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Five new books that look at the powerful and the despised in the Middle Ages.
William the Conqueror
By David Bates
Yale University Press
Excerpt: In the end, the central problems that we must try to unravel are to understand what it was that made William so uncompromisingly convinced that he had a right to succeed Edward the Confessor; what it was that convinced so many people to share this conviction and join him in 1066 and afterwards in a very risky enterprise; why so many people feared, respected, and even liked him, and were prepared to follow him loyally; and why many others disliked him so intensely that they were prepared to fight him when the odds against such resistance succeeding were extremely long. Moreover, it is important to understand what it was about him that so profoundly shaped the history of nations and peoples after the conquest of 1066. What was it about William the Conqueror that caused events to turn out as they did?
By Hyun Jim Kim
Publisher’s Description: This volume is a concise introduction to the history and culture of the Huns. This ancient people had a famous reputation in Eurasian Late Antiquity. However, their history has often been evaluated as a footnote in the histories of the later Roman Empire and early Germanic peoples. Kim addresses this imbalance and challenges the commonly held assumption that the Huns were a savage people who contributed little to world history, examining striking geopolitical changes brought about by the Hunnic expansion over much of continental Eurasia and revealing the Huns’ contribution to European, Iranian, Chinese and Indian civilization and statecraft. By examining Hunnic culture as a Eurasian whole, The Huns provides a full picture of their society which demonstrates that this was a complex group with a wide variety of ethnic and linguistic identities. Making available critical information from both primary and secondary sources regarding the Huns’ Inner Asian origins, which would otherwise be largely unavailable to most English speaking students and Classical scholars, this is a crucial tool for those interested in the study of Eurasian Late Antiquity.
Royal Bastards: The Birth of Illegitimacy, 800-1230
By Sara McDougall
Oxford University Press
Excerpt: As I argue in this book, these ideas about illegitimate birth, whether located in the early Middle Ages or in the late eleventh century, are founded upon two critical errors. First, scholars have too often assumed that we can point to “the Church,” or at least to Church reformers, as instigating the exclusion of illegitimate children. Such a claim, however, does not accurately assess the priorities of these clerics, even those who on occasion made pronouncements against children born to various kinds of illegal unions. Monogamous marriage and, eventually, a celibate priesthood, mattered far more to the dominant Church reformers than succession or inheritance rights of children. Their aim was to condemn illicit unions, not to dispossess children born to such unions. This is true throughout our period. Second, scholars have misinterpreted the reasons a given child was actually dispossessed, actually considered less worthy of inheritance than other children. Careful reading of this evidence show that ideas about illicit sex did not determine a child’s worth.
King John’s Delegation to the Almohad Court (1212): Medieval Interreligious Interactions and Modern Historiography
By Ilan Shoval
Beginning of Matthew Paris’s description of the reign of King John for the year 1213:
Therefore he sent most secret emissaries with utmost swiftness, namely, the knights Thomas of Erdrington and Ralph, son of Nicholas, and Robert of London, a clerk, to the commander Murmelius, great king of Africa, Morocco, and Spain, whom the common people call Miramumelinus.
Publisher’s Excerpt: Is Matthew Paris’s story of an English diplomatic delegation, sent by King John to the caliph of Morocco in the summer of 1212, nothing more than fiction, or does it report actual historical events? Did King John really offer to subjugate his kingdom to the Muslim caliph and did he consider converting to Islam? Was one of John’s diplomats genuinely a converted Jew with whom the Muslim ruler conversed about theological issues?
Justinian’s Men: Careers and Relationships of Byzantine Army Officers, 518-610
By David Alan Parnell
Publisher’s Excerpt: This book explores the professional and social lives of the soldiers who served in the army of the Byzantine Empire in the sixth century. More than just a fighting force, this army was the setting in which hundreds of thousands of men forged relationships and manoeuvred for promotion. The officers of this force, from famous generals like Belisarius and Narses to lesser-known men like Buzes and Artabanes, not only fought battles but also crafted social networks and cultivated their relationships with their emperor, fellow officers, families, and subordinate soldiers. Looming in the background were differences in identity, particularly between Romans and those they identified as barbarians. Drawing on numerical evidence and stories from sixth-century authors who understood the military, Justinian’s Men highlights a sixth-century Byzantine army that was vibrant, lively, and full of individuals working with and against each other.