The Gokstad Ship

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Gokstad Ship


“Right away the mast was rigged with its sea-shawl; sail-ropes were tightened, timbers drummed and stiff winds kept the wave-crosser skimming ahead; as she heaved forward, her foamy neck was fleet and buoyant, a lapped-prow loping over currents, until finally the Geats caught sight of coastline and familiar cliffs. The keel reared up, wind lifted it home, it hit on the land.”

Beowulf (lines 1905-1910), describing the hero’s return from Denmark to southern Sweden

The finest and best preserved Viking longship is the Gokstad, which was built about AD 900 and excavated almost a thousand years later from an eponymous farm on the Sandefjord south of Oslo. Like all such ships, the keel was laid first and secured to the stem posts fore and aft by way of curved transition pieces (Old Norse lot). The first plank (the garboard strake) was bored with an auger and joined to the keel (which was shaped to fit) by iron rivets clinched to a rove (washer) in what is called clinker construction. The next strake or plank was secured in the same way, each overlapping one another and fastened by rivets. Marking the transition from the bottom of the ship to the waterline, a heavier strake (ON meginhufr) ran along each side. Notched floor timbers then were lashed to cleats cut out of the strakes and fitted to the sides by treenails (wooden pegs). Above these ribs, crossbeams (ON bitis) braced by curved knees provided lateral support for the upper strakes. A deck of loose pine boards, which could be removed to access cargo or bale out the bilge, rested on top. Without additional beams above the deck to serve as thwarts, the crew would have sat on their sea chests when rowing. A heavy keelson secured to the ribs supported a pine mast and yard from which hung a woolen sail. The ship was made waterproof by a caulking of twisted lamb wool or cow hair saturated with pine tar and fitted in a groove between the clinched boards. Such construction permitted an exceptionally strong and flexible ship, one that was seaworthy enough to be propelled by a large sail on the open ocean but with a draft shallow enough to allow it to be shelved on a beach or navigated by oar far upstream.

Measuring seventeen feet at the beam, the Gokstad was a wide and stable ship, made more so by riding low in the water. It measures only about six feet from the keel to the gunwale (the uppermost edge of the ship), with a freeboard (from the waterline to the gunwale) only half that distance—and the oarports half that distance again. The deck, in other words, was virtually at the waterline and the oarports themselves only a foot and a half above it. And yet, with sixteen strakes on a side, the Gokstad was twice as high as the Ladby ship, which was buried about the same time. Indeed, that ship has such a shallow freeboard that an extra eighth strake is presumed to have existed to allow sufficient room for the rowers, who also lacked thwarts on which to sit.

The Gokstad ship has sixteen oars to a side, with the oarports (which could be covered in bad weather by a disk of wood that pivoted into place) cut at the third strake (on the Oseberg ship, they are positioned at the first). This permitted a higher freeboard and so offered a height advantage over the enemy, certainly more so than if the oars had been secured by oar locks on the gunwale, as they would be on a smaller boat. The remnants of thirty-two overlapping shields, alternately painted yellow and black, were fixed to each side (which implies that the crew was doubled, one resting while the others rowed). Securely tied, they hung from a batten on the uppermost or sheer strake (and not slotted behind a rail on the outside of the ship, as with Skuldelev 5).

The Gokstad ship had served as a burial chamber for a local chieftain. Among the grave goods, there were oars and spars, tubs and kegs for food and water, kitchen utensils, wooden furniture (including six beds and a sledge decorated with brass nails), a gaming board and horn pieces, intricately wrought bronze fittings for a belt, and even remnants of a woolen sail cloth sewn with red stripes. (Sails often was interwoven to give a checkered or striped pattern, e.g., The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason (CI), St. Olaf’s Saga (CXXIII), or the striped sails depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry). Scattered around the hull were the skeletons of a dozen horses and eight dogs, as well as two goshawks and two peacocks, which must have seemed exotic indeed. On board, there also were three small boats of different sizes, all of which had been deliberately broken up. The absence of any jewelry, gold or silver, or weapons argue that these more precious artifacts had been robbed fifty to a hundred years later during the rule, and possible at the instigation, of Harold Bluetooth, who as the Danish king may have sought to delegitimize the authority and legacy of earlier ruling dynasties.

Certainly, the few skeletal remains (only four leg bones, an upper arm bone and shoulder blade, and fragments of the skull) suggest that the barrow was deliberately desecrated. When it was reopened in 2007 and the skeleton re-examined, it was found to be that of a tall, powerfully-built warrior forty to fifty years old who, from the cutting strikes to both his legs (unprotected by shield or chain mail), likely died violently in battle. Originally, they were identified as belonging to Olaf Geirstad-Alf (Elf of Geirstad), a chieftain of the Ynglings and the older half-brother of Halfdan the Black. But Olaf died half a century before the burial mound was erected and the man’s identity is not known.

Preserved under a barrow of anaerobic blue clay, only the tall prow and stern posts, a portion of the mast, and upper two strakes that had protruded above the impermeable layer of clay were lost to rot. Excavated from its mound in two large pieces, the Gokstad ship was so well preserved that initially it was exhibited without any restoration. This picture was taken in 1880, one of only two that record the excavation (the other from the stern), the mast partner that supported the mast and the frame of the burial chamber behind it readily visible.

