Insult “Culture” and Violence in Early Merovingian Gaul – short essay

I have a treasure trove of weird, short papers I’ve done throughout my academic and professional career. Every now and then, I revisit my folders to find a source, and run into an occasional gem of an essay that was either an assignment, or a way for me to start additional research that I never followed up on.

My persona is most definitely not Merovingian, nor do I play one on TV, but I’ve spent more time reading Salic Law than I want to admit. This article is a very short paper I wrote examining the use of insults to incite feuds. After Pennsic, I think I’m going to revisit this topic and expand it into something more suitable for publication in an SCA context, because insults!

If you are interested in citing this, I’ve posted a version of it on Academia.edu here for access, please do not cite my blog:

https://www.academia.edu/36922447/Insult_Culture_and_Violence_in_Early_Merovingian_Gaul


Insult “Culture” and Violence in Early Merovingian Gaul

Gregory of Tours made his opinion of the Merovingian rulers quite clear throughout his Historia. These Frankish kings and queens were nothing more than brutish, blood-thirsty, and revenge-driven maniacs who turned a blind eye to the Church and its teachings, much to the chagrin of the bishop holding the pen. Gregory’s words were rather scathing, but in between the lines of disdain toward the violence inherent in the line of Long Haired Kings, the Bishop of Tours provides other clues as to what was going on to bring about such ensanguined entropy. The paper will argue that intense gossip and insults may have been used as a tool to provoke feuds, and incite violence in aristocratic Merovingian society.

Salic Law, during which the first draft was composed under Clovis I around the year 500, has an entire section devoted to insults, and the fines (wergeld) that they carry.[1] These insults range from being rather base by accusing somebody of homosexuality, or accusing them of being an informant or calumniator. This speaks a great deal of how strongly an insult was taken in the Frankish kingdom for it to have been codified in law. If these accusations were strong enough to incite the paying of wergeld to the victim, then what would the odds have been that such pejorative phrases would incite violence as a response, and that the laws were conceived in attempts to stop this response?

Autumn Dolan explores this avenue in her paper on the topic, “’You Would Do Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut’: The Significance of Talk in Sixth-Century Gaul.” Dolan states that the social ramifications of such things could have gravely damaged reputations more so than a sword could.[2] Dolan herself focuses more on just the culture of verbiage that is evident in Salic Law, but also reverts back to Gregory’s histories. Gregory served up the tale of Firmin, the Count of Clermont, and Caesaria, his mother-in-law, in Book IV of his Historia, during which Firmin was “offered serious insults” by Chramnus, and forced to seek sanctuary in the cathedral with his mother-in-law.[3] Chramnus then orders to have them taken from the cathedral, and does so by send a man to basically lie to them in attempts to get them to leave. As soon as they were within arm’s reach of the open cathedral doors, they were taken into custody violently, and sent into exile.

Dolan uses this as only one example of how insults could be dangerous, but fails to mention that the use of the insults, and subsequent lying to coax the two from the church, was a gateway to a violent end. Using the insults here was a catalyst, not the be-all-end-all technique to scare somebody away. Firmin and Caesaria were not just told to go away, they sought sanctuary because they knew that they were in immediate danger due to the defamation of their character. Since the insults were from the mouth of the king, versus anybody else, the idea of receiving compensation went just as easy as they were plucked from the door of the church. In the end, Chramnus got what he wanted. It is possible that if Firmin had taken the insults and immediately fled into exile, that they would not have been pursued, but the fact that he chose to stay in Clermont meant that he believed there was a sliver of a chance for a fight, either legal or physical, but in the end it took nothing more than the bishop to turn his back, and devious lies to draw them back into danger.

The laws pertaining to certain infractions against women may also demonstrate how such attacks could be taken not just as defamation against the woman in question, but also to her family. Dolan alludes to this in her paper as well, and offers a quote from Gregory, when Chilperic exclaims that the “slander of my wife is considered my shame.”[4] Referring back to Salic Law, an interesting excerpt involves the releasing a woman’s hair from its restraints. This would cost the assailant a wergeld of thirty solidi, no small fine by any means.[5] It would seem obvious that, with the law written in such a way to discourage violence, that heavy fines were put into place in order to discourage this behavior knowing that the shaming of an aristocratic woman could result in subsequent bloodshed in the form of a feud. This of course doubles back to the chapter on insults.

Laws are written for a reason. With dedicated chapters on insults in Salic Law,  and Gregory of Tours’ interesting accounts of violent happenings in sixth century Gaul, it appears that an actual culture of shaming individuals as a way to spark feuds may have been a common occurrence in what Gregory described as a violent society. Whether it be a way to get under the skin of a political rival, or a backhanded attack by pulling a woman’s hair, the Merovingian’s certainly had a dark way of dealing with their business.

