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From Crusades to Insurance Contracts: 10 Medieval Studies’ Articles Published Last Month

What is new in medieval studies? Here are ten articles published in October, which tell us about topics including art history, economics, saints and restoring a heritage site damaged by an earthquake. 

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


Leadership on Crusade: Military Excellence, Physical Action and Gender in the Twelfth-Century Chronicles of the First Crusade and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem

By Sini Kangas


Abstract: It is hardly surprising that in the chronicles of the First Crusade (1096–1099) and in the Chronicon of William of Tyre, accounts propagating Christian warfare, impressiveness, authority and command stem from military actions blessed by God. In the depictions, the position of being a leader is constructed and maintained by a public display of martial ability, by deeds rather than by words… This article compares the models and qualities of the leaders of the First Crusade in medieval sources. The first section considers modern definitions of imposing (charismatic) authority and ties the discussion to the overarching theme of exploring medieval crusader leadership. The second part examines the examples of the leaders of Antioch and Jerusalem and their cultural legacy in the chronicles.

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Administrative and military impediments of medieval Ethiopian economy

By Mengistie Zewdu Tessema, Aderajew Melkie Zegeye and Mesfin Tadesse

Cogent Arts & Humanities 

Abstract: The administrative and military structures of the medieval Ethiopian state were based on a system called the gult system that gave tribute-collecting rights to state officials and military personnel. Nevertheless, there were various occasions in which the administrative and military system and structure of the state were hampering the economic development of the medieval Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia. There were different factors that were responsible for the underdevelopment of medieval Ethiopian economy. The purpose of this paper is to examine the administrative and military impediments to the economy of medieval Ethiopia. Using different primary and secondary sources, this study endeavoured to thematically analyse how the administrative and military structures were hampering the economic development of Ethiopia in the period. Analysis of fragmentary sources of the period has revealed that the inherently precarious nature of the gult system, the military deployment, the soldiery, and the incessant war that had been fought in the state had been impeding the economic prosperity of the medieval Ethiopian state.


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In Defence of Böðvarr bjarki

By Tom Grant


Abstract: For almost two centuries, Böðvarr bjarki has been a household name in Beowulf studies. The exploits of this monster-slaying champion of the Danish king match those of the epic hero at many points, and this has made Bjarki the subject of critical fascination. Many scholars have viewed the correspondences between Beowulf and Bjarki as evidence that certain aspects of Beowulf’s career may have been modelled on existing Scandinavian legend — a view with clear implications for our understanding of the originality of Beowulf. The value of the Bjarki story has also been challenged, largely on the basis that Scandinavian evidence is inconsistent in its presentation of this tradition. This article defends the usefulness of the Bjarki analogue by returning to the Scandinavian source material. It demonstrates that the various versions of the Bjarki story across Old Norse and Latin sources are structurally consistent and point to the existence of a coherent underlying tradition. This reopens the possibility that Beowulf and Bjarki may independently derive from the same legendary archetype.

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Female Work Arrangements in the Datini Letters

By Corinna Peres

Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften

Abstract: In the letters preserved in the Datini archive, women could take the epistolary stage when it came to their (pre-)entry into a labour relation with the Datinis or their social network. The negotiating scope of women during these entries is the analytical focus of this paper; to negotiate and/or to be negotiated is the central question. Based on 53 letters from the years 1393–1398, four different search and recruitment processes for three different types of female workers – servants, slaves, and wet nurses – are comparatively examined by way of a historical semantic reading. Taking the verb-oriented method as a starting point, this study proposes two methodological extensions: an attribute-oriented method and an adaption of the semantic roles approach from linguistics. The paper argues that this historical semantic trio of methods can help to understand group-related and individual degrees of (non-)control over actions in the arrangement of labour relations in late medieval Tuscany by bringing positions of power to the epistolary surface.

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Commemorating Cantilupe: The Iconography Of England’s Second St Thomas

By Ian L. Bass

The Antiquaries Journal

Abstract: 2020 saw the celebration of significant anniversaries connected with several medieval English saints, led most notably by the triple anniversary of the birth (1120), death (1170) and translation (1220) of St Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury (1162–70, canonised 1173). This offered scholars an occasion to review and revisit important aspects of the documentary sources and material culture relating to the saints’ cults in England and across Europe. The celebrations of St Thomas Becket also coincided with the 700th anniversary of the canonisation of St Thomas de Cantilupe, bishop of Hereford (1275–82, canonised 1320). Renewed scholarly interest in Cantilupe’s posthumous cult has particularly offered insights into daily life and devotion in late thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century England and Wales. Likewise, it has recently been demonstrated that, in the wake of the Cantilupe cult at Hereford Cathedral, a period of intense church building occurred throughout the diocese. This paper is the first to assemble and publish a comprehensive catalogue of all known lost and surviving iconographical images of Cantilupe from the Middle Ages. More significantly, keeping the 2020 celebrations of both the Becket and Cantilupe cults in mind, this paper is the first to bring attention to all the examples of medieval iconography that associate England’s two Thomases, demonstrating how Becket was utilised as a model of sanctity par excellence with Cantilupe presented as a ‘second Becket’.

