this made them unpopular.
The council of sheiks was the final pillar of Islamic aljamas. How Islamic as
opposed to how Christian the origins of this institution were is open to interpreta-

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tion. Shura, an advisory council and consultative body, was an ancient tradition
in Islam going all the way back to the original community in Medina. Not so
ancient but very present and palpable in the region were the Christian commune
movements and their associated town councils, councilmen, and corporate insti-
tutions jealously guarding their rights against royal or seigneurial encroach-
ments. Some synchronization between the two traditions most likely provides the
best explanation. They were a council of elders (better read as important
personages though many were probably elderly) that played a role in delibera-
tions about community matters and recommending actions. The specific me-
chanics on how they functioned seems to have varied place to place. What makes
their true functioning so difficult to ascertain with confidence is the fact that our
Christian accounts of them use their own functional equivalent terms in describ-
ing them. Thus the council of sheiks becomes described as a commune and, in
terms of Roman law, a universitas (which it certainly was not). Terminological
assimilation, practical as it may have seemed at the time, skews the historical
picture. References to sheiks as councilmen and councils or aljamas as a whole
as communes or as universitas sarracenorum is probably as accurate as many
equally common cross-faith phrases such as Sarracen Synagogues (a very
misleading description of mosques), Jewish Sunna (a questionable term for
Jewish law), and referring to Ramadan as the Pagan Lent. They all, of course,
have a cross-cultural logic to them but cannot really be described as accurate
depictions. Latin influence, however, went beyond terminological issues. By the
mid fourteenth century many of these councils were composed of elected officials
rather than pure tribal ties.

II Aljama Finances

Financial administration was, after socio-religious regulation, the most important

function of aljamas. Beneath the upper administrative structure of qadis, amins,
alamis, adelantati, and sheiks was a wide array of posts regulated by the aljama
that were necessary for its religious and economic functioning. Salaries and
sometimes retirement pensions needed to be provided. Imams or cantors, for
example, needed to be hired. Religious schooling needed to be provided. Market
inspectors needed to be maintained and scribes retained. Administrative staffs
handling issues relating to property sale and probate management were required.
Meeting payroll requirements could be a difficult challenge for aljamas particu-
larly since their semi-autonomy was not full autonomy regarding fiscal matters.
Levying any new taxes or modifying old ones required royal approval which
could be denied.

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More nightmarish than meeting payroll requirements was discharging the

aljamas tax burden to the Christian state. In addition to royal taxes some aljamas
were even responsible for paying tithes. As the corporate representative of the
community the aljama had the final responsibility in meeting the financial obliga-
tions of any of its members. Individuals could default but not the corporate body.
The aljama, for example, was responsible for payment of poll taxes on any
members who personally could not afford it. The aljama was also responsible for
the delinquent loans or unpaid fines of community members. Aggravating the
problem were the franchitas, exemptions from aljama and royal taxes, monarchs
granted to favored Muslims or Jews that shrank the community tax base. These
were granted to wealthy individuals of importance and, given that most franchi-
tas became hereditary, they compounded the financial problems of aljamas and
surely created class discord within the community. Consequently, aljamas some-
times had to resort to borrowing money to meet their financial obligations to the
state. Pragmatism mediated the damage. Sometimes almost half of the aljamas in
a region could be in default on technical/formal tax obligations. The state needed
recourse to a wide array of fiscal bootstrapping to make things work: deadline
extensions when appropriate, temporary tax remissions (in part or whole) when
needed, pro-rating when prudent. Deals were sometimes struck in which the tax
burden was paid off at one third of the official amount (Burns 1973; 1975; Boswell
1978; Lourie 1990; Guichard 19901991; Harvey 1990; Meyerson 1991).

III Aljama Judicial Systems

In functional terms the aljama, like the dhimma community before it, was a
construct that promised to guarantee religious segregation and serve as a bound-
ary-maintaining mechanism to prevent acculturation. Just as a moreria or juderia
might have physical barriers, such as gates or walls, to isolate the neighborhood
and control relations within it, so the aljama was conceived of as a legal and
social barrier that controlled cultural traffic. For Judaism and Islam the most
important expressions of communal identity and its preservation was religious
law. Aljamas were the institutional venues in which the maintenance and en-
forcement of religious law, and thus the protection of communal identity, took
Legal dimensions for the aljamas are thus crucial to understanding their
nature and the shared experiences of their members. Two approaches to aljamas
and law are required to understand their status and functioning: the legal stand-
ing of aljamas themselves as corporate units and the practice and execution of
law within the community and, as needed, across confessional lines. The exist-

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ence of aljamas as semi-autonomous corporate institutions was always predi-

cated on the pleasure and wishes of monarchs. Promises of surrender contracts
aside, all Muslims were legally the property of the king who technically could
enslave them for any reason or for no reason at all. Contingent is the most
accurate term in describing any aspect of their legal existence. Muslims and Jews
could generally expect certain rights but also knew these rights could completely
disappear with no warning. In extraordinary conditions (such as war) the entire
functioning of an aljama might be suspended and placed under the direct jur-
isdiction of a royal representative. Particularly after the second half of the
thirteenth century, when original rights from conquest charters had almost com-
pletely eroded, monarchs at times even installed Christian bureaucrats as
aljama qadis. Aljama functioning and status was always contingent on the discre-
tion of rulers and it could be revoked, along with the very physical freedom of
members, at any time. Comparing them to communes or a universitas, then, even
if monarchs themselves occasionally did, is conceptually useless in understand-
ing the institution. Communes and universitas had durable rights that aljamas
themselves never enjoyed. Urban commune members were not conceived of as
the property or treasure of monarchs who could theoretically be seized as
Sharia and rabbinical courts in aljamas could adjudicate civil cases but
usually not criminal ones. The latter would be handled by the Christian state
through a justicar. Civil cases, providing they were intra-faith, were handled
within the community itself. Qadis and Rabbis, for reasons as moral and cultural
as they might be economic or political, wanted to keep as many cases within the
community as they could and avoid, whenever possible, internal matters being
aired in infidel courts. Neither Jewish nor Islamic jurisprudence had an appellate
division. Extra-cultural appellate hearings emerged in the form of royal courts or
the creation of Christian-initiated chief qadis that served as regional appellate
divisions. In both cases the cohesive force of communal law was compromised.
Aljamas could purchase very specific judicial rights, for example, buying conces-
sions for the right to condemn community women guilty of miscegenation to
mutilation or execution (Burns 1973; 1975; Boswell 1978; Lourie 1990; Guichard
19901991; Harvey 1990).

IV Aljama Policing of Miscegenation

Miscegenation provides abundant and illuminating examples of aljamas regulat-

ing members of their communities while trying to maintain legal barriers to
preserve identity. The thriving cross-faith sexual economy was a source of grave

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254 Mark T. Abate

concern for all. All three faiths as communities demonstrated an abhorrence of

miscegenation and took severe judicial measures, which proved largely unsuc-
cessful, to delimit or eradicate it. Numerous individuals obviously did not share
communal disgust for interfaith sexual activity. Miscegenation was also one of
the issues most likely to produce an explosion of violence. Christian attacks on
interfaith sex or marriage began as early as the fourth century and intensified
over subsequent centuries. Jewish attacks on miscegenation were of equal and
sometimes greater ferocity: from Deuteronomy on it was severely condemned and
two of the greatest Jewish intellectuals the peninsula produced, Maimonides and
Nahmanides, both saw it as a clear and unquestionable violation of the covenant.
Islamic legal thought held that Muslim men could have intercourse with and
marry Jewish and Christian women but that Muslim women having relations with
non-Muslim men was prohibited. For Mudejars in Spain, however, the opinion
narrowed considerably into the view that neither males nor females were per-
mitted to have intercourse with or marry non-Muslims (Nirenberg 1996).
Christian states were quite brutal regarding miscegenation cases although
that brutality could sometimes be mitigated by the possibly of financially profit-
ing. Commutations of punishments by mutilation, enslavement, or death into
cash fines occurred although states themselves almost always profited from
enslavements in any event. Power, money, or political connections could circum-
vent law and custom as in the case of Guig, a powerful Jewess moneylender who
served the crown, who procured an official dispensation to live with her Christian
lover. Conversions were a possible means for escaping final punishment. Interest-
ingly, Christian miscegenation with Jews was treated more severely than with
Muslims. In Valencia, for example, the law stated that the punishment for Chris-
tian men fornicating with Jewish women was burning both together while the
punishment for Christian men fornicating with Muslim women was having the
pair whipped naked (again together) through the streets along with the possible
enslavement of the woman. Non-Christian men having intercourse with Christian
women generally resulted in executions or castrations for males and, for first
offenses for the women, loss of property rightswith recidivism being dealt with
by execution. This prohibition extended to prostitutes: the state licensed brothel
in Valencia City, for example, had a gallows outside the door that served as a
reminder to potential Jewish and Muslim customers of the punishment for mis-
Although all three communitiesMuslims, Christians, and Jewshad inter-
mural romances and prostitution, Muslim women were by far the most vulnerable
and at the proverbial bottom of the heap. Mudejar communities tended to be the
poorest and particularly impoverished Muslim women were the most susceptible
to sexual exploitation. Muslims, who were a conquered people could be en-