 

Bibliography

Gregory of Tours. “History of the Franks”. In From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. Edited and translated by Alexander Callander Murray. University of Toronto Press: Toronto. 2000.

Gregory of Tours. “History of the Franks”. In The Internet History Sourcebook. Edited by Paul Halsall. Translated by Ernest Brehaut. https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gregory-hist.asp. Accessed November 22, 2015.

“The Salic Law (Lex Salica.)” In From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. Edited and translated by Alexander Callander Murray. University of Toronto Press: Toronto. 2000.

Dolan, Autumn. “‘You Would Do Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut:’ The Significance of Talk in Sixth Century Gaul.” In Proceedings from The Western Society for French History 40 (2012.) http://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wsfh/0642292.0040.001?view=text;rgn=main. Accessed November 22, 2015.

 

Notes

[1] “The Salic Law (Lex Salica.)” In From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. Ed. and trans by Alexander Callander Murray. (University of Toronto Press: Toronto. 2000.) 552.

[2] Autumn Dolan, “‘You Would Do Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut:’ The Significance of Talk in Sixth Century Gaul.” In Proceedings from The Western Society for French History 40 (2012.) http://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wsfh/0642292.0040.001?view=text;rgn=main. Accessed November 22, 2015.

[3] Gregory of Tours. “History of the Franks”. In The Internet History Sourcebook. Ed. by Paul Halsall. Trans. by Ernest Brehaut. https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gregory-hist.asp. Accessed November 22, 2015. Located on page 308 in the Murray edition, however it is abridged. The Internet History Sourcebook has the complete chapter.

[4] Dolan, 5, Gregory of Tours, VI.49.

[5] Salic Law CIV 1-3, as noted by Dolan.

How I became a liturgist: The Coronation Ordo of Brennan III and Caoilfhionn III

In November, I was asked (or rather, crashed a Facebook convo) regarding the new Eastern heirs coronation wishes. Byzantine!

Having worked with the couple before for their first coronation (wherein I was a spooky Vestal Virgin reading a scary prophecy) I knew that their love of display and theater is something that I had missed dearly living in Caid. At the time, the Norman still had orders back to the East Kingdom, so we were planning on being around for the spring coronation anyway.  I didn’t hesitate in agreeing to help build them their wish. Even after the orders were changed, I decided I wouldn’t drop the project, and that we would find a way to make the pilgrimage back home to the East Kingdom for one event.

Since I was most familiar with the source materials, I would develop the coronation ceremony, as well as ensure that the kingdom looked as fabulous as possible, despite my distance. So in January, after our move across the country, I sat in the library for a few hours and pecked away at the page here on my site to help folks get dressed. Once I was finally able to get internet installed, I located the primary source for the Coronation, and began my work in writing the modus.

I had several personal goals in mind:
– The ceremony had to be based on authentic period procedure.
– The ceremony had to be secularized and welcoming, but still “sacred”.
– The ceremony had to contain the traditions and relics of the East Kingdom.

The first two I could do, but the third I called in the reserves, and reached out to Master Steffan ap Kennydd, who I had worked with before, for his knowledge of ceremony and the needs of an East Kingdom-specific ordo.

The source depended on what period their royal highnesses desired. Both the 6th and 10th Centuries were brought up, and after some gentle nudging toward the later option, I was able to go forward with working with De Cerimoniis/The Book of Ceremonies by Constantine VII Pophryogennetos.  Drafted in the mid 10th Century as a court manual for his heir, the book contains a collection of various ceremonies pertaining to the Byzantine court: coronations of the emperor, the empress, how to address foreign dignitaries, how to invest an officer of the court, and what to wear to the emperor’s birthday dinner. I knew that the coronation ceremony was available online here, but after some eyelash-batting toward the husband following our tax return, I purchased the full paperback copy that was available through Brill Publishing, in an updated translation that would help me pick up anything that was missed, including the separate coronation ceremony of the empress.  (as of April 10th, 2018, I’m not seeing the print version available. Just the ebook here: http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/9789004344921 )

It took me a good week to really get my first draft where I wanted it to be. And then, the Facebook chats began. I’m not really sure how other kingdoms work, but at least in the East, being that the coronations are often a production, so there’s a lot of moving parts after just the ceremony.  My work was far from over. I made sure Steffan saw it first, and then passed it on to their highnesses, and Brigantia Principal Herald, Malcolm. For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to go into much detail on what was discussed, but mostly it was taking what I had written, plugging in the East Kingdom ceremonies, and figuring out logistics on music, and the performance of the demes (circus factions) leading the acclamations.

