- Professor Paul Stephenson, The Serpent Column: A Cultural Biography (Oxford University Press, 2016)
The Serpent Column, a bronze sculpture that has stood in Delphi and Constantinople, today Istanbul, is a Greek representation of the Near Eastern primordial combat myth: it is Typhon, a dragon defeated by Zeus, and also Python slain by Apollo. The column was created after the Battle of Plataia (479BC), where the sky was dominated by serpentine constellations and by the spiralling tails of the Milky Way. It was erected as a votive for Apollo and as a monument to the victory of the united Greek poleis over the Persians. It is as a victory monument that the column was transplanted to Constantinople and erected in the hippodrome. The column remained a monument to cosmic victory through centuries, but also took on other meanings. Through the Byzantine centuries these interpretation were fundamentally Christian, drawing upon serpentine imagery in Scripture, patristic and homiletic writings. When Byzantines saw the monument they reflected upon this multivalent serpentine symbolism, but also the fact that it was a bronze column. For these observers, it evoked the Temple’s brazen pillars, Moses’ brazen serpent, the serpentine tempter of Genesis (Satan), and the beast of Revelation. The column was inserted into Christian sacred history, symbolizing creation and the end times. The most enduring interpretation of the column, which is unrelated to religion, and therefore survived the Ottoman capture of the city, is as a talisman against snakes and snake-bites. It is this tale that was told by travellers to Constantinople throughout the Middle Ages, and it is this story that is told to tourists today who visit Istanbul. In this book, Paul Stephenson twists together multiple strands to relate the cultural biography of a unique monument.
- Dr Jamie Wood and Andy Fear, Isidore of Seville and his Reception in the Early Middle Ages (Amsterdam University Press, 2016)
Isidore of Seville (560—636) was a crucial figure in the preservation and sharing of classical and early Christian knowledge. His compilations of the works of earlier authorities formed an essential part of monastic education for centuries. Due to the vast amount of information he gathered and its wide dissemination in the Middle Ages, Pope John Paul II even named Isidore the patron saint of the Internet in 1997. This volume represents a cross section of the various approaches scholars have taken toward Isidore’s writings. The essays explore his sources, how he selected and arranged them for posterity, and how his legacy was reflected in later generations’ work across the early medieval West. Rich in archival detail, this collection provides a wealth of interdisciplinary expertise on one of history’s greatest intellectuals.
- Dr Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo, Friendship in Medieval Iberia: Historical, Legal and Literary Perspectives (Ashgate, 2014).
Private and public relationships between individuals or groups – frequently labelled as friendships – have played a central role in human societies. Yet, over the centuries ideas and meanings of friendship transformed, adapting to the political and social climate of a period, and consequently resisting rigid definitions. Changing concepts and practices of friendship characterized the intellectual, social, political and cultural panorama of medieval Europe, including that of thirteenth-century Iberia, a fascinating and yet understudied area in this field. The history of
the Iberian Peninsula – a land characterized by conquests and ‘Reconquest’, a land of convivencia (co-existence) but also of rebellions, political instability, and secular and religious international power-struggles – makes the articulation of friendship within the Peninsula’s borders a particularly fraught subject to study.
Drawing on some of the encyclopaedic masterpieces produced in the scriptorium of ‘The Wise’ and ‘The Learned’ King, Alfonso X of Castile (1252–84) – namely the Marian songs of the Cantigas de Santa María, the law code of the Siete Partidas and the chronicle Estoria de España – this study explores the political, religious and social networks, inter-faith and gender relationships, legal definitions, as well as bonds of tutorship and companionship, which were frequently defined through the vocabulary and rhetoric of friendship. This study also highlights how the values and
meanings of amicitia, often associated with Classical, Roman, Visigothic, Arabic and Eastern traditions, were later transformed to adapt to Alfonso X’s cultural projects and political propaganda.
This book contributes to the study of the history of emotions and cultural histories of the Middle Ages, while also adding another crucial piece to the broader historiographical debate currently challenging the most traditional view of the Iberian Peninsula’s ‘exceptionalism’. This interdisciplinary study emphasizes how Iberia was a peripheral, but still vital, ring in a chain which linked it to the rest of Europe, while occupying a central role in the historical and cultural developments of the Western Mediterranean.
- Dr Philippa Hoskin
In 2014 the next two volumes of the English Episcopal Acta Project’s work, with Philippa Hoskin as joint editor, will be published by Oxford University Press. These volumes are part of a major British Academy Research project, based at the University of Lincoln under the direction of Dr Hoskin, which looks at the social and political history of the medieval Church in England from the Norman Conquest through to the fourteenth century. The two new volumes consider the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield in the thirteenth century, a massive diocese which covered eight counties, and examines the tensions between Church and State, how the clergy looked after the ‘souls’ of ordinary people, and the related issue of the growing importance of the University of Oxford which provided men to work in royal and Church government in this period. The volumes reveal the negotiated nature of the Church’s work with the laity, as it attempted to guide their thought and practice in their day to day life.
- Dr Robert Portass, The Village World of Early Medieval Northern Spain: Local Community and the Land Market
The pattern of rural life in early medieval Spain is here vividly brought to life through careful examination of contemporary documents. In the early eighth century, the Muslim general Tariq ibn Ziyad led his forces across the Straits of Gibraltar and conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula. However, alongside the flourishing kingdom of al-Andalus, the small Christian realm of Asturias-León endured in the northern mountains. This book charts the social, economic and political development of Asturias-León from the Islamic conquest to 1031. Using a forensic comparative method, which examines the abundant charter material from two regions of northern Spain – the Liébana valley in Cantabria, and the Celanova region of southern Galicia – it sheds new light on village society, the workings of government, and the constant swirl of buying, selling and donating that marked the rhythms of daily life. It also maps the contact points between rulers and ruled, offering new insights on the motivations and actions of both peasant proprietors and aristocrats.