Monday, October 19, 2020

Anti-popes

 What are anti-popes?  They are people elected as pope, in defiance of other people electing someone else as pope, who are later decided not really to have been popes at all.  How can you tell the difference?  Well, at the time it's hard to say.  But the ones who won are, by definition, the real popes, and their opponents are the anti-popes.
 

As I've discussed earlier, the popes were mostly considered irrelevant until the second half of the eleventh century.  Once they became relevant, recognized as the real heads of the church hierarchy, anti-popes began to be elected.  (I guess it shows the importance of the papacy that it was worth having a big argument over who was really pope.)


Sometimes popes were elected as part of political quarrels, such as the quarrel between Gregory VII (pope 1073-1085) and Henry, German king and Roman emperor, where the two were engaged in the Investiture Controvery over whether pope or emperor was the ultimate authority in a Christian empire.  Henry chose an anti-pope and the pope chose an anti-emperor, and things went downhill from there.  That's an image of Pope Gregory VII below.

 Sometimes there would be a disagreement within the college of cardinals itself over who to elect.  The cardinals have been the official only people to elect popes since the 1050s.  They are a "college" not like a university but rather in the word's original meaning, a collection of people making decisions (think Electoral College).  For example, in 1130 the electors split between two powerful cardinals, the one elected as Innocent II and the other elected as Anaclete II.  Both took the names of semi-legendary popes of the first centuries of Christendom (popes have, since the early Middle Ages, chosen new names that are intended to be significant).

Things were ugly for a while (Anaclete was accused of being Jewish, among other things), but most of Europe followed Innocent, including the French king.  This split was finally resolved when Anaclete died (1138), and his followers made their peace with Innocent.  This was the normal pattern:  one side or the other would lose support, and there wouldn't be more than one anti-pope before reconciliation.

But the biggest split was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when during the Great Schism there were first two and then three popes, at Rome and Avignon and Pisa, over a period of close to forty years.  Stay tuned for more details.

© C. Dale Brittain 2020

For more on the medieval church, see my ebook, Positively Medieval:  Life and Society in the Middle Ages.  Also available in paperback.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Bees in the Middle Ages

For most of the Middle Ages, the only sweetener available (other than the naturally occuring sugars in fruit) was honey. Honey could be gathered from wild hives if one were lucky (and avoided being stung), but medieval people also domesticated and kept bees. The honey bee, so necessary to pollination of fruits in North America, is descended from the medieval domestic bee. Note bee in the image below.
(Honey bees, and with them the crops they pollinate, are in danger today due to so-called hive collapse, due to climate change and probably a mite, but that's a separate story.)

Bee-keeping was actually quite similar in the Middle Ages to what is done now, hives tended by someone wearing protective gear who knows how to keep the bees from getting too excited (domestic bees are a lot calmer than wild bees or wasps or hornets). Monasteries and manors all had hives. The honey was used for sweetening, the wax for candles, and the bees themselves to pollinate orchards.

Bees were considered busy and industrious creatures. They were often found in bestiaries, books about different kinds of animals and their habits. It was often said that they were called bees (apies in Latin) because they had no feet (a- plus pedes, meaning feet). Now of course bees have perfectly good feet, as everyone knew, so the story was they were born without feet and that's why they got their name. (Talk about implausible folk etymology.)

Jeweled bees were found in the tomb of King Childeric (5th century, father of Clovis), probably symbolizing hard work and attention. Napoleon, trying to identify hiself with a millennium and a half of French rule, also used bees as a symbol.

© C. Dale Brittain 2020

For more on medieval agriculture, see the ebook, Positively Medieval, available from Amazon and other on-line bookstores. Also available in paperback.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Fantasy Book Covers

For those of you who enjoy my fantasy books, you'll be interested to learn that I'm finishing a new book in my "Starlight Raven" series (aka Yurt the Next Generation). It's not quite finished yet, but I've got a cover! 

As indie authors as we are called (independent author/publishers) have proliferated, writing and selling both ebooks and paperbacks, a parallel industry has grown up, to edit books or format them or illustrate them. I edit and format my own books, but my graphic artist skills aren't up to painting my own covers. (I've got some covers that are based on my photographs, but I have never, just for example, been able to take a photo of a purple flying beast whose skin becomes an air cart.)

