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If you’re looking to get fit, Tom Cullen, star of History’s Knightfall, has a suggestion for you: wear chain mail.

The actor stars as Landry, leader of the Knights Templar, in the newest scripted drama from the network home of Vikings — which meant wearing 50 pounds of armor nearly daily for the better part of a year.

“I didn’t want to weigh the costume early on, because otherwise it would just become a thing in my head. I have weighed it since and it has become a thing in my head,” Cullen, who played Lord Gillingham in Downton Abbey, told Rotten Tomatoes. “The costume weighed 50 pounds, which is a lot to be carrying for 14, 15 hours a day when you’re fighting and riding horses. My body changed shape. I went from fit and kind of slender to muscular and big, just from the fact that I was carrying this amount of weight, this heavy costume.

“I couldn’t even get on a horse when I first started,” he confessed. “I had to have a stepladder because I didn’t have the power in my legs to get over the horse. But by the end of the shoot, I was leaping and running and jumping on horses. It was intense.”

So if you want to “get swole,” try the Chain Mail Workout!

“It’s where you wear 50 pounds of chain mail for seven months, every day, 15 hours a day,” Cullen said. “That’s all you have to do. And you’ll end up [muscular]. I’ve had to go to my wardrobe and buy all new trousers because my ass is so big. Honestly, if you want an ass like Kim Kardashian, become a knight.”

Knightfall takes place in the 1300s and follows the Knights Templar as they hunt to recover the Holy Grail in the final days of their reign, ahead of their eventual downfall. The series was shot in Eastern Europe on a Prague backlot — “they built medieval Paris, they built a temple, a palace, streets, a market, a moat, castle walls, a church, shops, alleyways, a pub — it was extraordinary,” Cullen said. The show tackles the later days of the Knights Templar’s reign of power.

“They were such a fascinating, clandestine sect,” Cullen said. “That the myriad of lies and layers that they bathed themselves in — it’s very difficult to unpack all of that. It was fascinating to learn about them. It was a real educational process for me.”

While, like most people, Cullen had a working knowledge of the group, he learned a lot while simply researching for his role.

“One of the things that really stuck with me was that they invented to first bank,” he said. “They created the banking system, and they created the first checks. They became the wealthiest fighting force in the world. And they answered to no country, no king, no queen. They only answered to God and to the Pope. No borders. You could cash your money in France, and you could take it out in Jerusalem. They were kind of untouchable. Fascinating guys. The thing that really surprised me was the level of their power. You learn about how they were in the battlefield. They were extraordinary. They would never leave. Even if they were losing, they would never turn their back and run. They would basically only surrender when the last man had been killed. That level of bravery and intelligence is an extraordinary combination, I think.”

Cullen’s character, Landry, was taken in by the Knights Templar as a 10-year-old orphan.

“All he’s known is war, fighting, and God. When we first see him in episode 1, he’s a very brash young maverick knight who ultimately loses the Holy Grail and loses Acre, the last stronghold in the Holy Land, which is the one thing that he understands himself through. The series is set 15 years after that event, and we find him questioning everything about himself. He’s questioning his faith and his own identity. He’s a very contradictory, very complex character. He is lying to his brothers. He’s having an affair with a woman. But he is immensely loyal. He is maybe the most fearless, brave knight. Yet he is starting to discover his own humanity and his mortality. He is a very pious man and is still a very faithful man, yet he is starting to discover who he is outside of his brotherhood.”

Yes, that’s right — there’s still plenty of sex on this show about religious monks, and Landry’s dedication to the Knights Templar only wavers when his chastity vow is involved.

“He’s very faithful to her,” Cullen said. “He’s a one-woman kind of guy.”

Except he’s supposed to be a no-woman kind of guy.

Added Cullen, “He’s a very complex guy, which is the kind of guy I’m interested in watching.”

The season will include major developments about Landry’s love — in the first episode, even — but his relationship will take a back seat to his main quest: to recover the Holy Grail.

“Landry goes on a pathological hunt to try and find the Grail, because I think that he entwines a lot of his own identity into that piece of pottery,” Cullen said. “I think that he hopes to find it not only to garner enough power to go back to the Holy Land, which is what he thinks that he should be doing, but also to return himself back to who he was — search for his identity before he became this very complex guy. What’s great is that on the way, we see his life fall apart, and as he discovers more about himself, he discovers more about the people around him and the lies that are entwined around his whole life and his whole existence.”

in rottentomatoes.com by Jean Bentley


Researchers Discover Gothic Cathedrals Blended Iron and Stone

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By using radiocarbon dating on the metal found in Gothic cathedrals, a team made up of specialists in various disciplines has found that iron was used to strengthen stone during the construction process. Their study sheds a whole new light on the mechanical skill and intents of cathedral builders.