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 255

slaved. Miscegenation accusations against them, then, could be great sources of

profit, especially since successful charges of miscegenation against Muslim wo-
men resulted in a splitting of the profits for enslavement between the successful
accuser and the state. Anyone turning in Muslim prostitutes, even their custom-
ers, was in line for financial gain by doing so. Most egregious among recorded
examples was a group of monks at Roda who were using Muslim prostitutes for
sexual gratification and then turning them in to the authorities on charges of
miscegenation so that they could collect proceeds from their enslavement (Burns
1973; Boswell 1978; Nirenberg 1996).
Muslim and Jewish aljamas were extremely vigilant, almost obsessive, with
regulating their communities sexual borders. They were not alone in this, how-
ever, as average community members themselves not only took interest but some-
times took action in the patrolling of those borders. In Zaragoza a Jewish woman
who was impregnated by a Christian was murdered by her brothers. In Huesca, a
group of Muslims seized a Jew who frequented a brothel in the moreria, stripped
him naked, and left him in the street. An interfaith riot in Zaragoza broke out over
a Muslim woman who, having been pardoned for sexual activity with both
Christian and Jewish men on the promise not to do so again, was then caught in
the juderia fornicating with Jewish men. Some miscegenation stories from the
royal registers produce a sense of hilarity, for example, the case of a Jew who
found a naked Christian hiding under his wifes bed and believed the story that
he hired her to mend his pants and shirt and was waiting for the job to be
complete. Some stories are as confusing as they are fascinating, such as a Jew
who poisoned his son because, both having fallen in love with the same Muslim
slave, the son threatened to convert to Christianity if the father would not stop
having sexual relations with her. More often than not, though, the stories are not
amusing and are quite clear and tragic for most of the cast (Burns 1973; Boswell
1978; Nirenberg 1996).
Aljamas policed and prosecuted what they saw as the sexual jungle around
them but actual official punishment of high offenses, particularly those involving
execution, went into the hands of the Christian state. Muslim women convicted by
their aljamas, for example, were handed over to the Christian state which usually
commuted their death penalty to enslavement or collected a hefty fine for those
who could raise it. Jewish women could be subjected to a variety of punishments
but generally not enslavement since, unlike Mudejar women, they were not
conquered people and thus not technically liable to enslavement. The Muslim
aljama of Valencia City purchased from the crown a concession that guaranteed
Muslim women convicted of miscegenation could not have the death sentence
commuted to a fine. Families, though some would inform on inter-faith promiscu-
ity or kill their own offending women for it personally, could often rise to the

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256 Mark T. Abate

occasion and work toward financial remission. Families were not alone in trying
to pay such fines to spare a Muslim woman about to be executed for miscegena-
tion. In Zaragoza Muslim spectators took such pity on a woman who stood
publicly naked about to be flogged to death that they took up a collection to pay
her fine on the spot. It was these loopholes of mercy that both Muslim and Jewish
aljamas wanted to close down.
The rabbinic tradition in Spain unequivocally condemned miscegenation.
Yehuda ben Asher ben Yehiel, a rabbi from Toledo, not only claimed that any
Jewish man having sexual relations with a non-Jew should be put under the ban
but that it was incumbent upon all Jews to report miscegenation whenever
known. Another community in Castile even defended Jewish prostitutes as a
necessary evil as they gave Jewish men an intra-faith outlet for illicit sex and
therefore curbed miscegenation. Jewish men, however, still only rarely received
any official censure, much less punishment, from the aljama for extra-faith sexual
activity. Not so with Jewish women. Jewish aljamas were exceptionally vigilant
and generally ferocious and uncompromisingwhen it came to policing the
sexuality of its women. Punishment could include facial disfigurement and exile.
Jewish aljamas apparently had a widespread problem with poor Jews maliciously
bringing allegations of miscegenation against wealthy Jew to Christian courts.
Muslims, too, could use miscegenation accusations as a legal weapon. Indivi-
duals attacking individuals, and groups attacking groups, through miscegenation
accusations were also common occurrences in Muslim aljamas.

F Mudejars, Jews, and Military Service

Surrender contracts usually exempted the conquered from military service be-
yond the normal expectation of immediate community defense. Like so many
articles of the original surrender contracts, the exemption from military service
eroded under the pressure of state revisionism. Monarchs invoking Roman Law
were trying to transform themselves from first among equals into true sovereign
rulers. The centralizing force of monarchs promoting and applying Roman Law
had profound effects on all political and economic relationships. Mudejar and
Jewish communities were more vulnerable to the encroachments of new royal
laws than were barons or communes but attempts to centralize authority and the
consequent effects were society wide.
Evidence suggests that Jewish military service usually remained localized in
defense of the immediate community but that this was not always the case. Jews
were notable in marching out to defend Toledo against the Almohads in 1197.
Jewish military participation being greater in Spain than other parts of Europe is

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 257

suggested by the testimony of a twelfth-century German rabbi who mentioned

that it was the custom of Jews in Spain to accompany the king to war. Mentions
were occasionally made of Jewish casualties in conflicts. Some Muslim accounts
mentioned the participation of Jews in crusading activity. There is a record of
Jewish archers receiving land grants in 1266 and the inventory of the estate of
Samuel b. Manasseh, secretary to the king, included weapons and armor. Frois-
sart mentioned that Pedro the Cruel made great use of Jews and Muslims in his
war against his half-brother. The mercenary career of Abrahim el Jenet is fascinat-
ing: he was a Jew fighting in a Muslim mercenary band employed by the Christian
king of Aragon. Fascinating as his case is it gives no indication of widespread
Jewish participation in military services to the crown or feudal lords. This could
be due to the much smaller numbers of Jews in Spain in comparison to the
Mudejar and Christian populations. It could also be related to the relative wealth
and political influence of Jewish communities as opposed to Mudejar ones.
Generally speaking, at the grassroots level, military service was something that
one tried to avoid (hence its appearance in original surrender-contracts). Jewish
communities, although they had their fair share of impoverished members, had
much more wealth and political influence than Mudejars. Mudejars ran a much
greater risk of getting stuck with military service and hence their prevalence.
Possibly one of the most illuminating pieces of evidence was the way in which the
crown resolved a dispute between Jews and Muslims in Fraga over which group
would march first in the mourning procession for Peter the Ceremonious: Muslims
would march first because they risked their lives in battle for the king while Jews
did not (Burns 1973; Lourie 1990; Nirenberg 1996).
Mudejars, by and large, became fully integrated into the feudal order. From
the land-bound peasantry to military service obligations Mudejars differed little
from their Christian counterparts. Many Mudejars were considered formal vassals
and the term itself was employed in a way that did not differ at all from Christian
usage. Mudejars were even used to fight foreign Muslims. With most of the
Mudejar community being relatively poor, their most common form of military
service was in community militias for local defense. There were, however, the
aljaferias, Muslim units that were permanently assigned to posts and as such
exempt from any other form of military service. The bulk of Muslims rendering
military service to the crown served as infantry or as archers and crossbowmen.
Some fought as separate Mudejar units under a Mudejar commander but most
fought, at least in the early centuries, in fully integrated units alongside Chris-
tians. In Aragon, after a few centuries of such normal military integration a sort of
separate but equal approach to military service was adopted: Muslim and
Christian troops would have equal military duties but serve in segregated units
each with their own chain of command. Mudejars did provide cavalry service

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258 Mark T. Abate

which was not negligible. Cavalry was drawn from aljamas although some alja-
mas procured exemptions from providing cavalry servicewhich indicates how
widespread the practice was. Mudejar potentates were obligated to provide
cavalry as needed although some did so voluntarily beyond obligation. Mudejars
were a major component in the military strength of the state and in this regard
differed little from their Christian fellow subjects (Burns 1973; 1975; Boswell 1978;
Lourie 1990; Guichard 19901991; Harvey 1990).

G Mozarabs
The community of Toledo is the most significant for understanding the shift from
Islamic to Christian Spain for Mozarabs. Toledo became a magnet for Mozarab
immigration following its conquest in 1085. Emigration and persecution at the
hands of the Berber dynasties decimated other once thriving Mozarab commu-
nities. Even the community of Cordoba, though it still existed, was weak and in
serious decline. The Toledan Mozarab community, on the other hand, was dense
and its membership was not restricted just to those tracing their lineage back to
Hispano-Roman-Visigothic stock: in the wake of the conquest many Muslims and
even some Arabic speaking Jews converted and became Mozarabs.
The main problem in reabsorbing the Mozarab population into Christendom
was, surprisingly, not linguistic but liturgical (OCallaghan 1975). Mozarabs ad-
hered to the Visigothic rite which, despite its approval in Rome in 1065, was not to
the taste of subsequent papal reformers or consistent with the French influences
spreading from the north across the Pyrenees. Catalonias proximity to and
influence by the Franks resulted in an early abandonment of the Mozarabic rite.
Deep in the heart of Castile the situation was much different. Alfonso VI was very
receptive to the idea of liturgical change and bringing Spain into line with
continent-wide customs but he knew popular resistance to this would be signifi-
cant. Tradition has it that he resorted to submitting the issue to trial by combat
with a champion representing each liturgy. When the champion for the Roman
rite was defeated the king then submitted it for trial by ordeal through fire. When
both liturgies were thrown into the fire, tradition has it that the Mozarabic rite
leaped out of the flames and Alfonso kicked it back in saying Let the horns of the
laws bend to the will of kings. Whether or not laws bent to the will of kings the
liturgy in Spain would. Awash in Cluniac monks and missionaries promoting the
Roman over Visigothic rite the tiny, weakened Mozarabic communities, with the
notable exception of Toledo, went through the liturgical change. In the Mozarab
chapel at the Cathedral in Toledo, however, one can still today attend the
Mozarabic rite every morning at 8:00 AM.