Mistress Margretha reached out to me to help with the music, and we decided that a processional hymn would be ideal. I pinged Martyn Halliwell and Mistress Aneleda for demoi assist, and Martyn just took it and ran with it. We were getting close, and my confidence was waning, if it wasn’t for Margretha and Martyn, I have no idea how I could have pulled it off. Margretha, a Greek native, knew what we needed for a hymn, so she secularized the Christmas Kontakion into a chant, and formed the “manly wall of sound” as she referred to it. Byzantine hymns very rarely have soprano or alto notes, so singing recruitment was a challenge for her. However, she nailed it, as you will see in the videos below.

Here is a link to her source material:

And her hymn:

Greek:
Το Βασίλειον σήμερον άνακτας νέους λαμβάνει
Βασιλέαν ανίκητον, Βασίλισσάν τε ωραία
Αρχοντες μετα Μαϊστόρων ούτους υμνούσιν
Ρόδα δε μεθ’ Ιπποτών δοξολογούσιν
Δι’ημάς γαρ στεφθώσιν
Κολφίννη τε και Μπρένναν εξ Ανατολής

Anglicized:
To Vasilion simeron anaktas neous lamvani
Vasilean anikiton, Vasilissan te orean
Archontes meta Maistoron outous imnousin
Rodha dhe meth’ Ipoton doxologousin
Di’imas gar stefthosin
Kolfinni te ke Brennan ex Anatolis

Translation:
The Kingdom today receives new Sovereigns
Invincible King, Fair Queen
Lords and Masters sing praise upon them
Roses and Knights rejoice
For they are crowned for us
Caoilfhionn and Brennan of the East

Martyn knows how to wrangle a crowd. So rather than go with my original plan of having a chorus of Greens and Blues answering Brigantia, he got the factions to lead the populace, thanks to a handy print-out, and planting folks in the audience. It went off without a hitch the day of and sounded great.

The final piece, once Steffan had helped determine where we would place the traditional unction of water from the Bay of the Mists (San Francisco Bay), and the swearing of the coronation oaths, was actually writing the oaths. There’s not much in De Cerimoniis regarding this, believe it or not. In period, the patriarch performed the blessing and coronation, which is something that we do not do in the SCA. As far as East Kingdom tradition goes, the transfer of power is peaceful, and the previous royals crown the heirs, who then swear their oath on a relic vial of dirt, from the backyard of Diana Lystmaker where the society was founded. Brigantia performs the unction. The order of operations is fluid, but they have to be in there. Since investiture is also a part of the Byzantine coronation, where the rulers are clothed in the khlamys, that needed to go first. So cloaks, crowns, oaths, and unction are the order we decided on.

This is when Princess Caoilfhionn stepped in. I was at a loss at where to go for oaths. Baroness Konstantia had used a rather loquacious one when she stepped up as Gold Falcon Principal Herald in Calontir, but it seemed too informal for a coronation, as it was strictly an officer’s oath.  Her now-Majesty found the missing puzzle pieces we needed in the Coronation of Anastasius I from the 5th Century. While it was earlier than De Cerimoniis, it provided the puzzle piece needed to complete the Eastern-specific ordo we wanted. Caoilfhionn wrote her own versions of the oaths, which are available here in their primary source form. Since we had acclamations already planned from De Cerimoniis, the ones here were removed. The secularized edit is in the ordo document linked at the conclusion of this entry.

Link: https://archive.org/stream/coronationrites00wooluoft/coronationrites00wooluoft_djvu.txt 

Transcription of primary source:

EMPEROR. It is manifest that human power de
pends on the will of the supreme Glory.

PEOPLE. Abundance to the world ! As thou hast
lived, so rule. Incorrupt rulers for the world ! and
so on.

EMP. Since the most serene Augusta Ariadne
with the assent of the illustrious nobles and by the
election of the glorious Senate and mighty armies,
and the consent of the sacred people, have advanced
me, though unwilling and hesitating, that I should
assume the care of the Empire of the Romans, agree
ably to the clemency of the Divine Trinity

PEO. Kyrie eleeson. Son of God, have mercy upon him.
Anastasie Auguste, tti vincas ! God will keep
the pious Emperor. God gave thee, God will keep
thee ! and so on.

EMP. / am not ignorant hoiv great a weight is
laid upon me for the common safety of all.

PEG. Worthy of the Empire ! Worthy of the
Trinity! Worthy of the City. Out with the in
formers. (This last is doubtless an unauthorised
interpolation.)

