Thursday, June 28, 2018

Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots: Author Inspiration ~ Mary Ann Bernal

Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots: Author Inspiration ~ Mary Ann Bernal #amwriting #H...:

Author Inspiration 

I have always been fascinated by how people perceive events or actions differently. Where I see a wounded soldier running a marathon with a prosthetic leg as a hero, someone else might see only a disabled person participating in a race meant for physically fit individuals.

Throughout history, perception has played a key role when assessing motivation but was the assessment correct, and if so, did the character in question agree with the end result or did the character believe something else? As the saying goes, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

One of my favorite strong women of the middle ages is Eleanor of Aquitaine. Hollywood’s portrayal as seen in The Lion in Winter, which is an entertaining period piece and not historically accurate, showcases an intelligent woman adept at palace intrigue, who wishes to see her son, Richard, on the throne after Henry’s demise. It would seem the end-game for Eleanor’s scheming is to obtain her freedom, knowing Richard would have her released from confinement. But we must not forget Henry’s request for an annulment so he might marry his mistress. Eleanor comes across as manipulative and cunning and well-versed in deception. But is that how Eleanor sees herself?

Another Hollywood favorite is Camelot where the fair Guinevere betrays Arthur for Lancelot. Initially, whilst singing The Simple Joys of Maidenhood, she doesn’t think twice about causing a war, which comes to fruition at the end of the movie. Was there any thought given as to what warfare actually means? Was life worthless in her mind? But Guinevere recognizes she must remove temptation from Arthur’s court by having Lancelot sent away, reflected in the song If Ever I Would Leave You. Guinevere appears to be conflicted, but does she perceive herself as a victim because of an arranged marriage?

And then there is Troy. Helen is miserable in an alleged loveless marriage and runs off with Paris but Menelaus convinces his brother, Agamemnon, to help him get her back. Does history perceive Helen differently than she perceived herself? Possibly, more likely, probably. After all, Helen was the reason Troy fell. Did she regret her decision that led to the deaths of Hector, Achilles, and Paris? Was she reunited with Menelaus? Or did she relish the carnage?

Perception, as love, is in the eye of the beholder.

These epic blockbusters were paramount in my decision to write a novel wherein perception plays a major role when condemning or acclaiming the lead character.

It was an easy decision to choose an existing persona from The Briton and the Dane trilogy. Concordia was a child when the trilogy ends. Fast forward a few years and we have a nineteen-year-old young lady of privilege competing in a world where women and children were considered chattel.

Concordia is willful, used to getting her own way, and might be considered spoiled. Educated alongside her brother at the king’s court school, Concordia’s intelligence surpasses many of the men she comes in contact with. She absorbs knowledge like a sponge, is quick-witted, charming and very feminine, playing the game as befits societal expectations.

Outwardly, Concordia may have been adept at deception and intrigue, but at what cost? Was she a hardened conspirator whose sole purpose was to survive in a violent world or was she longing for a love that seemed to elude her grasp? Just as Scarlett O’Hara pined for Ashley Wilkes while married to Rhett Butler, Concordia appears to have made the same mistake.

Some of my readers saw beneath the facade, while others thought Concordia was a pampered, selfish brat. You be the judge.

The Briton and the Dane: Concordia 

Travel back in time to late Ninth Century Anglo-Saxon Britain where Alfred the Great rules with a benevolent hand while the Danish King rules peacefully within the boundaries of the Danelaw. Trade flourishes, and scholars from throughout the civilized world flock to Britannia’s shores to study at the King’s Court School at Winchester.

Enter Concordia, a beautiful noblewoman whose family is favored by the king. Vain, willful, and admired, but ambitious and cunning, Concordia is not willing to accept her fate. She is betrothed to the valiant warrior, Brantson, but sees herself as far too young to lay in the bedchamber of an older suitor. She wants to see the wonders of the world, embracing everything in it; preferably, but dangerously, at the side of Thayer, the exotic Saracen who charms King Alfred’s court and ignites her yearning passions.

Concordia manipulates her besotted husband into taking her to Rome, but her ship is captured by bloodthirsty pirates, and the seafarers protecting her are ruthlessly slain to a man. As she awaits her fate in the Moorish captain’s bed, by sheer chance, she discovers that salvation is at hand in the gilded court of a Saracen nobleman.