So I've gone to the company "EbookLaunch" for the covers for my "Starlight Raven" series. Dane, who did the previous two covers in the series, is doing "The Sapphire Ring." Getting a picture that shows what you want goes through several stages, starting with a sketch.
Then the picture is colored in, and finally the whole cover emerges.

A book cover is an illustration of the book, but that's not really its purpose in life, and sometimes it won't even illustrate a specific scene. Rather, its purpose is to suggest the genre of the book (for example, you are unlikely to look at this and think space exploration or pirate story or a near-future political thriller), and to intrigue the potential reader. With luck this person will dip into the book, like how it's written, and buy the book. 

So if the cover seems intriguing, look forward to the book! 

 © C. Dale Brittain 2020

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Pigs

It's October, time to fatten up the pigs, or at least it would have been in the Middle Ages.

Pigs were one of the few farm animals medieval people raised primarily for their meat.  They would eat essentially any animal (at least after it got too old), but sheep were raised for wool and sheepskin (parchment), cattle for milk and leather and pulling the plow, goats for milk and wool, horses for transportation, and so on.  Pigskin could be used for various projects, but the real value of pigs was found in pork roasts, ham, bacon, and sausage.

Pigs are not friendly creatures.  Don't let the cute cartoon version fool you.  There's a reason you never see a pig in a petting zoo.  They are close relatives of wild boars, and although they were (more or less) domesticated thousands of years ago, they have never been as thoroughly domesticated as sheep or, say, dogs, most of whom have left their wolf ancestors far, far behind.

 Sus scrofa domesticus, miniature pig, juvenile.jpg

The great advantage of pigs is that they can essentially feed themselves.  They, like humans, are omnivorous, eating both meat and vegetable matter.  In the ancient Mediterranean, they were probably the most commonly eaten meat, because they were relatively easy to raise to full eating-size.  The Jews, and after them the Muslims, rejected pork as a religious marker, which distinguished them from everybody else.

(You'll sometimes see it suggested that the Jews kept away from pork to avoid trichinosis, but this seems very unlikely—they didn't know about it specifically, it's avoidable if pork is cooked thoroughly, other animals can also have parasites, and the rest of the ancient world flourished just fine eating pork.)

Medieval people might raise a piglet out in back of the house, even in the cities.  The oldest son of King Louis VI of France was killed when he and some friends were having horse races through the streets of Paris (one assumes beer was involved), and what was described as a porcus diabolicus got loose from its pen and tangled with the prince's horse, throwing him to his death.

But most pigs were allowed to be self-sufficient for most of the year (for one thing, pigs stink), at most herded into new grazing areas periodically.  October in the oak woods was an especially good time, because acorns (called mast) were one of pigs' favorite foods.

In November, once the pigs were fattened up, they were rounded up and slaughtered.  Pig harvest was great.  Everyone ate their fill of fresh pork for a few days, probably the most meat they'd eat at one time all year, and the rest was smoked, salted, and made into ham and bacon and sausage.  It was much more heavily smoked and salted than modern products, because it had to last for many months without refrigeration.

Neither pigs nor boars are native to the New World, but the Spanish brought pigs to their colonies, some of whom escaped, and wild boars were introduced into the US for hunting purposes.  (Medieval aristocrats had also enjoyed hunting boars.)  Feral pigs, which cross-breed with the wild "razor back hogs" (boars), are very destructive (and dangerous) in some areas now, for they they root up the ground and kill ground-nesting birds, and are treated as an invasive species.

© C. Dale Brittain 2020

For more on farm animals and other aspects of life in the Middle Ages, see the ebook, Positively Medieval, available from Amazon and other on-line bookstores.  Also available in paperback.


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Medieval disease

Until the era of Covid-19, Americans didn't worry too much about disease.  Some diseases that had been real killers, like smallpox, have been eradicated, and others, like polio, have been nearly eradicated, due to vaccines.  Some so-called childhood diseases, like measles and mumps, are unlikely if parents get their children vaccinated.  There are vaccines for seasonal flu and for pneumonia.

These are all viral diseases, where the best bet is to build up the body's own immunity (through vaccines).  For bacterial diseases, including even nasty diseases like Lyme disease or bubonic plague, there are antibiotics.  Antibiotics are also very helpful in fighting off any kind of infection.