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 259

Intellectually, the Mozarab community was on the verge of collapse by the

time it was absorbed. Like Mudejars, Mozarabs did not adapt well intellectually as
minorities. This is, of course, based on surviving sources and it is doubtful that
Jews, Muslims, or Latin Christians would have spent much effort trying to pre-
serve Mozarabic texts. Still, there is no evidence of any great Mozarab intellectual.
Learned Mozarabs certainly existed. Some Arabic poetry was composed and some
Latin works copied. The Mozarab author of the Liber denudationis, a polemic work
against Islam, refuted the miracle of Muhammad splitting the Moon based upon
Aristotelian physics. Mozarabs also played a role, even if a modest one, in the
translation of Arabic scientific and philosophical texts into Latin. Intellectually
speaking the community got a significant boost through (re)connection to the
wider Christian cultural landscape.
The greatest potential contribution Mozarabs could have made to Latin Chris-
tendom would be in the understanding of Islam (if only to develop refutations of
higher quality). Arabization and Islamization were two distinct processes but they
could overlap on the edges. Mozarabs (at least the literate ones) retained their
identity but did have significant exposure to Islam. If one were to become literate
in Arabic in the pre-modern world it would almost certainly involve some contact
with the Quran as it was considered the greatest exemplar of the language and a
pedagogical device as well as a revealed text. The Mozarab creation of a Latin
equivalent of the Bismallah in their texts is just one obvious reaffirmation of this
assumption. They also had access to and knowledge of Quranic commentaries and
other important literature. Many Mozarabs knew of kalam (Islamic theology) and
made attempts to create some bridges between it and Latin Christian conventions.
Mozarab polemics against Islam demonstrated a marked degree of knowledge
about the religion in comparison to anything else in Europe and their distaste for
the religion should not be confused with ignorance about it (Burman 1994).

H Intellectual Exchange
The transmission of the Greco-Roman scientific tradition through Spain and into
the rest of Europe is generally considered to be one of the most important events
in medieval intellectual development. It was an important aspect of the renais-
sance of the twelfth century and one of the driving forces behind the rise of
universities in the thirteenth century; institutions which, in a manner of speaking,
emerged as workshops for dealing with this information as well as clearing
houses to distribute it. The transmission also provided Europeans with the gen-
eral framework of the universe as they would see it until Johannes Kepler (1571

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260 Mark T. Abate

Most of the fundamental concepts and texts, but certainly not all, that
revolutionized European scientific thinking originated in the East. Spain became
the conduit for transmission for two primary reasons. First, it was part of the
Islamic world and thus had the cultural connections for the reception of the
intellectual products hailing from the East. Second, in Spain the Greco-Roman
tradition was more widely available in an Arabized form and was accompanied
by such brilliant commentaries as those by Averroes. Arabization of the Greco-
Roman tradition was of the utmost importance as it continued and intensified the
Neoplatonizing of Aristotelian thought. Many of the conceptual conflicts and
rough edges of pure Greco-Roman thought that would cause problems fitting into
Abrahamic monotheism were resolved and smoothed in their Arabized versions.
This at least partially explains the primacy of Spain and Toledo for the transmis-
sion of such knowledge as opposed to Sicily and Palermo. Sicily overall had
textual traditions that remained very Greek, in language and context, and did not
exhibit as much of an effort in reconciling Aristotle with Moses as had the Spanish
tradition (Lemay 1962; Peters 1968; Vernet 1975; Lindberg 1978; Glick 2005).
Following the conquest of Toledo and the revelation of the rich intellectual
treasures to be found in Spain, scientifically-minded men from throughout Europe
came to the peninsula. Texts that were known only by title and author, long
thought lost for all time, were now available for the intrepid scholar. Astronomy
and astrology were, all things considered, the most sought after form of knowl-
edge, particularly in the shape of Ptolemys Almagest. One of the highest forms of
knowledge in the Middle Ages, astrology in general and the Almagest in particular,
brought Robert of Ketton from England in the 1140s. Together with his collaborator
Herman of Carinthia the pair worked on the Almagest and other treatises. When
Peter the Venerable visited the Ebro Valley (and seems to have been horrified by
the impact of Islam and the heterodoxy it encouraged) he retained the services of
the two to create the first Latin translation of the Quran. Significantly, neither man
was interested in such a project; they were there to work on scientific texts and
had absolutely no interest in Islam or the Quran. Resistance to the project
collapsed under generous remuneration. Kettons comfort level and knowledge of
Arabic can be seen in many ways. Possibly the most significant was that, despite
his lack of enthusiasm for the Quran translation project, he used al-Tabaris
commentary for understanding and translating difficult or contestable issues.
Although not personally interested in the project he was conscientious and this,
combined with his abilities, resulted in a quality product for Peter the Venerable
and the first translation of the Quran in a European language (Lemay 1962;
Kritzeck 1964; Alverny 1982; Burnett 1992; 1997; 2001; Glick 2005).
Translators of texts from Arabic to Latin sometimes worked alone but transla-
tion activity was generally done by teams of scholars, often associated with other

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 261

teams and thus forming a school. Usually the translation from Arabic into Latin
was channeled through Romance vernacular such as Castilian or Catalan. One
member of the team would read the Arabic and speak it in Romance while the
other member listened to the Romance and wrote it in Latin. Jews were particu-
larly important in this as they tended to be bilingual or trilingual and comfortable
in both Arabic and Romance. Translation teams often included a Jew, converted
Jew, or Mozarab. John of Seville, the first great translator in Toledo, probably was
a converted Jew himself. Dominic Gundisalvus worked on translations with Abra-
ham ibn Dawud. Plato of Tivoli worked with Abraham bar Hiyya. Gerard of
Cremona worked with a Mozarab named Galippus. Quality of translations varied
not just due to the linguistic skills but also philosophical views on proper means
of translation. Some took a euphemistic approach and translated the concepts as
opposed to the direct words. The other approach, the verbo ad verbum ap-
proach, stuck to literal word for word translations. Gerard of Cremona, who with
little doubt was the most prolific translator of his age, is an example of the latter.
Sometimes in reading his work one can have the confused feeling that they are
reading Arabic in Latin script (Alverny 1982; Glick 1992b; 2005; Burnett 1992;
1997; 2001).
The city of Toledo gained a reputation for being the capitol of scientific
knowledge and particularly the magic arts. Toledos legacy in astronomy was
particularly strong. In the late eleventh century the qadi Said of Toledo presided
over a project that produced the famous Toledan Tables that synthesized the most
sophisticated mathematics available with new astronomical observations. In the
Middle Ages the line separating science and magic was often thin and sometimes
non-existent (Lemay 1962; Glick 2005). The reputation was a somewhat deserved
one as some translation activity did involve what would be considered black or
demonic magic, particularly astral magic manuals like Picatrix. Arabic was seen
as a language of revealed secrets both natural and supernatural and became
firmly associated with the Toledan tradition. The reputation of Toledo as a capitol
for scientific activity was clinched when Alfonso X centralized the work of
scholars in the city to make efforts more efficient. Alfonso even made provisions
for individual scholars to specialize in research, translation (now into Castilian
rather than Latin), or in the technical editing of manuscripts. The translation team
that Alfonso put together included five Jews, one Muslim convert to Christianity,
four Spanish Christians, and four Italians; the composition of the group itself is
eloquent testimony to the type of cross-cultural effort needed for the tasks to be
completed successfully (Vernet 1975; Burns 1983; Samso 1984; Jimenez 2004;
Glick 2005).
Ranking high among the many important texts channeled through Spain was
al-Khwarizmis text on Indian calculations which introduced Europeans to a new

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262 Mark T. Abate

numerical system that eventually would become the Arabic numeral system of
today. The numeral system in the Middle Ages was widely known as the Toledan
Numbers (for numbers, see the contribution to this Handbook by Moritz Wedell).
In particular, it seems that 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 0 in their current forms originally took
shape in Toledo during the translation movement (Lemay 1977). Al-Khwarizmis
contribution did not end there: the corruption of his name in Latin into Algoritmi
provided us with the term algorithm. Related to this and of equal importance was
the recovery of Euclids Elements which had previously only been known to Latins
in the rather unsatisfactory bare bones translation made by Boethius. This revolu-
tionized geometry as a discipline in Western Europe. Euclid, moreover, became
connected with another translated text of the utmost importance: Aristotles
Posterior Analytics. The Posterior Analytics, translated by Gerard of Cremona in
Toledo in 1187, was Aristotles great exposition on demonstrable proofthe
closest that the pre-modern world had to a scientific method. Aristotles method
of demonstration held mathematics to be a fundamental exemplar for ascertain-
ing proof and Euclids Elements came to be seen by medieval scholars as its
clearest expression (Glick 1992b). Numerous other works transmitted through
Spain were of tremendous importancenot least of them Ptolemys Almagestso
numerous that it is impossible to enumerate them concisely.
Jews were central to the intellectual transmission of Arab science to Europe.
Spanish Jews, however, were also important producers and consumers of science
in Spain themselves rather than simply mediators between traditions. While Jews
were serving in translation teams to render the Arabic corpus into Latin or
Romance they were also translating texts into Hebrew and creating a scientific
corpus of their own. Translation and composition in Hebrew was an extremely
difficult challenge before the fourteenth century as it was customary to use
biblical and rabbinic Hebrew rather than spoken medieval Hebrew. This made
translation or composition of technical scientific works a particularly daunting
task. Regardless of the difficulties involved an exceptionally rich Hebrew scienti-
fic corpus was produced. Jewish scientists also translated works into Latin and
even composed original works in Latin as well as Hebrew (Glick 1992b).
Two outstanding exemplars of the Jewish scientific community were Abra-
ham bar Hiyya and Abraham ibn Ezra. Bar Hiyya was a translator who worked
with Plato of Tivoli but he also wrote original works in Hebrew that include a
compendium on mathematics and a treatise on geometry which became, in 1145,
the first scientific work originally composed in Hebrew to be translated into
another language. Abraham ibn Ezra translated works into Hebrew, such as a
commentary on Khwarizmis tables, but also composed works in Hebrew includ-
ing three works on mathematics and The Copper Instrument, which was his own
treatise on the astrolabe. Abraham ibn Ezra also composed works in Latin such as