While awaiting rescue, Concordia finds herself at the center of intrigue, plots, blackmail, betrayal and the vain desires of two egotistical brothers, each willing to die for her favor. Using only feminine cunning, Concordia must defend her honor while plotting her escape as she awaits deliverance, somewhere inside steamy, unconquered Muslim Hispania.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Discovering reader preferences, habits and attitudes – Announcing the 2018 Reader Survey

by M.K. Tod, Heather Burch, and Patricia Sands

Readers and writers – a symbiotic relationship. Ideas spark writers to create stories and build worlds and characters for readers’ consumption. Readers add imagination and thought to interpret those stories, deriving meaning and enjoyment in the process. A story is incomplete without both reader and writer.

What then do readers want? What constitutes a compelling story? How do men and women differ in their preferences? Where do readers find recommendations? How do readers share their book experiences?

ANNOUNCING A 2018 READER SURVEY designed to solicit input on these topics and others.

Please click here to take the survey and share the link  
with friends and family via email or your favorite social media. Robust participation across age groups, genders, and countries will make this year’s survey – the 4th – even more significant.

Those who take the survey will be able to sign up to receive a summary report when it becomes available.

M.K. (Mary) Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, Time and Regret was published by Lake Union. Fellow authors Patricia Sands and Heather Burch helped design and plan the survey. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her blog A Writer of History.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Dead Tell Us of a Diverse Londinium

Ancient Origins

Rebecca Redfern /The Conversation

 Our knowledge about the people who lived in Roman Britain has undergone a sea change over the past decade. New research has rubbished our perception of it as a region inhabited solely by white Europeans. Roman Britain was actually a highly multicultural society which included newcomers and locals with black African ancestry and dual heritage, as well as people from the Middle East.

 For the most part, these findings have been welcomed by the public, and incorporated by museums into displays and educational content. But, post-Brexit referendum and in an atmosphere of growing nationalism, they have also been rejected and ridiculed .

 The research behind this dramatic change in our understanding comes from my field of bioarchaeology, a sub-field of archaeology which focuses on the study of human remains using a variety of techniques drawn from osteology and forensics. Bioarchaeology’s aim is to understand the lives of past people in context, combining data about their skeleton with information about the society in which they lived.

Who exactly are the Roman dead? © Museum of London

We can investigate further than ever before by looking at people’s diet and childhood origin using light stable isotopes : naturally occurring chemicals in drinking water and food sources, which are used by the body to make bones and teeth. We also use new techniques in analyzing ancient DNA to understand aspects of their physical appearance, diseases and population affiliation. The new perspective on Roman Britain that this research has uncovered is explored in the Museum of London’s latest exhibition , which I helped curate.

 People vs objects
History is always subject to bias – what kind of bias and the scale of it just depends on the sources of evidence. There’s a dominance of male authored primary sources in the Roman period, for example, which distorts our perspective. One important source of information about the movement of people in the Roman period are inscriptions, particularly from tombstones. These show that people had come to Britain from the Mediterranean, France and Germany. But this heavily skews our understanding towards men, people with a military connection, and elites.

But skeletons provide a unique perspective on the society and environment in which a person lived. These factors shaped their health, and bones and teeth retain this evidence, revealing information such as where they spent their early childhood. These are datasets which are therefore independent of many sources of bias. Bioarchaeological studies of Roman-period skeletons have really challenged knowledge based upon traditional sources of archaeological evidence.

Take evidence from material culture, such as jewelry. In the past, when items with a continental origin were found in a burial, all too often a direct connection was made between the origin of these items and the person laid to rest. Take the unique burial of a 14-year-old girl in Southwark (London), whose grave goods included glassware and a carved ivory clasp knife in the shape of a leopard, rare items with connections to the wider empire.

Examples of Roman grave goods. © Museum of London

The original site report of the excavation suggested that the girl had come from Carthage, because of the leopard imagery and use of ivory. But intriguingly, later forensic ancestry, stable isotope and aDNA analyses revealed that she grew up in the southern Mediterranean and then spent at least the last four years of her life in London. She had white European ancestry, blue eyes and the genetic group to which her maternal DNA belonged was HV6, which is found today in southern and eastern Europe.

This case – and there are many others like it – demonstrates the importance of applying new scientific techniques to help solve these important archaeological questions. It also challenges a traditional overreliance on material culture to explore migration.

Discerning information from most burials is not very straightforward, reflecting the adage that “the dead don’t bury themselves” – families and social groups also make choices about the deceased’s funeral. Similar cases have been found elsewhere in Roman Britain, particularly at settlements with military garrisons.

