Medical History – the sources and what they tell us

Medical history – a topic not often seen on the syllabus of a history degree, but interesting nonetheless. The history of medicine can be easily focused on the publishing world of the 16th/17th/18th centuries, through books, newspapers and pamphlets. Medicine in these centuries was fairly different to what we are now accustomed too, for one, it linked the troubles of the human body to the stars, through astrology.

The publishing of books, called almanacs, was a profitable job during these centuries as they were household items. They were used by many different types of people as they gave the reader important information about the year ahead, like a psychic calendar! Louise Curth has done extensive research on these almanacs, showing us how people in this era organised their days, according to the trusted word of people such as William Lilly. William Lilly was a popular student of astrology in the 17th century, publishing almanacs every December to be used by numerous people, eventually reaching sales of upwards to 30,000. Lilly was also quite controversial in his predictions, often predicting the events concerning the royals or the military.

The sales of these books came at a time of create toil, the English Civil War. Lilly and others like him took a chance to educate the people of the language of the stars through books such as Christian Astrology, the first of its kind written in English rather than Latin. Almanacs were closely linked to medical history as it told the reader when they were most likely to fall sick, and what of. These predictions were based off of complex mathematics by suggesting that the signs of the Zodiac have influence on a person’s body and their temperament.

Further study of these books and their relation to medical history can be done by studying the work of historians such as Louise Curth, and through the Centre of Medical History. I would highly suggest anyone interested in this period consider medical history as it holds interesting insights into society during this period.

I plan to follow up this post with some further study next month.

Gegharot and the Armenian Bronze Age

Today we are going to take a trip to the site of Gegharot in Armenia. This area is currently under excavation as part of the ArAGATS – American-Armenian Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies. The project which was developed in 1998 by Dr Adam Smith and Dr Ruben Badalyan focuses in the investigation of the Tsaghkahovit Plain of Central Armenia under the northern slopes of Mt. Aragats. Their aim is to understand the cultural diversity and historical issues in Armenia since ancient times and up to the modern age. Gegharot, is one of the specific field projects of the ArAGATS since 2005. In order for you to get the picture, I’ll give you first of all an overview of the site.

This is a Bronze Age settlement, with a fortified wall and a cemetery which was the main area of research upon its discovery in the late 1950s. However, the ArAGATS project is now focused on the actual fortress with the purpose of understanding the sociopolitical interactions of ancient Armenian groups. One of the latest discoveries within the site was a large village dating to the early Bronze Age and part of the Kura-Araxes culture. If you are not very familiar with the cultures from the Caucasus, you may want to know that these people inhabited the region from 3400 BC to 2000 BC – although there are theories that suggest the disappearance of the Kura-Araxes may have begun around the 2600 BC. This culture moved northwards from the Ararat plain, and then southwards all the way to modern-day Syria, comprising a total area of  1,000 km by 500 km. In addition, the name of the culture is taken from the two main rivers that nourish this land: Kura and Araxes. Abundant archaeological finds and stable sediments up to the late Bronze Age prove that Gegharot was a prolific settlement, with a decent production of pottery and bronze work. However, it seems that this area of Armenia became suddenly vacant and unoccupied following the destruction of a nearby citadel: Tsakahovit. Scholars working on this field of study are still trying to understand the reasons behind this phenomenon, which they believe key to unveil the rise of early politics around the second millennium BC.

The research at Gegharot is still work in progress, and news from the site appear with frequency. The latest took place earlier on this year with the announcement of 3 shrines from 3300 years ago that had been found within the settlement. It seems that these were used for divination and prediction of the future. The archaeological team has found idols, and items made out of clay, as well as bones. Presumably these were used for osteomancy as well as lithomancy. Moreover,  flour for aleuromancy as well as bread making for the ceremonies was discovered there too. Other quirky finds show stamp seals, potentially used to give shape to the dough at the shrines. Adam Smith (Cornell University), who is currently investigating the site, believes these shrines may have been a place for the practice of the occult, where rulers would have gone in time of need. They seem to have been in use for an entire century, but were eventually destroyed alongside the fortress in Gegharot during a time of political unrest in the Caucasus.

So once again, a pretty unknown piece of the past served in W.U Hstry for you.

And in case you are interested in finding out more about the project itself and the cultures of the Caucasus, please visit the website.

Remembrance Day. Why do we remember and how can memory be controversial?

Today is, in England, Remembrance Day, where we stop for a minute silence to remember the dead from World War One and onwards. World War One could certainly be argued as one of the horrific conflicts we have seen in history, and it hardly surprising that a national day of remembrance was set up after the armistice.   This post will briefly discuss memory and how it can even be a controversial issue.