This photograph is from the frontispiece of A Short Guide for the use of visitors to the Viking-ship from Gokstad (1898) when the ship still was kept (as it had been since its discovery almost twenty years before) in the garden of the University of Christiana. (Oslo then still was named after the Danish King Christian IV, who had rebuilt the city after a disastrous fire in the seventeenth century, and would not regain its former name until 1925). The following year, the Viking Ship Museum itself opened and the Oseberg ship was put on display. In 1932, the hall for the Gokstad ship was completed and, after nearly fifty years in its temporary shed, it, too, was exhibited, having been extensively restored over the previous three years, its parts disassemble, steamed, and bent back into shape. What could not be restored or was missing (such as the upper two strakes) was replaced.

In this picture, taken from the port side of the ship, the steering oar is almost hidden by the hull. But four overlapping shields can be seen hanging from the gunwale, effectively covering the oarports. In combat, the mounted shields would have provided extra protection and in a heavy sea, some shelter from the waves. But there also was a risk of their being washed overboard, and Brøgger dismisses the notion that they ever did hang from the shield rack except when the ship was in port.

In April, 1893, the Viking, an exact replica of the Gokstad ship (save for the decorations on the bow and stern posts and a protective tent amidships, for which there is no evidence), sailed with a crew of only twelve men across the Atlantic from Bergen, Norway to Newfoundland. Averaging ten or eleven knots, it made landfall after a stormy crossing in only twenty-eight days (one period so rough that the sail had to be reefed) and then went on to New York City. After a journey along the Hudson river, through a very narrow Erie Canal, and onto the Great Lakes, the ship arrived at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, which was commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to America—a reminder (perhaps insensitively, given the theme) that Leif Ericson had reached North American half a millennium earlier. (He had been sent to Greenland by Olaf Tryggvason to preach Christianity there and “on the same journey he discovered Wineland the Good,” The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, XCVI). The ship then went down the Mississippi to New Orleans and returned to Chicago the next year, where it remained moored in a lagoon at Jackson Park until 1920, when it was moved to Lincoln Park. There, the deteriorating ship continued to languish until 1994, when it was transported to West Chicago and stored. Two years later, the newly christened Raven finally was moved to Good Templar Park in Geneva, just outside of Chicago, where it still is in need of better accommodation.

The Gokstad is about seventy-six feet long, its keel appreciatively longer than either the Oseberg ship or Skuldelev 5. Crumlin-Pedersen has calculated the cubic feet of oak that would have been required to build such a ship. Taking the average of his figures, one seventy-four feet long, the approximate size of the Gokstad, would have required 1,907 cubic feet of wood or 22,884 board feet, i.e., a board one foot square and one inch thick. A mature oak several hundred years old with a straight, knot-free trunk three feet in diameter and eighteen feet long yields about 1,526 board feet. Fifteen such trees, therefore, would have been required just for the planking, which, given the length of the hull, had to be constructed from more than one piece of wood, joined by scarf joints riveted together. Allowing an average of four planks for each strake, approximately 128 would have been required to construct the ship or, if only smaller trees were available and a single log was split lengthwise and each half hewed to a plank, half that number of trees. The keel, itself, is fifty-six feet long and shaped from a single piece of oak. It would have required a straight tree even longer than that, of which there cannot have been many in the oak forests of southern Norway—or not even that many forests, it would seem, when one reads in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that 350 ships were rowed up the Thames and London attacked in AD 851. The replica launched in 1893 required that the wood for the keel be imported from Canada. By the nineteenth century, there simply were no longer any mature trees of that size in Norway.

Scans conducted by the Museum of Cultural History in 2019 revealed that, during the previous five years, the ship, which is in the Viking Ship Museum (Oslo), has been slowly collapsing under its own weight, the bow and stern shifting toward the ship’s center, the strakes at midship bowing outward, and the underside sagging on its supports. The beam on which the keel rests and vertical iron supports were not distributing the weight of the ship evenly which, together with fluctuations in temperature and humidity, as well as floor vibrations, threaten its structural stability. Indeed, cracks are beginning to appear in the ancient wood. Eventually, the Gokstad and Oseberg ships will be relocated to The New Museum of the Viking Age, which is scheduled to open in 2024–2025. In preparation for the move, the Gokstad ship was raised one millimeter off its supports and found to weigh 9301.3 pounds.

Although the Gokstad has been characterized as a longship (Danish langskip), properly it is not. Rather, ships from the tenth and eleventh centuries that have a length of fifty feet or more, and a length at least six times their width were true longships. Aside from the dragon ships of the sagas, those from the Viking Age include the recovered Ladby ship, Skuldelev 2 (a smallest type, with twenty-six oars) and Skuldelev 5, Rosekilde 6 (the longest), and Hedeby 1, among a few others. Although the Gokstad ship does have thirty-two oars and certainly is long enough, its beam is much wider than that of a true longship (a ratio of length to breath of 4.7).

The massive rudder or steering oar affixed to the right side of a ship’s stern provides the origin of the word “starboard,” from the Old English stéor (steer) and bord (board). Inexplicably, in the popular Vikings television series, the longship recreated for the show has its steering oar on the port (left) side.

Using ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research discovered a Viking ship buried in a field at Gjellestad, about fifty miles southeast of Oslo. The burial mound itself had been plowed away over the centuries, leaving the lower part of the ship less than two feet below the surface. First located in October 2018, there initially were no plans for excavation. But a nearby drainage ditch had made the ground soggy and damp, prompting the growth of fungus that threatened to further rot the oak hull. Mold also was introduced when initial work was done to determine the condition and age of the ship (c. AD 733). Recovery began in June 2020 and the keel and lower most ribs uncovered a year later. Allow in poor condition, the Gjellestad Ship is the first modern excavation in more than a century, since the Osberg ship was discovered in 1904. Prior to that there had been only two others, the Tune ship in 1867 and the Gokstad ship in 1880.