EMP. / pray Almighty God that as ye hvped me
to be, in this common choice of yours, so ye may find
me to be in the conduct of affairs.

PEO. He in whom thou believest will save th#e.
As thou hast lived, so reign. Piously hast thou lived,
piously reign. Ariadne, thou conquerest ! Many be
the years of the Augusta ! Restore the army, restore
the forces. Have mercy on thy servants. As Marcian
reigned, so do &>w…(and much more to the same
effect).

EMP. Because of the happy festival of our Empire,
I will bestow 5 solidi and a pound of silver on each
man.

PEO. God will keep the. Christian Emperor.
These are the prayers of all. These are the prayers
of the whole world. Keep, Lord, the pious Emperor.
Holy Lord, raise up thy world. The fortune of the
Romans conquers. Anastasius Augustus, thou con
querest ! Ariadne Augusta, thou conquerest! God
hath given you, God will kesp you.

EMP. God be with you.”

 

Being at this point, about 2 weeks out from the event, things were as good as they were going to get. The husband and I hit the road 5 days before Coronation from Florida, making some mundane stops along the way. We arrived at our crash space for the evening, which doubled as the prep space for the dayboard, so we got to get some catching up in over balls of matzo dough, while the Norman did what he does: design and strike coins for the reign.

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Gieffrei is nuts, it’s fine. I need to make him blog more.

But you didn’t come here for coins, you came here for the ceremony. So, here it is, is all of it’s splendiferous PDF form.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Eg1wzPEo2_kkXSO0Kh65HFVyB5Djkzf7/view?usp=sharing

And Videos! These are taken with my phone, so professional they are not. Bear with some of the moving and the shaking.

The only hiccup we had is that the bridal tunnel utilized to get the procession where it needed to be created a bottleneck, and we had a backup. Just more time to listen to Margretha’s beautiful hymn, and set the Byzantine mood.

Enjoy!

Hymn:

Procession and Ceremony:

Acclamations:

 

PS: What about the garb? I had maybe 2% to do with that. Baroness Fortune St. Keyne has my trust implicitly, and I just helped her with some basic pointers on the shape of the divetesion, and color of the silk. (The orange was not me!)

Smashing the idea of the “Byzantine Period.”

So, you want to have a Byzantine persona? Welcome to the ranks of the mysterious  medieval orient.

This, and more, are going to become a page here on my site shortly *points up to links*, I just need to find time to sit down and do it. Until then, I feel the information I am presenting here is somewhat necessary for SCAdians to find direction in their path, either to a full-fledged persona, or a garb project for a themed event.

Often, when people ask me what a Byzantine should wear, I respond with, “What period?”

This gets me a look of total confusion, and a response of, “You know, Byzantine.” I take a deep breath, and prepare to either bore the poor individual to tears with a well-rehearsed speech on the massive construct that was over 1000 years of history, or I open the flood gates and get them more excited about digging into more. I always hope it’s the latter, but the foremost argument I have to make is this:

There is no “Byzantine period.”

Repeat after me:

There is no “Byzantine period.”

That is the equivalent of asking somebody for French garb, and nobody ever just says “French”, there’s usually a century attached to it. Why is this never the case when it comes to Byzantine? Byzantine, like French, is a culture, it’s a place, it’s not a standalone period.

The Byzantine Empire, which is an anachronistic term for the Eastern Roman Empire, was the longest running medieval culture in Christendom. I use that term specifically, since it was not really a European culture, as much as it was an “Eastern” culture, or, generally referred to as “oriental.” Of course, that word today has a completely different connotation that comes across as somewhat pejorative of the Far East, but in actuality, it literally just means “eastern”, and that is exactly how the Western Europeans viewed the Romans, whom they referred to as Greeks. Both are correct, but a Roman would never call themselves Greek. 😉 They barely viewed themselves on the same plane of existence as the rest of the continent, as it was, and as my brother just haughtily remarked on my Facebook page less than 3 minutes after announcing I was writing this post, viewing the Eastern Romans as “medieval” is even somewhat insulting, but for the sake of the instructional nature of what I’m trying to do, this is the approach I’m taking. (What can I say? Byzantines were snooty people.)

So, as a newcomer, consider the Byzantines the medieval Greeks, because that is exactly who they were.  Wash the romantic imagery of draped clothing, columns, and Socrates out of your head, because I know that’s exactly where you went. 😉 While ultra-early Byzantine would be basically Roman, let’s fast forward a bit to the 6th Century, during the reign of Justinian and Theodora. Here, we find what most scholars refer to as the shift into what is considered “Byzantine,” versus Late Antiquity. The culture did shift, and with that, so did clothing, language, religion, law, architecture, etc.