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 263

an original work on astronomical tables and possibly a Latin treatise on the

astrolabe. He took his Spanish scientific training and went on to be an interna-
tional consultant of sorts: he traveled city to city abroad synchronizing local
meridians to astronomical tables.
The career of Petrus Alfonsi (10621110) is very instructive in revealing the
differential in scientific knowledge between Islamic Spain and Christian Europe
during the early transitional period. He was no Abraham bar Hiyya or Abraham
ibn Ezra. Alfonsi was a converted Jew from Islamic Spain who migrated north to
Aragon and eventually crossed the Pyrenees into France and England. There he
became a great promoter of the Andalusi scientific tradition as well as a great
promoter of his own career through it. His scientific works were greedily received
and he quickly reached the status of an auctora great authority. He railed with
pious indignation against the juvenile intellectual traditions he found in the north
and rode a wave of applause that carried him right into a position as the personal
physician to Henry I. The most fascinating thing about his stellar career is that by
the standards of Andalusi science he was only a mediocre scholar even when
performing at his very best. Much of the time he did not fully understand his own
subject and his works were completely corrupted by gross errors. Once better
translations by more qualified scholars began crossing the Pyrenees, Alfonsis
scientific work became quickly and utterly obsolete. From then on it was primarily
his polemical works against Islam and Judaism that were considered worth read-
ingparticularly for an understanding of the Talmud and how to attack it. The
fact that a third-rate Andalusi scholar could launch such a successful career in
the north serves as a real foreshadowing of the intellectual impact Spain would
soon have on all Christendom (Tolan 1993).

I Confrontations
I The Importance of Segregation

Aljamas, morerias, juderias, and the entire social system in which they were
embedded were designed to limit, as much as possible, contact between the three
faiths and to regulate such contact when it was unavoidable. Distinctive clothing
was legislated for Jews and Mudejars so that they could always be easily distin-
guished from Christians in the streets. Legislation for men also included beard
length and hairstyles. Attempts were made to ensure separateness and preserve
identities in a variety of arenas ranging from butcher shops to brothels. Social
barriers were considered the foundation of co-existence and even though many
individuals sometimes opted to slip past those barriers for reasons of their own.

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The three communities themselvesJews, Muslims, and Christiansall corpo-

rately believed, however, in the absolute necessity of separateness. Proximity,
they reckoned, did not produce better mutual understanding of one another but
simply provided more opportunities for conflict and cultural contamination.
Crossings of such social boundaries can sometimes be amusing to the modern
reader as, for example, when a scribe in Barcelona complained that a Jewish
sewer was running through his neighborhood and that the smell of non-Christian
waste was offending the local Virgin of the Pine. In the minds of some, then, even
feces needed to be segregated. Sometimes such crossings could be revolting, such
as Christians pasturing pigs in Muslims graveyards (supremely offensive itself on
multiple counts) even after the animals began digging up corpses. Sometimes
they reveal a web of interconnected economic issues such inter-faith uses of
butchers or artisan disputes about competing cross-faith workshops being open
during holy days (Nirenberg 1996). Christian and Jewish traffic into morerias
reveals an entirely different shadow world of inter-faith relations. These usually
impoverished communities became centers for a wide array of low-life and illicit
activities. Christian state official had no authority in morerias and actually could
not even enter them without being accompanied by the local amin unless specifi-
cally charged to do so by the crown. Certainly this made them even more appeal-
ing venues for nefarious pursuits. Poverty produced a relative abundance of
Mudejar prostitutes although numerous of their Christian counterparts were
drawn to the moreria as well (Boswell 1978; Nirenberg 1996). Taverns, despite the
Islamic prohibition on alcohol, were abundant. Gambling was a major activity in
the moreria. A game called tafueries was played in almost all sizable morerias.
Legal for Muslims to play but not for Christians, the proliferation of the game
resulted in the emergence of a new official, the Tafurarius, whose function was to
collect fines from Christians caught playing. Fines from the game were so exten-
sive that they eventually became a significant revenue stream for the crown
(Boswell 1978).

II Ritualized Aggression and Massacre

Holy Week attacks on Jewish communities, an annual ritualized event rooted in

mainstream rather than fringe clerical and popular culture, provide clear and
instructive examples on the social barrier between Jews and Christians. David
Nirenberg, in his tour de force study Communities of Violence, demonstrated how
these attacks were reinforcements of the social barrier more than penetrations of
it. Holy Week attacks on the juderia or call were not pogroms but rituals
aggressive rituals but rituals with rules nonetheless. Ideally it would involve

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 265

children under eighteen years of age throwing rocks at the walls of the juderia.
The intent was to intimidate, maybe cause property damage, but not to murder.
The ideal could and did on occasion escalate. Adults, usually clerics, might join
the ritual and produce confrontations with the Christian officials assigned to
guard the juderia and make sure the ritual did not spiral out of control. Most of
the physical violence that occurred in the Holy Week attacks was between
Christian officials and the Christian population (usually clerics). When it esca-
lated to the extreme, however, it could result in a sack of the juderia. Serious
injuries, however, were relatively rare. According to Nirenberg the ritual re-
minded all of their differences and served to symbolically reinforce the social
boundary. In so doing, it mimicked but partially vented the violence that could
explode from a desire for vengeance against Jews for deicide (Nirenberg 1996).
Before 1348 religious massacres were not an aspect of Iberian existence. The
one exceptionand really only a partial exception due to the convoluted nature
of the eventswas the massacre of 337 Jews in the village of Montclus in 1320. The
primary agents were not Spanish locals but French radicals, the Pastoureaux,
who tore a path of destruction through Jewish communities wherever they went.
Some Montclus locals participated in mob looting and at least one played an
active role in the death of Jews but the massacre itself cannot be considered a
native occurrence. The machinery of royal justice, moreover, came down very
hard on all who played any role, even a slight one, in anti-Jewish activities during
the tragedy. The moreria of Naval was sacked and looted by the shepherds with
some locals also joining in but there were no deaths. Generally speaking most
Jewish and Muslim communities were protected by state officials and the local
populations against the threat. The massacres of Jews in 1348, however, cannot
be blamed on a radical group coming from France. Nor can the massacres of 1391,
the darkest year for Sephardic Jewry before 1492, in which thousands of Jews were
butchered and staggering numbers were forcibly converted. Brutal, vicious, and
destructive as these pogroms were it must also be noted that decades of relative
peace and normalcy separate them (Nirenberg 1996).

III Conversion Attempts

Another notable arena for confrontation was a new approach to missionary efforts
in the thirteenth century. Older polemical approaches to Judaism (and later Islam)
were much more geared toward Christian audiences to reinforce their own faith
and demonstrate its superiority. In these cases, the Jew or the Muslim was
more often than not a straw opponent to be rhetorically whipped without being
able to strike back. Efforts that genuinely tried to convert Jews were based on

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Christian sources which, naturally, were not considered to be legitimate by target

audiences. The Christian discovery of the Talmud and access to better informa-
tion about Islam (for those looking for it) helped pave the way for a new approach,
one that had living, breathing opponents rather than straw targets, an approach
that would culminate in public disputations designed to prove the superiority and
truth of Christianity (J.Cohen 1982a).
In theory the approach was designed to convert both Jews and Muslims. In
practice efforts were usually focused on Jews. Judaism was generally considered
by Spanish Christians to be more abhorrent than Islam but this was not the reason
for focusing primary efforts on Jews. Much more likely, the reason lies in the
comparative conditions of Jewish and Mudejar communities. Intellectual life
among Spanish Jews made the transition from Islamic to Christian rule with no
disruption. Brilliant rabbis like Nahmanides were produced by the Jewish educa-
tional system and could be taken on in a public disputation. If an iconic religious
expert were defeated and toppled in public debate, the theory posited, intellec-
tual resistance and then popular resistance would crumble. There were, however,
no Mudejar counterparts to Nahmanides. The Muslim intellectual elite was essen-
tially decapitated by flight and migration during the initial conquest. Another
reason for the focus on Judaism over Islam in practice rather than theory was that
a number of educated Jewish converts took up the cause of attacking their
previous religion. Mudejar communities, just as they had no counterpart to
Nahmanides, had no counterpart to such converts (J.Cohen 1982a).
Converted Jews were often the most dangerous Christian opponents of Juda-
ism in intellectual and theological terms. Already in the early twelfth century
Petrus Alfonsi, in his Dialogi contra Iudaeos, launched a brutal attack on Judaism,
particularly contemporary Judaism, by focusing on the Talmud. After killing Jesus
the Jews broke with the Old Law and created a new one, based on a web of lies, a
web called the Talmud (Tolan 1993). The potentially devastating end game of this
argument was, if not immediately recognized, at least not immediately acted
upon: the Talmud, as post-biblical religious writings, constituted heresy and
could thus open up rabbinic Judaism to Christian machinery for suppression.
Other than bringing attention, sometimes for the first time, to the nature of the
Talmud, Alfonsis attack had minimal impact. A century later the Jewish convert
Nicholas Donin waged a campaign, in an entirely new key, on the Talmud as
post-biblical heresy and as a tradition encouraging Jewish blasphemy against
Christianity. In 1240, Donins war on the Talmud reached its apex with the trial,
conviction, and burning of the Talmud in Paris. The Talmud was now something
that was receiving significant Christian attention.
The belated Christian discovery of the Talmud revolutionized the mission-
ary approach by promising insight into the psyche of the contemporary, living

