Articles Features

From Modified Skulls to Schools of Knights: 10 Medieval Studies’ Articles Published Last Month

What’s new in medieval studies? Here are ten articles published in February, which tell us about topics including Viking filed teeth, Japanese ghosts and Gothic church towers.

This series on 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. We now also have a special tier on our Patreon where you can see the full list of the 35 open-access articles we found.


Body Modification on Viking Age Gotland: Filed Teeth and Artificially Modified Skulls as Embodiment of Social Identities

By Matthias S. Toplak and Lukas Kerk

Current Swedish Archaeology 

In recent years, research has provided evidence for permanent body modification in the Viking Age. Based on the current state of research, we identified around 130 male-gendered individuals from Scandinavia and beyond with dental alterations in form of horizontal furrows, most of them stemming from the Baltic isle of Gotland. We suggest that this custom was used as a sign of identification for a closed group of merchants. In contrast, artificial cranial modifications in the Viking Are so far are only known from three female individuals from Gotland. While both forms of body modification have received wide attention in other cultural contexts, the specific expressions of these customs in Viking Age society still lack systematic investigation with regard to their social implications. Based on the archaeological concept of embodiment and modern communication theories we discuss the perception of modified human bodies as media for the presentation and construction of social identities on Viking Age Gotland.

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Disability and care in Western Europe during Medieval times: A bioarchaeological perspective

By Ileana Micarelli, Mary Anne Tafuri and Lorna Tilley

International Journal of Paleopathology 

This Special Issue has its foundation in presentations delivered in the symposium Disability and Care in Medieval Times: a Bioarchaeological Perspective into Health-related Practices held at the 2019 European Association of Archaeologists conference in Switzerland. It comprises 12 papers, all relevant to aspects of pathology experience and/or care provision in Western Europe during the Early to Late Middle Ages (500 – 1500 CE). Reflecting the 1000 year timespan involved, these papers are characterised by diversity in subject matter and in the lifeways in which they are located, but all contribute to the symposium’s primary aim: to demonstrate that our understanding of the Medieval period is enhanced by cross-disciplinary, bioarchaeological research into individual and collective experiences of disability and care. This Introduction provides the background to the 2019 symposium, and briefly discusses the papers contained in the Special Issue which emerged from this.


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Christine de Pizan – Against all Odds: Feminist Pioneer and Expert on the Law of Warfare in Medieval Europe

By Verena Kahl


Imagine a setting in a seminar room, where students are attending a course on the designated “classics” of international law, international legal history or schools of thought in international law. They listen to different presentations and engage in discussions on outstanding figures, be it philosophers, scholars, judges or lawyers, and their important contributions to the development of the international legal order. When looking at the so-called “fathers of international law” and other icons of the field, particularly from the (earlier) past, some will not notice anything unusual. By contrast, others may experience a disturbing feeling, as if the picture remains patchy and incomplete. They realize that all of these figures were possibly identifying themselves as men, predominantly white heterosexual men. And all of a sudden, the question arises: Where are actually the women in this picture?

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Social status and oral health in early medieval Switzerland: The case of the Baar-Früebergstrasse site (Canton Zug, Switzerland)

By A. Pedergnana and R. Huber

Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 

Grave goods do not always reflect the socioeconomic status of the buried people when they were living, so the interpretation of these archeological items may be biased. This paper examines the oral pathologies of individuals (n = 36) from the early medieval cemetery at Baar-Früebergstrasse (Switzerland) and explores the relationship between these pathologies and grave status. The analysis focused on dental parameters such as tooth wear, caries, and periodontitis, among others. Only lower teeth were analyzed. While the general dental status between individuals buried in wealthy and standard graves appear to be very alike, some interesting patterns emerged. Tooth-wear values were similar among sexes and grave goods categories, suggesting a common diet. The incidence of caries was generally low in the studied individuals and grave status does not appear to have a significant influence on this. In addition, alveolar bone status showed significantly different values for the two social groups.

These results suggest that no clear dietary differences can be assumed for individuals found in wealthy and standard graves at Baar, given the very similar nature of their oral conditions. However, the limited sample size of the wealthy group necessitates caution in generalizing these results. Further research with larger sample sizes can provide a more comprehensive understanding of oral health disparities associated with socioeconomic factors in the Early Middle Ages.

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Motherhood Through the Lens of Medieval Japanese Ghosts

By Melina Olivas

Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History

Late-Heian (794-1185) and early-Kamakura (1185-1333) mothers experienced the obvious physical and emotional burdens of childbirth and parenthood, but they also experienced incredible spiritual burdens. The Kyoto and Tokyo scrolls of the gaki, or hungry ghosts, provide insight to the extent of the religious weight of motherhood. Mothers had a crucial role in the Buddhist cycle of rebirth, binding them to the concept of transmigration. Because the gaki make up one of the six realms of transmigration, they represent fear of karmic retribution in the next life. Additionally, the threat they posed to humans within the human realm is indicative of the fragility of newborns, particularly within the context of the high infant mortality rates of the medieval period. The physical and metaphysical threats that gaki posed to mothers through transmigration and consumption of infants provide crucial insight to the role mothers played in twelfth-century Japanese Buddhism.