This is the period most SCAdians view as “Byzantine”, the 3 pages in their Western Civilization textbook devoted to the laws of Justinian and how his wife may have been a prostitute, and onto the feudal system you go in the next chapter. This is where I need my readers to start thinking outside of this box, because you’re looking at a total of 38 years encapsulated within the time Constantine renamed the Greek town of Byzantium to the new Roman capital of Constantinople in 330, to 1453 when Constantinople was taken by the Ottoman Turks. That’s a lot time to assume that everybody wore exactly what Justinian and Theodora wore in the San Vitale mosaics.

I break the Byzantine Empire down into 4 parts for ease of understanding culturally, but there were still shifts within. Heck, I just got an older book this week on the cultural changes between the 11th and 12th Century, which is where I “live”, so even I still need to do more nailing down.

The Byzantine Periods According to Anna:

Roman Period 330-500 CE
Early Byzantine Period (including Iconoclasm) 500-900 CE
Middle Period (Golden Age) 900-1204 CE
Late Period (Collapse) 1261-1453 CE 

Important dates you NEED TO KNOW:

First Iconoclastic Period: 726-787
Second Iconoclastic Period: 814-882
Establishment of the formal Varangian Guard: 980’s
Sack of Constantinople during the 4th Crusade: April 12th, 1204
Latin Empire/Empire of Nicaea: 1204-1261
Empire of Trebizond: 1204-1461
Despotate of Epirus: 1204-1479
Fall of Constantinople: May 29th, 1453

I’m not going to go into a detailed history of the Fourth Crusade and the successor empires during this post, but as you can see, after the sack in 1204 by the crusaders, things kinda hit the fan and shattered. The Empire did not recover fully, and it remained unstable through to the absolute fall at the hands of the Ottomans in 1453. In my opinion, both scholarly and SCAdianly, anybody who wants a persona post-1204 has their work cut out for them. It can be done, it SHOULD be done, but I have yet to really see anybody nail it. My persona was probably dead by the mid 12th Century, so it’s all science fiction to me. 😛 Likewise, anybody looking for sources during the 8th and 9th centuries will also run into a lot of dead ends. Iconoclasm resulted into the loss of most artistic record from that period and earlier, which is why we have more illuminated manuscripts, frescoes, and mosaics from the 11th and 12th centuries than we do the 6th and 7th. These are all unfortunate events that are part of the Empire’s history, and as researchers and re-creators, we need to come to terms with it. Some things will just not be done easily, but what you can find could be incredibly rewarding.

I’m going to wrap up this post with a short selection on clothing, since that’s what a lot of people want to know about. When I make my full page, I’ll go into more detail regarding other factors.

Sumptuary laws are, and always were, a thing. Many pieces of artwork we have are just of imperials, and the average aristocrat, and certainly not the commoners, would be wearing the same fashions as their rulers.  While, as far as I know, there are no harsh rules in the SCA regarding dress aside from peerage elements and coronets in some kingdoms, in period a fashion faux pas could be devastating depending on when and where you lived, so if you plan to take the Byzantine route seriously, such laws need to be taken into account when it comes to your wardrobe, both male and female. Even shoe color was regulated. That idea of Byzantines always wearing red shoes? Drop it. That was for Imperials ONLY according to De Cerimoniis, a court manual written in the 10th Century. Prior to that? It seemed to be more widespread. Little things like that can make the difference between, “That guy in the clavii striped tunic and red shoes is a Byzantine” to, “Wow! You’re wearing something I’m not familiar with as Byzantine, tell me more.” There is so much of this culture that the SCA has just not explored.

Look at the differences between the clothing in the images below just to get a sense of how much things really changed over time.

6th Century Imperial and Attendants, showing a variety of fashions from the reign of Justinian I.
14th Century Imperial fashions from the Lincoln Typikon, showing the encroaching Ottoman Turkish styles present in dress, 100 years before the Empire fell. Tell the 14th Century Mafia to step aside, this is how it’s done.

The purpose of this post is, of course, not to chastise, but rather remind folks that there’s so much more out there to explore. Break out of the SCAdian conscience of just “Being Byzantine”, and find your home somewhere within your own personal One True Century, within the One True Empire.

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Konstantia made this for me. This is why we can’t have nice things. (I was making sekanjabin en masse for an event. I SWEARRRRRR!)

My Compleat Anachronist is out!

Coming soon to a mailbox near you!
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If you don’t have a subscription, I will post an update as soon as the stock clerk has them available on the SCA website. I plan to also purchase additional copies aside from my author copies, and have them available at Birka.

