From Slavery to Students: 10 Medieval Studies’ Articles Published Last Month

What is new in medieval studies? Here are ten articles published in November, which tell us about topics including Henry of Lancaster’s Revolt, a street in Oslo, a translation of an Icelandic poem, and the Newport Ship. 

This series on Medievalists.net highlights what has been published in journals over the last month that deal with the Middle Ages. All ten articles are Open-Access, meaning you can read them for free.

‘Slaves’ and ‘Slave Owners’ or ‘Enslaved People’ and ‘Enslavers’?

By James Robert Burns

Transactions of the Royal Historical Society

Abstract: Studies of slavery increasingly refer to ‘enslaved people’ rather than ‘slaves’, and, to a lesser extent, to ‘enslavers’ rather than ‘slave owners’. This trend began with scholarship in the United States on plantation slavery but has spread to other academic publications. Yet ‘slave’ continues to be widely used, indicating not everyone is aware of the change or agrees with it. Despite this, few historians have justified their terminology.

After surveying the extent of the preference for ‘enslaved person’, I discuss arguments for and against it. Supporters of using ‘enslaved person’ argue that this term emphasises that a person was forced into slavery – but this emphasis means it is less able to accommodate early medieval cases where people sold themselves into slavery. The accompanying preference for ‘enslaver’ over ‘master’ obscures dynamics of ownership and manumission. In addition, ‘enslaved people’ and ‘enslaver’ do not necessarily bring us away from the perspective of slaveholders to the perspective of slaves. Nor are they essential for readers to appreciate the humanity of slaves. Overall, historians should use this issue as an opportunity to reflect on the extent to which scholarship of transatlantic slavery should set the terms of debate for slavery studies in general.

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Women in the medieval university: A reappraisal of the life and myth of Bolognese Novella d’Andrea from the fourteenth to the twentieth century

By Rosa Smurra

Klio: Czasopismo poświęcone dziejom Polski i powszechnym

Abstract: The literary sources and accounts analyzed in the article concern Novella d’Andrea, the daughter of Giovanni d’Andrea, an outstanding professor at the University of Bologna. This study analyzes the unprecedented case of a woman teaching law at a university in the first half of the 14th century; her cultural and family environment was also portrayed. The sources analyzed here that record her memory include, in particular, the account of Krystyna de Pizan, whose fragment devoted to Novella was reinterpreted, as well as sources disseminating misleading information, generating many ambiguities around the historical figure of Novella d’Andrea. The works of visual art analyzed here, which, like literary works, fueled the myth of Novella d’Andrea, also include those that have so far been ignored by the historiography devoted to the figure of this 14th-century woman who broke the “glass ceiling”.

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Monks and the Muslim Enemy: Conversion, Polemic and Resistance in Monastic Hagiography in the Age of the Crusades, c. 1000–1250

By Andrew Jotischky

Transactions of the Royal Historical Society

Abstract: Although most accounts of Christian encounters with Muslims in the period between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries pay particular attention to conflict and violence, a body of hagiographical texts emanating from monastic circles points to a different kind of approach.

In this article I foreground three examples of Italo-Greek saints’ lives from the tenth and early eleventh centuries in which the saints in question treat Muslims whom they encounter as potential converts, and explain to them the tenets of Christian theology. These texts are examined as precursors of the Cluniac ‘dossier’ compiled about Abbot Maiolus’s encounter with Muslims in the 990s. Two of the three saints’ lives were translated from Greek into Latin, one in the late eleventh, the other in the late twelfth century. The motives for and circumstances of these translations are discussed in light of growing hostility towards the Islamic world during the period of the crusades.

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Henry of Lancaster’s Revolt (1328–29): Conflict, the Politics of Kingship, and the Political Public in Fourteenth-Century England

By Matt Raven

The English Historical Review

Abstract: The late medieval period was an important phase in the history of political communication in England, as more people than ever before became involved in debates about royal governance. The first half of the fourteenth century, however, has been relatively under-studied in this regard. This article analyses a set of arguments put forward during a revolt led by Henry, earl of Lancaster, in 1328–29. After outlining the revolt’s historical and historiographical context, the article reveals how three key themes—the provision of advice; the moral responsibilities attached to royal finance; and the state of the king’s peace—were contested in 1328–29.

It then turns to the public orientation of these arguments to suggest that this contest reveals a growing need to engage a political public in order to acquire legitimacy when seeking to reform, or to defend, the direction of royal government. In turn, this helped to set out what the most legitimate paths of political action were and what terms needed to be taken up to describe them by those who wished to involve themselves in the politics of kingship. It is argued that Lancaster’s revolt held a significant position in a much broader history of political communication in England, in which political legitimacy in the exercise of royal authority was claimed before, evaluated by, and generated through a critical body of public opinion which interacted with Plantagenet rule.

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Noble violence and civic justice: rural lords under trial in the Italian city communes 1276–1322

By Lorenzo Caravaggi

Journal of Medieval History 

Abstract: This article analyses three criminal suits brought against nobles from rural districts of two Italian city-communes who were accused of homicide, robbery, and assault – and focuses on their courtroom defences. By the late 1200s, chivalric values and lifestyle were at odds with the political culture promoted by civic governments, while rural lords had lost most of their ancient privileges and independence to the cities.