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Beatrice de Roos (d. 1415) and the Making of Art

By Sarah Brown

Journal of the British Archaeological Association 

Abstract: This article examines the involvement of Beatrice, dowager Baroness Roos (d. 1415) in the making of art. Her patronage of masons and tomb-makers, glaziers and seal-makers, is explored in detail, showing her to have commissioned works from two of the most prominent English artists of the late medieval period. Her interest in the inventive use of heraldry and her role in the creation of a major monument in St Paul’s Cathedral is established. Her right to be acknowledged as the donor of the St William window in York Minster is reasserted, and her influence on its content and meaning is demonstrated. The gift of this window made Beatrice the single most important secular benefactor of York Minster, a fact that has not been acknowledged before in print, but was recorded by the medieval cathedral chapter in the glazing of the Minster’s western choir clerestory.


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Ralph of Diss, the coronation of Philip Augustus (1179) and the English claim to the French throne

By Björn Weiler

Historical Research

Abstract: In the 1190s Ralph of Diss, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, wrote a universal chronicle from the Creation to the author’s lifetime. This article uses Ralph’s account of the coronation of Philip Augustus of France in 1179 to tackle a series of broader issues: the role of history as a form of erudition, the ability of a remote and distant past to contain lessons for the present, and how this may change our approach to the works of Diss and his brethren. This represents the first attempt to read Ralph’s writings taking seriously his instructions about how history ought to be approached. The interpretation of events in 1179 casts important new light on Ralph’s approach to history, as well as on elite literary and historical culture around the year 1200

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The Beauty of Uncertainty: The Rise of Insurance Contracts and Markets in Medieval Europe

By Maristella Botticini, Pietro Buri and Massimo Marinacci

Journal of the European Economic Association

Abstract: Maritime insurance developed in medieval Europe is the ancestor of all forms of insurance that appeared subsequently. We address the question of why modern insurance was first invented in medieval Europe, and neither earlier nor elsewhere. Drawing from insights from the literature on uncertainty aversion, we show that medieval merchants had to bear more frequently natural risks (they traveled longer distances) and new human risks with unknown probabilities (they faced unpredictable attacks by corsairs due to increased political fragmentation and commercial competition in Europe). The increased demand for protection in medieval seaborne trade met the supply of protection by a small group of wealthy merchants with a broad information network who could pool risks and profit from selling protection through a novel business device: the insurance contract. A new market—the market for insurance—was then born.

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The Carolingian cocio: on the vocabulary of the early medieval petty merchant

By Shane Bobrycki

Early Medieval Europe

Abstract: The word cocio (i.e. petty merchant or broker in classical Latin) was a rare term that after a long absence in written Latin reappeared in several Carolingian texts. Scholars have posited a medieval semantic shift from ‘merchant’ to ‘vagabond’. But this article argues that this consensus is erroneous. The Carolingian cocio continued to refer to petty commercial agents, that is, to small merchants. Furthermore, the term’s appearance in capitularies and its subsequent medieval vernacular afterlife together suggest that the term was borrowed from (unattested) proto-Romance usage. A corrected history of the early medieval use of cocio illuminates the relationship between spoken and written Latin as well as aspects of social, religious, and economic history in the Carolingian period, and speaks to the promise of language to shed light on economic realities.


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Damage assessment and restoration proposal following the 2023 Türkiye earthquakes: UNESCO World Heritage Site Diyarbakır City Walls, Türkiye

By Lale Karataş and Beyhan Bayhan

Heritage Science

Abstract: Diyarbakır City Walls, one of the longest defensive structures in the world, following the Great Wall of China, the walls of Antakya, and the walls of Istanbul, is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2015. With a history of approximately 5000 years, the Diyarbakır City Walls have been affected by consecutive earthquakes centered in Kahramanmaraş in 2023, resulting in damages to various sections. Urgent restoration and repair interventions are needed for these sections of the Diyarbakır City Walls due to earthquake-induced damages. Although there are limited studies presenting stone analysis of the Diyarbakır City Walls in the literature, no studies focusing on mortar analysis have been found. The objectives of this study are as follows: (I) to identify the mechanisms and factors of earthquake damages in the Diyarbakır City Walls, (II) to conduct necessary analyses for the selection of mortar materials for post-earthquake repairs, and (III) to provide restoration and strengthening recommendations to ensure the sustainability of the original structure.

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Top Image: St William window in York Minster. Photo by Jules & Jenny from Lincoln / Wikimedia Commons