References: “Dendrochronological Dating of the Viking Age Ship Burials at Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune, Norway” (1993) by Niels Bonde and Arne Emil Christensen, Antiquity67, 575-583; “Skjelettet fra Gokstadskipet ny vurdering av et gammelt funn” (2008) by Per Holck, Michael Quarterly5(4), 292-304 (in Norwegian, English abstract); “The Skeleton from the Gokstad Ship: New Evaluation of an Old Find” (2009) by Per Holck, Norwegian Archaeological Review, 42(1), 40-49; “Revisiting the Gokstad” (2014) by Jason Urbanus, Archaeology, 67(4), 34-38; “Viking Collection Deteriorating” (September 2, 2019), Museum of Cultural History (Oslo); “Gokstadskipet slår sprekker og må støttes opp for å unngå kollaps” (May 6, 2019) by Arnfinn Mauren. AftenpostenVikingeskibs Museet: The Gokstad Boat website; “Prehistoric Naval Architecture of the North of Europe: The Gokstad Ship” (1892) by George H. Boehmer, Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, pp. 618-628; Museum of Cultural History (Oslo) website; The Viking Ships: Their Ancestry and Evolution (1971) by A. W. Brøgger and Haakon Shetelig; Beowulf (2000) translated by Seamus Heaney; Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway (The Saga of Ólaf Tryggvason) (1964) translated by Lee M. Hollander; “‘Viking’, a Gokstad Ship Replica from 1893” (1986) by Arne Emil Christensen, in Sailing into the Past, edited by Ole Crumlin-Pedersen and Max Vinner; “The Gjellestad Ship” (2018/2020), Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research press releases.

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HIST 204 Lecture Outline (Spring 2022 – Week 11)

HIST 204





Reynard the Fox (13:04 min.):

Villard de Honnecourt’s notebook (facsimile; 2:43 min.):

Michael Wood, The art of the Western World: The Early Renaissance:

The medieval parish churches of Norwich (4:48 min.):


Beginning of El Cantar de mio Cid (Old Castilian, 12th cent.), introduced and sung by Emiliano Valdeolivas (2007, 2:35 min.; begin at 1:20 min.):

Here is Emiliano Valdeolivas’ full recording of El Cantar de mio Cid (1:16:21):

(also, the first song only: La canción del destierro, 4:40 min.):

Beatritz, countess of Diá, female troubadour who wrote in Occitane (the language of S. France) c. 1175:
“A chantar m’er de so q”ieu no voldria” (8:24 min.):
“Estat ai en greu cossirier” (6:11 min.):

Bernart de Ventadorn (1125-1195), “Can l’herba fresch” (9:41 min.):

Literary genres that flourished between 1000 and 1300 included:

Epic poetry: vernacular chansons de gestes (“songs of great deeds”) such as The Song of Roland (French) and The Song of My Cid (Spanish; unique MS dated 1207) celebrated great heroes, military brotherhood, and feudal loyalty
Lyric poetry: male and female troubadours celebrated courtly love and sang of the longings and tribulations of lovers
Romance: prose tales of courtly heroism mixed with fantasy, such as the stories of King Arthur and his Round Table, and celebrating the knight’s love for his lady over his loyalty to his lord
Allegory: didactic prose or verse tales, in which abstract concepts are represented by personifications such as Charity, Jealousy, or Love. Example: The Romance of the Rose, by William de Lorris (d. c. 1145), continued by Jean de Meun (d. 1305).
Fabliaux: urban-centered short, crude, satyrical poems that mocked conventional authority and morality.
Fables: brief allegories of medieval society that mock authority and chivalric ideals, using animals as the characters (e.g., Renard the FoxNoble the Lion, etc.).
“Mystery” (guild) plays: plays based on religious themes, produced beginning in the 13th cent. by urban trade and craft guilds (“mysteries,” from Latin ministeria).

Architectural styles, 1000-1300:

Romanesque (c. 1000-1150): heavy, solid buildings emphasizing grandeur, unity, and stability, and featuring small windows, barrel vaults, and round arches, supported externally by wall buttresses

Gothic (beginning c. 1150): airy, soaring buildings emphasizing height and light, and featuring huge windows, cross-ribbed vaults and pointed archesbraced externally by flying buttresses

See also examples of stained glass windows:




Richard “the Lionheart,” king of England: “Ja Nus Hons Pris” (with Old French and English lyrics, 6:16 min.):

Thibaut, count of Champagne, “Dame, ensinc est qu’il m’en covient aler” (5:02 min.):

Guillaume IX, duke of Aquitaine, “Ferai un vers pos mi sonelh” (6:26 min.):



Making medieval manuscripts (Getty Museum; 6:19 min.):

How parchment is made (BBC2; 4:03 min.):

Making Manuscripts: Quills (British Library, 2:49 min.):

How to make a quill pen (English Heritage; 2:58 min.):

“Quem quaeritis?” Early English Drama, part 1 (5:32 min.):

Lincoln Mystery Plays 2016 (1:10 min.):


The 12th century saw a rise of vernacular literature, both courtly and popular. French vernacular poets of the 12th century include:

  • Thibaut IV, count of Champagne: love poetry and songs
  • Marie de France and Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian romances
  • Rutebeuf: poems and songs of daily life

Professional scribes copied texts onto parchment leaves, which were bound into books. Students and scholars often rented or borrowed books to copy themselves. Students took lecture notes and scholars drafted texts on wax tablets — all in Latin — and made a clean copy later on parchment.