Model of the first bridge over the Thames (85-90AD) at the Museum of London. Image: Steven G Johnson /CC BY SA 3.0

Roman London
In London, these questions become more difficult to answer. Informally established by traders and merchants around 48AD, five years after the Claudian invasion, Londinium soon became the heart of the Imperial administration for the territory.

 Unlike many others in Britain, the majority of excavated burials in London either have locally or British-made objects or else none are present (wood and fabric rarely survive to discovery). And the few tombstones we have only survived because they were used to build the Medieval city wall.

In this situation, where many hundreds of people remain anonymous in death, bioarchaeology is the only way to understand the nuances of this unique population. Many of these anonymous people included women and children who had travelled as free people or as slaves, from Italy and Germany, as well as the southern Mediterranean. Only bioarchaeological methods allow us to unpack the true diversity of London’s population at this time. These methods have enabled us to show that people with black African ancestry travelled to and were born in London throughout the Roman period.

The skull of a woman buried in Southwark with curator Meriel Jeater. © Museum of London

We have discovered, for example, that one middle-aged woman from the southern Mediterranean has black African ancestry. She was buried in Southwark with pottery from Kent and a fourth century local coin – her burial expresses British connections, reflecting how people’s communities and lives can be remade by migration. The people burying her may have decided to reflect her life in the city by choosing local objects, but we can’t dismiss the possibility that she may have come to London as a slave.

The evidence for Roman Britain having a diverse population only continues to grow. Bioarchaeology offers a unique and independent perspective, one based upon the people themselves. It allows us to understand more about their life stories than ever before, but requires us to be increasingly nuanced in our understanding, recognizing and respecting these people’s complexities.

Roman Dead Exhibition is showing at the Museum of London Docklands from May 25 to October 28 2018.

Top image: Skull from Roman Dead exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands © Museum of London

This article was originally published under the title ‘ The Roman dead: new techniques are revealing just how diverse Roman Britain was ’ by Rebecca Redfern on The Conversation , and has been republished under a Creative Commons License.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Bones found in Magnificent Amphipolis Tomb belong to Five People, Ministry Announced

Ancient Origins

In 2015, the Greek Ministry of Culture announced the long-awaited results of the analysis on the bones found inside the 4th century BC tomb uncovered in Amphipolis in northern Greece. The news was quite unexpected – the bones belonged to not one, but five individuals, pointing to the likelihood that it is a family tomb. However, their has been a setback in their analysis since then. What’s next for the Amphipolis tomb and the remains that were found within?

 The tomb is located within Kasta Hill in what was once the ancient city of Amphipolis, conquered by Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, in 357 BC. Experts have known about the existence of the burial mound in Amphipolis, located about 100 km (62.14 miles) northeast of Thessaloniki, since the 1960s, but work only began in earnest there in 2012, when archaeologists discovered that Kasta Hill had been surrounded by a nearly 500-meter (1640.42 ft.) wall made from marble. It was only in 2015 that they discovered the incredible chambers decorated with marble sphinxes and caryatids, an intricate mosaic floor, and a limestone sarcophagus containing hundreds of bone fragments.

Amphipolis Tomb by (update) on Sketchfab.

According to the Ministry’s Press Release , archaeologists recovered a total of 550 bone fragments, both crushed and intact, including a skull in good condition. After a meticulous process of piecing the fragments together, scientists identified 157 complete bones.

 Following the macroscopic study of bone material, which was undertaken by a multidisciplinary team from the Universities of Aristotle and Democritus, researchers were able to determine that the minimum number of individuals is five – a woman aged around 60 years, two men aged 35-45 years, a newborn infant, and the cremated remains of another individual of unknown age and gender. In addition, they found a number of animal bones, most likely belonging to a horse.

Person 1: Female, approximately 60 years Scientists were able to identify person 1 as female based on the pelvic bones, the bones of the skull, the mandible, and the morphological features of the bones. Age was determined based on the loss of posterior teeth, degenerative lesions, particularly in the spine, and the presence of metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis and frontal hyperostosis. Her height is estimated at 157 cm (5.15 ft.)

Most of the bones found can be attributed to the female, and they were located approximately 1 meter (3.28 ft.) above the floor of the cist.

Bones belonging to the 60-year-old female in the Amphipolis tomb. Credit: Ministry of Culture

Persons 2 and 3: Two men, 35 to 45 years Two of the individuals identified are known to have been men, one around 35 years of age, and the other closer to 45 years of age. The younger of the two men, whose height is estimated at 168 cm (5.51 ft.), bears traces of cut marks on the left upper thoracic spine, two sides and cervical vertebra. His injuries are consistent with violent injury caused by a sharp instrument, such as a knife, which apparently caused his death (no healing indications could be distinguished.)