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 267

Jewish community rather than just a biblical, ossified understanding of their

thought. Converting Jews meant understanding contemporary Jews and that
meant understanding Talmudic scholarship along with contemporary methods of
rabbinic exegesis. The Dominican Ramon of Penyaforte became the dean of a
missionary think-tank dedicated to designing and piloting a new approach to
conversion. The school was to pioneer conversion methods for both Muslims and
Jews. Many of the recruits seem to have been more interested in converting
Muslims but pragmatism steered most toward-dealing with Judaism. Requisite
languages were a must: to debate learned rabbis the sources must be known in
their original language. Extensive training in rabbinic literature was also required
for any chances of success. Penyafortes school even licensed graduates for
disputation to ensure that only qualified alumni could appear in public and thus
prevent any counter-productive embarrassments. Pablo Christiani, a converted
Jew originally hailing from a prominent Jewish family in southern France, was
Penyafortes initial point man and became the groups original Jewish expert.
The new approach would focus on using Jewish sources and logic to force the
conclusion that Jewish sources themselves supported Christian belief and doc-
trine (J.Cohen 1982a; Chazan 1989).
The grand debut for the new approach was an affair of the greatest magni-
tude: the 1263 public disputation in Barcelona between Pablo Christiani, Penya-
fortes Jewish expert, and the rabbi Nahmanides, pound for pound the most
knowledgeable and respected rabbi in the peninsula at the time. The deck was
set, so to speak, in that Pablo Christiani could take the offensive against Jewish
principles but that Nahmanides could not directly malign Christian tenets, re-
stricting himself only to logical argumentation based on presented premises. The
result was a sparring match in which Christiani would constantly be on the
offensive with Nahmanides restricted to parries and ducking. Nahmanides, whose
showing was much greater than one would think the circumstances permitted,
consistently fell back on the questionable logic of Christianis presentation: all of
his points, in fact the entire agenda for the debate, were predicated upon an initial
Christian premise that itself had not been logically proven or on premises that had
been stripped from their original context. In the end, both sides believed that they
had won the disputation although Nahmanides himself was exiled a few years
later on the charge of writing false and malicious accounts of the event. Ramon of
Penyaforte approached the results of the disputation with characteristic pragma-
tism: the performance was good but it could have been better and the approach
must be tweaked based on the experience (Chazan 1992).
Pugio Fidei, the Dagger of the Faith, the most knowledgeable and devastat-
ing attack on Judaism written by a medieval Christian, was textually speaking the
high water mark for the new method in converting Jews. Its author, Ramon

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Martini, was not a converted Jew but a Christian drawn to the project of conver-
sion. When he originally joined the Penyaforte School he seems to have been
more interested in the conversion of Muslims than Jews. Practical concerns, as
well as the spectacle of the Barcelona disputation of 1263, steered him toward a
career in anti-Judaism. In 1264, the year after the Barcelona disputation, Martini
began an intensive 15years of study of rabbinic literature (in its original lan-
guage) and emerged from it with Dagger of the Faith (ca. 1280), a manual par
excellence for attacking Jewish belief. Although written in Latin it only deals with
Hebrew and Aramaic sources. Rabbinic citations were always provided in the
original language with painstaking and very accurate translations. Problematic
terms for interpretation were always addressed and resolved using rabbinic
sources and authorities to insulate the arguments from attack. Martinis command
of rabbinic literature was sophisticated and extended into understanding the
differences between halakic material (legal and obligatory) and aggadic (non-
legal and debatable)an understanding and distinction that Pablo Christiani did
not truly grasp and was consistently targeted by Nahmanides (J.Cohen 1982a;
Chazan 1989).
Evaluating the danger of the new approach of this philosophical dagger
held to the Jewish communities of Spain is difficult to gauge. Jews, through
involuntary sermons, were exposed to the new logical approach but it is doubtful
that this had much effect. The old story about Jews putting wax in their ears as
they marched to compulsory sermons probably has deep down a solid foundation
in reality. Much more compelling regarding conversion was the increasing vio-
lence visited upon Jewish communities along with converts who ingested the new
approach and plied it upon their former co-religionists. The new sermons and
disputations netted few converts. Massacres and fear of massacre were what
produced significant conversions. Still this explosion of interest in effecting
conversion, as well as the concerted efforts in developing an appropriate metho-
dology to achieve it, demonstrates a growing sense of desire in the Christian
community to be rid of its Jewish (and most likely Muslim) population. Before
expulsions ever even entered the historical equation attempts were being made to
remove, so to speak, the non-Christian population through conversion. The
eventual expulsions of Jews and Muslims, though multi-causal in origin, were
both connected to a growing realization that conversion was no longer viable
(Jasper 2012; with an extensive bibliography).

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 269

J Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Shattering

of Convivencia

I The Converso Issue

Convivencia in all of its aspects essentially came to an end during the reign of
Ferdinand and Isabella. Centuries of coexistence did not end with one act or one
policy and it cannot be completely connected to a specific year, even a year as
significant as 1492. Convivencia came to an end in stages and at different rates for
Jews and Muslims. The end did not begin as a preconceived policy of purity of
blood (that idea came later) but was produced by specific sequences of actions,
reactions, and evolving approaches. Ferdinand and Isabella themselves had fairly
different views regarding minorities even though they both welcomed and worked
for conversion in their own ways. Muslims in Isabellas Castile were given the
option of expulsion or conversion to Christianity while those in Ferdinands
realms continued their existence without facing forced conversion or banishment
until after his death.
The collapse of convivencia was a multi-causal event but the Converso issue
and subsequent changes in state approaches to Jews were the most important.
The horrible year of 1391 resulted in the butchering of thousands of Jews in Castile
and the forced conversion of a stunning one-third of the Jewish population. These
forcibly converted Jews, the Conversos, adapted to the new conditions either by
striving for full assimilation into Spanish Christian society or by publicly leading
a Christian lifestyle while privately practicing Judaism. Assimilation, sometimes
supplemented with inter-marriage, could prove very successful for those so
disposed, sometimes leading even to high rank in the church. For example, Juan
Arias Davila, Bishop of Segovia, was of Converso stock. Hernando de Talavera
Archbishop of Granada, Confessor to Isabella, and the greatest Spanish church-
man of his daywas partially of Converso stock. Ferdinand himself has even been
said to have had some Jewish blood from his mothers side of the family. Con-
versos truly not interested in either Christianity or substantive assimilation to its
social structure became Crypto-Jews. Outwardly and publicly they would live
Catholic lives with children being baptized and adults going to Mass. Privately
within homes and across the community they would practice Judaism and get by
as best they could (Baer 19611966; Meyerson 1991; Roth 1995).
For the first decades following 1391 the Converso ssue does not seem to have
been a particularly troublesome one. In the 1440s this began to change and the
Converso issue graduated to crisis. Anti-Converso riots broke out and the sincerity
of conversion became a major issue amidst reconsiderations of what being

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Christian meant. Judaizing, falsely professing Christianity and spreading or

reinforcing Judaism by working against the conversion of remaining Jews, be-
came a fear of considerable consequence. Conversos who were Crypto-Jews
were technically relapsed heretics and thus fell within the jurisdiction of the
inquisitorial process. The establishment of the inquisition institutionalized the
fear of Judaizing and created the machinery for prosecution and information
collection, information that would in turn feed more fears. Castilian laws called
for stricter enforcement in the segregation of Jews. Inquisitors claimed to uncover
a plot in which Conversos and Jews colluded in the crucifixion of a Christian child
and were using necromancy to attack Christianity. Despite the personalities and
excesses of some individual inquisitors, the objective was to sort through Con-
versos to identify and separate the Crypto-Jews who would impede the conversion
of remaining Jews. As was the case with all heresies, Crypto-Judaism was seen as
an infection that would spread unless somehow cauterized. Cauterization of
Judaizing was the nominal purpose of the inquisition from 14781483. Trials and
executions began in Seville in 1480. When cauterization came to be seen as
ineffective then amputation through mass expulsion, a measure very much
pushed by the inquisition as an institution, was implemented in 1492. Jews were
given six months in which to sell their property and leave Spain.

