Category: middle ages

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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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Koreans invented moveable type made of durable metal in the 1200s CE. The oldest existing book made from moveable metal type is the Jikji a collection of Buddhist teachings, hymns, eulogies, and poetry. It was compiled by a Korean Buddhist monk named Baegun, and printed in 1377.

The large Czech town of Uherské Hradište is believed to have been a center of the Holy Moravian Empire, which was the first major state that was predominantly West Slavic. The empire was notable for ushering in Christianity in the region after the arrival of St. Cyril and St. Methodius in 863; the Holy Moravian Empire’s use of the Glagolitic alphabet invented by those saints also birthed the first ever Slavic literary culture.

Uherské Hradište itself boasted a large church and baptistery and was inhabited by dukes, noblemen, craftsmen, tradesmen, farmers, and probably slaves. A team of researchers have recently conducted a study comparing samples of DNA obtained from 75 men buried in high-status graves between the 800s and 1200s CE with 340 living men, whose last names appeared in historic registry records. In other words, the living men’s last names suggest their families have been in the area of Uherské Hradište for quite a while.

Y-chromosome markers identified 18 men, out of the 340, who are descended from Great Moravian noblemen. The researchers were surprised by such a large number. It seems small, yes, until you consider that East Moravia used to border Hungary. As a liminal space between Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire it was affected by many wars, from the Thirty Years’ War to World War II.

THE latest Medieval Magazine is out! In this issue, we celebrate the lives, achievements, & contributions of medieval women. From 16th century Korean muse Hwang Jini, to the bravery of Maria Comnena, the myth of “Queen Maker” Melusine, and Saint Bridget of Sweden, we criss-cross the globe to learn more about women’s lives, & challenge the myth that they lived in an age where they were viewed solely as 2nd class citizens.  

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A German price table from 1393 shows that seven fat oxen were equal in value to one pound of nutmeg.

This strange, kind of amazing glass fish thingy just has to be shared.

According to the Walters Art Museum, it dates to the Baroque period in Italy. At the base, “dolphins with entwined tails support the fish, while the wavy patterns on the base represent flowing water.” The Milanese family of Sarachi was particularly famous for vessels in the shape of fishes. So they think the Sarachis made this one, probably around 1590 to 1600.


MEDIEVAL castles were built from the 11th century CE for rulers to demonstrate their wealth and power to the local populace, to provide a place of defence and safe retreat in the case of attack, defend strategically important sites like river crossings, passages through hills, mountains and frontiers, and as a place of residence. Whether a permanent home for a local lord or a temporary one for a ruler embarking on a tour of their kingdom, castles were converted from wood into stone and became ever more impressive structures with more and more defensive features such as round towers and fortified gates.  

A good location for a castle was on a natural rise, near a cliff, on the bend of a river, or where older fortifications such as Roman walls could be usefully reused. Castles needed their own water and food supplies and usually a permanent defensive force, additional factors to be considered when choosing a location.

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