 The slightly older man, whose bones were found higher than the first man, measures around 162 cm (5.31 ft.) in height and has evidence of a fully healed fracture in his right radius, close to the right wrist. Both men show degenerative osteoarthritis and spondylitis.

Cut marks were found in multiple places in the bones of person 2 in the Amphipolis tomb. Credit: Ministry of Culture

Person 4: Newborn infant The fourth individual identified was a newborn infant, whose sex could not be determined. The determination of age was made based on the length and width of the left humerus and left mandible.

Bones found in the Amphipolis tomb belonging to newborn infant. Credit: Ministry of Culture

 Person 5: Cremated individual of unknown age and sex The fifth person is represented by only a few burnt fragments. While age and sex cannot be determined, the bones are believed to belong to an adult individual.

Person 5 bones (Amphipolis tomb) that have undergone the influence of high temperature, after burning. Credit: Ministry of Culture

The scientific team planned to continue to carry out in-depth studies of the bones, including DNA analysis, to obtain more detailed information about the individuals including their diet, their affinity and place of origin, whether they grew up in Amphipolis or had moved from elsewhere, when they were buried/cremated, and whether the individuals are related to each other. The hope was that the results would enable the researchers to piece together the social and historical context and finally determine the identity of the individuals buried inside this incredibly important funerary monument.

However, an update on the research project shows that three and a half years after the fascinating discovery in 2015, the work has come to a standstill. A lack of funding for the project has raised some eyebrows on the current government’s views on the archaeological site. Currently the human remains are being stored in the Amphipolis Museum. They’ve been there ever since the initial macroscopic analysis was completed.

Despite the obstacle in discovering more about the people who were buried inside, there is movement at the Amphipolis tomb. In fact, heavy restoration work has been underway to have the site ready to open to the public in 2020 .

Top Image: Marble sphinx and limestone sarcophagus found at Amphipolis. Source: Greek Ministry of Culture

By April Holloway

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Gladiators of Rome: Blood Sport in the Ancient Empire

Ancient Origins

The ancient Romans were well known for many things – their engineering marvels, their road networks, and the establishment of Roman law throughout the empire. They were, however, also renowned for their war-like nature. After all, this allowed the Romans to build an empire in the first place. This appetite for violence not only manifested itself in Rome’s imperialist policy, but also in its most well-known sport – the gladiatorial combats.

Two Venatores (those who made a career out of fighting in arena animal hunts) fighting a tiger. Floor mosaic in Great Palace of Constantinople (Istanbul), 5th century. (Public Domain)

It has been suggested that the concept of gladiatorial games has its roots in the Etruscans, the predecessors of the Romans. In Etruscan society, gladiatorial games were supposed to be part of the funerary rituals honoring the dead. Thus, gladiatorial combats originally possessed a sacred significance. Over the centuries, however, these funerary games came to be a form of entertainment, and the earliest Roman gladiatorial combat is said to have taken place in 264 BC

'The Garden Arbor', 1878, depicting a brutal gladiator battle ( Public Domain )

The gladiators were often prisoners of war, slaves, or criminals with a death sentence . The use of Rome’s defeated enemies in these games is reflected in some of the gladiator types, including the Thraex (or Thracian), the Hoplomachus and the Samnite. Thus, gladiatorial combats may be seen as a way for the Romans to re-enact the wars that they had with their conquered subjects. Yet, not all gladiators were forced into the trade.

Despite the hard and precarious life, gladiators were the superstars of their day. The benefits to be found in fighting in the arena – fame, glory and fortune, were strong enough to entice some people to become gladiators voluntarily. (However, the evidence of such citizen gladiators is extremely slim .) It is also recorded that some Roman emperors even participated in gladiatorial games themselves, the most famous of whom was probably the emperor Commodus. The participation of emperors in these games, however, was scorned by some, as gladiators belonged to the lowest of social classes.

 Studies analyzing the teeth of supposed gladiators which have been found in Driffield Terrace, York, UK have also suggested that gladiators generally came from harsh backgrounds. The research shows most of the men were extremely malnourished as children and likely came from disadvantaged homes. Their remains show the poor men were well fed and adapted to battle later in life – possibly so they would be stronger and more impressive looking combatants in the gladiatorial games.

