What is the date and original source of this medieval picture?

What is the date and original source of this medieval picture?

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While researching the history of chimneys, I came across this medieval image on two different sites, neither of which gives any details.

Source: Dark Ages Project. The same picture can also be found here.


  1. Can anyone put an approximate date on this picture? I'd also like to know where it is from (knowing the actual manuscript - if that is the source - would be great, but I'll settle for a region or country).

  2. I'm also curious about the large (and not-at-all-to-scale) structure in the middle of the picture. Are these priests preaching or perhaps blessing (if so, no one seems to be paying much attention), or is this scene purely artistic licence?


My reason for wanting to know the date & source of this picture relates to chimneys: it appears that they became widespread later in Britain (16th century) than in Italy (14th century or earlier), but the evidence is not conclusive. Please note that chimneys are not part of the question, just the reason for it.

The image shows shows the Fair at Lendit in France. It is taken from a 15th century manuscript held at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris France.

MS Latin 962 folio 264.

The suggested date for the manuscript is 1405-1410, which should help narrow down your research.

The whole manuscript has been scanned, and is available online.

From the description:

  • Pontificale dit Pontifical d'Etienne de Givry
  • XVe siècle (vers 1405-1410)
  • Manuscrit en latin
  • Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits, Troyes.
  • Pièces notées (notation carrée sur 4 lignes rouges). Rajouts des XVe et XVIe siècles en écriture cursive, dans les marges et en fin de volume.
  • Enluminé par le Maître des Heures de Troyes. 21 miniatures, Initiales peintes à antennes ou historiées sur fond d'or.
  • Parchemin, I-VII + 276 ff. (foliotés 1 à 275, présence d'un f. 233bis), 310 x 220 mm (just. 195 x 125 mm).
  • 36 cahiers : 1 cahier de 7 ff. (I-VII ; un des ff. a été coupé), 29 cahiers de 8 ff. (1-232), 1 cahier de 9 ff. (233-240 ; un f. monté),
    4 cahiers de 8 ff. (241-272), 1 cahier de 3 ff. (273-275 ; un f. monté), précédés et suivis de 4 ff. de gardes de papier (1830-1848).
    Restes de papiers anciens (serpentes ?) dans certains fonds de cahiers.
  • Réclames. Cahiers numérotés au crayon à papier d'un chiffre arabe (datant probablement de la pose de la reliure actuelle). Foliotation
    d'origine, en chiffres romains, à l'encre rouge.
  • Réglure légère à l'encre brune.
  • Demi-reliure de chagrin rouge, plats de veau raciné, tranches dorées, au chiffre de Louis Philippe (1830-1848), titrée "PONTIFICALE" au dos, signée Lefèvre.
  • Reliure restaurée en 1961 dans les ateliers de la BN (reprise du dos, rattachement de plat).
  • Estampille de la Bibliothèque royale au XVIIe siècle.

or if you prefer the [Google] translated version:

  • Pontifical said Pontifical of Etienne de Givry [!]
  • XV th century (around 1405-1410)
  • Latin manuscript
  • National Library of France. Department of Manuscripts, Troyes.
  • Noted pieces (square notation on 4 red lines). Additions XV th and XVI th centuries in cursive, in the margins and end of the volume.
  • Enlightened by the Master of the Hours of Troyes . 21 miniatures, initials painted with antennas or historiated [!] on a gold background.
  • Parchment, I-VII + 276 ff. (foliated 1 to 275, presence of a 233bis), 310 x 220 mm (just 195 x 125 mm).
  • 36 notebooks: 1 notebook of 7 ff. (I-VII, one of the ff was cut), 29 notebooks of 8 ff. (1-232), 1 notebook of 9 ff. (233-240, one mounted), 4 notebooks of 8 ff. (241-272), 1 notebook of 3 ff. (273-275, one mounted), preceded and followed by 4 ff. paper guards (1830-1848). Remains of ancient papers (snakes?) In some notebooks.
  • Advertisements. Numbered notebooks in pencil of an Arabic numeral (probably dating from the pose of the current binding). Foliotation
    of origin, in Roman numerals, in red ink.
  • Light rule in brown ink.
  • Half-binding of red sorrow, veal dishes, golden slices, with the figure of Louis Philippe (1830-1848), titled "PONTIFICALE" on the back, signed Lefèvre.
  • Binding restored in 1961 in the workshops of the BN (recovery of the back, attachment of plate).
  • Stamp of the Royal Library in the XVII th century.

The structure in the centre of the image may well be a (much-simplified, and not-to-scale) representation of the Saint-Denis Church of La Chapelle

  • image source Wikimedia

which is where the Foire du Lendit took place.

This a picture called

"La foire du Lendit" Pontifical de Sens, France, 14th century BnF Ms. Latin 962, fol. 264
Source: Medieval Trade and Travel: Home

And can be dated with additional detail to found here.

That image is at the source here, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France:

La foire du Lendit

Pontifical de Sens, France, XIVe siècle Paris, BnF, département des Manuscrits, Latin 962, fol. 264 //
La Bénédiction du Lendit. Miniature du manuscrit latin Pontificale Senonense, édité entre 1301 et 1400. - Pontifical de Sens, XIVème siècle, latin 262, F. 264r Bénédiction du Lendit. - Source : Gallica, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 962, domaine public.
Source l'enfance en moyen age, BNF and Bénédiction de la Foire du lendit

A "Foire du Lendit" means that this is around St Denis in France and we see a bishop of Paris blessing a trade show, a fair or market.

The fair of Lendit (or fair of the Landit), opened for two weeks every 11 of June, day of Saint Barnabé, until June 24, day of the Saint-Jean, with the plain Saint-Denis, between Paris and Saint-Denis. It was from the 9th to the 16th century one of the most important fairs in France and the largest in the Île-de-France. It attracted a thousand merchants from all over Europe and Byzantium… It sold the parchment used by the University of Paris and its students.

In 1411, appears the last mention of the Perron in a "List of the price of lodges at the fair of Lendit" written under the abbey of Philippe de Villette. The Perron was a prominent stone on which one could stand or sit, located near the Montjoie, tumulus located on the way to the Estrée . The Montjoie and his Perron served as a platform and a pulpit to be preached during the fairs: every year, the bishop of Paris came to bless the fair of Lendit in June. These are the Montjoie and the Perron which must be recognized under the veiled terms used by the Pontifical of the Church of Paris concerning the ceremonial of the blessing of the fairs: the most eminent place where the bishop settled with the procession, which required a rather large platform, was the Montjoie, while the highest place, a kind of platform for the sermon, was the Perron. A place told to the cadastre, a street, an impasse testify to the intensity of the memory of the Perron.