II Changes Among Mudejar Communities

Christian suspicions of and animosities toward the Mudejar population were

originally rooted in very different issues. Before the sixteenth century there was
no major population of converted Mudejars who could be suspected of preventing
the conversion of their supposed previous co-religionists. Mudejars, however,
could be and occasionally were a significant military threat in ways Jews never
could be. They were integrated into the feudal order and not all as sharecroppers
and urban artisans: some performed significant military services (Burns 1973;
1975; Boswell 1978; Harvey 1990; Meyerson 1991). There were many more Mude-
jars than Jews. Mudejar foreign connections were not commercial and intellectual
but political and military in nature: their potential foreign allies had armies. Such
external armed threats could help ensure that their rights would not be violated
but it could also increase fear of Mudejars as possible traitors. Mudejars could
have affinity for and be supportive of external threats making them potential fifth
columns. In Valencia, where the Mudejar population was thickest, there were
significant Mudejar revolts from the late 1240s into the 1270s with notable ones
also occurring in 1359 and 1364. Revolts in the 1270s were coordinated with forces
from North Africa and Granada and surely contributed to the sense, and with

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 271

some justification, that a significant part of the population had external loyalties
which could prove strategically disastrous. Attacks on morerias in Valencia
tended to break out during periods of war or impending war with Granada: 1288,
1299, 1309, 13851386, 1428, 1455, and other possible attacks on morerias were
quelled by local officials before actually erupting. Rumors about Mudejars profit-
ing from shipping Christians off to foreign slave markets emerged as functional
equivalents to those of Jews conducting anti-Christian activities or the murder of
Muslims in Spain, by the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, had actually become
minorities in real demographic terms. In Valencia the Mudejar population, pri-
marily due to the pressures of Christian immigration, had dwindled to 30% and in
Aragon to 20%. The conquest of Granada, of course, disrupted this long acquired
balance in both numbers and interactions; Castile suddenly had an enormous
population of Muslims and Muslims who had not been acclimatized to Christian
rule over multiple generations. Important in this equation was also the general
decline in power or at least organization unity in North Africa and its comparative
inability to exert much influence on the peninsula. Without a significant threat
from North Africa or a Muslim Granada, Mudejars would be more vulnerable to
pressure and, if they rose to defend themselves, would learn that they were
essentially alone (Meyerson 1991).
The surrender contract for Granada was both reasonable and consistent with
about four centuries of conventional wisdom. Conquered Granadans retained
their religious rights, lifestyle, and their property. Expulsion of Jews, at least at
this point, had nothing at all to do with Muslim policy. Ferdinand and Isabella
were not, as some have believed, immediately trying to construct a form of
Spanish proto-nationalism based on a push for ethnic homogeneity. Ironically
perhaps, Ferdinand and Isabella initially brought in more Muslims rather than
expelling any they already had. When Portugal deported its Mudejar population
in 1497 the monarchs allowed these refugees to resettle in Granada and Castile
hardly an act consistent with a coherent policy that would include expulsion from
Castile a mere four years later.
The differing personalities of the monarchs themselves are somewhat infor-
mative in understanding how convivencia ended. Isabella was certainly more
puritanical regarding her faith, was less patient in areas of compromise, and more
disposed to using heavy-handed measures regarding conversions. Ferdinand was
much more sensitive to the social, economic, and potential military repercussions
of an aggressive approach to the conversion of Muslims. If this sensitivity ever
slipped his mind, the aristocracy back in Aragon would surely remind him of the
economic devastation and military complications that would undoubtedly arise
from an attempt to forcibly convert Mudejars. Fiscal concerns could, however,

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272 Mark T. Abate

sometimes be trumped by matters of faith: Ferdinand foresaw the economic

damage that would be done by letting the inquisition run roughshod over Con-
versos and Jews but he saw the Judaizing heresy as grave enough to run that
risk. There is no reason to think that Ferdinands desire for Muslim conversions
was any less sincere than Isabellas but there was a distinct difference in opinion
on approach and intensity. There is also no reason to think that Ferdinand was
any more well-disposed to Muslims than was Isabella. Beneath his economic and
political pragmatism in dealing with Muslim subjects there was a deep dislike for
the religion. An excellent illustration can be found in Ferdinands reaction to
learning that Muslims near Tortosa were using a church on Islamic holy days to
pray together. Enraged, he ordered the cleansing of the church and that all
officials allowing Muslims into a church were to be slapped with a hefty fine.
Muslims entering a church would earn either capital punishment or enslavement.
Ferdinand was also a particularly zealous enforcer of all segregation laws
although it must also be noted that he could be very protective of his Mudejars
when they were threatened (Meyerson 1991).

III From Mudejars to Moriscos

Mudejar policy went through its volte face in Castile (but not in Ferdinands
realms) at the very turn of the century. Hernando de Talavera, the Archbishop of
Granada, had been engaged in peaceful missionary efforts based on persuasive
methods working incrementally toward conversions. Talaveras strategy was to
develop good relations with the ulama, provide financial support for impover-
ished Muslims and those suffering from drought, and to translate Christian scrip-
ture into Arabic. Numbers of converts in these early years were not significant but
neither was the amount of social discord produced by the effort. The arrival in
Granada of the inquisitor Cardinal Cisneros in 1499 began the process of disinte-
gration. Inquisitors were pushing for an expansion of their charge into Islamic
affairs. Isabella seems to have been receptive to his arrival. Ferdinand, however,
had a fairly low opinion of Cisneros himself and a particularly low opinion of his
methods. Ferdinand even quipped that he expected nothing more from Cisneros
as previously he had never even seen a Muslim face to face much less know
anything about them. Ferdinand was concerned that ham-handed aggressive
approaches would recreate the Converso problem within the Muslim population.
One could just as easily describe this fear as common sense or as prophetic.
Cisneros came to Granada for the expressed purpose of dealing with the
Elches (Christians who had converted to Islam). Legally speaking, at least accord-
ing to the surrender contract, this was a violation of terms as it was specifically

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 273

stated that Elches were included in the religious freedom clause and could
practice Islam unmolested. Far more controversial and troublesome, however,
was Cisneross extension of his activities to the children of Elches. The issue of
proselytizing to or the pressuring of children always had explosive potential.
Ferdinand understood this himself and, although he was always happy to have a
Mudejar convert to Christianity, he balked when it came to minors asking to
convert if they had living family members; in such cases he thought it best to
allow them to convert only upon reaching their age of majority. Tensions in
Granada increased and the situation exploded through what appears to have
been a botched attempt by Cisneros to take a child from the Albaicin. A young girl
screaming and crowds forming, the fiasco inevitably led to a neighborhood-wide
riot in the Albaicin that was not easily suppressed. Talavera came to negotiate
and was well received in the Albaicin. The approach of Cisneros and Isabella,
however, prevailed over that of Talavera and Ferdinand. The punishment for the
Albaicin rebellion was the choice of baptism or expulsion for the entire popula-
tion. Once news of this spread many Mudejars became convinced that the Chris-
tian state, despite any contractual promises, was bent on a policy of forced
conversion. The Alpujarras erupted into Muslim revolts during 15001501 and the
Cisneros approach prevailed in all negotiations ending these hostilities: the
price for peace was baptism or deportation. Capitulation did not always spare
Muslims: in Andarax, after Muslim men had turned in their weapons, an argu-
ment over pillaging produced a confrontation in which the army slaughtered
over 3,000men and women in the streets. The mosque, where over six hundred
women took refuge, was set ablaze and they were all burnt alive (Meyerson 1991).
The surrender contract for Granada was now deemed null and void due to
this Mudejar revolt and the breaching of the peace. In July 1501 the border of
Granada was shut down to prevent any Muslim migration into it. By September
1501 it was decided that all Muslims in Castile were required to convert to
Christianity or leave the realm. Ferdinands fear about replicating the Converso
problem in a Mudejar form was quickly becoming a reality. Talaveras approach
to nurturing voluntary conversions collapsed beneath the weight of the new
inquisitorial approach. The options, baptism or expulsion, were even narrower
and bleaker than they appear at first glance. Expulsion, as offered in this case,
required leaving ones children behind in the hands of the Christian state and
essentially abandoning them forever. How voluntary such emigrations were
when a requirement was leaving all children behind is extremely questionable. In
1502 the order was finally delivered that Muslims not willing to convert needed to
leave the kingdom and, significantly, the order referenced the danger Mudejars
would present to newly converted Christians of Muslim origin and directly com-
pared the predicament to the Converso problem. It must also be remembered that

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274 Mark T. Abate

these forced conversions (and essentially they were forced) took place in Granada
and Castile but not in Ferdinands ancestral territories. Mudejars in Valencia and
Aragon as well as the tiny amount in Catalonia experienced no compulsory
conversion and continued to exist until the reign of Charles V.
Moriscos is the term applied to those Muslims who were forcibly converted
following the events of 1500. The term, literally meaning little Moor, is quite old
and emerged in the middle of the sixteenth century. They should not be confused
with Mudejars who continued to exist to the east in Valencia and to the north in
Aragon. Moriscos were the Muslim equivalents of Conversos, the coming exist-
ence of which Ferdinand himself had almost predicted, and in particular Muslim
equivalents of Crypto-Jews. There is no evidence suggesting that sincere converts
went into the making of the Moriscos community. Muslims, like Jews, did not
legitimately fall under the jurisdiction of the inquisition. Moriscos did, however,
like Conversos, fall under their jurisdiction as they were technically Christians
who were suspected as being particularly prone to relapse. In the words of one
inquisitor who, at least in this respect, recognized the farce for what it was, the
Morsicos were as Muslim as Algerians. Attempts by Spanish Muslims to solicit
assistance from North Africa, from Mameluk Egypt, and from the Ottomans all
failed. They were weak and they were alone. In a situation much like that lived
earlier by Crypto-Jews, the Moriscos tried to be as Muslim as they could while
being as Christian as necessary (Meyerson 1991; Harvey 1992b).
Policy made it difficult for these Crypto-Muslims to maintain faith and
culture. A series of decrees incrementally circumscribed their lifestyles in ways
that no Mudejars had ever experienced. Arabic script was banned in 1508 although
how well this prohibition was enforced is questionable. In the next decade the
cultural vice tightened to include legislation regarding a variety of areas of what
would seem to be Muslim life ranging from food to public festivals. In some
respects it was similar to the Soviet hujum in Central Asia and the emergence of
every-day-life crimes that sought to eradicate Islam by destroying most aspects
of public ritual and behavior. By the 1520s circumcision, halal butchering, Islamic
wedding, and burial customs, were all illegal. Even eating while sitting on the floor
became cause for suspicion. Authorities charged with suppressing Crypto-Muslim
activities were quickly drawn to Moriscos homes and developed a particular focus
on women. Women were often seenand correctly soas ringleaders in maintain-
ing the strength of private Islam in the home. In trying to reach the young, Jesuits
created schools for Moriscos children. Boys and girls brought into these schools
were thoroughly versed in Christian doctrine. Girls, the future mothers, would
need to nurture their children in the proper faith. Boys if talented enough could
help the Jesuits in their efforts to instill real Christianity among the Moriscos and,
for the most talented pupils of all, a career in the Jesuit order itself was possible.

