Five new books that take you around the medieval world.
Translated by Malcolm C. Lyons with Robert Irwin
On the shrouded corpse hung a tablet of green topaz with the inscription: ‘I am Shaddad the Great. I conquered a thousand cities; a thousand white elephants were collected for me; I lived for a thousand years and my kingdom covered both east and west, but when death came to me nothing of all that I had gathered was of any avail. You who see me take heed: for Time is not to be trusted.’ Dating from at least a millennium ago, these are the earliest known Arabic short stories, surviving in a single, ragged manuscript in a library in Istanbul. Some found their way into The Arabian Nights but most have never been read in English before. Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange has monsters, lost princes, jewels beyond price, a princess turned into a gazelle, sword-wielding statues and shocking reversals of fortune.
By Shayne Aaron Legassie
The University of Chicago Press
Excerpt: Phrase in very broad terms, the central contention of The Medieval Invention of Travel is that scholars have underestimated the significance of travel – as both material practice and philosophical abstraction – to the development of medieval travel writing. Though this book draws on earlier and later evidence, it focuses primarily on the years 1200-1500. During these three centuries, travel writing burgeoned and diversified to a degree that has no historical precedent. This remarkable literary flourishing shaped and was shaped by the period’s evolving attitudes toward human mobility. This vital observation has been relegated to the background of previous scholarship, to the detriment of one of the most complex and consequential eras in the history of Western ideas about travel.
By Valerie Hansen
Oxford University Press
The Silk Road is iconic in world history; but what was it, exactly? It conjures up a hazy image of a caravan of camels laden with silk on a dusty desert track, reaching from China to Rome. The reality was different–and far more interesting. In The Silk Road: A New History with Documents, Valerie Hansen describes the remarkable archeological finds that revolutionized our understanding of these trade routes. Hansen explores eight sites along the road, from Xi’an to Samarkand, where merchants, envoys, pilgrims, and travelers mixed in cosmopolitan communities, tolerant of religions from Buddhism to Zoroastrianism.
By Kurt Villads Jensen
Excerpt: The overall thesis is that missionary wars and crusades can explain everything – or, put the other way round, that most individuals by far in both Denmark and Portugal during the period from the 11th century onwards were intensely engrossed in God’s war against the infidels and organized their societies in order to wage this war. From around 1100, they perceived their missionary wars as a form of crusade and as attempts to imitate the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. To a larger or lesser extent, this tendency continues all through the medieval period and far into the 16th century, but I have chosen to stop this investigation in the middle of the 13th century. At that point the crusades had become well established, and charges in mentality and practice through the following centuries did not lead to anything fundamentally new.
By Morten Ravn
Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde
Excerpt: The great importance of the ship to the Scandinavian society of the Viking Age has been pointed out by many researchers. The ship was a symbol of status and was given as a gift among the most powerful men in society. At an ideological level the many ship-settings as well as ship and boat burials suggest that the ship also played an important role in the religion and cosmology of the era; and finally the ship was a precondition for the extensive sea transport of the time, including military transport, which is the subject of this book.