Despite the low social status of gladiators, they had the potential to gain the patronage of the upper classes, even that of the emperor himself. According to Suetonius, the emperor Nero awarded a gladiator, Spiculus, with houses and estates worthy of generals returning triumphantly from a war. Regardless of the authenticity of his claim, Suetonius intended to highlight the extravagant nature of the emperor by demonstrating that Nero was willing to shower a presumably lower classed individual with such expensive gifts.

Carving showing a Roman Emperor presiding over gladiatorial games. ( Sailko/CC BY SA 3.0 )

Whilst the story of Spiculus may be an extreme case, assuming that it was true, gladiators were indeed valuable assets to their “owners”. The more victories a gladiator won the more valuable he was. The popularity of victorious gladiators is evident in the surviving graffiti on walls in Rome and other cities where such games were held. Some of the graffiti reveal the number of victories a gladiator had: Petronius Octavius 35, Severus 55, Nascia 60, whilst others suggest that gladiators were quite popular with the women: ‘Crescens, the net fighter, holds the hearts of all the girls’, and ‘Caladus, the Thraecian, makes all the girls sigh’.

Stele for the gladiator Urbicus, from Florence, killed after 13 fights aged 22, in the mid-3rd century. In the inscription the man is mourned by his wife of 7 years, Lauricia, and by his two daughters, Olympia and Fortunensis. The inscriptions warns obscurely "the one who kills the winner", adding that Urbicus' fans (amatores) would keep his memory alive. ( No Copyright Restrictions )

By the 4th century AD, the popularity of gladiatorial games was in a decline, as the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion. It was, however, only in 404 AD that gladiatorial games were altogether banned by the emperor Honorius due to the martyrdom of St. Telemachus. According to the historian Theodoret, Telemachus was a monk who came to Rome from Asia Minor. During one of the gladiatorial games in the city, Telemachus leapt into the arena to stop two gladiators from fighting. The spectators, who were obviously unhappy with Telemachus’ action, proceeded to stone the monk to death. However, one form of gladiatorial games, the venationes (wild animal hunts), continued for another century.

Telemachus stops two gladiators from fighting. ( Candle in a Cave )

Top Image: Dramatic painting portraying gladiators in the arena. Jean-Léon Gérôme's 1872. Source: Public Domain

By Ḏḥwty

Friday, June 8, 2018

When did medical practitioners start to be called ‘doctor’?

History Extra

Anyone with a doctorate can be called ‘doctor’. The doctor’s degree was a product of the medieval universities; this higher degree simply conferred the right to teach.

It could be in law, theology, philosophy or medicine (and other disciplines now). The medical hierarchy of practitioners was physician, surgeon and apothecary, and each had defined functions. Physicians, who had gone to university, were the real ‘doctors’, and surgeons and apothecaries, who trained by apprenticeships, were ‘mister’.

But the verb ‘to doctor’ is also very old, and has meanings outside medicine too: to change something, whether in a human body or an inanimate object. This ‘doctoring’ verb made it easy to call medical practitioners ‘doctors’. The rise of the surgeon-apothecary from the mid-18th century consolidated this shift in address. This new group, the ancestor of the modern GP, took care of the whole family: diagnosing, delivering babies, compounding and dispensing drugs, and other surgical tasks.

Edward Jenner, pioneer of vaccination against smallpox and a medical practitioner, would have been called ‘Dr’ Jenner, whereas his teacher, the famous John Hunter (1728–93), would, as a pure surgeon, have been addressed as ‘Mr’ Hunter. Neither Jenner nor Hunter had doctorates, unlike university-trained physicians at the time.

Answered by: William Byrnum, professor emeritus, University College London

Thursday, June 7, 2018

What was the sweating sickness in Tudor England?

History Extra

A rather mysterious illness, the sweating sickness hit in a series of epidemics, but was not always fatal.

 Symptoms included cold shivers, headaches, pain in the arms, legs, shoulders and neck, and fatigue or exhaustion. Far from being a disease that raged through the lower classes, many well known individuals of the Tudor court contracted the illness, including Anne Boleyn and her brother and father, George and Thomas, along with Cardinal Wolsey.

The sweating sickness killed numerous nobles and courtiers, including two of the Duke of Suffolk’s sons, Henry and Charles, and Mary Boleyn’s first husband, William Carey.

 Lauren Mackay is the author of Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the Life and Writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys (Amberley Publishing).

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Mein Kampf: what happened to Hitler’s money after his death?