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New light on the Warwick Shaffron: understanding horse and shaffron size through the collections of the Royal Armouries

By Oliver H. Creighton, Alan K. Outram & Eleanor Wilkinson-Keys

Arms & Armour

The Warwick Shaffron, held in the collections of the Royal Armouries (VI.446) is the earliest extant example of a European medieval shaffron on public display anywhere in the world. In addition to its early date, the shaffron is also considered exceptional because of its seemingly formidable size, coupled with apparent physical evidence of battle damage. This study sheds new light on the Warwick Shaffron through the application of an original measurement methodology developed through the AHRC-funded ‘Warhorse Project’ and applied to shaffrons in the collections of the Royal Armouries. Drawing upon the Warhorse Project’s wider findings on medieval horse stature, this paper critically discusses what shaffrons can tell us about the size of the mounts that wore them. A headline finding is that the dimensions of the Warwick Shaffron are entirely compatible with what we know about the size range of medieval horses at the time of its manufacture, albeit towards the upper end of the range.

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Rulers Making Boundaries Clear in the Medieval Islamic West: The Cordoban Umayyads and the Almohads

By Ann Christys and Maribel Fierro

Al-Masāq: Journal of the Medieval Mediterranean 

Four events that took place in the medieval Islamic West (al-Andalus and North Africa west of Egypt, second/ninth–eighth/fifteenth centuries) illustrate how rulers intentionally drew clear boundaries between individuals and between groups in ways that were sometimes striking. The first case has to do with the ruler’s body, the second with the way horses were mounted in the army, and the third and fourth – less surprisingly – with clothing and naming. The rulers who strove to make boundaries clear in such cases were the ethnically Arab Cordoban Umayyads (138/756–422/1031) and the ethnically Berber Almohad/Muʾminid caliphs (524/1130–668/1269). The aim of this article is to analyse what the contexts behind the rulers’ actions, the groups affected by their decisions and the boundaries they erected reveal about their concerns and anxieties.

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Decimal fractional numeration and the decimal point in 15th-century Italy

By Glen Van Brummelen

Historia Mathematica

The earliest known appearance of the decimal point was in the interpolation column of a sine table in Christopher Clavius’s Astrolabium (1593). But this is a curious place to introduce such a significant new idea, and the fact that Clavius never took advantage of it in his own later writings has remained unexplained. We trace Clavius’s use of decimal fractional numeration and the decimal point back to the work of Giovanni Bianchini (1440s), whose decimal system was a distinguishing feature of his calculations in spherical astronomy and metrology. While one needed to operate with Bianchini’s decimal system to work with his astronomy, Regiomontanus copied it only in part. The rest of the European astronomical community followed Regiomontanus, and Bianchini’s system reappeared only with its revival by Clavius.


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Construction of a Gothic Church Tower: A 3D Visualisation Based on Drawn Sources and Contemporary Artefacts

By Zoltán Bereczki


The construction of Gothic church towers with carved stone spires and often with significant height required the most advanced technology and financial support of their age, and the application of advanced machines was also inevitable for it. This article is an attempt to virtually reconstruct and visualise the process of a 15th-century tower construction, including the main auxiliary structures: scaffolding and machinery. A series of 3D models is created for that purpose, using the contemporary plans of the partly realised north tower of St. Stephen’s church in Vienna, the contemporary machine drawings of the Strasbourg-based master builder Hans Hammer, and contemporary and neo-Gothic drawings of scaffoldings together with survived exemplars as sources. An important question was whether medieval technical drawings contain enough data to model the structures or devices that they depict and if the construction process could be represented using them.

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Schools of clerks, schools of knights: John Grandisson and Hugh de Courtenay’s French correspondence, 1329–40

By Edward Mills

Historical Research 

The private letters within the Register of John Grandisson (bishop of Exeter, 1327–69) provide a fascinating insight into the intellectual climate of his episcopate, and attest to his strained relationship with the immensely important local magnate Hugh de Courtenay. Based on a re-examination of the manuscript Register (now held at the Devon Heritage Centre), this article offers the first modern edition and translation of a series of exchanges between the two men during Grandisson’s episcopate. Grandisson’s replies represent an assertion of clerical authority, as the two men fought over what was – in one case, literally – contested terrain.

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We found 35 open-access articles from February – you can get the full list by joining our Patreon – look for the tier that says Open Access articles in Medieval Studies.

See also our list of open-access articles from January