A question may be asked, why conflicts that were fought before this were not remembered in such a way? I think the answer lies with looking at the mentalities of the time, by examining the public knowledge of the war and knowing the cost of the conflict. The war saw a whole generation lost, whole communities destroyed, and many families left with no idea of what happened to their son/father/brother, with no body to bury. Thousands were dying in the battles that saw hardly any ground gained, it was a catastrophe for the world. This and the knowledge of what was going on, only created a desire for remembrance, films such as the Somme brought home the reality of warfare, women fainting; the famous propaganda film failed in its task, but rather showed how bad it was at the front, which increased the every growing sympathy with the troops. However WW1 was not the first war to be commemorated. For example, the Boer Wars of the 19th and early 20th centuries were the first wars where the common soldier was commemorated in memorials and plaques. And when we are looking back at the Crimean War of the 1850s, we notice the outcry in conditions, where public opinion was engaged with the war. Perhaps the remembrance ceremonies we now have are a continuous evolution of remembering warfare.

Another question people like to ask, is why do we remember, surely the war happened over a hundred years ago, what’s the point in all this ceremony and poppy wearing? Well as an historian, I Think the answer is rather clear. If we don’t remember the cost, the death, the horrific circumstances in which it came about, won’t we just repeat the same mistakes. Some people wear the White Poppy, a symbol of peace and anti-war connotations, this allows them to remember, but doing so within their own conscience . It can also be said that remembrance services are being used to portray nationalistic feelings, to promote one country or another. Remembrance can have a danger, that we use the past to push through an agenda, completely out of context, but portray it to support a certain cause. Therefore, when we remember, we shouldn’t do it to promote any political agenda, and our thoughts should be focused on those who died who died in two World Wars, and countless others conflicts that have happened since. Our focus should be on remembering the conditions they fought in, the problems that they faced, and why they faced them, and that we can think what we do, because of their sacrifice. I’ve certainly noticed an increase in nationalism in all of Europe, but could their also be a problem with people getting used to violence and death that we pump into people whether via films or games or the like, that as those who went to war in 1914 were naïve, couldn’t we be committing the same mistakes? After all they believed war to glorious, with heroic stories from the Empire filling their heads as they enlisted up to fight a war which they would mostly likely not return from.   Whether you agree or not, it is certainly something to consider as we remember.

Some people choose not to wear a poppy, due to what it resembles. I recently read an article on the BBC which suggested some don’t wear it due to it being about peer pressure, about commemorating the actions done in Ireland and so forth. It shows the controversial aspect that can relate to memory and remembering.

To conclude, when dealing with memory, the historian especially has to be careful, and determine why this is specifically being remembered and how is it being done. For the public, staying away from politicising remembrance is key as it is dangerous., however that does not mean we should stay away from it, remembering the past is important, and remembering the conflicts that changed the world are equally as important.   We may always remember Nelson, Wellington, Churchill, but let us remember the common soldier, sailor, they deserve it.

Thanksgiving- The Background on the National Holiday of America

As a keen blogger for WuHstry, I have covered a vast range of subjects, mainly sport related, so you can imagine the difficulty in coming up with an idea for a new blog post can sometimes be challenging. This post in particular was inspired by something my girlfriend said, with of course Thanksgiving being celebrated on the 26th November later this month. It occurred to me that this was a very good choice of topic, due to the fact I myself not knowing too much about it. Even with an American uncle, and an aunt habituating stateside, I had never really thought about the origins of Thanksgiving, and why there was such a big celebration. So here I provide a post on the details of an American holiday, one of celebrating the harvest, with Turkey, a staple food for the Pilgrims in the past, and its origins.

Image of a Pilgrim Turkey.

To understand why Thanksgiving is celebrated, you first have to look at the history of the holiday. When a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth in September 1620, a large assortment of characters were looking for a fresh start in the coveted “New World”, where they would be free to practice their religion. After 66 days of a rough trip, the boat anchored North of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River, and a month later the ship sailed into Massachusetts Bay, where these Pilgrims developed the town of Plymouth.

An artists vision of the crossing.

As was often the case with pioneers moving to the New World, times were tough, highlighted through the fact that only half the crew lived through to the first Spring. In the March of that Spring, the crew moved ashore, receiving a welcome from an Abenaki Indian, whom greeted them in English. This meeting happened again a few days later, with the native bringing another, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, who before had been kidnapped by the English, sold as a slave, and then returned on an exploratory expedition. Squanto showed the Pilgrims, who had been weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to use the land to their benefit: how to successfully grow their own crops, how to catch their own produce such as fish, extract sap from maple trees and avoid any poisonous plants.

Image of a Maple Tree a useful resource for the Pilgrims.