As this is from a book and looks like this in context:

(click to enlarge)

As seen in the French Wikipedia entry, the structure in the middle with the clerics on top seems to be "Montjoie and Perron" (Anne Lombard-Jourdan: "Montjoie et Saint-Denis! Le centre de la Gaule aux origines de Paris et de Saint-Denis", Presses du CNRS: Paris, 1989, p392.), a special elevated structure for that purpose. Later a Montjoies would be depicted in this way:

or like here:

While the depiction of the "building" may include a certain artistic licence, the disinterest of the people going about their business at that late medieval time is perhaps not.

'Magical' girdle worn in hundreds of medieval childbirths discovered in England

A rare strip of parchment more than 10 feet (3 meters) long and adorned with Christian emblems shows chemical traces of its use by women in medieval England as a magical amulet to protect them during pregnancy and childbirth, according to a new study.

On the surface of the strip of parchment — called a "birthing girdle" or "birth scroll" — the researchers found traces of plant and animal proteins from medieval treatments used to treat common health problems during pregnancy, and of human proteins that match cervico-vaginal fluid. Those traces suggest the girdle was worn by women while they gave birth.

"This particular girdle shows visual evidence of having been heavily handled, as much of the image and text have been worn away," biochemist Sarah Fiddyment of the archaeology department at the University of Cambridge told Live Science in an email. "It also has numerous stains and blemishes, giving the overall appearance of a document that has been actively used."

Fiddyment is the lead author of the new study, which was published on Wednesday (March 10) in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

The long and narrow parchment was originally made, probably in the late 15th century, from four strips of sheepskin that had been scraped thin and stitched together. The resulting strip is illustrated with Christian imagery, including pictures of the nails of the crucifixion the holy monogram IHS, which is a way of writing Jesus' name a standing figure, possibly Jesus and his crucifixion wounds, dripping with blood. The text of Christian prayers also appears on both sides.

What is the date and original source of this medieval picture? - History

The Making of a Medieval Book explores the materials and techniques used to create the lavishly illuminated manuscripts produced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The images in these handwritten texts are called illuminations because of the radiant glow created by the gold, silver, and other colors. The exhibition examines the four stages involved in the making of a medieval book: parchment making, writing, illumination, and binding.

The Making of a Medieval Book is part of the Getty's "Making of" series, which explores the historical techniques behind various art forms. The exhibition complements Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, a major international exhibition on view from June 17 through September 7, 2003.

Most medieval manuscripts were written on specially treated animal skins, called parchment or vellum (paper did not become common in Europe until around 1450). The pelts were first soaked in a lime solution to loosen the fur, which was then removed. While wet on a stretcher, the skin was scraped using a knife with a curved blade. As the skin dried, the parchment maker adjusted the tension so that the skin remained taut. This cycle of scraping and stretching was repeated over several days until the desired thinness had been achieved. Here, the skin of a stillborn goat, prized for its smoothness, is stretched on a modern frame to illustrate the parchment making process.

The Adoration of the Magi
Find out more about the art of writing in illuminated manuscripts in this video.

After the surface had been prepared, the parchment was ruled, usually with leadpoint or colored ink. In this prayer book, you can see the ruling in red ink. Ruling lines helped the scribe to write evenly and were part of the design of the page. The scribe wrote with a quill pen made from the feather of a goose or swan. The end of the feather was cut to form the writing nib. A slit cut into the middle of the nib allowed the ink to flow smoothly to the tip of the pen. The appearance of the script—whether rounded or angular, dense or open—was partly dependent upon the shape and the angle of the nib.

Initial V: An Angel before Micah
Find out more about the methods illuminators used in this video.

Illumination, from the Latin illuminare, "to light up or illuminate," describes the glow created by the colors, especially gold and silver, used to embellish manuscripts. In making an illumination, the artist first made an outline drawing with leadpoint or quill and ink. Next, he or she painted the areas to receive gold leaf with a sticky substance such as bole (a refined red clay) or gum ammoniac (sap). The gold leaf was then laid down and burnished, or rubbed, to create a shiny surface, which sparkles as the pages are turned. Finally, the illuminator applied paints that were made from a wide variety of coloring agents: ground minerals, organic dyes extracted from plants, and chemically produced colorants. These pigments were usually mixed with egg white to form a kind of paint called tempera. The deep blue of this illumination was probably made from crushed stone, while the background is a solid mass of shining gold leaf.

Once the writing and illuminating had been completed, the parchment sheets were folded and nested into groups called gatherings. The gatherings were ordered in their proper sequence and sewn together onto cords or leather thongs that served as supports. Once the sewing was finished, the ends of the supports were laced through channels carved into the wooden boards that formed the front and back covers of the book. The binding was usually then covered in leather or a decorative fabric. This binding's most stunning ornamentations are the metal corner pieces and raised medallions that would protect the binding as it rested on a surface. The dyed parchment pieces inset into the central medallion were once brightly colored yellow, green, and blue, creating a stained-glass-window effect on the covers of the manuscript.


The simplest – and presumably the earliest – type of trumpet was made from the hollowed-out horn or shell of an animal, into the end of which a hole was bored for the mouth. This "trumpet" had neither a mouthpiece nor a bell, and was not so much a musical instrument as a megaphone into which one spoke, sang, or shouted. The intention was to distort the voice and produce a harsh, unnatural sound to ward off evil spirits or disconcert one's enemies. Only later was the trumpet used to invoke friendly gods or to encourage one's own warriors on the battlefield. Typically only one or two different pitches could be produced on such an instrument, though sometimes a small fingerhole was bored in the tip to provide the player with an extra pitch. Most of these early trumpets were end-blown, like the modern trumpet side-blown varieties, however, were not unknown, and can still be found in Africa and other parts of the globe.

