29 November 2008

Sutton Hoo

The Oxford DNB has put up the Sutton Hoo ship burial as one of its biographies for the week (available till Thursday). An archaeological dig at Sutton Hoo in the 1930s found a ship burial with splendid grave goods from the early 7th century. (Steven J. Plunkett's picture of model of ship burial used under GNU Free Documentation Licence.)

Location of Sutton Hoo (the site itself is quite visible if you zoom in):

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The Sutton Hoo Society's website has a (not very) interactive map of the site, a good picture gallery and some archaeological information. The goods found were donated to the British Museum by the owner of the land at the time of the excavation, Mrs Edith May Pretty. The National Trust now owns the site and has information for visitors.

The most likely candidate for who was buried at Sutton Hoo is Rædwald, who was king of East Anglia and bretwald (high king of England) and died some time between 616 and 627. Bede has some passing references to Rædwald ( II.12 and 11.15), but nothing that would have led one to suspect the magnificence of this discovery. However, since Rædwald was a king who accepted Christianity and then changed his mind, and a king of East Anglia at that (Bede's focus is on Augustine's first mission to Kent and then on Northumbria), Bede would not have much to say about him. Rædwald was one of the Wuffing dynasty, and Dr. Sam Newton's site on the Wuffings naturally discusses Sutton Hoo in some detail.

23 November 2008

Falco and the Legions

Having recently witnessed the death of Moguntiacum in Eagle in the Snow, the Roman History Reading Group returns there with Marcus Didius Falco in The Iron Hand of Mars. Falco is sent to Moguntiacum, ostensibly with a gift from the Emperor for Legio XIV Gemina, who are sharing quarters with Legio I Adiutrix, where Helena Justina's brother is serving. Falco's own military service was with Legio II Augusta. This leads to problems.

For more information on Legio II Augusta, see Livius, RBO, UNRV, and Romanarmy.com.

For more information on Legio I Adiutrix, see Livius and RBO.

For more information on Legio XIV Gemina, see Livius and UNRV.

For general information on the Roman Army, two sites well worth exploring are Romanarmy.com and romanarmy.net.

The Youtube clip below shows the trailer for a documentary made about a re-enactment group which has taken the name Legio II Augusta.

22 November 2008

Columba and Iona

Saint Columba (521 - 597) came to Iona from Ireland. It's not entirely clear why. Some accounts say that he was sent into exile after his side lost in a feud, others that he was simply called to be a missionary to the Picts. Be that as it may, he took Iona as a convenient base not too far from the lands of the Scots (who were confusingly enough an Irish people) in the south-west of today's Scotland and those of the Picts in the north-east and founded a monastery there. Although he spent most of the rest of his life in Scotland, Columba did make one trip back to Durrow in Ireland, where he founded another monastery.

The Medieval Sourcebook has Adamnan's Life of St. Columba (for Adamnan, see these posts from Heavenfield), while the Catholic Encyclopedia has an early 20th century version of his life. As part of its series on the history of Scotland, the BBC has pages dedicated to St. Columba and Iona (unfortunately the video clips are not available to all).

The monastery on Iona flourished as a centre of learning until the monastery had to be abandoned in 825 due to repeated Viking raids. Iona Abbey was founded in 1200 but was closed in the Scottish Reformation. In 1938 the non-denominational Iona Community was founded and Iona is still a place of Christian pilgrimage today.

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The tab marked 'A' marks Iona in the above map. The Iona Community Council's site has tourist information and panoramas of the island. The band Iona has pictures from the island of Iona on their website.

The youtube video below is part of a series exploring why people come on pilgrimage to Iona.

18 November 2008

Zeugma Mosaics

Adrian Murdoch of Bread and Circuses draws our attention to the opening of a Mithraic temple at Zeugma (near Doliche in modern Turkey - marked A in the map below).

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The project's website includes these mosaics, but only thumbnail size, alas.