Nonetheless, in courtrooms, nobles often presented themselves as proud members of the chivalric warrior elite. The defendants may have sought to exploit the publicity of criminal trials to negotiate power and prerogatives with civic governments. Their chivalric ‘self-portraits’ were adapted to the expectations of civic audiences, and were combined with legalistic arguments and appeals to municipal laws. More generally, this article investigates the reception of judicial institutions and examines the effects of the encounter between different value-systems and ‘languages’ in pre-modern polities.

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St Adalbert as a stranger-king: The heroization and estrangement of a holy man in the Middle Ages

By Wojtek Jezierski

History and Anthropology 

Abstract: There was no holy king in Poland during the Middle Ages. Although the Piast polity belonged to the North-eastern European periphery (East-Central Europe and Scandinavia), where essentially all post-1000 CE polities boasted dynastic martyred holy rulers of native origin, the Piasts never elevated a member of their kin to such a position. The present article takes this puzzling exception as a point of departure to advance the argument that the episcopal holy patron of Poland of Bohemian origin – St Adalbert (c. 956–997) – may in many regards be interpreted as a version of Marshall Sahlins’s stranger-king.

By combining anthropological theory and comparative evidence, the article explores the locally produced hagiographical sources from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries in order to demonstrate how St Adalbert’s heroic status and retroactively invented ethnic and sacral otherness were exploited for the purposes of institutional and king-like legitimacy vis-à-vis the Polish people. In its conclusions the article argues that concepts and comparative methods from political anthropology can help us to reconsider the category of holy rulers and offer new ways of reading hagiographical sources as political treatises.

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Oxygen Isotope Dendrochronology of the Newport Medieval Ship

By Nigel Nayling , Neil J. Loader, Roderick J. Bale, Darren Davies, Danny McCarroll and Valérie Daux

International Journal of Nautical Archaeology

Abstract: Since the discovery of the Newport Medieval Ship in 2002, many studies have tried to establish a chronology for its construction and subsequent abandonment. Whilst conventional ring-width dendrochronology has been able to identify the provenance and provide a terminus post quem for the ship, until now a felling date for timbers associated with the original construction of the vessel has proved elusive.

This study reports results from the application of stable isotope dendrochronology to date timbers from the ship. Using a combination of dendrochronologically-dated timbers and stable oxygen isotopic data from dated and undated samples, we can provide an independent verification of the ring-width dendrochronology and to return the first felling dates for an assemblage of the ship’s framing timbers. Our results indicate that the ship was likely constructed shortly after the winter of AD 1457/8 with an operational lifetime of less than a decade. The study highlights the potential for the use of stable isotope dendrochronology for the precise, absolute dating of archaeological ship remains where ring-width dendrochronology alone has not proved effective.

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The Academic Market and the Rise of Universities in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (1000-1800)

By David de la Croix, Frédéric Docquier, Alice Fabre and Robert Stelter

Journal of the European Economic Association

Abstract: We argue that market forces shaped the geographic distribution of upper-tail human capital across Europe during the Middle Ages, and contributed to bolstering universities at the dawn of the Humanistic and Scientific Revolutions. We build a unique database of thousands of scholars from university sources covering all of Europe, construct an index of their ability, and map the academic market in the medieval and early modern periods. We show that scholars tended to concentrate in the best universities (agglomeration), that better scholars were more sensitive to the quality of the university (positive sorting) and migrated over greater distances (positive selection). Agglomeration, selection and sorting patterns testify to an integrated academic market, made possible by the use of a common language (Latin).

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Vestre strete: Medieval Oslo’s most important and least understood thoroughfare

By Michael Derrick

Collegium Medievale

Abstract: The year 2022 marked the centenary of the first attempt by Gerhard Fischer at mapping medieval Oslo based on archaeological and written sources. Included in the map is a reconstruction of Vestre strete (Western Street), Oslo’s main street in the medieval period linking the king’s manor (Kongsgården) in the south with the bishop’s manor (Bispegården) and St Hallvard’s Church (Hallvardskirken) in the north. For over a hundred years there has been some debate around the northern section of Vestre strete which was assumed to have run from the medieval stone cellar of Belgen in the south towards St Hallvard’s Church in the north. New archaeological evidence has emerged from the Follo Line and Bispegata tram line projects that challenges the accepted route of Vestre strete first proposed by Fischer and later by Hans Emil Lidén and Erik Schia in 1987.

In this article I intend to show that the evidence used to support Lidén and Schia’s route is weak. I will use the new archaeological evidence to propose an alternative route which not only incorporates Belgen and other stone buildings, but which also presents Vestre strete in a new light, as an important thoroughfare comparable to those found in other European medieval towns.

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The Fox as a Dying Hero: An Edition and Translation of the Late Medieval Icelandic Poem Skaufalabálkur

By Haukur Þorgeirsson and William Sayers

Scandinavian-Canadian Studies

Abstract: The late-medieval Icelandic poem Skaufalabálkur describes the final hunting trip of an old fox in a style mimicking heroic epic. The work is traditionally connected with poets working at or near Skarð in Western-Iceland in the 15th century and we argue here that the language of the poem is consistent with that dating. This new edition presents a text of the poem based on the oldest manuscript with some advances in the reading and interpretation of certain words. The translation aims to accurately transmit the poem’s rich vocabulary pertaining to the life of foxes and medieval farming in the subarctic and to accessibly convey a satiric gem to a modern audience.

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See also: Articles from October 2023

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Top Image: A medieval slave market – BNF MA Arabe 5847, fol. 105r

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