There were neither vaccines nor antibiotics in the Middle Ages.  For that matter, vaccines were invented in the nineteenth century and antibiotics in the mid-twentieth.  Thus medieval people had to worry about disease a lot more than modern westerners have done in recent generations.  A nasty infection could be a death sentence.  So could polluted water.

There's a reason that child mortality was a lot higher then than it is now, and that the average life expectancy, which is now in the 80s for people in the US, was more like the 50s.  People got worn out, and something or other might sicken and kill you.

(Of course, as I have discussed earlier, some people lived a very long life then, but a lot fewer than now.)

 You might ask, how could people cope with all that death?  In fact one could ask that very question now.  As I write, the Covid-19 death toll in the US is at 200,000 in seven months, or the equivalent of three jumbo jets falling out of the sky and killing everyone on board every day for that period.  And yet people have grown numb.  Families that have lost someone are of course devastated, but for many of the rest the raw terror has long since worn off, and getting together with friends or going to a show seems "worth the risk."  Medieval people would also have been devastated when a family member died, especially a child, but they went about their daily affairs without thinking too much about disease.

There were of course exceptions, most notably the Black Death (bubonic plague), especially its two big outbreaks in the sixth century and the fourteenth (but not in between).  This really was scary, because it spread and killed so fast.  Like Covid, it was easily spread by people who had not yet developed symptoms, so someone trying to escape it could infect those in the place to which they fled.  Strict quarantine measures were put in place, but they were of only limited success, given how close everyone lived to each other in an urban environment.  A city might seem fine one day, and two weeks later three-quarters of the inhabitants would be dead.  They couldn't bury them fast enough.

The plague retreated once "herd immunity" had developed, that is enough people had caught a mild case and recovered that it wasn't being spread any more, but in the meantime probably a third of Europe's population had died.  This is why waiting for herd immunity to save us from Covid is not a viable option.

And the plague's aftermath disrupted Europe's economy for a century, as I have discussed earlier.

Besides the plague, the Middle Ages had most of the same diseases we do, except they didn't have syphilis, which originated in the Americas, and some believe they didn't have our "common cold."  The second most terrifying disease, after the plague, was leprosy.  Lepers, whose skin and eventually toes and fingers shriveled and fell off, were shunned, treated essentially as AIDS patients were when that disease first emerged toward the end of the twentieth century.



Sick people either got well at home or, increasingly, in hospitals.  A hospital was closer to what we would call a hospice, a place where the sick person was kept warm and clean and treated with chicken soup and saint's dust.  The wealthy would endow such hospitals as an act of charity.  (Lepers weren't allowed in hospitals but had to go to their own leper-houses.)  Above are the beds in the medieval hospital of Beaune.

© C. Dale Brittain 2020

For more on medieval health and other aspects of medieval history, see my ebook Positively Medieval, available on Amazon and other ebook platforms.  Also available in paperback.






Saturday, September 19, 2020

Medieval soap

"Wash your hands!"  We've been told this since we were little kids, and in a time of pandemic it's especially important.  We assume (rightly) that soap is a crucial ingredient of the process.  Did medieval people have soap?  Yes indeed, though not our kind of soap, in handy wrapped bars or even decorative shapes, smelling delicately of verbena or sandlewood.



The ancient world had not been big on soap, although they knew about it.  Athletes had cleaned up after exercise by smearing themselves with oil and sand, then scraping off the sand with little scrapers, taking the sweat with it.  You can buy "olive oil soap" today, but it's not the same.

Soap is made from mixing rendered fat or oil with a "base" (a base as opposed to an acid, think back to high school chemistry).  Medieval people cooked down (rendered) the fat from meat, which we often throw away, and mixed it with lye made from mixing water with wood ash.  This made a powerful soap, good for dissolving dirt and killing bacteria (although they didn't know about bacteria, they recognized that cleanliness was healthier).  Soap usually didn't come in bars but was soft, more like liquid soap (but no handy pump-top dispensers), and had no delicate fragrance.  Lard-based soap could become more or less solid, though oil-based soap stayed more or less liquid.  This was the normal soap in Europe and the US until the mid-nineteenth century.

(One may note that lard, made from pig fat, is often still recommended for pie crusts, and you can buy it at the grocery store.  But I digress.)

This pre-modern soap would not be described as "gentle on your hands."  Farm families could and did make their own.  In medieval cities, however, soap-making could be a skilled profession, even sometimes a guild, with the different soap-makers promoting soap that came in balls rather than as a thick liquid (making it more convenient), even scented with minced lavender leaves or the like.