As they were played only by men, they probably acquired strong phallic overtones among certain aboriginal [ clarification needed ] tribes, for example, it was a capital offense for a woman to look at a trumpet. [ citation needed ] The tradition of playing trumpet or bugle fanfares at sunrise (Reveille), sunset (Last Post), and at funerals (Taps), probably evolved from these ancient rituals. [2]

The use of the trumpet as an instrument of warfare and the chase is probably as old. Its strident sound and animal origins must have suggested a wild or belligerent nature at a very early date, while the ritualistic uses to which it was put only served to strengthen its associations with death and male-oriented activities. [3]

Animal-horn trumpets are still employed today, especially in Africa, though they are also found in Israel, Asia and Oceania. With the exception of African varieties, most are end-blown instruments from which the tip has been removed to provide a mouthhole. In the majority of cases the player's lips are applied directly to the mouthhole sometimes, however, the instrument has a detachable mouthpiece. Cattle, sheep, goats and antelopes are among the animals whose horns are – or have been – most frequently used to make such trumpets. The following examples may be briefly noted:

  • The Sumeriansi was the ordinary word for animal horn. Literary references show that as an instrument it was played in the streets by the herald who delivered public announcements.
  • The Jewishshofar is perhaps the best-known animal-horn trumpet. It is usually made from a ram's horn, though the horn of any kosher animal other than a cow or calf may be used. The shofar, which is still employed in Jewish religious ceremonies today, is an ancient instrument it is mentioned frequently in the Bible and rabbinic literature. It can generally produce only two pitches theoretically, these should be a fifth apart (being the second and third partials of the instrument's harmonic series) the irregular bore of the instrument, however, can reduce this to as little as a fourth or increase it to as much as a sixth. These acoustical details apply to most animal-horn trumpets.
  • The Indianshringa, or ṣṛnga, (Sanskrit for "horn") was originally made from the horn of the buffalo, though the term was later applied to almost any kind of horn or trumpet, irrespective of its origin. In the south of the country the general name of the instrument is kombu, a Dravidian term which also means "horn". The shringa is an end-blown instrument, though one particular variety – the singha of Orissa – is side-blown. The shringa and its close relations are known by various names in different parts of India: singe (the shringa of the Bhils), sakna (a buffalo horn of the Santals), reli'ki (the Angami's buffalo horn, which has a bamboo mouthpiece), visan (a buffalo horn of Uttar Pradesh), singi (a deer horn of Uttar Pradesh), and kohuk (a horn of the Marias of Madhya Pradesh). India's national epic, the Mahābhārata, mentions the govishanika, which is thought to have been a cow's horn. Many species of shringa can still be found in India today.
  • The Greekkeras ("horn") and the Etrusco-Romancornu (Latin for "horn") were originally simple animal-horn trumpets, though both were superseded by more advanced instruments to which they lent their names. [4]
  • The Germaniccowhorn, or Stierhorn, which was generally made from the horn of an aurochs or buffalo.
  • The rwa-dun is a Tibetan ram's-horn trumpet similar to the Jewish shofar. It has been used for centuries in Buddhist ceremonies for the purposes of exorcism.
  • The Latvian āžrag was made from a goat's horn, and was blown by young men in the summertime to announce their intention to take a wife.
  • The engombe is a side-blown trumpet found in Uganda it is usually made from a cow's horn and is blown by Bugandan huntsmen to ensure a successful hunt.

Conch shells have also been used as primitive instruments since Neolithic times, and must be numbered among the antecedents of the natural trumpet. The four shells most commonly used for this purpose are the triton or trumpet shell, the cassis or helmet shell, the fusus, and the strombus or true conch, though the term "conch-shell trumpet" is generally applied to all instruments of this type. The spiral interior of the shell acts as tubing, and a mouthhole is created either by breaking off the point of the shell (end-blown conch) or by boring a small hole in the body (side-blown conch). The cassis is an end-blown shell the other three types are usually side-blown.

Conch-shell trumpets are found in almost every part of the globe, including inland areas like Tibet, Central Europe and the Andes. They are especially common throughout Oceania, where the conch-shell trumpet was once used on religious, ceremonial and military occasions. Today, however, the instrument is more often associated with mundane events like football matches the Tongan football team is regularly encouraged by ensembles of up to nine kele'a. In the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, local fishermen use conch-shell trumpets known as tapáe to call for assistance when they are drawing in their nets. In Fiji, the davui conch-shell trumpet is still blown to invoke the gods.

End-blown conch-shell trumpets are still used as sacred ritual instruments in Asia. The Indian śańkh or śańkham is blown by Brahmins in Hindu temples throughout India and South Asia, and is also used today as an instrument of folk music and dance formerly it was employed as a heraldic instrument to declare war or celebrate victory. [5] According to Hindu mythology the śankh will be blown by Siva at the end of the current World Age as a sort of Last Trump.

The conch shell is also used as a signal in Buddhist ceremonies in the Far East. In Tibet it is known as the dun-dkar, or dung-dkar in China it is the faluo or hai lo, and in Japan the horagai or hora.

The earliest artificial trumpets appeared before the end of the Neolithic, and were adapted from the natural models provided by animal-horns and conch-shells. They were – and in some parts of the world are still – made from a variety of perishable and non-perishable materials, including bark, wood, gourds, bamboo, horn, bone, ivory, clay and, of course, metal. Early metallic trumpets were either hammered from sheets of a suitable metal (e.g. silver) or cast in bronze by the lost-wax method. Among these primitive trumpets the following may be noted:

