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From Wikipedia to The Great: 10 Medieval Studies’ Articles Published Last Month

What’s new in medieval studies? Here are ten open-access articles published in May, which tell us about topics including Christine de Pizan, William of Poitiers and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

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 over 40 open-access articles we found.


Forging the medieval on Wikipedia

By Fran Allfrey, Lucy Moore and Richard Nevell


Wikipedia is a major source for public information. Wikipedia materials are proliferated across the Internet of Things, are reused in journalism and social media, and power search engines and digital assistants. Yet Wikipedia’s impact on public understanding of the past, particularly our medieval pasts, is under-researched. This article argues for the significance of Wikipedia for medievalists in terms of how it may shape research, pedagogy, and public-facing work. We examine three case studies—articles for the ‘Black Death,’ the ‘Viking Age,’ and ‘Old English literature’—to explore how the medieval is forged, defined by us as crafted and created, ‘on-Wiki.’ We discuss what these forgings suggest about public understanding, desires, and interests, and the ideas about the past that emerge as a result.

Our case studies demonstrate varied approaches to Wiki content, including citation review, readings of version histories, and pageview analysis. It is intended that this article provokes further discussion of Wikipedia as a site of medieval public history and inspires our colleagues to engage as critics, editors, teachers, or activists.


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Writings from a Sienese Renaissance prisoner. Antonio Petrucci’s fall and his zibaldone (1461-1465)

By Mathieu Caesar

En la España Medieval

Urbino. November 1464. Antonio Petrucci, a preeminent Senese politician and condottiero, is still imprisoned, following his defeat at the hands of papal troops on 30 October 1461. During his captivity, Petrucci composed a zibaldone (a commonplace book), in which he mainly copied lyrics by Latin classics and Italian poets and humanists. Petrucci’s autograph also contains a complaint against Fortune dated 10 November 1464, which is one of the last texts of the manuscript.

Petrucci was certainly not the first medieval author to reflect on human fate and the role of Fortune. On the contrary, the image of the wheel of Fortune is probably among the most iconic of the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, Petrucci’s complaint is not simply a general reflection on the role of Fortune. The lamentation is chiefly the way Petrucci decided to portray his own personal fall, accusing the “very cruel Fortune” of depriving him of his “illustrious and gracious homeland”, Siena. It would be superficial to reduce the Sienese’s complaint to a simple description of his misadventures, and the same is true for every document written by someone who suffered a failure. Petrucci’s case raises questions about the sources available to historians to study the history of downward mobility

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“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1953 W. P. Ker Memorial Lecture: An Updated Chronology and Related Findings

By Andoni Cossio and Dimitra Fimi

English Studies 

On 15 April 1953, J. R. R. Tolkien was at the University of Glasgow to deliver the W. P. Ker Memorial Lecture on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, later published in The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays (1983). Based on new archival research at Glasgow and Oxford, this article offers new information on Tolkien’s appointment to deliver this lecture, his journey to and stay at Glasgow, and his relationship with Norman Davis (1913–1989), further illuminating the lecture’s significance in the context of Tolkien’s life as both an academic and creative writer, Tolkien’s links to Glasgow, and his academic and literary reputation at the time. The article, therefore, provides additional biographical, intellectual, cultural, and historical details related to the lecture at the time Tolkien was ushering his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings (1954–1955), to print.

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What’s in a Name? Tracing the Origins of Alfred’s ‘the Great’

By Matthew Firth

The English Historical Review 

King Alfred (r. 871–99) is the only native-born English ruler to have gained the byname ‘the Great’. This was not a contemporary sobriquet, but is often considered to have been bestowed in the Elizabethan era by Reformation scholars who increasingly cast Alfred in the role of the founder of the English nation. The acknowledged exception is a reference to Alfred as Rex Alfredus magnus (King Alfred the Great) in a marginal annotation in Matthew Paris’s early thirteenth-century text, Deeds of the Abbots of St Albans Monastery.


This medieval attestation of Alfred’s sobriquet is, however, less isolated than has been previously thought. Drawing on a variety of medieval English and Old Norse-Icelandic texts, this article identifies twenty-five examples of Alfred being called ‘the Great’, twenty-three of which have previously gone unremarked. In so doing, it argues for a widespread tradition of Alfred as ‘the Great’, the first sole ruler of all England, from at least the thirteenth century.

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Conflict Escalation Done Wrong? The Free City of Regensburg Seizes Ehrenfels Castle, 13 April 1417

By Alexandra Kaar

Austrian History Yearbook 

This article examines the various modes of conflict management used by the free city of Regensburg and the local nobleman Hans I Staufer of Ehrenfels during a prolonged dispute over revenues from 1413 to 1418. In the early years of this feud, both parties utilized nonviolent methods such as legal action and arbitration, which were occasionally accompanied by minor military interventions. In April 1417, however, the Regensburg councilors broke with convention and decided to escalate the conflict with their feud opponent by capturing his ancestral castle, Ehrenfels, near Beratzhausen in the Upper Palatinate region.

