Category: medieval

Only archaeologists would get excited about finding a latrine. Underneath London’s Courtauld Institute of Art at Somerset House, a medieval cesspit has been found, which was used from the 1300s to the 1500s. Up to 100 objects have been retrieved from sticky, greenish sludge in the 4 meter (15 ft) deep pit.

Some items are bathroom-related, but there have also been a surprising number of ceramic finds. Surprisingly, some were not broken, which makes it curious why they were thrown away.

The variety of finds makes archaeologists suspect the cesspit was both a bathroom and occasional trashpit of the Chester Inn, a poorly-documented residence from the 1400s which stood where Somerset House is today. It is a little ironic that the pit was found when excavating the exact spot where the Courtauld is planning to install new toilets!

The Sasanian Empire (224 CE – 651 CE),  which was a contemporary of the Roman and later Byzantine Empires, was once a great power. And like other great powers it built great walls to mark and control its borders. These included the Wall of the Arabs (in the southwest), Walls of Derbent (in the northwest at the Caspian Mountains) and Great Wall of Gorgan (in the northeast). Remains of the Sasanian border walls still exist, particularly in Derbent where they are a UNESCO world heritage site.

CONWY CASTLE: 

CONWY Castle (aka Conway Castle), located in North Wales, was built by Edward I of England (r. 1272-1307 CE) from 1283 to 1292 CE to protect and maintain, along with several other castles, his newly acquired dominance in the region. Built on a rock promontory, the castle incorporated the latest defensive design features such as massive round towers, a double courtyard or bailey, and outer barbican defensive walls and towers. Conwy Castle is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

From 1272 CE Edward I, the new king of England, conquered most of Wales and joined it with the county system present in England. Following the death of Llywelyn, the Prince of Wales, in 1282 CE, the only part of Wales which remained free was the wild mountainous north and here the king built several major castles which included Caernarfon Castle, Harlech Castle, and Conwy Castle. Work began on Conwy Castle in March 1283 CE and would continue over that decade, the vast team of labourers, masons, and craftsmen being supervised by Master James of Saint Georges (c. 1235-1308 CE), the experienced architect and engineer who had previously built castles in Europe and who would be involved in many of Edward’s other Welsh castles.

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ROCHESTER CASTLE: 

ROCHESTER Castle, located in Kent, England, was first constructed shortly after 1066 CE by the Normans, was converted into stone between 1087 and 1089 CE, and then added to over subsequent centuries, notably between 1127 and 1136 CE, and again in the mid-14th century CE. 

The imposing castle keep or donjon seen today was added in the 12th century CE and is one of the best-preserved and tallest of any medieval castle. Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror (r. 1066-1087 CE), was a famous resident as well as the bishops of Rochester. In 1215 CE Rochester was the scene of a major siege by King John of England (r. 1199-1216 CE) when rebel barons temporarily took over the castle. Today the site is managed by English Heritage and is an important surviving example of 12th-century CE castle architecture.

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King John of England is most famous today as the bad prince in Robin Hood, or the king whose barons rebelled and made him sign the Magna Carta. But did you know that within his first three years as king, he lost almost all of the crown’s holdings in France?

He lost to the French king the duchy of Normandy, whose duke William had conquered England, along with Anjou, Maine, and Touraine. King John was nominally still the head of Aquitaine, but only because his famous mother Eleanor still lived. Most of Aquitaine’s nobles made quiet peace with the French king. And as soon as Eleanor died, John lost Aquitaine as well.

Just to be clear how great a disaster this was: John lost about half of his country. He went from being king of a vast domain connected by the sea, to being confined to England with a domain that ended at the coast. No wonder no English king since has been named John.

Great Zimbabwe:

Great Zimbabwe was a massive stone city in southeastern Africa
that was a thriving trade center from the 1000s and 1400s. But
when Europeans first learned of it in the 1500s, they were
certain it wasn’t African at all.

TOWER OF LONDON: 

THE Tower of London is a castle located in London alongside the River Thames which was first built by William the Conqueror from c. 1077 CE and significantly added to over the centuries. Often referred to in England as simply ‘the Tower’, it has served as a fortress, palace, prison, treasury, arsenal, and zoo. Fallen kings, queens, and traitors were amongst those sent to the Tower, although surprisingly few inmates were executed within the castle’s grounds. Today, it is a major tourist attraction with visitors eager to experience for themselves a place steeped in the history of England like no other, to admire the picturesque Beefeaters, and be dazzled by the fabulous Crown Jewels.  

When William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy won the Battle of Hastings in 1066 CE and embarked on the Norman Conquest of England, the new king sought to make his realm secure by building motte and bailey castles at strategically important locations. London was an obvious choice for a new castle and so work began on what would become the Tower of London around 1077 CE. The castle was one of the first in England to have a free-standing tower keep or donjon. 

Work continued until c. 1100 CE using Kentish ragstone with details using dressed limestone from Caen in Normandy, and by the time it was finished, the two-storey rectangular tower was so impressive it gave its name to the whole castle: the Tower of London. The keep only received its now-famous name, the White Tower, thanks to a whitewashing project in 1240 CE using white lime.

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The ancient city of Koh Ker had a very brief spell as the capital and center of the Khmer Empire, between 928 and 944 CE. The capital was then moved back to Angkor Wat.

A new study has used ground-penetrating radar and manual excavation to uncover some of the hidden structures of the Koh Ker settlement, discovering a chute some seven kilometers long (4.3 miles), designed to ferry water from the Stung Rongea river to the city. But the chute has been calculated to be too small. This meant there were likely overflows and flooding, and the water would end up being wasted, without reaching where it was supposed to go.

In 944 CE after just 16 years in Koh Ker, King Jayavarman IV decided to move the capital back to its previous location in Angkor Wat. It was probably no coincidence that Angkor Wat’s water infrastructure actually worked.

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