  • The ancient Nordiclur was made of bronze and dates back to the Late Bronze Age (1000–500 BCE). This extraordinary instrument consisted of an elaborate S-shaped conical tube, usually about 2 metres (7 ft) in length, with a slightly flared bell. It was an end-blown natural trumpet, and sounded rather like a modern trombone. To date, fifty-six lurs have been found: forty-five in Denmark, eleven in Sweden, four in Norway, five in northern Germany, and one in Latvia. They have often been discovered in matching pairs, which suggests that they were used for ceremonial or religious purposes, rather than as instruments of war. The original name of the instrument is unknown.
  • The Celticcarnyx was also made of bronze, and was used as an instrument of war during the Iron Age (c. 300 BCE – 200 CE). It consisted of a cylindrical tube about 2 metres (7 ft) long the bell was elaborately carved to resemble a wild boar's head, with a movable tongue and jaw the mouthpiece was curved. The carnyx was held vertically with the bell above the player's head. The instrument is most often associated with the Celts, but is now known to have been used also by the inhabitants of ancient Dacia. A similar S-shaped trumpet from the Iron Age has been found at Loughnashade in Ireland. Named the trumpa créda (archaic Irish for "bronze trumpet"), it consists of two curved tubes of bronze, each comprising a quarter circle, one of which is of conical bore and one of cylindrical bore, with a joint in the middle. The Loughnashade trumpet is generally displayed with the two halves joined together to make a semicircle, but it is now thought to have been played with the two parts bending in opposite directions to make an S-shaped trumpet not unlike the carnyx, to which it may have been related.
  • In India the primitive shringa or kombu was adapted to make a great variety of metallic trumpets. The modern kombu is generally a C-shaped instrument made of brass or copper, with a conical bore and a detachable mouthpiece. It is still played at weddings and funerals, and during religious processions. There are two sizes of kombu: the small timiri kombu and the large bari kombu. Another type of brass kombu – known variously as turi, bānkiā, bargu, banke, ransingha, narsingha, narsĩgā and nagphani in different parts of the subcontinent – is S-shaped and looks remarkably like the trumpa créda of Ireland. Indigenous straight trumpets have been made in India since the Neolithic and are still found today in various guises and under various names: turahi, turya, tutari, tuttoori, bhongal, kahal, kahala, and bhenr. The booraga of Sanskrit literature was possibly also a straight trumpet made of brass or copper.
  • The wooden lur of medieval Scandinavia (not to be confused with the much earlier bronze instrument to which it has lent its name) is referred to in the Icelandic sagas as an instrument of war, used to marshal troops and frighten the enemy. It is also mentioned by Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum. This particular species of lur was a straight, end-blown natural trumpet, with a cylindrical tube about 1 metre (3 ft) long. It was made of wood – typically by cutting a thick branch in half lengthwise and hollowing it out, and then rejoining the two-halves, which are secured with tar and willow osiers. A similar instrument, but secured with birch, known as the birch trumpet, has been used in Nordic countries since the Middle Ages as a signalling instrument and to call cattle.
  • The Lithuanian daudytė is a natural wooden trumpet similar to the wooden lur of Scandinavia its sections are held together with putty and linen yarn.
  • The alphorn, or alpenhorn, is a distinctive natural wooden horn with a conical bore, upturned bell and cup-shaped mouthpiece. It has been used as a signalling instrument in the Alpine regions of Europe for about two millennia. The alphorn is generally carved from the solid softwood of the spruce or pine. In former times alphorn makers would use a tree that was already bent at the base, but today's alphorns are pieced together from separate sections, which are secured with bark or gut. The cup-shaped mouthpiece is usually carved out of a block of hardwood.
  • The Australiandidjeridu is one of the best known species of primitive trumpet. A natural wooden trumpet, it has been in continuous use among the aboriginal peoples of Australia for at least 1,500 years, and possibly much longer. It is usually manufactured from the trunk of a hardwood tree, such as the eucalyptus, which has been suitably hollowed out by termites. The instrument is typically about 1 to 1.5 metres (3 to 5 ft) long the bore may be conical or cylindrical. By vibrating his lips against the mouthhole the player can produce a deep drone the note so produced may be sustained indefinitely by means of a technique called circular breathing. Today the didjeridu is frequently played as a solo instrument for recreational purposes, though it was traditionally used to accompany dancing and singing on ceremonial occasions.
  • The Ugandan arupepe is a natural wooden trumpet covered with animal hide.
  • The molimo is a wooden trumpet used by the Mbuti people of the Congo to awaken the spirit of the Ituri Rainforest. It is also the name of the elaborate ritual in which the instrument plays a vital role.
  • Bone trumpets made from human femurs (khang ling) and tiger femurs (stag ling) can still be found in the Himalayas, where they are associated with Buddhisttantra. In Tibet the human thigh-bone trumpet is called the rkan-dun (or rkang-gling) and plays an important role in the traditional shamanistic religion known as Bön. In the Tibetan language the word dun means both "trumpet" and "bone"! Brass replicas of bone trumpets are also known in Tibet.
  • The borija, a short natural trumpet found in Yugoslavia, is made from the spiral shavings of the willow or ash, bound firmly into a conical tube about 50 cm (20 in) long.
  • The obsolete tāšu taure of Latvia was of similar design to the borija, but it was made from birch bark and could be up to 150 cm (5 ft) long.
  • In the Amazon Rainforest giant trumpets up to 4 metres (13 ft) in length are made from tightly coiled bark sticks are attached to one or both sides of the instruments to support them and prevent sagging. trumpets can be found in many parts of Africa and South America, but are almost unheard of in the bamboo-rich regions of China and South-East Asia. A notable exception is provided by the bamboo "brass-band" tradition of Sulawesi, which is actually quite a recent tradition. In the 19th century Dutch missionaries introduced European brass bands to the island later, in the 1920s, local craftsmen began to make bamboo replicas of these modern instruments. Today most replicas are made of zinc, though bamboo examples can still be found in isolated pockets, such as the Sangir Archipelago, which lies to the north of Sulawesi. , the hollow, dried shells of the fruit of a member of the family Cucurbitaceae, can be adapted quite easily to make natural trumpets. Gourd trumpets have been used in Africa for centuries, and are also to be found in Asia and the Americas one particular variety of gourd, the calabash, is even known as the "trumpet gourd". The gourd trumpet was also used by the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples of Central America. One notable variety, the MayanHom-Tah, has been compared to the Australian didjeridu. Among the gourd trumpets that are still in use today is the waza of the Berta people, who live in the Blue Nile region of the Sudan.
  • Most trumpets fashioned from the ivorytusks of an elephant are of African origin both end-blown and side-blown varieties can still be found in some parts of the continent today. The most notable exception is the medieval olifant, a short, thick, end-blown trumpet carved from ivory, which was apparently introduced to Europe by the Saracens at the time of the Crusades [6] a Middle Eastern instrument, the olifant was possibly adapted by the Arabs from African models, which have a long history. [7]
  • Clay trumpets can be found in South America, India, Western Europe and parts of Africa. South American varieties include imitations of conch-shell trumpets, such as the potuto of Peru. The Horniman Museum in London has a red-and-white-marbled clay Portuguese trumpet which was obviously copied from a brass instrument. Coiled clay trumpets probably derive from animal-horn or conch-shell models. Peru had long straight clay trumpets called pungacuqua or puuaqua which were up to 1.5 metres (5 ft) long and were blown in pairs, as was the botuto from the Orinoco basin. Clay trumpets have also been found in Mayan cities in Central America.

The natural trumpet was probably first used as a military instrument in ancient Egypt. The trumpets depicted by the artists of the Eighteenth Dynasty were short straight instruments made of wood, bronze, copper or silver. The Ancient Egyptian name for this particular instrument was sheneb (šnb). According to the Classical writers, the Egyptian trumpet sounded like the braying of an ass. [8]

For the most part the trumpeters depicted in Egyptian art are engaged in military activities – the sheneb was probably used on the battlefield both to encourage (and possibly also to direct) the Pharaoh's troops and to intimidate the enemy. In some murals from the Eighteenth Dynasty, the sheneb appears to be accompanying dancers if this is the case, it is possibly the earliest depiction of a trumpet in a truly "musical" setting. Egyptian trumpeters are often, though not always, shown in pairs.