Click here to see:

Religious plays in Latin and vernacular languages were performed in open spaces and in large churches to celebrate certain holy days, such as Christmas, Easter, and the new feast of Corpus Christi (click here to see a 15th-century painting by Jean Fouquet of the play of the martyrdom of St. Apollonia including a detail of the stands and of hell-mouth) (similar detail in color).

HIST 204 Lecture Outline (Spring 2022 – Week 10)

HIST 204





Student drinking and love songs, from the Carmina burana (11th-early 13th cent.):

Bacche bene venies (3:27 min.):

Tempus est iocundum (3:59 min.)

In taberna quando sumus (3:59 min.):

Gaudeamus igitur (3:59 min., with Latin and English lyrics)

Gaudeamus igitur, sung by Kundala, of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (1:58 min.):

Gaudeamus igitur, sung at an Indonesian university (2018, 2:40 min.):

Gaudeamus igitur, sung by the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute Male Choir, 2009 (2:05 min.)



Seven Liberal Arts:

Trivium = grammar, logic, rhetoric
Quadrivium = arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music

11th cent.: Rise of urban schools; decline of monastic schools
end of 11th-12th cent.: Introduction to West of Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis (compiled mid 6th cent.; includes concept that “the will of the prince has the force of law”), and of Aristotle’s works (translated into Latin)

Major scholarly controversies:

debate over “universals” (“realists” held that universals were real; “nominalists” held that universals had no reality and were only names; “conceptualists” held that universals were real as concepts)

relationship between reason and revelation

Peter Abelard (1079-1142):

Sic et Non (Yes and No): How to reconcile conflicting texts?
Historia Calamitatum (The Story of My Misfortunes): Abelard’s affair with his student Heloise

Gratian, Decretum (Mainz, 1472): codification of canon law

Accursius of Bologna, Glossa Ordinaria (mid 1200s): codification of commentaries on Corpus Juris Civilis

Late 12th-13th cent.: Rise of universities (see map; most important: Bologna for law; Salerno for medicine; Paris for philosophy and theology)

Books were so valuable that they might be chained to library shelves, as here in Hereford Cathedral’s library

Attempts to reconcile reason with revelation:

  • Ibn Rushd (known in the West as Averroes, 1126-1198): attempted to reconcile Aristotle with Islam
  • Moses Maimonides (1135-1204): Guide for the Perplexed (see here in an autograph draft MS), attempted to reconcile Aristotle with the Hebrew Bible
  • St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Summa Theologica: attempted to reconcile reason with Christianity




Chris Day, “History of Oxford University” (lecture, 1:04:37 hrs; show 3:55 – 27:00):

How parchment is made (BBC, 4:03 min.):

Making manuscripts (Getty Museum, 6:19 min.):

A wax tablet from Roman Egypt with Greek homework on it (British Library, 2:31 min.):



Gies and Gies, pp. 154-165 (Chap. 11)

Pierre Abelard (1079-1142), Sic et Non (Yes and No), c. 1120, and Historia
 (The Story of My Misfortunes): excerpts (see both websites below)

Gregory IX: Statutes for the University of Paris, 1231

Jacques de Vitry: Student life at the University of Paris, 13th century

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-75), Summa theologica: Justification for the Inquisition


HIST 101 Lecture Outline (Spring 2022 – Week 8)

HIST 101


Week 8:

The Rise of Christianity in a Roman World, 40 BCE – 300 CE



From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians, Part 1 of 2 (Frontline PBS, 1998, 1:49:42 hrs; start at 4:30 min.):



Cultures, pp. 223-243 (The vitality of Roman religion; the Jesus mystery; a crisis in tradition; ministry and movement; what happened to his disciples?)

Roman religion:

The deification of Roman rulers began with the Senate’s deification of Julius Caesar after his assassination in 44 BCE, and Augustus’s dedication (in 29 BCE) of a temple in his honor at the east end of the Forum, on the site of Caesar’s funeral pyre. During the following 300 years, almost half of the state temples were dedicated to deified emperors. Among them was the Pantheon, built by Hadrian in honor of “all gods,” including deified emperors (exteriorinterior in 18Cinterior today).

The Roman state religion adopted new gods and new religious practices from other cultures, including the “mystery” or salvation religions that worshiped Cybele, the “Great Mother” (Magna Mater), from Asia Minor (Anatolia); Isis, from Egypt; Mithras, possibly from Persia; and Sol Invictus (the  “Unconquered Sun”), possibly from Syria. Some of the  new cults (veneration of individual deities or sacred persons, such as the cult of Isis, or the cult of Mithras) also produced spiritual or ethical texts, not merely collections of rote prayers or rituals.