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 275

Piety among the Moriscos was also severely challenged. Whether or not they
were legitimately Muslims anymore could have been called into question. Islamic
law took a dim view toward Muslims who continued to profess Islam while living
in a non-Islamic state. The status of a Morisco Crypto-Muslim would be much
more dubious. Did women running make-shift mosques out of their homes, for
example, constitute a true community? Regarding Crypto-Muslim existence
many have pointed out the doctrine of taqiyya, precautionary simulation to avoid
detection, but it is not at all certain how much of the Morisco population even
knew about this doctrine and it is even less certain that, in the eyes of most
Muslims, it would seem applicable to an entire society brought under compulsory
mass apostasy.
In a fascinating and very important request to a mufti in Oran for a fatwa on
their plight, Moriscos were given legal advice that permitted them to simulate
Christian life in almost all respects so long as the believers denied it in their
hearts. Idolatry, wine, pork, abstention from ritual prayer, even denial of faith
was all permissible if absolutely necessary and the act was internally denied.
Moriscos now had a legal warrant for living Crypto-Muslim lives that, in broad
terms, might be somewhat comparable to the Talmud in providing a framework
that eased restrictions of the law to permit a reasonable amount of assimilation
or at least simulation. In addition to the fatwa from Oran, the Morisco community
sought ritual guidance through the Segovian Book or Breviario Sunni by the
earlier mufti of Segovia Ice de Gebir. Moriscos also produced and circulated a not
inconsiderable literary corpus in aljamiado, Romance in Arabic characters, which
went completely undetected by Christian authorities. Due to the prohibition
against Arabic script they were usually hidden but even when aljamiado texts
were found and either impounded or burned they were usually assumed to be
copies of the Quran (Harvey 1992b).
Fairly sharp declines in agrarian and industrial production clashing with a
demographic rebound and inflationary pressure made the Moriscos and Mudejar
predicament even worse. Economic distress had been a dependable companion to
outbreaks of anti-minority sentiments and the friendship emerged robust as ever
in 1519. The Germanias, brotherhoods composed mostly of artisans reacting
primarily to basic issues like food costs, rose in protest and demanded relief and
reform. The movement became radicalized (as such movements often did) and
dedicated itself to overthrowing rather than reforming the system. Primary targets
were those of privilege in the eyes of the Germanias, namely commercial oligarchs
in the cities and the nobility in the countryside. The first two years of the revolt
made little mention of much less focus on Mudejars, even when the threat of
Muslim corsairs on the coast loomed large in the minds of the movements leader-
ship. Beginning in 1521 Mudejars became a significant focus. Attacks on them,

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276 Mark T. Abate

surprisingly even those involving forced conversion, were not really religiously
motivatedat least initially. Germanias began attacking Mudejars because of
their ties in the countryside to the nobility that they worked for and sometimes
militarily served. Killing Muslims or converting them (both of which would
financially impact the seigneurs) was seen as a means for economically under-
mining the real opponent which was the nobility. Mudejars, moreover, were often
employed by the nobility in their armies in attempts to suppress the Germanias.
Eventually anti-Mudejar sentiment, which was really anti-nobility sentiment by
proxy, spilled over into the morerias with terrible results (Meyerson 1991; ed. note:
see now the contributions to The Expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain, ed. Garca-
Arenal and Wiegers, 2014).

K The End of Convivencia

The end of Iberian Islam (Mudejar and Crypto) and with it the disappearance of
the final traces of convivencia in the peninsula, is a tragic but an anticlimactic
story. No new elements were really added to the mix; it was little more than
expansions of previous policies and the replication of earlier events that, with the
exception of tragic losses of life, have almost a bureaucratic drudgery to them.
Ecclesiastical opinions, on theologically questionable but politically uncontested
grounds, validated the forced conversions that produced the Moriscos. Soon after,
in 1526, Charles V extended the conversion or expulsion policy to all remaining
Mudejars and thus demolished the protective barrier that his predecessor Ferdi-
nand maintained between lands held by the Crown of Aragon as opposed to those
that were Castilian. Mudejars thus came to an end as a category of people and
Moriscos status became the only option for Iberian Muslims choosing to stay in
the peninsula. Moriscos, like their Mudejar predecessors, did not all quietly
accept such treatment. Rebellion again emerged in the Alpujarras in 1568 as
Moriscos waged guerilla warfare. Although the rebels managed to persist for
almost two years they all ended up dead, enslaved, or deported. Moriscos con-
tinued to reach out to any foreign power, Muslim or Christian, which might share
a common enemy in Spain and help their plight. Continuously all attempts failed,
whether with the Ottomans or the Egyptians or the French or the English (Meyer-
son 1991; Harvey 1992b).
During the sixteenth century the Morisco problem, like the Converso problem
before it, loomed large in the minds of Spanish monarchs and statesmen. The
general baseline of the story underwent little to no change. In 1602 a royal
committee was formed to study the Morisco question. The final decision to expel
the Moriscos, however, was made seven years later. The delay had nothing to do

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Convivencia: Conquest and Coexistence in Medieval Spain 277

with any scruples regarding the Moriscos population itself and everything to do
with the international scene: Spains relationship with France and England and
particularly Spains situation in the Netherlands. The final decision to expel the
Moriscos was made on 9April 1609the same day Spain secured a twelve-year
truce with the Netherlands. Proper expulsion required a military presence and
even then removal needed to be staggered regionally to create effective time-
tables and deal with possible Moriscos resistance (of which there was surprisingly
little). Within a period of about five years an estimated 272,000 Moriscos (the
actual figure was probably significantly higher) were expelled and ended nine
centuries of a Muslim presence in Spain (Harvey 1992b).

Select Bibliography
Barcia, Jose Rubia, ed., Americo Castro and the Meaning of Spanish Civilization (Berkeley, CA,
Boswell, John, The Royal Treasure: Muslim Communities under the Crown of Aragon in the 14th
Century (New Haven, CT, 1978).
Burnett, Charles, The Translating Activity in Medieval Spain, The Legacy of Muslim Spain, ed.
Salma K.Jayyusi (Leiden 1992), 103658.
Burns, Robert I., Islam under the Crusaders: Colonial Survival in the Thirteenth-Century Kingdom
of Valencia (Princeton, NJ, 1973).
Castro, Americo, The Structure of Spanish History (Princeton, NJ, 1956).
Chazan, Robert, Daggers of Faith: Thirteenth-Century Christian Missionizing and Jewish Response
(Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 1989).
Cohen, Jeremy, The Friars and the Jews: The Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism (Ithaca, NY,
1982). [= J.Cohen 1982a]
Glick, Thomas F., Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages, 2nd rev. ed. (1979; Leiden
Jayyusi, Salma K., ed., The Legacy of Muslim Spain (Leiden 1992).
Lindberg, David C., The Transmission of Greek and Arabic Learning to the West, Science in the
Middle Ages, ed. idem (Chicago 1978), 5290.
Lomax, Derek W., The Reconquest of Spain (London 1978).
Lourie, Elena, Crusade and Colonisation: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Medieval Aragon
(Aldershot 1990).
Mann, Vivian, Thomas F.Glick and Jerrilynn Dodds, ed., Convivencia: Jews, Muslims, and
Christians in Medieval Spain (New York 1992).
Meyerson, Mark D., The Muslims of Valencia in the Age of Fernando and Isabel: Between
Coexistence and Crusade (Berkeley, CA, 1991).
Nirenberg, David, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages
(Princeton, NJ, 1996).
OCallaghan, Joseph F., A History of Medieval Spain (Ithaca, NY, 1975).