The oldest surviving examples of metallic trumpets are the two instruments that were discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. [9] One of these is 58.2 cm (22.9 in) long and is made of silver it has a conical tube 1.7 to 2.6 cm (0.67 to 1.02 in) in diameter, and a flaring bell 8.2 cm (3.2 in) wide. The other instrument is 50.5 cm (19.9 in) long and is made of copper with gold overlay. [10] Neither instrument has a separate mouthpiece and their respective weights have not been documented. [ citation needed ] Both are inscribed with the names of gods associated with Egyptian army divisions. A third trumpet, probably dating from the Ptolemaic era, is now preserved in the Louvre museum in Paris.

Other trumpets are mentioned in the Bible besides the primitive shofar: the yowbel was the ram's-horn trumpet whose sound made the walls of Jericho fall down (Joshua 6) the taqowa' was a Jewish military trumpet which is mentioned in Ezekiel 7:14. The best known Biblical trumpet after the shofar, however, is the hasoserah. In the Book of Numbers, Moses is instructed to make two silver hasoserah [11] :

2 Make thee two trumpets of silver of a whole piece shalt thou make them: that thou mayest use them for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps. 3 And when they shall blow with them, all the assembly shall assemble themselves to thee at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. 4 And if they blow but with one trumpet, then the princes, which are heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto thee. 5 When ye blow an alarm, then the camps that lie on the east parts shall go forward. 6 When ye blow an alarm the second time, then the camps that lie on the south side shall take their journey: they shall blow an alarm for their journeys. 7 But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm. 8 And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow with the trumpets and they shall be to you for an ordinance for ever throughout your generations. 9 And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets and ye shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies. 10 Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings that they may be to you for a memorial before your God. (Numbers 10:2–10, King James Version.)

The hasoserah was played in two different ways: taqa‘ and teruw‘ah. The former referred to a continuous sounding of the instrument by one or two Levites during religious ceremonies the latter referred to the sounding of an alarm or military signal, and was always carried out by two trumpeters. In the 18th century the German music theorist Johann Ernst Altenburg compared these two styles of playing to the two styles of trumpet playing prevalent in the Late Baroque: the mellow style of the principale and the strident style of the clarino.

The military use of the natural trumpet is recorded in many passages of the Bible (e.g. Jeremiah 4:19, Zephaniah 1:16, Amos 2:2). Other passages recount its use as a celebratory instrument (e.g. II Kings 11:14, II Chronicles 5:12–13, Psalms 98:6).

Josephus, who credits Moses with the invention of the hasoserah, describes the instrument thus:

“In length it was little less than a cubit [45 cm, 18 in]. It was composed of a narrow tube, somewhat thicker than a flute, but with so much breadth as was sufficient for admission of the breath of a man's mouth: it ended in the form of a bell, like common trumpets. Its sound was called in the Hebrew tongue Asosra.” (Antiquities of the Jews, 3.291)

The hasoserah is depicted on the Arch of Titus among the spoils taken by the Romans in the sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE (though these particular trumpets appear to be at least 1 metre (3 ft) long).

A straight trumpet similar to the Egyptian sheneb was also used in ancient Babylonia and Assyria, where it was called the qarna. On a relief from the time of Sennacherib (reigned 705–681 BCE) depicting the moving of a colossal bull statue, two trumpeters are standing on the statue one is playing while the other rests. Among the descendants of the qarna are the Persian karranay and the Safavid karna. The latter, a straight metallic trumpet, can still be found in northern India.

The war-trumpet used by the ancient Greeks was called the salpinx, and was probably adapted from the Egyptian sheneb. There is a fine example on display in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts the tube of this particular salpinx is 157 cm (62 in) long and consists of thirteen cylindrical parts made of ivory the instrument's bell and mouthpiece are both made of bronze, as are the rings used to hold the ivory sections together the instrument is thought to date from the second half of the 5th century BCE. The Greek playwright Aeschylus described the sound of the salpinx as "shattering" the word salpinx is thought to mean "thunderer".

At the Olympic Games, contests of trumpet playing were introduced for the first time in 396 BCE. These contests were judged not by the participants' musical skill but by the volume of sound they generated! Among the more famous trumpeters who participated in the games was Achias, who was awarded first prize on three occasions and in whose honour a column was erected. Another famous contestant was Herodorus of Megas, a man of immense stature, whose playing was so loud that audiences were allegedly concussed by his performances. By winning the trumpet contest at Olympia, a trumpeter was authorized to perform at the hippodrome and to introduce the athletes for the remainder of the games.

On a painted ceramic knee guard dating from around 500 BCE, a salpinx call is recorded using the Greek syllables TOTH TOTOTE. This is the earliest example of trumpet notation anywhere in the world.

The use of the natural trumpet as a fully-fledged military signalling instrument is generally credited to the ancient Romans a total of forty-three signals are said to have been used in the Roman army. Since the early days of the Republic, two centuriates of troops (about 160 men) were composed entirely of trumpeters these musicians, called aenatores, employed a variety of instruments. It is now thought that the Romans adapted these instruments, and possibly also the signals sounded on them, from Etruscan models. The Etruscans were expert metallurgists and keen musicians, and musical instruments were just some of the many inventions they bequeathed to their Roman conquerors. [12] Among the trumpet-like instruments used by the Romans, the following four may be distinguished:

  • The tuba was a straight trumpet played by a tubicen. It was about 117 cm (46 in) long and had a conical bore of between 10 and 28 mm (0.39–1.10 in). It was usually made of bronze and was played with a detachable bone mouthpiece. It had a slightly flared bell. The Roman tuba was probably a direct ancestor of both the Western trumpet and the Western horn. (The modern tuba, which shares its name with the Roman tuba, however, is a recent invention.)
  • The cornu was a natural horn about 3 m (10 ft) long, with a wide, conical bore it was made of bronze and took the form of a letter G. It was played with a cup-shaped mouthpiece. The large flaring bell curved over the player's head or shoulder. The cornu was played by a trumpeter known as a cornicen.
  • The buccina, or bucina, was played by a buccinator. This was of similar construction to the cornu and was also played with a cup-shaped mouthpiece, but it had a narrower, more cylindrical bore. The military buccina evolved from a primitive prototype, the buccina marina, which was a natural conch-shell trumpet in Roman poetry the buccina marina is often called the concha.
  • The lituus was a long J-shaped trumpet. Essentially, it was a straight trumpet, like the tuba, to which an animal-horn trumpet was attached to act as a bell it is not unlike the Celtic carnyx. The lituus was a cult instrument used in Roman rituals and does not appear to have had any military uses, though the term was later used in the Middle Ages to denote a military trumpet. Surviving litui are between 78 and 140 cm (31–55 in) long. Being the shortest of the Roman trumpets, the lituus was a higher pitched instrument, the sound of which Classical writers described as acutus ("high"). The lituus and the buccina are frequently confused.