The study was the result of a collaboration between the Laboratoire archéomatériaux et prévision de l’altération (CNRS/CEA), the Laboratoire de mesure du carbone 14 (CNRS/CEA/IRD/IRSN/French ministry of Culture and Communication) and “Histoire des pouvoirs, savoirs et sociétés” of Université Paris 8, according to Science Daily. The team of researchers had to collaborate and use their various skills in archaeology, history, chemistry and material science to determine exactly when iron and steel were incorporated into the construction process.

Gothic architecture thrived in the middle of the twelfth century near Paris, and included substantial amounts of steel2 or iron reinforcements, as shown by archaeological and historical investigation. However, it is often said that cathedrals are living buildings, because over the centuries they have undergone renovation projects for the purposes of modification, conservation, and reparation. This means it can be difficult to determine whether certain elements were a part of the original construction process, or later additions.

Previously, even if these metals had been found to be a part of the initial design, the date of their original assimilation would have remained open to debate. Scientists were often unsure if the iron was added later, or if it had been blended into the original construction materials. By combining their diverse abilities, the teams of scientists have proven that the mixed metal reinforcements were indeed a part of the initial design phase.

The researchers accomplished this by measuring the amount of trace quantities of 14C in the metal. Up until the Middle Ages in Europe, iron ore was smelt in furnaces using charcoal, some of whose carbon was released and entrapped in the metal in the form of carbide flakes. This carbon can now be extracted from the metal, and the tree that provided the charcoal can be dated, thus making it possible to estimate the age of the metal, according to Science Daily.

The method above seems reasonably simple, however, it had never been reliable enough to provide any sort of absolute dating. That’s where Laboratoire de mesure de carbone 14 came in, as well as Laboratoire archéomatériaux et prévision de l’altération, who in collaboration with archeologist and historian colleagues at the CNRS, confirmed the sequence of the construction process by cross-referencing radiocarbon dating with archeological evidence.

Under these circumstances, it has been proven in absolute terms (with a few years as a margin of error), that the integration of metal elements occurred in the initial design and construction phase of cathedrals in Bourges and Beauvais.

This new method of dating will help researchers understand a little better how medieval architecture worked. The team will soon apply it to samples from the Sainte-Chapelle, as well as using it to date temples and the iron trade in the Khmer Empire.

Photo Credit: wikimedia commons user: Vammpi

By: Sarah Carrasco in newhistorian.com

Sicilian Vespers

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On the morning of the 31st March, 1282, the Sicilian Vespers came to an end. The night of rioting and massacre which had started on Easter Monday proved crucial in the history of Sicily and also had a significant impact on the broader history of the Mediterranean in this period.

The revolt, which gets it name from the Hour of Vespers ceremony where it supposedly began, started on the 30th March and is believed to have been triggered by an Angevin soldier stopping a Palermitan woman outside the church of Santo Spirito di Palermo, to search her for weapons. Although details of the event of course vary depending on the source, it seems the soldier somehow offended the woman, triggering a riot against the Angevin-French among the local community.

Reflecting the deeply ingrained tensions in Sicily’s multicultural society, the rioting spread through Palermo and then the whole of the island. The local Sicilian population attacked and killed Angevin people wherever they could be found, going as far as murdering monks and nuns. The rioters supposedly used a simple test to determine the Sicilian population from Angevin. Anyone believed to have originated from Anjou was asked to say the word “ciciri”, something native French speakers could not do in a convincingly Sicilian accent.

In the annals of Medieval history, the revolt was a unique event. A spontaneous, popular uprising which affected political change. Following the night of the 30th to the 31st March the Angevin-French fled Sicily, and the people of the island eventually secured the support of the King of Aragon who sent troops there in August 1282. Although the revolt seemed to have occurred without any pre-planning, it is important to acknowledge that the uprising against the Angevin-French rulers was not completely without premeditation.