The origins of Christianity

The main source for the life of Jesus of Nazareth (c. 4 BCE to c. 30 CE) and the activities of his earliest followers is the New Testament, which contains 27 books, all written in Greek between 50 and 140 CE:

50-58  CE    7 authentic Epistles (letters) of Paul
68-95           4 Gospels, traditionally attributed to Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John
70-100         12 later Epistles, traditionally attributed to Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John
80-85           Acts of the Apostles, traditionally attributed to Luke
92-96           Revelation (or Apocalypse), traditionally attributed to John
120-140       2 final Epistles, traditionally attributed to John and Peter

Jesus and his close circle of followers lived their lives as observant Jews in a Judaea that was ruled in part by a dynasty of Hellenized Jewish puppet-kings (the Herodians), but controlled by Rome. The Herodian kings, who were detested by the people, associated themselves with the hereditary Temple priests and their political allies, an aristocratic party or sect called the Sadducees, who supported Temple ritual and the literal reading of scripture. Their main political opponents were a party or sect called the Pharisees, who were commoners, supporters of rabbinical law and “oral Torah” commentaries, and believed in the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, and the coming of the Messiah, who would restore the freedom of the Jewish people.  A third sect, the Essenes, lived in isolated groups, led ascetic lives, and believed that the apocalyptic end of the world was imminent.

Judaea was a political tinderbox, and the Romans were edgy. An itinerant Jewish preacher, John the Baptist, prophesied the coming of the Messiah, urged people to repent, and performed baptisms as a sign of spiritual rebirth. After John was arrested and executed by one of the Herodian kings c. 27 CE, his followers turned to Jesus of Nazareth, who began a public ministry of preaching and miraculous healings, assisted by a group of twelve companions called his Apostles or Disciples. In his teaching and preaching, which emphasized love over ritual observance, Jesus antagonized both the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and he embraced the designation of messiah, the earthly savior foretold in the Hebrew Bible, and also claimed the title of “son of God.” This alarmed both many Jews and the harsh Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate. The Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy; Pilate had him crucified (c. 27-30 CE) as a dangerous criminal who had claimed to be the “king of the Jews.”

Jesus’s companions and followers fled into hiding, but three days later began to proclaim his resurrection from the dead, and his apostles, led by Peter, who had been designated to lead by Jesus before his crucifixion, began to preach Jesus’s message. They were joined sometime later by Saul, who had been a zealous persecutor of the Jesus movement.  Saul was a Jew and Roman citizen from Tarsus in Anatolia who had studied in Jerusalem with the famous Rabbi Gamaliel. Sent by the high priest to Damascus to track down followers of Jesus, Saul had a dramatic vision of Jesus (whom he had never seen in person), and thereafter became a passionate apostle and missionary, changing his  name to Paul, and helping to broaden the apostles’ evangelism to include gentiles as well as Jews. Seven letters (“epistles“) written in Greek by Paul between 50 and 58 CE to various Christian communities, are the earliest-written portions of the New Testament. Both Peter and Paul were executed in Rome in the 60s CE. (In 2006 archaeologists tentatively identified a tomb in the 4th-century Roman church of San Paolo fuori le mura as Paul’s tomb.)




From Jesus to Christ: part 2 of 2 (Frontline PBS, 1998, 1:51:24 hrs):



Cultures, pp. 243-253 (Christianities everywhere; Romans in pursuit; philosophical foundations: Stoicism and Neoplatonism)

Sources, pp. 106-118 (Josephus, The Jewish War; Pliny the Younger, Letters; Celsus, “Against the Christians,” and Origen, “Against Celsus;” the Nicene Creed; Minucius Felix, refutations of charge that Christians are cannibals; the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas; St. Augustine of Hippo, on the Gospel of John)

Before the Great Revolt (66-73 CE), and after:

By the 50s CE Paul was writing, in Greek, to Christian communities in Rome, Greece, and Asia Minor (Anatolia). Nero’s persecution of the Christians in Rome in 64 CE indicates that by then the Romans no longer considered the Christians to be Jews, who were exempt from worshiping the Roman state gods. After the Great Revolt of the Jews in Judaea against the Roman empire, the divide grew between the followers of Jesus and the Jews. The four Gospels, all written in Greek after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Mark, c. 70-73; Matthew and Luke, c. 80-90; John, c. 90-95), reflect this widening divide in their increasingly harsh  references to the Jews. For example, in Matthew (3.7-9), John the Baptist addresses the Sadducees and Pharisees as “You brood of vipers!” and in John (8.42-44), Jesus says to the Jewish leaders: “You are from your father the devil.”

Stoicism and Neoplatonism:

The philosophies of Stoicism and Neoplatonism flourished in the Roman empire, and were influential in many of the “mystery” religions and in  early Christianity. Stoicism emphasized the importance of self-discipline, service to the community, and calm acceptance of one’s fate. Neoplatonism, deriving from the teachings of Plato and his students, saw everything in the material world as imperfect versions that emanated from the ideal versions in the heavens. Influential Neoplatonists included the Delphic priest and historian Plutarch (46-120 CE), whose works included a collection of essays on ethical matters (Moralia); and the early Christian theologian Origen (185-254 CE) and his younger, pagan contemporary Plotinus (204-270 CE), who saw souls as migrating out to the physical world from a divine center, and then returning to it, purified.


Primary sources:

Josephus (37-c. 100 CE), The Jewish War (c. 75 CE):  Josephus was a senior Jewish officer at the beginning of the Great Revolt, but surrendered in 67 to  the Roman general, Vespasian, who the next year became emperor. Josephus then served as a translator for Vespasian’s son Titus (who led the Roman forces in Judaea after his father’s return to Rome), and later wrote a book about it all. Here he describes the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the famine within the city, the burning of the Temple, the fall of the city to the Romans, and the huge number of residents and refugees killed there.

Pliny the Younger (61-112 CE), Letters: Writes to Tacitus to describe his uncle’s death during the eruption of Vesuvius (which buried Herculaneum and Pompeii: some dead); writes to Trajan to describe his  handling of trials of Christians, and to report what he has learned about the Christian faith and its spread. (This is the first known pagan discussion of Christianity.)