The late Roman writer Vegetius briefly describes the use of trumpets in the Roman legions in his treatise De Re Militari:

The legion also has its tubicines, cornicines and buccinatores. The tubicen sounds the charge and the retreat. The cornicines are used only to regulate the motions of the colours the tubicines serve when the soldiers are ordered out to any work without the colours but in time of action, the tubicines and cornicines sound together. The classicum, which is a particular signal of the buccinatores or cornicines, is appropriated to the commander-in-chief and is used in the presence of the general, or at the execution of a soldier, as a mark of its being done by his authority. The ordinary guards and outposts are always mounted and relieved by the sound of the tubicen, who also directs the motions of the soldiers on working parties and on field days. The cornicines sound whenever the colours are to be struck or planted. These rules must be punctually observed in all exercises and reviews so that the soldiers may be ready to obey them in action without hesitation according to the general's orders either to charge or halt, to pursue the enemy or to retire. For reason will convince us that what is necessary to be performed in the heat of action should constantly be practised in the leisure of peace. [13] (De Re Militari, Book II)

Like the Greek salpinx the Roman trumpets were not regarded as musical instruments. Among the tems used to describe the tone of the tuba, for instance, were horribilis (“horrible”), terribilis (“terrible”), raucus (“raucous”), rudis (“coarse”), strepens (“noisy”) and stridulus (“shrieking”). When sounding their instruments, the tubicines sometimes girded their cheeks with the capistrum (“muzzle”) which aulos (“flute”) players used to prevent their cheeks from being puffed out unduly.

After the fall of the Western Empire in 476, the trumpet disappeared from Europe for more than half a millennium. Elsewhere the art of bending long metal tubes was lost, for the trumpets of the succeeding era lacked the characteristic G-like curve of the cornu and buccina. The straight-tubed Roman tuba, however, continued to flourish in the Middle East among the Sassanids and their Arabic successors. The Saracens, whose long metal trumpets greatly impressed the Christian armies at the time of the Crusades, were ultimately responsible for reintroducing the instrument to Europe after a lapse of six hundred years.

During the last centuries of the Roman Empire the name buccina was widely used throughout the Near East to denote a particular type of straight trumpet similar to, and probably derived from, the Roman tuba. [14] From this, undoubtedly, derives the generic term būq, which first occurs after 800 this was the name used by the Arabs to describe a variety of both trumpet-like and horn-like instruments. The būq al-nafīr ("buc[cina] of war") was a long straight metal trumpet used in the military bands of the Abbasid period (750–1258) and thereafter [15] by the 14th century it could be as much as 2 metres (7 ft) long. From the 11th century, this term was used to denote any long straight trumpet.

Other Arabic words for trumpets of various sizes and shapes include qarnā and sūr the latter is the name used in the Qur'an for the Last Trump that will announce Judgment Day. The qarnā is thought to be a descendant of the ancient Mesopotamian instrument of the same name.

The Saracens are sometimes said to be the first people to make brass trumpets from hammered sheet, though this is not at all certain.

Many of the long, straight metal trumpets that first appeared around this time were associated with the spread of Islam. In Africa, for example, end-blown metal trumpets are found only in Islamic regions such as Nigeria, Chad and central Cameroon. Known as kakaki (among the Hausa of Nigeria) or gashi (in Chad), these trumpets consist of narrow cylindrical tubes, sometimes over 2 metres (7 ft) in length, with flared metal bells. The silver nafiri is one of only two trumpets found in Malaysia its name clearly derives from the Arabic būq al-nafīr. Slightly less than 1 metre (3 ft) long, a single nafiri is present in each of the royal nobat ensembles maintained by the local sultans. As in Africa, these royal ensembles play on ceremonial occasions and Islamic holidays.

Broadway, Movies & TV Show

In the 20th century, King Arthur also found his way to stage and screen. During the 1960s, the myth found a home on Broadway with the musical Camelot, which starred Richard Burton as Arthur. Later revivals would see Richard Harris — who starred in the 1967 movie version as well — and Robert Goulet portray the monarch. A more serious, grim take on Camelot was seen in the 1981 film Excalibur, with Helen Mirren in the role of Morgana, half-sister to the king. Fast forward to the next millennium where Antoine Fuqua directed King Arthur (2004), whose still fantastic plot relied more heavily on the idea that Arthur, here portrayed by Clive Owen, was a military leader against the Saxons. His life was also portrayed in the 2017 movie King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Aiming to properly contextualize the array of tales presented, documentarian and writer Michael Wood has looked at the cultural and geographic origins of the King Arthur story in his TV series In Search of Myths and Heroes.

Bayeux Tapestry

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Bayeux Tapestry, medieval embroidery depicting the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, remarkable as a work of art and important as a source for 11th-century history.

The tapestry is a band of linen 231 feet (70 metres) long and 19.5 inches (49.5 cm) wide, now light brown with age, on which are embroidered, in worsteds of eight colours, more than 70 scenes representing the Norman Conquest. The story begins with a prelude to Harold’s visit to Bosham on his way to Normandy (1064?) and ends with the flight of Harold’s English forces from Hastings (October 1066) originally, the story may have been taken further, but the end of the strip has perished. Along the top and the bottom run decorative borders with figures of animals, scenes from the fables of Aesop and Phaedrus, scenes from husbandry and the chase, and occasionally scenes related to the main pictorial narrative. It has been restored more than once, and in some details the restorations are of doubtful authority.

When first referred to (1476), the tapestry was used once a year to decorate the nave of the cathedral in Bayeux, France. There it was “discovered” by the French antiquarian and scholar Bernard de Montfaucon, who published the earliest complete reproduction of it in 1730. Having twice narrowly escaped destruction during the French Revolution, it was exhibited in Paris at Napoleon’s wish in 1803–04 and thereafter was in civil custody at Bayeux, except in 1871 (during the Franco-German War) and from September 1939 to March 1945 (during World War II).