I know I haven’t been posting as much as I used to. I do have content coming, but I was focusing on getting this off the ground, and, preparing for another fun-filled exciting cross-country move back to the East Kingdom from Caid. I was hoping they’d give us another winter in SoCal, but nooooooo. 😦

Women in the Middle Ages were badass, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Yet another find of women’s bones in a Norse gravesite, and the media blows up that she was a a fierce, Viking warrior before the archaeologists get her in the lab.

It seems like modern men and women, dazzled by the success of Vikings, really want to grasp at anything that comes across questionable websites as truth, that they forget that there’s plenty of evidence of women engaging in combat and more, aside from the legendary Norse shieldmaidens, who were, very much a real thing. Fauxhawks and Game of Thrones costume cast offs not required.

The higher the hair, the closer to Odin?

“Yeah, but did women really fight?”

I get this one a lot, being a medievalist and a SCAdian. Women absolute fight in the SCA, we have female knights and masters-of-arms. We’ve had Princesses and Queens that fought and won  Coronet and Crown Tournaments in their own right. It definitely is a dream come true for many a girl and those identifying as such. It was, after all, drilled in through their childhood that women were nothing more than damsels in distress locked in towers, as their brave knightly husbands went off to fight the evil baron next fiefdom over.

Yeah, that’s utter crap, based on Victorian subjugation, leading to ideas of women should be seen and not heard. The romanticism of the Pre-Raphaelites fueled the fire of an idealized Middle Ages consisting of pointy hats and flowing gowns that fit perfectly over the hourglass corset that they clearly all wore.  *eyeroll*

“Wait, are you saying that women went off to battle?”

You bet your bezants they did.

I mean, we all know about Eleanor of Aquitaine, right? Eleanor, the richest woman in Western Europe, married Louis VII of France, and went off on the Second Crusade with a parade of her ladies in waiting. Whether or not she actually rode in bare-breasted like an Amazon, of course, is disputed, but a fun legend, nonetheless. She came home, annulled Louie because she had the balls to leave him for Henry II, and ended up outliving all but one of her children.

Life goals. Even if it means getting locked in a tower til the king kicks it.

Niketas Choniates, in his O City of Byzantium, did compare her to the mythical Queen of the Amazons and had many nice things to say about her. What he said about other Frankish and German women coming in on horseback, fully armored, left little to be desired:

“…But while the emperor governed the empire in this fashion, a cloud of enemies, a dreadful and death-dealing pestilence, fell upon the Roman borders: I speak of the campaign of the Germans, joined by other kindred nations. Females were numbered among them, riding horseback in the manner of men, not on coverlets sidesaddle but unashamedly astride, and bearing lances and weapons and men do; dressed in masculine garb, they conveyed a wholly martial appearance, more mannish than the Amazons. One stood out from the rest as another Penthesilea, and from the embroidered gold with ran around the hem and fringes of her garment was called Goldfoot.” (Choniates, p35.)

So, while Eleanor paraded in like a queen, it seems that her ladies, or rather actual women soldiers, weren’t worthy of the title of Amazon. Ouch. It certainly sounds like there were an impressive amount of women outside of Eleanor’s retinue, as he seems to focus on the Germans, versus Franks. There was enough dealings between both the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, and France, to know they were separate kingdoms.

Of course, this is just the opinion of one man, who was an ecclesiastic, so conservatism was his middle name.

On the other hand, Anna Komnene seems to admire the feats of Sichelgaita, wife of Robert Guiscard, during the Battle of Dyrrhachium as she wrote in The Alexiad. So much, as a matter of fact, she compared her to Athena. (Alexiad, IV.6, page 121 in the Penguin edition.)

Timothy Dawson, in By the Emperors Hand, provides a brief description of women being involved in the defense of the Byzantine Empire in the 12th Century, including a female spy, as written by Theofanes, and archers and stonethrowers who garbed themselves as men, as written by Bishop Evstathios. (Dawson, Plate 8.)

And those are just Byzantine sources, and not even all of them.

According to Ramon Muntaner in his memoirs as part of the Catalan Grand Chronicles, a well-built Spanish woman donned armor to go fetch herbs outside of the walls of Perelada, when it was under Frankish control during the years of the Spanish March. She was attacked by a French knight on horseback. She unhorsed him with a lance, and forced him to yield. You can find his whole chronicle here: http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/muntaner_goodenough.pdf

Speaking of the Spanish, let’s not forget the Order of the Hatchet, an actual chivalric order for women from the town of Tortosa in Catalonia dated to 1149. Unfortunately there is not a lot on it, as it seems after the initial wave, no further members were added, and the order died with its members. The basis appears to be that women of the town donned men’s armor, and weapons, including hatchets, and  basically went to town against the Moorish occupants. The Count of Barcelona was so impressed, he created the Order for the women that fought.