Celsus (2nd cent. CE), Against the Christians:  The Greek philosopher Celsus’s arguments survive because the Christian theologian Origen (c. 184-c. 253) quoted them (in Against Celsus) in order to refute them. Celsus’s accusations included: Jesus and his followers used sorcery; Jesus invented the story of his birth to a virgin; Jesus’s mother was denounced by her husband for her adultery; Jesus learned sorcery while working as a servant in Egypt, and then returned to Judaea and proclaimed himself a god; unlike other mystery cults, which invite only those of just and upright and unpolluted life to enter and participate, the Christians invite sinners to join them; Jesus claimed to be the son of God, but his god did nothing to save Jesus from crucifixion, whereas the Greco-Roman gods would surely punish anyone who insulted them.

The Nicene Creed: Two versions (original and later). The original version was issued in 325 CE by the Council of Nicaea to refute the widespread Arian heresy (promoted by a priest called Arius) that the Trinity was hierarchical, and not co-equal, consubstantial, and co-eternal. It was later updated to reflect doctrinal decisions on further issues.

Minucius Felix (2nd cent. CE), Octavius: Denies the charge by pagans that Christians sacrifice babies, and says that the Romans themselves kill unwanted infants, commit abortion, sacrifice humans to their gods, eat sacrificial animals which themselves had eaten humans, and even prescribe the drinking of human blood as a treatment for epilepsy. Also denies the pagan charge that Christians engage in incestuous orgies, and says that they are virtuous when it comes to sex, and valorize celibacy, and that it is the Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, and the Romans themselves who commit incest, as do their gods.

Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (text of c. late 1st to early 2nd cent. CE, from manuscript fragments 0f 130-250 CE in Greek):  A non-canonical gospel,  which survives in full in an Egyptian manuscript written in Coptic c. 340 CE. It consists of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus, and says that his disciple Thomas wrote them down. Although almost two-thirds of these sayings are also in the canonical gospels (MarkMatthewLuke, and John), the Gospel of Thomas was condemned as unorthodox and apocryphal by a number of early Christian theologians, including Origen.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), sermon on the first epistle of John and the importance of love:  Augustine was a celebrated preacher as well as the early church’s greatest theologian. Here Augustine says that, while no one can always be praising God aloud, everyone can praise God constantly by living a life of charity, piety, chastity, and sobriety, but that the most important thing is to live in love.

HIST 204 Lecture Outline (Spring 2022 – Week 4)

HIST 204

Conquests, Crusades, and Persecutions


Music from medieval Spain:

Song of the Reconquista: Folquet de Marselha, Hueimais no-y conosc razo (De ahora en adelante no conozco razón)
(composed after Alfonso VIII of Castile’s defeat by al-Mansur at Alarcos in 1195; 9:58 min.):

Cantigas de Santa Maria, X, “Rosa das Rosas” (from 13th cent. Castile, in Galician-Portuguese, 4:46 min.):

Jewish music for the Sabbath:

Rabbi Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra (1092-1167), “Ki eshmera Shabbat” (Hebrew, 3:31 min.)

Música Arábigo-Andaluza
, 13th cent. (3:49 min.)


Music of the Crusades:

Crucem sanctam subiit (Templar antiphon? mid 12th cent., 8:14 min.):

Thibaut, count of Champagne (1201-53), Seigneurs, sachiez qui or ne s’en ira (3:44 min.):

Chevalier mult estez quariz (2:23 min.):

Trailer for French TV series “Thibaud ou les Croisades” (1968; 0:30 min.):


European Conquests:


1002 Death of Al-Mansur and disintegration of of Al-Andalus (Muslim caliphate of Cordova) leads to:

c. 1050-1250 Gradual Reconquista (reconquest) of much of Iberia by Christian armies (Granada, the last Muslim stronghold, falls in 1492)
1085 Toledo conquered by Christian kingdom of Castile; becomes center for Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholarly exchange
1130s-40s Merger of Christian kingdoms of Aragon and Barcelona; capture of Lisbon by Crusaders of 2nd Crusade, and establishment of independent Christian kingdom of Portugal
1212-1264 Pope Innocent III proclaims a Crusade against Muslims in Spain; S. half of Portugal and Spain (except territory around Granada) and Balearic Islands conquered by Christians
1047-1090s Robert Guiscard (d. 1085, after rescuing Pope Gregory VII from Henry IV in 1084) and his brother Roger, sons of a Norman baron, conquer S. Italy and Sicily, and establish Norman kingdom there, with capital at Palermo, which becomes center of Muslim, Jewish, Greek, and Latin scholarly exchange.
c. 1125-c. 1350 German eastward expansion into Slavic lands


The First Crusade:

1071 Seljuk Turks smash Byzantine army at Manzikert, and conquer Palestine (including Jerusalem) from Fatimid caliphate of Egypt
1095 Pope Urban II receives appeal for help from Byzantine emperor; at church council at Clermont in Nov. 1095 he calls for Christian reconquest of the Holy Land (First Crusade)
1095-6 Peasants’ Crusade (or “Paupers’” or “People’s” Crusade), led by Peter the Hermit and Walter sans Avoirslaughters Jews in the Rhineland.  Many turn back or are killed in the Balkans; one group (led by Walter) reaches Constantinople, but most are killed near Nicaea by the Turks
1096-9 First Crusade, led by Norman and French barons and knights, conquers Syro-Palestine, including Jerusalem, and divides it up into four Crusader States: kingdom of Jerusalem, principality of Antioch, county of Tripoli, and county of Edessa (click here for a plan of Jerusalem, c. 1140s)