Montfaucon found at Bayeux a tradition, possibly not more than a century old, that assigned the tapestry to Matilda, wife of William I (the Conqueror), but there is nothing else to connect the work with her. It may have been commissioned by William’s half brother Odo, bishop of Bayeux Odo is prominent in the later scenes, and three of the very few named figures on the tapestry have names borne by obscure men known to have been associated with him. This conjecture would date the work not later than about 1092, an approximate time now generally accepted. The tapestry has affinities with other English works of the 11th century, and, though its origin in England is not proved, there is a circumstantial case for such an origin.

The tapestry is of greater interest as a work of art. It is also important evidence for the history of the Norman Conquest, especially for Harold’s relation to William before 1066 its story of events seems straightforward and convincing, despite some obscurities. The decorative borders have value for the study of medieval fables. The tapestry’s contribution to knowledge of everyday life about 1100 is of little importance, except for military equipment and tactics.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.

Each of these five books offers an admirably clear overview of a different aspect of the medieval knight as a military man. Taken together the picture they present is fairly complete. Each volume, which is illustrated by the author and includes a useful glossary, stands alone and may be read in any order. Accessible to younger readers, yet substantial enough for the adult. Subjects include: Armor, Battle, Castle, Horse, and Weapons.

This gorgeous book focuses largely on the political history of British knights through wars in Scotland, the Hundred Years' War and War of the Roses. In-depth examinations of individuals, battles, warfare and other aspects of knighthood are highlighted by numerous photos of artifacts, castles, effigies and heraldic banners.

The History of Voodoo

Although the exact origins of Voodoo are unknown, it is generally agreed that this religion has its roots in West Africa. Modern day Benin is regarded as the birthplace of this religion, and the name ‘Voodoo’ itself means ‘spirit’ in the local Fon language.

It has been suggested that Voodoo in West Africa evolved from the ancient traditions of ancestor worship and animism. The forms of Voodoo practiced today, however, are the results of one of the most inhumane episodes in modern history – the African slave trade that took place between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Zangbeto, a voodoo guardian of the peace under Yoruba religious belief. Zangbeto traditionally served as an informal police service to enforce the peace in rural Benin. ( pauli197 /Adobe Stock)

When African slaves were brought to the Americas to work on plantations, they brought Voodoo with them. Their white masters, however, had other plans regarding the religious practices of their slaves. A 1685 law, for instance, prohibited the practice of African religions, and required all masters to Christianize their slaves within eight days of their arrival in Haiti.

Although the slaves accepted Roman Catholicism, they did not give up their traditional beliefs either. Instead, the old and the new were syncretized, producing some unique results. Many of the Catholic saints were identified with traditional Voodoo lwas (spirits) or held a double meaning for the practitioners of Voodoo. For instance, in Haitian Voodoo , St. Peter is recognized as Papa Legba, the gatekeeper of the spirit world, while St. Patrick is associated with Dumballah, the snake lwa.

Although African slaves were brought to Haiti and New Orleans about the same time, i.e. the 1720s, the development of Voodoo practices in each area is quite different. In Haiti, Voodoo became a force that gave strength to and sustained the slaves through their hardships and suffering. Between 1791 and 1804, a series of slave revolts inspired by Voodoo practice culminated in the expelling of the French from Haiti.

Did the Black Death Rampage Across the World a Century Earlier Than Previously Thought?

For over 20 years, I’ve been telling the same story to students whenever I teach European history. At some point in the 14th century, the bacterium Yersinia pestis somehow moved out of the rodent population in western China and became wildly infectious and lethal to humans. This bacterium caused the Black Death, a plague pandemic that moved from Asia to Europe in just a few decades, wiping out one-third to one-half of all human life wherever it touched. Although the plague pandemic definitely happened, the story I’ve been teaching about when, where, and the history of the bacterium has apparently been incomplete, at best.

In December, the historian Monica Green published a landmark article, The Four Black Deaths, in the American Historical Review, that rewrites our narrative of this brutal and transformative pandemic. In it, she identifies a “big bang” that created four distinct genetic lineages that spread separately throughout the world and finds concrete evidence that the plague was already spreading from China to central Asia in the 1200s. This discovery pushes the origins of the Black Death back by over a hundred years, meaning that the first wave of the plague was not a decades-long explosion of horror, but a disease that crept across the continents for over a hundred years until it reached a crisis point.

As the world reels beneath the strains of its own global pandemic, the importance of understanding how humans interact with nature both today and throughout the relatively short history of our species becomes more critical. Green tells me that diseases like the plague and arguably SARS-CoV-2 ( before it transferred into humans in late 2019 causing Covid-19 ) are not human diseases, because the organism doesn’t rely on human hosts for reproduction (unlike human-adapted malaria or tuberculosis). They are zoonotic, or animal diseases, but humans are still the carriers and transporters of the bacteria from one site to the other, turning an endemic animal disease into a deadly human one.

The Black Death, as Monica Green tells me, is “one of the few things that people learn about the European Middle Ages.” For scholars, the fast 14th-century story contained what Green calls a “black hole.” When she began her career in the 1980s, we didn’t really know “when it happened, how it happened, [or] where it came from!” Now we have a much clearer picture.

“The Black Death and other pre-modern plague outbreaks were something everyone learned about in school, or joked about in a Monty Python-esque way. It wasn't something that most of the general public would have considered particularly relevant to modernity or to their own lives,” says Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America. But now, “with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, suddenly medieval plagues became relevant to everyone everywhere.”

The project that culminated in Green’s article unfolded over many years. She says that the first step required paleogenetic analysis of known victims of the plague, including a critical study 2011. Paleogenetics is the study of preserved organic material—really any part of the body or the microbiome, down to the DNA—of long dead organisms. This means that if you can find a body, or preferably a lot of bodies, that you’re sure died in the Black Death, you can often access the DNA of the specific disease that killed them and compare it to both modern and other pre-modern strains.

This has paid off in numerous ways. First, as scientists mapped the genome, they first put to rest long lingering doubts about the role Y. pestis played in the Black Death (there was widespread but unsubstantiated speculation that other diseases were at fault). Scientists mapped the genome of the bacterium and began building a dataset that revealed how it had evolved over time. Green was in London in 2012 just as findings on the London plague cemetery came out confirming without a doubt both the identity of the bacterium and the specific genetic lineage of the plague that hit London in June 1348. “The Black Death cemetery in London is special because it was created to accommodate bodies from the Black Death,” she says, “and then when [the plague wave] passed, they closed the cemetery. We have the paperwork!”