Between the difficulty of heating up enough hot water for a bath and not wanting to scrub too much lye-based soap on your delicate parts, medieval people did not bathe as often as the modern model.  They valued cleanliness, but some things are just not easy.

© C. Dale Brittain 2020

For more on health and hygiene in the Middle Ages, see my book, Positively Medieval:  Life and Society in the Middle Ages, available in paperback or as an ebook from Amazon and other on-line booksellers.


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Medieval schools

It's back to school time!  Except for now, in the era of pandemic, a lot of schools are being delayed or carrying out teaching on-line (obviously impossible in the Middle Ages, or for that matter the twentieth century).  Did schools open in September in the twelfth century?

Short answer, no.  For starters, there were no public schools.  In fact, what we think of as normal, that is more-or-less universal education provided at public schools, appeared for the first time in the nineteenth century.  And it was not until the 1960s that a concerted effort was made to get everybody even in the US into school until they turned 18.

Now, in the midst of pandemic, there is a great deal of concern about the need for education, complete with dire threats about how children will be hurt if they can't get back in the classroom.  Medieval parents would have been surprised to hear that their children would suffer permanent harm by not attending school.

Medieval schools were all associated with churches. Monasteries and nunneries all had schools attached where children who joined, as their parents' offering to God, would get a good classical education.  They would need it when they grew up to be monks or nuns.  The less-strict monasteries, cathedrals, houses of canons regular, and nunneries would often offer an education to day-students as well, ones who did not intend to enter the cloister themselves but who wanted at least a little education.  These schools ran all year, rather than fall through spring.  It was of course expected that parents would pay for them.

As Europe was overwhelmingly Christian, these schools taught Christianity along with reading, arithmetic, and a little history and geography and music.  Europe's Jewish and Muslim minorities had their own schools.  There were no "atheist" schools.  Medieval people would not have understood why schools today can't teach religion, just as they wouldn't be able to grasp the separation of church and state.

Both aristocrats and well-to-do townspeople would send their children as day-students to these church-connected schools.  But this was usually not the children's first experience with education.  Mothers would teach their children the rudiments of reading and figuring when they were five or six, just as mothers still often do.  Note that this is one of many indications of the important role played in society then by medieval women.

When students got to school, initially all learning was in Latin.  At a minimum they would be able to read Latin; the best-educated would also be able to write.  Note that being able to read and able to write are two different skills, even though we now group them together (see more here on medieval literacy).  By the late twelfth century, a lot of schooling started taking place in the vernacular, Old French, Old Italian, Middle High German, or whatever.  Young aristocrats seem more inclined to be able to write in their normal spoken language than in Latin (not surprising).  Many composed stories and poems.

But how about the great mass of the population that was not aristocratic and did not intend their children for careers in the church?  They never went to a formal school or learned to read and write.  Modern schools have summers off, which is left over from nineteenth-century efforts to get the farmer's children to attend (children were needed to help on the farm in the busy growing season).  If medieval peasants had to agree to a formal agreement, they would make a mark on the parchment in place of a signature, usually an unsteady short line.

This did not mean that they were ignorant.  They might have quite advanced technical skills.  Farming is hard.  So is being a miller, a baker, a brewer, a blacksmith, a wheelwright, a mason, or the other skilled trades that a peasant village needed.  These people would know basic figuring and would know how to keep track of things (like money), even if they knew no Latin.

Education expanded in the late Middle Ages, especially in Renaissance Italy, but it was still something for townspeople, not for peasants.  Parents would send their son off to school with a servant, who was supposed to learn along with the boy and beat him if he didn't do his homework.

Starting in the twelfth century, the ambitious young man (not woman) might want to continue his education at a university.  Basic schooling would be over by age 14 or so, and it was off to the university, to learn complicated subjects, like theology or Roman law or medicine, and to drink and have fun.  University students were primarily from families of well-to-do townspeople.  The Sorbonne in Paris, pictured below (though this is a post-medieval building), was the most prestigious medieval university.  (See more here on medieval universities.)



© C. Dale Brittain 2020

For more on medieval social history, see my book, Positively Medieval:  Life and Society in the Middle Ages, available on Amazon and other e-tailers, either as an ebook or in print.