Category: middle ages

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.

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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Portrait of a woman (potentially Mary Magdalene) by Lucas Cranach the Elder. 

The artist used contradictory symbolism in this painting, making identification a little difficult. Her hair is loose, signalling an unmarried virgin, but her direct gaze was inappropriate for an unmarried woman of a respectable family. Lucas Cranach the Elder was a great German artist painting for 16th-century aristocratic patrons. His paintings had to be respectable, able to be hung in the most eminent homes. That leaves the most likely subject the biblical Mary Magdalene, who was supposedly once a prostitute before converting.

Courtesy of the Walters Art Museum

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from Java (Indonesia) in the first half of the 900s CE.


THE Empire of Nicaea was a successor state to the Byzantine Empire, or rather a Byzantine Empire in exile lasting from 1204 to 1261 CE. The Empire of Nicaea was founded in the aftermath of the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and the establishment there of the crusader-run Latin Empire in 1204 CE and was ruled by the Laskarid Dynasty. When the forces of Michael VIII Palaiologos recaptured Constantinople in 1261 CE, the Empire of Nicaea, an empire in exile no more, effectively became the Byzantine Empire once again, until it ultimately fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 CE.

The sacking of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople shattered the Byzantine Empire. As the Latin crusaders and their Venetian backers established themselves in Europe and in the Aegean islands, three Greek successor states rose up at the peripheries of the empire. The first, and furthest away, was the Empire of Trebizond on the southeastern edge of the Black Sea. Next was the Despotate of Epiros, in modern-day Albania and northwestern Greece. Finally, there was the Empire of Nicaea, centered on the ancient city of Nicaea and controlling northwestern Anatolia.

In addition to the maelstrom of new states were the Bulgarians to the north and the Turks to the east. Battles were fought frequently, alliances were made and broken just as quickly, and who was preeminent in the region was decided by an ever-changing game of thrones. Trebizond was too far away from the center for it to be a serious candidate to reunify Byzantium, and thus it was the Latins, Epirotes, Nicaeans, and the Bulgarians who became the chief contenders for Constantinople.

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THE life of a cat in the Middle Ages (c. 476-1500 CE) differed significantly from that of a dog owing primarily to its association with witchcraft, darkness, and the devil. In the ancient world, the cat was regarded highly by cultures as diverse as China, Egypt, and Rome but, by the 13th century CE in Europe, it had long lost its former status and was generally tolerated for its practical use in curbing vermin but not often valued as a pet.

The cat lost its former position through the efforts of the medieval Church which encouraged the association of the cat with devils and darkness as part of their long-standing agenda of demonizing pagan faiths, rituals, and values. Scholar Desmond Morris writes:

“Religious bigots have often employed the cunning device of converting other people’s heroes into villains to suit their own purposes. In this way, the ancient horned god that protected earlier cultures was first transformed into the evil Devil of Christianity and the revered sacred feline of ancient Egypt became the wicked sorcerer’s cat of medieval Europe. Many things considered holy by a previous religious faith have automatically been damned by a new religion. In this way began the darkest chapter in the cat’s long association with mankind. For centuries it was persecuted and the cruelties heaped upon it were given the full backing of the Church.” (158)

Once the cat was associated with Satan, it was regularly tortured and killed either to ward off bad luck, as a sign of devotion to Christ, or an integral part of rituals involving ailuromancy (using cats to predict the future). Cats were condemned by popes and massacred by entire villages and would not regain even half their former status until the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century CE. The Victorian Age of the 19th century CE would see the cat’s full restoration in status.

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