Since 1266 Charles of Anjou, with the support of the papacy, had ruled Sicily from Naples. Deeply unpopular in Sicily, Charles’ strict rule incurred the wrath of normal Sicilians, but his unpopularity in a broader context was just as significant. A group of Italian nobles, known as the Ghibellines, supported the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor rather than that of Charles and the papacy. Peter III of Aragon, a rival of Charles for the Neapolitan throne and one of the main beneficiaries of the uprising, also had a clear interest in altering the status quo on Sicily. The Night of the Sicilian Vespers may have been a demonstration of popular dissatisfaction at Charles’ tyranny, but there were a diverse range of groups with an interest in ending the Angevin presence on Sicily.

The revolt was followed by series of sea skirmishes and land battles between Angevin and Aragonese forces, sometimes referred to as the War of the Vespers. The fighting finally came to a close in 1302, with the Peace of Caltabellotta. The treaty saw Charles II, the son of Charles of Anjou, concede Sicily to King Frederick, a relative of Peter of Aragon. Sicily was now firmly under the sphere of Spanish influence, a situation which would persist for another five centuries.

Historians have since argued that the Sicilian Vespers, and the subsequent war, proved crucial in the failure of the crusades in the Eastern Mediterranean. Charles of Anjou and the Vatican had been planning to send troops to take Constantinople when the uprising started. The need to divert resources to Sicily put this campaign on hold. Although one of many factors which ultimately led to the failure of the crusades, it is not a coincidence that the fall of Acre in 1291, a pivotal defeat for Christians in the Middle East, took place during the War of the Vespers.

Indeed, the significance of events in Sicily in the broader context of Mediterranean history in this period can be seen in the theory that the Aragonese and Sicilian forces received financial support from Byzantine. Although the scope and nature of this support cannot be confirmed, it hints at the complex political workings of the period.

The Sicilian Vespers revolt was an expression of popular dissatisfaction at the harsh rule of Charles of Anjou over Sicily. This moment of rebellion by Sicilians however, can only be truly understood in the broader context of Medieval history.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Enzian44

By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com

Why the 25th December?

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Most Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on the 25th December. In the modern western world the date has taken on a significance far beyond its Christian origins. It is celebrated by people outside the religion as much as Christians themselves, and, depending on one’s outlook, is a time of year associated with the giving of gifts, spending time with loved ones, charity, goodwill, or rampant consumerism. But why is it celebrated on the 25th December, when the date of Jesus’ birthday is never mentioned in the Bible?

A combination of historical research and study of the Bible has led many historians and theologians to suggest that Jesus was probably born in either the Spring or Autumn. In the nativity story, Mary and Joseph are traveling to Bethlehem for a Roman census. The Jewish festival of Passover takes place in Spring, sometime around March or April. The festival celebrates Moses leading the Jews from Slavery in Egypt. Two millennia ago, thousands of Jews would descend on Jerusalem each year to celebrate the festival. It would have been an ideal time for the Romans to perform a census of the population, and could explain Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem (a short distance from Jerusalem).

In the autumn, around September or October, is the Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is a time when Jewish people remember their dependence on God during the forty years in the desert and coincides with the end of the harvest season. Again, the festival involved the Jewish population descending on Jerusalem, making it an ideal time for a Roman census, and explaining there being “no room at the inn” in the nativity story.

How the holiday came to be celebrated on the 25th December remains shrouded in mystery. The first two centuries of Christianity made no reference to when Christ was born, or a winter Christian holiday. Most researchers believe that the 25th December was chosen because it was around the time of a host of pagan festivals associated with the Winter Solstice.

The Romans paid tribute to the pagan God Saturn (the god of agriculture, among other things) each winter with a festival that started on December 17th and ended around the 25th. It included a celebration of the Solstice, as well as partying and the exchange of gifts among friends and family. Worship of the ancient Persian God of Light (Mithraism) was also popular at this time, especially among Roman soldiers. Like the worship of Saturn, the cult of Mithraism included a host of festivities in late December, around the Winter Solstice.

Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 312 CE and the official sanctioning of the religion signaled the formation of many of the traditions it still holds to this day. One possible explanation for the decision to hold Christmas festivities on the 25th December is that the date was already celebrated by pagans. Selecting this date would have eased the transition from the pagan traditions and calendar to the Christian. There was also some logic for this decision in scripture. Early Christian tradition stated that the Annunciation (when Mary was told she would have a special child) happened on the 25th March. The 25th December is thus nine months after the Annunciation.

Christmas was first recorded as being celebrated on the 25th December in 336 CE, and a few years later Pope Julius I declared the date to be the official celebration of Jesus’ birth. After its adoption by Roman culture, the celebration of Christmas quickly spread east and west, and started to be observed by other Christian denominations.