History Extra

It is true that Mein Kampf made Hitler a very rich man. Originally written as a political tract, but also as a way of defraying the costs of Hitler’s treason trial in 1924, the book was translated into 16 languages and had sold around eight million copies by the time of its author’s death in 1945. In the interim, it was estimated to have earned around $1 million per year in royalties, which funded Hitler’s purchase and expansion of his Alpine retreat, the Berghof near Berchtesgaden.

 Yet, for all his apparent wealth, Hitler was a rather ascetic character, who had little ‘feel’ for money, and – once chancellor and führer – had little need of it. Indeed, he even chose to forgo his Reich chancellor’s salary and, as his valet recalled, never carried any money on his person.

Thus, the royalties from Mein Kampf were administered by Hitler’s business manager, Max Amann, a director of his publisher, the Franz Eher Verlag in Munich – one of the richest and most influential publishing houses in Nazi Germany.

Prior to his death in April 1945, Hitler wrote a will in which he left most of his possessions and estate to the Nazi Party. However, with the abolition of the latter after the war, along with the Franz Eher Verlag, Hitler’s remaining assets and estate were transferred to Bavaria, the state of which he was a registered resident.

Bavaria has prevented publication of the book in German-speaking territories, and has sought, with limited success, to restrict it elsewhere. Under German law, however, that copyright expired on the 70th anniversary of the author’s death – 30 April 2015.

Heavy demand for the first edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf to be printed in Germany since his death took its publisher by surprise in January 2016, with orders received for almost four times the print run, the Guardian reported. The BBC has reported in January 2017 that the Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ) in Munich will launch a sixth print run.

Answered by Roger Moorhouse, author of The Devils’ Alliance (Basic Books, 2014) and Berlin at War (Bodley Head, 2010)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Legendary Lia Fáil - The Coronation of High Kings in Ancient Ireland

Ancient Origins

Lia Fáil is a stone found at the Inauguration Mound on the Hill of Tara in County Meath, Ireland. Also known as the Coronation Stone of Tara, the Lia Fáil served as a coronation stone for the High Kings of Ireland. According to legend, all of the kings of Ireland up to Muirchertach mac Ercae, 500 AD, were crowned on the stone. Lia Fáil has been translated to mean “stone of destiny.”

The Stone of Destiny, Lia Fáil, found on the Hill of Tara in Ireland. Wikimedia, CC

According to a collection of writings and poems known as the Lebor Gabála Érenn, the semi-divine race of the Tuatha Dé Danann were responsible for bringing the Lia Fáil to Ireland. They traveled to the Northern Isles to learn many skills and magic in the cities of Falias, Gorias, Murias and Findias. They traveled from the Northern Isles to Ireland, bringing a treasure from each of the cities, including the Lia Fáil, the Claíomh Solais or Sword of Victory, the Sleá Bua or Spear of Lugh, and the Coire Dagdae or The Dagda's Cauldron. The Lia Fáil is said to have come from the city of Falias. Many believe that this legend explains how the stone arrived in Ireland.

A plate of The Dagda, representing the legendary members of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Public Domain

One traditional tale about the Lia Fáil is that long ago the stone would utter a shout, or would “roar with joy” whenever a king of the true Scottish or Irish race stood or sat on the stone, or placed his feet upon it. Stones that make sounds or speak are a common component in old Irish folk tales. Through the stone’s power the king would be rejuvenated and would enjoy a long reign. According to the legend, Cúchulainn was angered when the stone did not cry out for his protégé, Lugaid Riab nDerg. In retaliation, Cúchulainn struck the stone with his sword, splitting it. From that day forward, the stone never cried out for anyone again, except for Conn of the Hundred Battles. Although Cúchulainn had split the stone in anger, seemingly destroying the powers that allowed it to cry out, the stone roared under Conn, according to the the Lebor Gabála Érenn. However, in another writing, Baile in Scáil, Conn only walks over the stone by accident, as it had been buried after being destroyed by Cúchulainn. Regardless of whether Conn tread upon the stone intentionally, or by accident, it is said it roared for him, and legend held true as Conn enjoyed a long reign as king.

Cúchulainn, is the central character of the Ulster (Ulaid) cycle in the in medieval Irish mythology and literature. According to tale, he split the Stone of Destiny in anger. Public Domain

The Lia Fáil remains erect on the Hill of Tara to this day, a site which has been in use by people since Neolithic era. It is a menhir, or upright standing stone, and many such prehistoric stones were thought to be magical by later cultures. The ancient history of the stone provides a strong symbolic link between the Celtic people of Scotland and Ireland.