According to this site, the Order of the Garter’s bylaws from as early as the 17th Century, include the origin of the Order of the Hatchet. Velde also lists several other medieval orders for women, including The Order of the Glorious Saint Mary from 13th Century Italy. Martial prowess is not mentioned.

Badassery didn’t stop at just being able to fight, as being able to lead or even wield a pen was just as potent. So if you’re not a fighter, that doesn’t mean you can’t be fierce.

Yeah, we know Anna Komnene wrote her father’s biography (and frankly, she’s my Byzantine spirit animal), but have you heard of Christine de Pizan? Most medieval enthusiasts have, and I know that some students in AP European History had to read her, but if you haven’t, you should. She was well trained in writing and rhetoric, and served as a court writer for several French dukes.

She did no harm, but took no shit.

And I mean none.

In between writing for dukes, composing poetry and political treatises, she completed her magnum opus The Book of the City of Ladies, and its sequel, The Treasure of the City of Ladies. I haven’t read the latter, but the former is pretty well known.

Sure, I could go on and discuss the fabulous things that Christine talks about regarding an allegorical city of the greatest women in history, both real and mythological, but in actuality, The Book of the City of Ladies was written as a direct slap in the face to the men that opposed her, and the idea of women being educated in general.

“Not all men (and especially the wisest) share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated. But it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it displeased them that women knew more than they did.”

I love that line. Because she makes it perfectly clear that she’s not mad at men. In fact, the overarching theme of the book is intellectual equality based on the practice of virtues, rather than feats of strength, and that the wisest men agree with her. Rather, she flat out attacks that its the fools, the uneducated men, that hate the idea of seeing women actually know things. Its as if nothing has changed since the 15th Century. (Yeah, I went there.)

And for those that though Christine wrote just a bunch of feminist drivel (which it isn’t), she was also an authority on arms and warfare!  (which you can find on Amazon, of course.)

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51BRsBzxqkL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

And this is me just scratching the surface of the more well-known figures. I didn’t even get into the Renaissance yet, with Elizabeth I, Veronica Franco, Sofonisba Anguissola, etc.

You don’t have to wait for archaeological finds for proof. The information you need is already well documented. And while one day we will hit that gravesite or reliquary jackpot, we don’t have to sit on our hands until we do.

Now, go out and be badass, Ladies of the SCA. It’s period.

The First Round of “Ask Me Anything” Answers!

Sorry this took a bit, I was hoping to get a few more, but this is a good start.

I think I did myself, and everybody, a great disservice by saying I would help with general medieval information. I sat here and derped pretty hard, so, for future questions, please keep them limited to Roman/Byzantine only for my own sanity, and for the sake of the querents getting a decent answer. Questions can be sent to syrakousina -at- gmail.com. (remember to remove -at- and replace with @, no spaces.)

 

Libby: Do you know of a survey of band weaving finds from 13th century and earlier?

I’m afraid I do not. Since I don’t weave more than an inkle band here and there, it’s just not something I look for. If somebody else sees this, hopefully they can chime in down in the comments to get you where you need to go. You honestly will have better luck in a weaving group on Facebook than I can find you in 3 minutes of google searching.

 Nicola: I am a fan of your blog and enjoy seeing your research and the work you do for your SCA persona and the community as a whole. I’m a LARPer over in the UK and was wondering how you keep the veils and layers of headdresses in place. The persona I’m currently playing is from medieval times but practical hints and tips would be very interesting to read about, if you’re willing to write about something a little more off topic.

You need to use bands, and pin the veil to the band. This is a period method, and you can really impress your LARPer friends. I’ve used this guide now for years: http://www.virtue.to/articles/veils.html Now, I’ve made some adjustment since my hair was so short for years, but now I’m growing it out. I’ve found that in a pinch when my hair was in a pixie cut, white cotton headbands you can buy at the drugstore do the job since they really aren’t going to slide anywhere. Now that I have shoulder-length hair, I cap it up first. You can see it a bit here with my 11th Century veil. The cap beneath my veil holds back all of my hair, and then the silk veil is pinned over it, allowing my coronet to just sit on top and not have to be shoved onto my head, or cause more weight. The gentlewoman to my right in the veil is also wearing a cap beneath hers, and you can see the pins better.

 

Dyonisia: So I have been fascinated with hoods for a while now. I make them and end up giving them away. But i also want to get research information on them. My focus is from 1000-1600.  I also am looking for any embroidery that are on those hoods. Any help would be wonderful.