Over the centuries other traditions have been added – the lighting of the Yule Log comes from pagan Scandinavia, while the story of ‘Santa Claus’ comes from the popular medieval feast of St. Nicholas Myra, a saint who visited children and left them presents just before Christmas. Christmas, as we celebrate it today, is a mixture of different cultures. For Christians it is the day put aside to acknowledge Christ’s birthday, however, it is also a continuation of long held traditions from history, intended to provide light in the darkest part of the year through the exchange of presents and good will.

By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com

Early Medieval States’ Origins: An Overview

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The fall of the Roman Empire is often seen as one of the major turning points in world history. An organised, well-administered empire collapsing to be replaced by smaller states.

In studying this period of history, there has been a large amount of heated debate. A new study by Paul Fouracre, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Manchester, has sought to expand on this historical quandary.

“What historians had traditionally disagreed about was whether these changes were for the better or for the worse”, Fouracre stated, in an article published in the most recent edition of History Today. “Had Roman rule been so oppressive that its end was a ‘good thing’? Were the barbarians thus liberators or were they oppressors who destroyed the protection of Roman law and made themselves into a privileged elite?”

This topic has always been discussed in relatively simplistic terms, Fouracre notes. Rome fell, barbarian groups rose to prominence, and new states formed in the wake of the Roman Empire. These new political entities took their name from the conquering peoples, England from the Angles, France from the Franks, and Lombardy from the Lombards.

Fouracre explains that the historical reality was much more complicated. Principally, he argues that barbarian groups were not the reason for the collapse of Roman administration. Many of the sources which we rely on for our understanding of this period are rooted in nationalistic movements.

Bede’s history of the English, for example, went to great pains to establish the progress of the British people. They were transformed from heathen savagery to good, peaceful Christians; as such, it served Bede’s purpose to portray post-Roman Britain as dominated by brutal barbarians.

“Quite simply, [Bede and other writers] were not reliable witnesses when it came to post-Roman states based on barbarian groups, for each historian had his own agenda in writing and each actually knew very little about the peoples they were supposedly championing,” Fouracre wrote.

Further, it has been questioned whether early medieval people were capable of forming cohesive, independent states. Particularly in Germany, never part of the Roman Empire, no single barbarian group ever formed a state.

Fouracre does not propose any answers to these important historical debates. Importantly, however, he does summarise the scholarship very effectively. He frames the debate in an accessible manner, meaning that the period is opened up to those with little previous knowledge.

By exploring the early medieval period, we can learn a huge amount about our present. “Most West Europeans do live in states that had their origins in what grew out of the Roman Empire and do want to know how this came about,” Fouracre concludes. “The task [for historians] is to write about this in a clear and accessible way that comprehends the complications and avoids the crusty value judgements of old.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: File Upload Bot (Eloquence)

By: Adam Steedman Thake in newhistorian.com

Medieval European Perceptions of Islam

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In 1087, a joint Pisan and Genoese force attacked the North African town of Mahdia, located in modern-day Tunisia. Christian forces returned to Italy triumphantly and used their spoils of war to construct commemorative churches.

A number of Arabic and Latin sources from the time testify to the events surrounding the raid of Mahdia.

One of the most important Latin sources is the poem Carmen in Victoriam Pisanorum, ‘Song for the Triumph of the Pisans’. The Carmen, written by a Pisan cleric only months after the raid, commemorates the expedition.

It has often been argued that the raid on Mahdia – conducted under the banner of St. Peter against a Muslim ruler – was a direct precursor to the First Crusade which followed eight years later. The Carmen is often viewed as providing context for the development of a crusading ideology in the eleventh century.

A pioneering new study has taken a fresh look at the Carmen. Matt King, a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of Minnesota, has been studying the Carmen as a means of understanding Christian perceptions of Islam.

“An examination of this text will allow historians to consider Latin Christian perspectives on Islam and its adherents during the period immediately preceding the First Crusade,” King writes in his article, published in Hortulus, a graduate journal on medieval studies.

It is usually suggested that Pisan interests in North Africa were primarily commercial, with military activities receiving less attention. King argues that there was a certain level of coexistence and cooperation between Pisa and Islamic states, while the Carmen reveals a different side of the story where religiously-charged rhetoric could be applied to justify violent ends.