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Nadia Pawelchak
Medieval Courts and Aristocracy

The aristocrats and nobles of medieval Europe were defined by a large category of
people and occupations: land-owners, warriors, knights, ladies, courtiers, and
ecclesiastical leaders. Commonalities that united these various aristocratic iden-
tities were power, legacy, and often materiality. Europes upper classes asserted
their identities via the politics, art, religion, music, and literature of their time.
Unlike the peasantry, aristocrats left tangible historical footprints with which
scholars may understand them. The ruling elite of this time cannot be understood
in monolithic terms. Rather, subgroups of nobles and aristocrats existed together
as a complex and malleable spectrum in society (Fouracre 2000, 2123).
The following chapter discusses the simultaneous diversity and commonal-
ities of European aristocrats from the early to late years of the Middle Ages.
Although medieval nobility did not confine itself to a standard definition, collec-
tively speaking, it was distinguished from other groups of people based upon its
land, power, and social and political legitimacy. The status of a noble or aristocrat
transcended material wealth and also existed as an ideology in medieval
culture (Juggan 2000, 1). Modern portrayals of medieval nobility latch on to this
ideology and convey it via motifs of the knight in shining armor, the damsel in
distress, the oppressed peasants, all in the midst of a fairytale castle backdrop.
The historical and social complexity of medieval nobles defies this simplistic
This chapter also addresses the relationship between aristocrats and courts.
As with the terminology that describes an elite member of society, the meaning of
a medieval court refers to diverse social entities. For example, a royal court
often differed from that of a lesser prince or aristocrat. Courts were both itinerant
and localized, depending on geography, ones status, and time. Despite these
differences, common organizing factors such as economic transactions, official
postings, and political exchanges provided medieval courts with a fluid structure.
Kings, queens, barons, counts, knights, staff, and servants defined and molded
their identities via the courtly scenes. Each participant in this courtly drama had
both personal ambitions and socially-dictated duties to perform. The tension
between individual desires and the delineations of status contributed to conflicts
at court. Conversely, yet simultaneously, medieval courts produced political
alliances, art, literature, music, theology, and other markers of culture.

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Medieval Courts and Aristocracy 279

A Early Medieval Nobles and Rulers:

Redefining the Barbarian

The characteristics that classified one as an early medieval noble varied from region
to region. The collapse of the Roman Empire, once a unifying force, led to the
formation of new localized social hierarchies. The methods of achieving noble
status thus came to revolve around a cultures regionally-upheld means of securing
and legitimizing power. For example, continental nobility differed from that of
Anglo-Saxon or Norse regions. How scholars classify noble classes for each region
depends on the type, quality, and quantity of the historical evidence. Evidence
provided by land charters and family records and inventories gives information
about the material status of the elite classes. Legal procedures and issues of
interfamilial heredity of property similarly explain how power and status were
maintained and transferred over decades or centuries (Fouracre 2000, 1823).
Despite the fact that Rome lost its status as the locus of intellectual activity
after its fall, other centers of learning emerged alongside it in the early Middle
Ages. The notion that the Roman Empire fell was promulgated by English
historian Edward Gibbon in his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776).
This belief was also earlier popularized by the Carolingians. Charlemagne and his
supporters were motivated to recall antiquity through the establishment of courts
at Aachen and learning institutions (Hen 2007, 13). The notion of the Carolin-
gian Renaissance was self-serving for the Carolingians in their quest to discredit
Frankish Merovingians. Although Charlemagnes court was influenced by ancient
Rome, courts from Byzantium and barbarian kings likely also influenced it.
More specifically, the courts of the Ostrogoths, Vandals, and Merovingians existed
as powerful intellectual centers alongside Rome and Byzantium (Hen 2007, 3).
The term barbarian represented the other, or those who resided outside
the boundaries of culture. This measure of inferiority is subjective and therefore
only true for those who use classical antiquity as a standard for comparison. Hen
argues that early medieval scholarship assessed barbarian culture solely in the
context of religion and the tribes likeness to classical culture (Hen 2007, 5). This
methodology existed concurrently with the idea that the Germanic tribes caused
sudden and widespread chaos after their sacks of Rome: ca. 410 by the Visigoths,
by Vandals in 455, and the Ostrogoths in 546. Alfons Dopsch (d. 1953) and Henri
Pirenne (d. 1935) argued that Romes decline as Europes superpower was gradual
and continuous rather than characterized by an abrupt end. In this context,
barbarian rulers saw themselves as part of a Roman continuum (Hen 2007,
1415). This newer understanding of Rome and its relationship to the Germanic
tribes helped legitimize early medieval courts as viable intellectual centers.

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280 Nadia Pawelchak

In order for the barbarian leaders to attain legitimacy, they had to use
military victories to gain political power and territories. Odoacer was one such
barbarian who deposed Romulus Augustulus, Roman emperor of the Western
portion of the empire, in Italy in ca. 476. The eastern Emperor Zeno (474491)
did not officially protest against Odoacers victory from his ruling seat in
Constantinople due to his own military issues. One of Zenos problems was a
group known as the Ostrogoths, led by a king named Theodoric (454526), who
had been raised at the Byzantine court. Zeno believed that by turning Theodo-
rics attention on Italy, the Ostrogoths would no longer bother Byzantine terri-
tories. Theodoric led his armies to Italy in ca. 488, giving Zeno the impression
that this was done in his name. Theodoric successfully captured the Italian
peninsula by ca. 489, save for the city of Ravenna. During the Ostrogoth
invasion, Odoacer retreated to Ravenna with his army. They held out for four
years until Ravenna opened its gates for Theodoric. To legitimize his power,
Theodoric killed Odoacer and ruled over Italy. The emperor of Constantinople
from ca. 491518, Anastasius I, supported Theodorics claims to the Italian
peninsula so long as Theodoric admitted that Constantinople was supreme.
This pact between Anastasius I and Theodoric allowed the Ostrogoth king to
rule from 493 to 526 (Hen 2007, 2729).
Despite Theodorics assertion of political authority over Italy, he ruled in the
tradition of Roman emperors in terms of law, dress, coinage, and public ceremo-
nies. After conquering the peninsula, he worked with Roman aristocrats and
senators to establish continuity with the past. As both an Ostrogoth king and de
facto ruler of Rome, Theodorics rule over Italy demonstrates the simultaneous
change and continuity of Roman tradition after its alleged fall (Hen 2007, 3032).
His palace in Ravenna contains a mosaic that features two allegorical female
figures approaching himRome, wearing helmet and holding a spear, and Raven-
na, wearing a mural crown, with her right foot still in the sea and her left foot on
dry land (Hen 2007, 3233). This portrayal of Theodoric illustrates the impor-
tance of diplomacy and peace within his court (Hen 2007, 33). The mosaic also
demonstrates Theodorics necessary binary identity, that of Ostrogoth and Roma-
nized emperor. His court co-opted the local aristocracy through acceptance and
respect for Roman traditions. Theodorics attitude is reflected in the organization
of Ravennas architecture and urban design. In the tradition of Roman emperors,
Theodoric commissioned public works, ecclesiastical structures, and imperial
buildings. He made Ravenna the administrative center of Ostrogoth Italy, yet still
paid homage to Rome as an important historical and religious center. He patron-
ized the construction of new buildings in Rome and repaired extant structures as
proof of his respect for antiquity. The architecture in Ravenna reflects both Roman
and Byzantine characteristics, which echoes the hybridity of Theodorics reign

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Medieval Courts and Aristocracy 281

(Hen 2007, 3338). Modern scholarship on Theodoric suggests that he acted as a

restorer of Rome rather than a conqueror (Nees 2002, 83).
It would be a mistake to characterize Ostrogoth courts as products of a Dark
Age due to their continuation of antiquity and their vibrant intercourse between
Roman and Byzantine architecture. Theodoric encouraged intellectual develop-
ment during his reign. Contrary to traditional images of barbarians, Theodoric
may have been educated at a young age in the Byzantine court. He portrayed
himself as a philosopher king, who ruled through knowledge and wisdom, and
even ensured that his daughter Amalasuintha (d. 535) received training in classi-
cal languages and perhaps law (Hen 2007, 3739). The motif of the philosopher
king can be seen in Roman emperors such as Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. These
emperors used wisdom and diplomacy in addition to military might to rule. Their
connection to philosophy dates back to classical Greek philosophers. Partially
through its explicit connections to antiquity, the Ostrogoth court remained vi-
brant during Theodorics rule. The Roman aristocracy and the king maintained a
reciprocal relationship. While Theodoric gained legitimacy as ruler through their
support, the aristocrats retained status (without political power). The kings court
attracted scholars from around the peninsula, which made it a locus of cultural
development in the sixth century (Hen 2007, 5253).
Through his cooperation with local aristocrats, often from the Roman sena-
torial class, Theodoric created a strong, stable, and culturally-productive political
system on the Italian peninsula in the sixth century, though the Ostrogoths were
eventually defeated by a Byzantine army under Belisarius (500565), appointed
by Emperor Justinian I (ca. 483565), ca. 535. In the seventh century, the Frankish
King Clothar II (584629) utilized a similar strategy to become king of the Mer-
ovingians. Clothar II started his rule as king of Neustria in ca. 584. Neustria was
one of three Frankish polities (Neustria, Austrasia, and the Burgundian terri-
tories), each with its own set of nobles vying for power. Clothar embraced the
aristocrats of Francia and permitted them their own courts in exchange for their
acknowledgment of him as the king of the Merovingians. His son, DagobertI
(603639), became ruler of Austrasia by his fathers decree. After Clothars death,
Dagobert successfully maintained his fathers political rapport with Merovingian
aristocrats (Hen 2007, 9497). The court culture of the Merovingians thus existed
at the local aristocratic level and with the Merovingian king himself.
Before the existence of Clothars royal court, Frankish court culture existed
among the many Merovingian kings and queens. The important Italian poet
named Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (530603) witnessed the
marriage between King Sigibert (535575) and Queen Brunhild (543613) of the
Visigoths in ca. 566. After having enjoyed patronage from this royal couple,
Fortunatus visited the courts of other M