15 November 2008

William Rufus Update

Update on my post about the Norman Kings. The Oxford DNB's biography of William Rufus is available online for one week from today. (public domain image from wikicommons)

14 November 2008

Pyramus and Thisbe

As we move on into Book IV of Ovid's "Metamorphoses", Arsippe, one of the daughters of Minyas, tells Ovid's next story, Pyramus and Thisbe, a pair of lovers in Babylon whose parents forbid their marriage. They only way they can meet is by peering and whispering through a hole in the wall between their houses. They plan to elope. Thisbe arrives first at Ninus's tomb, their rendezvous point, but is scared by a lioness. She runs away, leaving behind her veil, which the lioness plays with. Pyramus sees the lioness's tracks and the torn veil. Convinced that Thisbe has been eaten he stabs himself. Thisbe returns to find his dead body and stabs herself in turn. Their blood spurting up dyes the berries on a nearby mulberry tree red. If all this sounds familiar, there are obvious parallels with the story of Romeo and Juliet, and it is also the "lamentable comedy" performed by the mechanicals in Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream". (Sten Porse's picture of mulberry from wikicommons used under creative commons 2.5 licence)

Of the two pictures below, the first, painted in 1520, is by Niklaus Manuel Deutsch and is now in Basel's Kunstmuseum (direct linking to the picture is not possible). The second picture, by Hans Baldung was painted in 1530 and is now in Berlin's Staatliche Museen (click on the link below the picture on the museum's site for descriptive text).

Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery has a painting of Pyramus and Thisbe by Dughet from the late 1650s, slightly later than the 1651 painting by Poussin shown below, which is now in Frankfurt's Städelsches Kunstinstitut (the image on the museum's page only shows the top half of the painting, go to zoom to see the whole thing).

In the last years of the 17th century, Abraham Hondius also painted Pyramus and Thisbe and his version is now in Rotterdam's Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.

At the beginning of the 20th century John William Waterhouse painted this picture called Thisbe or The Listener, now in a private collection.

And now, from YouTube is Shakespeare's version, with the characters played by The Beatles:

(all reproductions of paintings come from wikicommons and are in the public domain)

11 November 2008

The Virgin in the Ice

Cadfael's sixth adventure The Virgin in the Ice opens with the fall of Worcester into the hands of a besieging army in 1139. The Chronicle of John of Worcester provides this contemporary account.(photo from geograph by Richard Webb used under Creative Commons 2.0 licence

Much of the action of the story takes place on and around Titterstone Clee. The BBC provides a panorama from the top of Titterstone Clee, though I don't think they had the radar station there in Cadfael's day! The Been There Done That site has some still pictures, while the map below shows the location (the blue marker).

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04 November 2008

The Venerable Bede

The Venerable Bede (672/3 - 735) was given to the monastery of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow by his parents as an oblate when he was seven years old. Apart from short trips he spent the rest of his life in the monastery. In a brief note about himself appended to his "Ecclesiastical History of the English People", Bede said

... I was given, by the care of kinsmen, at seven years of age, to be educated by the most reverend Abbot Benedict, and afterwards by Ceolfrid, and spending all the remaining time of my life a dweller in that monastery, I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture; and amidst the observance of monastic rule, and the daily charge of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, or teaching, or writing. (Sellar's revision of J. A. Giles translation)(public domain picture from wikicommons of leaf from 8th century manuscript of Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English People", now in St. Petersburg)

Despite its rather dry title, Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" is probably his best-known and most-read work today. Bede also wrote biblical commentaries, biographies, hagiographies, hymns, and works on the Latin language and the calendar, and when he died he was working on a translation of John's Gospel into Old English. Although since Dionysius Exiguus fixed the date of Jesus's birth (and got it wrong!) and used it in tables for calculating the date of Easter each year, Bede was the first historian to use the year of Jesus's conception and birth as a fixed point for dating historical events. In effect, then, he invented the BC and AD system we use today.

Anglican and Catholic biographies of Bede.

The Medieval English Sourcebook has translations of some of Bede's works:
Ecclesiastical History of the English People, probably translated by L. C. Jane,
The Life of Saint Cuthbert, translated by J. A. Giles,
The Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, also translated by J. A. Giles.

The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has another translation of the "Ecclesiastical History of the English People".

The Online Library of Liberty has Bede's complete works in J. A. Giles's edition, some in both Latin and English, others only in Latin.

BBC Radio 4's discussion programme "In Our Time" devoted a programme to Bede (although you can still listen to the programme, many of the links on the research page are broken).

There is a museum in Jarrow about Anglo-Saxon Northumbria called Bede's World. I hesitate to say Michelle of Heavenfield's blog is about Bede, because it covers so much more about the people and places Bede wrote about, but anyway, it is well worth exploring.

James Doyle Penrose exhibited this painting titled "The Venerable Bede Translates John" at London's Royal Academy in 1902 but I have not been able to discover where it is now. For other artists' portrayals of Bede, search for Bede in this list of Anglo-Saxon themed paintings from Cambridge University.(public domain picture from about.com's Medieval and Renaissance History Portrait Gallery)

The Youtube clip below has a church choir singing one of Bede's hymns.