Using both urban account books and documentary evidence, the case study investigates the reasons behind the councilors’ decision to launch this ostentatious military attack, their objectives in seizing Ehrenfels castle, and the impact of their show of force on the ongoing conflict. It portrays late medieval Central European towns as potent military actors and argues for a more systematic integration of economic considerations and cost-benefit calculations into our picture of late medieval feuding.


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The Gesta Guillelmi of William of Poitiers: The Dynamics of a Failed Publication

By Lauri Leinonen


This article explores William of Poitiers’ Gesta Guillelmi for its failed manuscript transmission. In spite of possessing various advantages, literary and social, the work found very few readers and was soon forgotten. It is proposed that the transmission relied on, or consisted of, an untidy autograph, lost in the eighteenth century. According to Orderic Vitalis, William did not complete the work due to “unfavourable circumstances”, probably related to the latter’s connection to the Conqueror. The essay contributes to two burgeoning scholarly discussions, on authorial publishing and on why some works failed to find readers.

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Intestinal parasite infection and sanitation in medieval Leiden, the Low Countries

By Sophie Rabinow, Tianyi Wang, Roos van Oosten, Yolande Meijer, and Piers D. Mitchell


In the absence of written records, disease and parasite loads are often used as indicators of sanitation in past populations. Here, the authors adopt the novel approach of integrating the bioarchaeological analysis of cesspits in an area of medieval Leiden (the Netherlands) with historical property records to explore living conditions. Using light microscopy and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) they identify evidence of parasites associated with ineffective sanitation (whipworm, roundworm and the protozoan Giardia duodenalis)—at residences of all social levels—and the consumption of infected livestock and freshwater fish (Diphyllobothriidae, cf. Echinostoma sp., cf. Fasciola hepatica and Dicrocoelium sp.).

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Legal expertise and military strategy: Christine de Pizan on the laws of war

By Walter Rech

London Review of International Law

Christine de Pizan’s Book of the Deeds of Arms (ca 1410) constitutes an insightful attempt to integrate law and military strategy in a way that shows the hybridity of both domains. Her work both defends the role of neutral legal ‘experts’ and unveils the affinities between legal expertise and strategic military thinking.

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Mounds Against the State? An Anarchist Approach to Mound Construction, Environmental Stress, and Centralization of Power in Viking and Merovingian Age Scandinavia

By Andreas Ropeid Sæbø

European Journal of Archaeology

In this article, the author explores the cooperative aspects of mound construction in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. Arguing against the outdated but widely held view that only centralized rule could organize monument construction, he investigates how participation in mound construction affected the people of Sør-Fron in south-eastern Norway. He contends, first, that repeated participation in mound construction helped create a sense of belonging and shared identity, which was maintained through centuries of major environmental and political turmoil.


Second, mound construction was part of an active and conscious strategy to limit aggrandizement and prevent centralization and concentration of power. Rejection of Christianity arguably worked in similar ways. The author concludes with considerations of approaches to Iron Age monuments, emphasizing the importance of consensus and community-building and the role of communal opposition to centralized rule.

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Insights into Medieval Grape Cultivation in Al-Andalus: Morphometric, Domestication, and Multivariate Analysis of Vitis vinifera Seed Types

By Javier Valera et al.


Understanding the origins and evolution of modern grapevine varieties in the Iberian Peninsula and western Europe necessitates an examination of the proportions of Vitis vinifera cultivars, their relationships with wild grapevine populations, and the utilization of seedless cultivars in al-Andalus. Employing morphometric studies, domestication indices, multivariate analysis, and Bayesian hypothesis testing, this study investigates several distinct seed types identified in materials from Roman and medieval deposits. These seeds exhibit a spectrum from highly domesticated to purely wild. Our findings reveal the predominance of Proles Occidentalis Negrul, and the presence of feral-like grapevines associated with Proles Euphratica.

Additionally, we observe the continuous presence of wild grapevines related to Vitis sylvestris CC Gmelin throughout the studied period. Seeds exhibiting intermediate characteristics are documented, alongside the identification of “stenosperms”, suggesting anomalies in seed formation. Notably, the presence of Vitis vinifera raisins “stenospermocarpics” of the sultana type is suggested, potentially elucidating the absence of table grapes and raisins of the Proles Orientalis Negrul in the archaeological record, despite frequent mentions by medieval agronomy writers from al-Andalus.

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We found 40 open-access articles from May – 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 April