I am also interested in shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. Looking at what was shipped and where they were going. I am looking at 1200-1600. Any resources ect. would help.

This is a really really REALLY broad topic that I feel could benefit from narrowing down into a specific time and place so you aren’t overwhelmed. Fashion changes a lot over the span of 500 years, and since you did not give a location, I’m going to tell you what I know regarding my area of expertise. I recommend breaking down your project and focusing on one hood from one place at a time, otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed and find nothing.

Disclaimer: I’m not an embroiderer, and as far as my personal scope of research goes, you won’t find much at least in the Byzantine area. They were more into woven designs that were appliqued on. As far as if this applied to hoods, I’m not sure. The Byzantines were not “hood wearers” like you see in the western part of the continent. The one hooded garment that you see commonly is called a “paenula”, a very simple hooded poncho that goes back to Roman times. After the 6th Century, you don’t see it too much outside of iconographic interpretation, which makes me think that maybe it fell out of style in the cosmopolitan areas during the early centuries, but maintained part of the traditional imagery we still have today. The climate in the Eastern Mediterranean is different than say, France, so hooded garments seemed to be pushed to the wayside for turbans, veils, and other headwear. Seeing gold work on turbans was common. The type of design is referred to as “grammata” in the original Greek, so basically golden letters, possibly pseudo-Kufic script. Of course, paenulae may have still been used in the countryside as a functional garment, but most depictions of working class Byzantines show little to no embellishment. Who the heck wants to clean mud off of expensive, time-consuming embroidery?

On the subject of your interest in shipping, again, you need to narrow this down. You have a 400-year timespan, and no specific culture or ports in mind. From 1200-1400, the crusades dominated the Eastern Mediterranean as well, with the Fourth Crusade wrecking the commerce of the Byzantine Empire for the remainder of its existence.

I do love your enthusiasm, but let me give you some helpful research tips to make your massive interests work a bit smoother in your favor. I feel like you really don’t know where to start, which is why you’ve asked me such broad questions, and that’s okay, we all have humble beginnings.

 A good rule of thumb is: if your Google search isn’t coming back with anything, narrow it down until it does. “Medieval hoods 1000-1600” is going to probably give you a Pinterest, while “extant medieval hood” is going to give you images of stuff that is still around from museum databases. “Hoods worn in medieval France” is going to give you better answers. Head right to the Met or British Museum websites and look up their collections, they’re here to help! Same with your interest in shipping. This is where getting into the fun journal databases will be a huge advantage. You can even pop over to JSTOR and put in some search terms. I found this article first shot just typing in “medieval Mediterranean shipping”: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1kgqt6m Chances are, you have friends with JSTOR or library access that can help you get the material. If this is something you really want to focus on, it may be worthwhile to invest in an account. Who knows, you could end up getting enough material to write your own Compleat Anachronist! Good luck!

Marc: I found your blog via a search on Byzantine costuming – and noted that you’re up to answering questions about same.

Well, I have a perhaps atypical one: I’m finishing in the details of a story set in early 14th Century Trebizond, and I haven’t been able to put together visually a wedding dress for one of the legendary Trapezuntine princesses. I have some vague piecemeal ideas, shoulder panels covered with pearls, etc. and I can draw a little from Pisanello’s St. George and the Princess of Trebizond, but I really can’t imagine what a wedding gown at that level of Byzantine society would look like – particularly the colors.

 You’re actually in luck, because Maria Parani has written a great article on this, and it’s available for free on Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/578063/_Byzantine_Bridal_Costume_in_%CE%94%CF%8E%CF%81%CE%B7%CE%BC%CE%B1._A_Tribute_to_the_A._G._Leventis_Foundation_on_the_Occasion_of_Its_20th_Anniversary_Nicosia_2000_185-216  

Hopefully this gives you the answer you’re looking for. I could cite it, but having the whole article in your face is probably better than whatever I could blab. Good luck with your novel!

Ask me anything!

So, while I’m taking a short break from heavy SCA sewing and research, I want everybody to help me keep my brain ticking.

Every week, or however often I get questions, I’m going to have a question/answer column here on my blog. Feel free to ask me anything about Roman and Byzantine history, textiles, clothing, etc, and I’ll give you a complete answer, or as complete as I can, with citations to send you on your way. General ancient and medieval history  questions can also be fielded if you’re looking for something more broad.

If this gets busy, I don’t know how many questions I’ll be able to answer, but I’ll do my best to make sure that everybody is covered.

Got a question for me?

Hit me up at syrakousina at gmail.com.