The Hill of Tara is an archaeological complex featuring many ancient monuments, such as the ‘Mound of Hostages’, seen above. In tradition Hill of Tara is known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Wikimedia, CC

The Irish legends surrounding the stone have been retold and reimagined over time, but the stone remains a symbol of the kings who were crowned upon it, and represents the mythical powers which caused the stone to roar with joy when a king stood upon it. Unfortunately, the stone has been vandalized on two occasions. In 2012, it was struck repeatedly with a hammer, leaving eleven areas of damage. In 2014, red and green paint were poured over the stone, covering 50% of the surface. In spite of this damage, the symbolism of the Lia Fáil within Irish culture remains.

 Featured image: Lia Fáil at Tara, also known as the Coronation Stone. County Meath, Ireland. S. Jürgensen/ Flickr

By M R Reese

Monday, June 4, 2018

How many executions was Henry VIII responsible for?

History Extra

It is impossible to tell for sure, and historians have no definitive number. It is estimated that anywhere from 57,000 to 72,000 people were executed during Henry’s 37 years’ reign, but this is likely to be an exaggeration.

 Henry’s break with Papal authority, and his second marriage – which was not sanctioned by the Pope – caused a rift between Henry and certain individuals at court, many of whom he knew well, and in some cases was close to.

 Those who either refused to adhere to his Act of Succession or those considered to be heretics were executed, but Henry also executed numerous potential rivals to the throne; two wives and their alleged lovers; leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and his trusted advisor, Thomas Cromwell.

 Lauren Mackay is the author of Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the Life and Writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys (Amberley Publishing).

Sunday, June 3, 2018

What was England’s reaction to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1751?

History Extra

There’s a long-standing belief that when Britain caught up with 16th-century science by adopting the Gregorian calendar in the 18th century, our ancestors rioted over the loss of 11 days of their lives. Well, not quite.

 When Pope Gregory XIII had decreed the change in 1582 most western European states, Catholic and Protestant, quickly fell into line with what was simply an accurate astronomical adjustment. Protestant England resisted this papist necromancy for 170 years.

 When, at last, legislation was introduced to change the calendar, it wasn’t contentious. The new calendar changed the beginning of the year in England to 1 January (rather than 25 March, as previously; Scotland had already changed). In England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales that year, as well as the colonies, the day following 2 September 1752 would be 14 September 1752.

 There’s almost no evidence of riots over the loss of the 11 days, although there was clearly widespread annoyance when the change became a pretext for early demands for payment and for delaying the settlement of bills, wages or debts.

 Much of the legend seems to be based on William Hogarth’s 1755 picture An Election Entertainment which shows a placard with the words “Give us our eleven days”. Several reliable authorities claim that many country folk insisted on celebrating Christmas Day on what was now 5 January, and continued to do so for a long time afterwards.

 Answered by: Eugene Byrne, author and journalist

Saturday, June 2, 2018

In Ancient Rome, what was the law of the twelve tables?

History Extra

Created around 450 BC, the tables were a code that set out the rights and obligations of the people in areas such as marriage, divorce, burial, inheritance, property and ownership, injury, compensation, debt and slavery.

Key provisions included the establishment of burial grounds outside the limits of the city walls, the control of property if the stakeholder was decreed insane, the continual guardianship of women (passing from father to husband), the treatment of children and of slaves (as property), and the settling of compensation claims for injuries sustained at work.

Although the power of the ruling classes was not really constrained by the plebs, the twelve tables were never repealed – they formed the cornerstone of Roman law until well into the 5th century AD.

Dr Miles Russell is a senior lecturer in prehistoric and Roman archaeology, with more than 25 years experience of archaeological fieldwork and publication.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Legendary Origins of Merlin the Magician

Ancient Origins

Most people today have heard of Merlin the Magician, as his name has been popularized over the centuries and his story has been dramatized in numerous novels, films, and television programs. The powerful wizard is depicted with many magical powers, including the power of shapeshifting and is well-known in mythology as a tutor and mentor to the legendary King Arthur, ultimately guiding him towards becoming the king of Camelot. While these general tales are well-known, Merlin’s initial appearances were only somewhat linked to Arthur. It took many decades of adaptations before Merlin became the wizard of Arthurian legend he is known as today.

Merlin the wizard. Credit: Andy / flickr

It is common belief that Merlin was created as a figure for Arthurian legend. While Merlin the Wizard was a very prominent character in the stories of Camelot, that is not where he originated. Writer Geoffrey of Monmouth is credited with creating Merlin in his 1136 AD work, Historia Regum Britanniae – The History of Kings of Britain. While a large portion of Historia Regum Britanniae is a historical account of the former kings of Britain, Merlin was included as a fictional character (although it is likely that Geoffrey intended for readers to believe he was a figure extracted from long-lost ancient texts). Merlin was paradoxical, as he was both the son of the devil and the servant of God.