The Mahdia raid can be located in a wider context of Pisan military activities in North Africa. Pisa had been involved in military actions against Muslims throughout the eleventh century; briefly seizing the city of Bone in 1034 and helping the Norman Robert Guiscard in his conquest of Sicily in 1063.

“The author of the Carmen was thus writing in the midst of conflicts between burgeoning Italian commercial powers and Muslim states in the Mediterranean,” King notes.

Importantly, the Carmen makes frequent Old Testament references in an effort to locate Pisan activity in a Biblical tradition. Within this framework, the inhabitants of Mahdia take the form of Old Testament villains who feel the wrath of God. In contrast, King argues, the Pisans are a Gideon/David/Moses combination who, through the favour of God, are able to defeat their adversary.

“Such a description makes clear the deep religious roots that run throughout this story,” King notes. “In this narrative, it is impossible to separate the sacking of Mahdia or the author’s perception of Islam from this ancient narrative.”

The portrayal of Islam in the Carmen is a multi-faceted one. Pisan attacks are understood as an epic confrontation, similar to the Old Testament and classical tales. Further, the doctrine of the Muslim inhabitants of Mahdia is portrayed as a form of heretical Christianity. Taken together, these depictions of Muslim Africa reveal a medieval Latin understanding of the area as a place and people of the utmost evil.

King notes that the Carmen is, however, a triumphant poem. The author is consciously contextualising the Pisan-Genoese raid in a tradition of God-willed triumph. Simply taking the Carmen’s portrayal of Islam at face value, therefore, may misrepresent the Latin understanding of Islam.

“If we cautiously take the Carmen as indicative of general trends in Pisan perceptions of Islam and Africa,” King concludes, “we thus can see an image of Pisa as a city with some knowledge of medieval Ifriqiya and as one that used this knowledge to nurture some image of righteous war against Muslims.”

For more information: www.hortulus-journal.com

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: DrFO.Jr.Tn

By: Adam Steedman Thake in newhistorian.com

Renovation Works Reveal Medieval Hospital Remains in York

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Renovations at the York Theatre Royal have brought to life remains from what is considered to have been the largest hospital in northern England in the Middle Ages. Researchers from the York Archaeology Trust were surprised by the well preserved state of the remains, as it was believed that whatever remained from St Leonard’s Hospital had been crushed beneath the floor of the theatre, which underwent a replacement at the beginning of the twentieth century, soon after the discovery of several column plinths and the foundations for the rib-vaulted ground floor of a building.

The discovery of the plinths and foundations was made by George Benson, a historian and archaeologist, Culture 24 details, but were believed to have been destroyed, until in 1989 a research team unearthed two bays of a rib-vaulted roof at the site. However, it remained uncertain whether anything else had survived over the centuries, especially since the erection of the York Theatre Royal in 1744.

The latest remains found in what are called occupation deposits beneath the building consist of six column plinths and the base of the northern wall of a building right beneath the theatre’s stalls. There is a lot of documentary evidence about St. Leonard’s Hospital, and the researchers are hopeful that they will be able to uncover more parts of one of the busiest hospitals in Medieval England and identify what they were used for. Parts of the hospital’s undercroft remain above the surface and can be visited from the Museum Gardens.

St. Leonard’s Hospital was built over the remains of another hospital, St Peter’s, in 1137, after the initial building suffered a fire. It went on to become a completely self-sufficient (and profitable) complex for more than four centuries. Ben Reeves, from the York Archaeology Trust, told Culture 24 that documents from the time describe the hospital as a complex of separate buildings, including a leper house, an infirmary, a chapel, and a children’s ward, as well as a residential area for the monks and nuns who ran the hospital. The complex must have also included other structures such as kitchens and outbuildings. Examination of the occupation deposits in which this latest discovery was made could reveal which of the buildings used to be on the site of the York Theatre Royal. Reeves cautioned that such an examination would have to be combined with a dose of luck but added that having samples to examine at all was in itself valuable.

Reeves went on to say that what makes the discovery extraordinary is the very fact of the remains’ survival. Occupation deposits are as a rule very fragile and seldom “survive modern groundworks,” he explained. St Leonard’s Hospital was almost entirely destroyed in 1539, during the Reformation, and the city of York had no hospital until 1740, according to the “History of York” website. Excavation works will now continue at the site of the York Theatre Royal with the researchers hoping to uncover more parts of the building that could provide some insight as to its function.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: W. Monkhouse/ Wellcome Trust

By: Irina Slav in newhistorian.com