Green established herself as the foremost expert in medieval women’s healthcare with her work on a medical treatise known as The Trotula. Her careful analysis of manuscript traditions revealed that some of the text was attributable to a southern Italian woman, Trota. Other sections, though, revealed male doctors’ attempts to take over the market for women’s health. It’s a remarkable text that prepared Green for her Black Death project not only by immersing her in the history of medicine, but methodologically as well. Her discipline of philology, the study of the development of texts over time, requires comparing manuscripts to each other, building a stemma, or genealogy of texts, from a parent or original manuscript. She tells me that this is precisely the same skill one needs to read phylogenetic trees of mutating bacteria in order to trace the history of the disease.

Still, placing the Black Death in 13th-century Asia required more than genetic data. Green needed a vector, and she hoped for textual evidence of an outbreak. She is careful to add that, when trying to find a disease in a historical moment, the “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Her first step was to focus on a cute little rodent from the Mongolian steppe: the marmot.

Mongols hunted marmots for meat and leather (which was both lightweight and waterproof), and they brought their rodent preferences with them as the soon-to-be conquerors of Asia moved into the Tian Shan mountains around 1216 and conquered a people called the Qara Khitai (themselves refugees from Northern China). There, the Mongols would have encountered marmots who carried the strain of plague that would become the Black Death. Here, the “big bang” theory of bacterial mutation provides key evidence allowing us a new starting point for the Black Death. (To support this theory, her December article contains a 16-page appendix just on marmots!)

The phylogenetic findings were enough for Green to speculate about a 13th-century origin for the plague, but when it came to the mechanism of spread, all she had was conjecture—until she found a description of an outbreak at the end of the Mongol siege of Baghdad in 1258. Green is quick to note that she has relied on experts in many different languages to do this work, unsurprisingly since it traverses from China to the rock of Gibraltar, and from near the Arctic Circle to sub-Saharan Africa.

No one is expert in all the languages. What Green brought was a synthetic view that drew a narrative out of cutting-edge science and humanistic scholarship and the ability to recognize the significance of what she found when she opened a new translation of the Akhbār-i Moghūlān, or Mongol News. This source was published for the first time in 2009 by the Iranian historian Iraj Afshar, but only translated into English in 2018 as The Mongols in Iran, by George Lane. The medieval Iranian source is something of a jumble, perhaps the surviving notes for a more organized text that didn’t survive. Still, the report on the Mongol siege, Green realized, held the key piece of evidence she’d been looking for. As she cites in her article, Mongol News describes pestilence so terrible that the “people of Baghdad could no longer cope with ablutions and burial of the dead, so bodies were thrown into the Tigris River.” But even more importantly for Green, Mongol News notes the presence of grain wagons, pounded millet, from the lands of the Qara Khitai.

Suddenly, the pieces fit together. “I’ve already got my eye on the Tian Shan mountains, where the marmots are,” she says, and of course marmot-Mongol interaction could cause plague there, but didn’t explain long-distance transmission. “The scenario I’m putting together in my head is some sort of spillover event. Marmots don’t hang around people. They’re wild animals that will not willingly interact with humans. So the biological scenario I had to come up with is whatever is in the marmots had to be transferred to another kind of rodent.”

With the grain supply from Tian Shan linked to plague outbreak in Baghdad, it’s easy to conjecture a bacterium moving from marmots to other rodents, those rodents riding along in grain, and the plague vector revealed. “That was my eureka moment,” she says.

She had put the correct strain of the bacteria at the right place at the right time so that one infected rodent in a grain wagon train revealed the means of distribution of plague.

“Throughout her career, Dr. Green has combined humanism and science in ways that have brought a more clear understanding of the origins and spread of plague,” says Davis, from the Medieval Academy. “Her collaborations with historians, geneticists, paleobiologists, archaeologists and others untangle the genetic complexities of plague strains.”

That kind of interdisciplinary work would have been significant to scholars at any moment, but right now takes on particular relevance. “[Green] has worked to undermine imprecise and simplistic plague narratives and to explain to a ready public the importance of understanding historic plagues in context,” adds Davis “[Her] voice has been critical as we try to make sense of our own modern-day plague.”

Green also sees the relevance, especially as her study of plague variants and pandemic came out just as new variants of the Covid-19 pathogen were manifesting around the world. She tells me that her work didn’t change because of Covid, but the urgency did. “Plague,” Green says, “is our best ‘model organism’ for studying the history of pandemics because the history of it is now so rich, with the documentary and archaeological record being supplemented by the genetic record. All the work the virologists were doing in sequencing and tracking SARS-CoV-2's spread and genetic evolution was exactly the same kind of work that could be done for tracking Yersinia pestis's evolution and movements in the past.”

She wants her fellow scholars to focus on human agency both in history—those Mongols and their wagon trains—and now. The history of the Black Death tells “a powerful story of our involvement in creating this pandemic: this wasn't Mother Nature just getting angry with us, let alone fate. It was human activity.”

The world is only now—thanks to Green and many others (see her long bibliography of scholars from a wide variety of disciplines, time periods, and parts of the world)—really getting a handle on the true history of the Black Death. Next, she tells me, she has an article coming out with Nahyan Fancy, a medieval Islamist, on further textual evidence of plague outbreaks to supplement the Mongol News. Many of these 13th-century sources were previously known, but if you start with the assumption that the plague couldn’t be present until the 14th century, you’d never find them.

She imagines scholars may find plague in other places, once they start looking. In the meantime, the stakes for understanding how diseases move remains crucial as we wrestle with our own pandemic. I ask her what she thinks it all means for a world today still grappling with a pandemic. She replies, with a harrowing, centuries-look ahead, “The story I have reconstructed about the Black Death is 100 percent an emerging infectious disease story. . an ‘emerging’ disease lasted for 500-600 years. ”

About David M. Perry

David M. Perry is a freelance journalist covering politics, history, education, and disability rights. He was previously a professor of medieval history at Dominican University from 2006-2017.

Ware, Hertfordshire


Postcard pretty, this three-bed Tudor cottage backs on to the River Ash, with views over open countryside. Inside it is light, with beautifully presented gardens with mature shrubs, fruit trees and herbaceous borders. The lower garden has a play area.

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