Online readings:

Robert the Monk, Historia Hierosolymitana (c. 1120): Pope Urban II’s speech at Clermont, 1095

Map of the First Crusade, 1095-99

Ekkehard of Aurach, Hierosolymita (early 1100s): The first Crusaders

Fulk of Chartres: The Capture of Jerusalem in 1099, and the Latins in the East






1147-8 Fall of county of Edessa to Muslims (1144) leads to 2nd Crusade:

1170s-80s Re-unification of Muslim state in Egypt under Saladin (d. 1193)
1187 Saladin crushes Crusader army at Hattin and re-conquers much of Crusader States, including Jerusalem, leading to:
1189-93 Third Crusade, led by King Richard I (“the Lionheart”) of England, Philip II (“Augustus”) of France, and Emperor Frederick I (“Barbarossa”) of Germany:

1201-4 Fourth Crusade, preached by Pope Innocent III and led by lesser princes (including Baldwin, Count of Flanders):

1209-29 Albigensian Crusade, preached by Pope Innocent III against Cathars (rather successful; also extended French royal authority into S. France; > Inquisition)
1212 Crusade against Muslims in Spain, preached by Pope Innocent III (successful); “Children’s Crusade” (hopeless)
1217-21 Fifth Crusade: in Egypt (failure)
1229 Emperor Frederick II purchases possession of Jerusalem (it falls again to Muslims in 1244)
1248, 1270 Two Crusades (to Egypt and Tunis) led by King Louis IX (St. Louis) of France — both failures. King Louis is captured and held to ransom in the first, and dies of illness in the second.
1291 Fall of last Crusader stronghold (Acre)

Online readings:

Annales Herbipolenses, 1147: A hostile view of the 2nd Crusade, by an anonymous annalist of Würzburg

De expugnatione terrae sanctae per Saladinum: Eyewitness account of the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin, 1187

Itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis Ricardi (Itinerary of the Travels and Deeds of King Richard): Richard the Lionheart makes peace with Saladin, 1192


12th cent. Rediscovery in the West of codification of Roman law (produced in Constantinople under Emperor Justinian in mid 500s) leads to rapid development of civil (secular) and canon (ecclesiastical) law, and election of canon lawyers to high church office, including the papacy.
1215 Pope Innocent III (a canon lawyer) convenes the 4th Lateran Council, the most important church council held in medieval Europe. It passes a series of canons (church laws), one of which (Canon 21) requires that all Christians shall make confession and take Communion at least once a year, at Easter, on pain of excommunication. This provides a legal basis for the Inquisition, which is established in the 1220s to identify and eliminate all heresies and heretics.

Online readings:

The development of the Inquisition:

Decree of the Council of Toulouse (1229)

Gregory IX sends Domincan friars as Inquisitors to France (1233)

Bernard Gui, Inquisitor’s Manual (c. 1307-23):
the heresies of the Waldensians or Poor Men of Lyon
the Cathars or Albigensians

Bernard Gui, Inquisitor’s Manual (c. 1307-23):

inquisitorial technique
(Notice the very sophisticated legal and interrogation skills displayed here by Bishop Gui in this text.)

HIST 398 Discussion Materials (Fall 2021 – Week 15)

HIST 398


“The Battle of Towton [1461]” [50 min.; watch 1:00-5:00; 7:00-11:24; 20:00- 26:30 (military surgery); 31:00-37:00 (weapons and injuries); 43:22-45:00 (wound sequencing)]


Paterson, “Military Surgery”

Mark Brennand, review of Blood Red Roses: The
Archaeology of a
 Mass Grave from the Battle of Towton AD 1461

Battle injuries: skeletons from the Battle of Towton, 1461

The Towton Mass Grave Project

Brief account of the Battle of Towton (March 29, 1461):



Interactive map of the battlefield at Towton (N. Yorkshire):

Photographs of Towton battlefield and surrounding area:

Rolled up mail shirt found near the site of the battle of Kungslena, Sweden (1208)

Battle scenes from the Maciejowski Bible (Paris, c. 1234-44):

Skeletons from the battle of Visby on the island of Gotland, Sweden (July 1361):
Brief website on battle and skeletons
Skulls: with mail coif,  with projectiles, with coif and smashed face
Coat of plates from one of the graves

The battle of Towton, Palm Sunday (March 29th), 1461:
Detail of mass burial
Sketch of mass burials

Soldier with poleaxe (detail of stained glass window):

Medicine and surgery:

The four humors

Urine wheel, 14th cent. (parchment quick-reference text, meant to fold up and hang at the physician’s belt)

Uroscopy: physician examining a urine flask and physician or apothecary examining a customer’s urine flask (both 14th cent.),
parodied as monkey examining urine flask (Cambrai, BM, 87), and similar (Bodleian, MS 264)

Drawing teeth, early 14th cent.

Writings of John of Arderne, 1370s (in later manuscripts)

Medieval arrowheads (Museum of London)

“Wound man” (German, late 15th cent.,Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cgm 597 )

Public dissection of cadaver, 15th cent.

Herbal, c. 1480-1500

Anatomical sculpture, ivory, c. 1500 (6-7 inches high)




Week 15 mini-paper due by 4:59 PM:
You have been injured during a siege. Describe your injuries and their treatment.