Merlin was created as a combination of several historical and legendary figures. Geoffrey combined stories of North Brythonic prophet and madman, Myrddin Wyllt, and Romano-British war leader, Ambrosius Aurelianus, to create Merlin Ambrosius. Ambrosius was a figure in Nennius' Historia Brittonum. In Historia Brittonum, British king Vortigern wished to erect a tower, but each time he tried it would collapse before completion. He was told that to prevent this, he would have to first sprinkle the ground beneath the tower with the blood of a child who was born without a father. Ambrosius was thought to have been born without a father, so he was brought before Vortigern. Ambrosius explains to Vortigern that the tower could not be supported upon the foundation because two battling dragons lived beneath, representing the Saxons and the Britons. Ambrosius convinced Vortigern that the tower will only stand with Ambrosius as a leader, and Vortigern gave Ambrosius the tower, which is also the kingdom. Geoffrey retells this story with Merlin as the child born without a father, although he retains the character of Ambrosius.

Illumination of a 15th century manuscript of Historia Regum Britanniae showing king of the Britons Vortigern and Ambros waching the fight between two dragons. ( Wikimedia Commons )

 In Geoffrey’s version of the story, he includes a long section containing Merlin’s prophecies, along with two other stories, which led to the inclusion of Merlin into Arthurian legend. These include the tale of Merlin creating Stonehenge as the burial location for Ambrosius, and the story of Uther Pendragon sneaking into Tintagel where he father Arthur with Igraine, his enemy’s wife. This was the extent of Geoffrey’s tales of Merlin. Geoffrey does not include any stories of Merlin acting as a tutor to Arthur, which is how Merlin is most well-known today. Geoffery’s character of Merlin quickly became popular, particularly in Wales, and from there the tales were adapted, eventually leading to Merlin’s role as Arthur’s tutor.

A giant helps Merlin build Stonehenge. From a manuscript of the Roman de Brut by Wace
 ( Wikimedia Commons )

Many years after Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae, Robert de Boron composed a poem called Merlin. Boron’s Merlin has the same origins as Geoffrey’s creation, but Boron places special emphasis on Merlin’s shapeshifting powers, connection to the Holy Grail, and his jokester personality. Boron also introduces Blaise, Merlin’s master. Boron’s poem was eventually re-written in prose as Estoire de Merlin, which also places much focus upon Merlin’s shapeshifting. Over the years, Merlin was interspersed through the tales of Arthurian legend. Some writings placed much focus upon Merlin as Arthur’s mentor, while others did not mention Merlin at all. In some tales Merlin was viewed as an evil figure who did no good in his life, while in others he was viewed favorably as Arthur’s teacher and mentor.

Merlin reciting his poem in a 13th-century illustration for ‘Merlin’ by Robert de Boron ( Wikimedia Commons )

Eventually, from the various tales emerged Merlin’s downfall, at the hands of Niviane (Vivien), the king of Northumberland’s daughter. Arthur convinces Niviane to stay in his castle, under Merlin’s encouragement. Merlin falls in love with Niviane. However, Niviane fears Merlin will use his magical powers to take advantage of her. She swears that she will never fall in love with him, unless he teaches her all of the magic he knows. Merlin agrees. Merlin and Niviane depart to return to Northumberland, when they are called back to assist King Arthur. As they are returning, they stop to stay in a stone chamber, where two lovers once died and were buried together. When Merlin falls asleep, Niviane places him under a spell, and traps him within the stone tomb, where he dies. Merlin had never realized that his desire for Niviane, and his willingness to teach her his magical ways, would eventually lead to his untimely death.

Merlin and Vivien dated 1867 by Gustave Dore ( Wikimedia Commons )

From Merlin’s inception through the writings of Geoffrey, the wizard appeared in many subsequent tales, stories, and poems. Today, Merlin is most well-known for being the wizard who tutored and taught the young Arthur, before he grew to become the King of Camelot. It was under Merlin’s counsel that Arthur became the king that he was. While this legend continues on today, it is interesting to see the many variations of Merlin, from an evil wizard, to a shapeshifter, to one who met his downfall from teaching his powers to the woman he loved. This powerful and versatile character caught the attention of many people centuries ago, and continues to play a prominent role in today’s storytelling.

By M R Reese