Daniell, Death and Burial in Medieval England, Chapter 2 (pp. 27-58) (available online through the UWM Libraries: see link in “Required Readings” in syllabus)

Pounds, The Medieval Castle, Chapter 10 (pp. 249-260, 269-75), and Chapter 12 (pp. 295-300)

Gies and Gies, Life, Chap. 12 (pp. 218-224)


Soul saved by angel at moment of death

Hearse and effigy of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1439)

Corpse of Richard II in hearse

Mock funeral procession with animals (Gorleston Psalter)

Details from other late medieval castles and palaces:

Penshurst Place, Kent (1341 and later): aerial view, hall interiordais end of hall
Caerphilly Castle, Glamorgan (begun 1268; hall remodeled 1320s): exterior of hall (on right); interior
Great Hall at Penshurst Place, Kent (late 14th cent.)
Great Hall, Durham Castle, 14th cent.
Well-house with donkey treadmill, Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight
14th-century Great Hall;  Buffet in 14th-century Great Hall  at Dirleton Castle, East Lothian, Scotland
Kitchen, Windsor Castle, Berkshire (late 15th cent.; painted in 1818); aerial photo of fire damage at Windsor Castle in 1992; painting (1999) of restored kitchen after fire
Cotehele House (aerial photo), late 15th cent.

Oxford Colleges: aerial photograph
Great Hall, Christ Church College (early 16th cent.)


HIST 398 Discussion Materials (Fall 2021 – Week 13)

HIST 398





Oral presentations in class, 2-3 min. each
(see end of syllabus for topic)

No script or mini-paper due.


Gies and Gies, Life, Chap. 10 (pp. 186-205)

Macaulay, pp. 64-78

Letter from Alexander de Balliol to Edward I concerning spies:

Order by Edward II to the constable of Portchester Castle to search for
spies, 10 March 1326:

The Lanercost Chronicle: Robert Bruce besieges Carlisle, 1316



Thanksgiving Day

(no class)

Letter from Alexander de Balliol to King Edward I concerning spies (21 Sept. 1301)

September 21, 1301: Letter from Alexander de Bailioel [of Cavers] to King Edward [I].

He has heard from the king’s letters that Sir John de Soulys has gone towards Galloway with a great company of Scots. The writer had and still has his spies among them, and will inform the keepers of the march as soon as he hears the Scots are coming. The king has told him that if he provided spies they should remain under his control, and he will do his best for the king. The king must not take it amiss that the writer has not given him news more quickly, for he would hate to send the king anything other than certain news. As to what the king has told him concerning Sir Walter de Borudoun, who is staying at Chastel Terres [Carstairs], the writer will be ready whenever Sir Walter commands him. The writer and his fellow keepers of the march are threatened by a possible Scottish raid to destroy the writer’s lands and to seize and defend the forest, so that they have arranged to gather next Sunday [24 Sept.] at a place on the march to inspect their forces. Asks for the king’s orders, as to one who is ready to obey.

[Letter dated at:] Cavers [Roxburghshire]

[Language:] French

[The National Archives:] SC 1/15/2

[Source: Taken verbatim from De Re Militari website, (accessed 22 August 2021).]

HIST 204 Lecture Outline (Spring 2021 – Week 15)

HIST 204


Diversity and Dynamism in Late Medieval Culture, c. 1300-1500,

and The New Technologies



“Tarantella alia clausula” (2:45 min.):

“Dolce amoroso foco” (2:13 min.):

15th-century music (see first two of five videos):


The Print Workshop in the 15th Century (Cambridge University Library; 5:02 min.):


Arts and letters:

Some Black Death artistic genres emphasized the inevitability and horrors of death, such as cadaver or “transi” tombs

Expansion of universities and schools, including schools that offered training in business subjects

Rise of vernacular literature, by authors including:

Rise of humanist education, based on classical languages, literature, and arts, and led by Italian scholar Francesco Petrarch

Revival of realistic portraiture and of classicizing art and architecture


Rise of humanism, celebrating human potential (e.g., in Pico della Mirandola‘s essay, On the Dignity of Man)

Destruction of the Thomistic synthesis of revelation and reason (led by English Franciscan William of Ockham) led to concepts of:
  • Faith unfettered by logic
  • Scientific inquiry unfettered by faith

The new technologies:

Paper: Spread to Europe in 10th cent. from China via Islamic world; paper production, using linen rags, began in Christian Europe in 13th cent.
Horizontal loom: First appeared in Europe in 11th cent.; mechanized in 12th cent. (probably from Chinese model)
Windmills: Vertical or “post” windmills were a European invention; they are first mentioned c. 1185 in England
Magnetic compass: Invented in China (first mentioned in 1st cent. AD); reached Europe in 12th cent.
Spectacles: Invented in Florence in 1285 or a few years later. These were convex lenses, of help only to the far-sighted. Concave lenses of use to the near-sighted were developed in the 16th century. (Click here to see imprint of spectacles in a medieval book.)
Gunpowder weapons: Gunpowder was invented in China; cannon were first used in Europe in the 1320s, and underwent rapid development thereafter. (Click to see replica of a small bronze Swedish cannon, 1326, (wt: 9.07 kg; length: 300 mm); a wrought-iron German bombarde with stone cannon balls, 1377; and the Scottish bombarde “Mons Meg,” early 15th cent.)
Printing press: Press with movable type was invented in Germany in the 1450s. By 1500, more than 40,000 different titles had been published by more than 1,000 printers, for a total of 8-10 million copies.