In November after a successful first harvest, Governor William Bradford organised a feast of celebration, celebrating the successful harvest, and invited the local native tribes showing their appreciation for the skills learnt. This moment was remembered as the first American Thanksgiving, though was not labelled as that at the time, and lasted 3 days. Though there is no official menu, historians believe that the Pilgrims went on a “fowling” mission before hand, and that the natives bought a few deer with them, as well as spices for the dishes. Yet with no ovens and a lack of sugar supply, the pies and desserts which are important in the modern-day Thanksgiving feast were not used in the original.

Image of William Bradford the Plymouth Governor whom held the first American Thanksgiving.

The following year the Pilgrims celebrated again, in 1623, to mark the end of a long drought that had threatened the year’s harvest, and prompted William Bradford to call for a religious fast. The days of fasting and Thanksgiving continued on an annual or occasional basis, carried out by other settlements within the New England settlement. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of Thanksgiving a year, and George Washington in 1789 issued the 1st Thanksgiving proclamation by the government of the US, calling upon Americans to thank them for their effort during the war and to celebrate the conclusion. John Adams and James Madison further carried out days of thanks in their time in office.

George Washington.

New York in 1817 became the first of several states to officially adopt the annual Thanksgiving holiday, with other states celebrating on other days and the American South not celebrating the tradition. In 1827, somebody decided to act, Sarah Josepha Hale, famous for the “Mary had a little lamb” nursery rhyme, launched a campaign to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday, something lasting 36 years. Abraham Lincoln finally accepted the request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. The first official Thanksgiving was scheduled for the final Thursday in November, and was celebrated every year till 1939, when Franklin Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to improve retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s decision for ‘Franksgiving’ was met with passionate opposition, leading to Roosevelt signing a bill in 1941 making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

Roosevelt Carving the Turkey at ‘Franksgiving’.

Though Thanksgiving may have lost some its traditional religious significance, the feast and the celebration is still as strong as ever. It is not known whether the Pilgrims had Turkey, but households today often do have the bird, 90% in fact. Other traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Parades and volunteering are also common now, with Macy’s department store having a 2.5 mile route each year since 1924 pulling in 2-3 million. Though it has lost the religious standing, it is still very much a family occasion, one where the family gathers together and are thankful for everything they have. It is arguably a bigger holiday than Christmas, and though it does perhaps have a bit of a retail price on it now, it is still a holiday to be loved and treasured by all.

Spiderman making a cheeky appearance at the Thanksgiving parade.

To my Girlfriend who suggested the idea of writing a blog on the origins of Thanksgiving, and to my aunt and uncle who live in America, I hope this piece has done you proud.

Age of Empires II: A Historical Game Review

For a long time now I have been meaning to write something combining my two favourite things, History and Videogames. So here I’m starting a new series of posts reviewing historical games. Now seems like a good time to start, as there have been quite a few significant historical games in recent years, and there are many more coming soon!

Since I started studying history at university, I have been constantly seeking out historical games, and at this point a few years on, my taste has almost entirely changed to favour any style of game with a solid historical representation, or even a loose inspiration. The first game I’m going to look at however, won’t be one of the more recent games to come out, not by a long shot. I’m going right back to the start, at least the start for me, to a game that was released in 1999… when I was only 5. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings.


Developed by Ensemble studios, it was the second game in the series after the initial release of Age of Empire in 1997. While I did also play the first game extensively, I played the second game first, so I will be primarily talking about that. As you can imagine, I didn’t exactly know how to play this game when I was very young, but I did continue to mess around with it for years until I finally understood how you’re actually supposed to play. Sadly, playing the proper way didn’t involve building nice towns, taking time to read every bit of information, and trying to avoid getting anybody killed. However playing this way did allow me to experience the history included in this game, which eventually became my main focus.

Historical Content

Jumping into the history of the game, it’s pretty obvious that the main setting is Medieval period, with a focus on Europe for the most part. The first game covered the ancient and classical periods, which probably makes more sense when considering the name ‘Age of Empires’. Although the Age of Kings is mainly medieval, there are some playable civilizations featured in the game which spill over either side of that vague period of time.

The game features a decent amount of historical material, but you would mostly need to seek it out for yourself. For example, there is a large history page in the main menu of the game with plenty to read, but this is separate from the game, and seems to be there for those interested in learning more about the setting they are playing in.


This section is quite good though, and covers various topics such as background on all the playable civilizations, development of weapons, tactics and castles, and an explanation of the different ‘ages’ of the medieval period. There are a few pieces of inaccurate information here or there, but for the most part it holds up well for something written in the 90s.

History Conveyed Through Gameplay

With the game being fairly old at this point, it’s quite a surprise to see that the core gameplay still holds up very well. This is probably because this and the original AoE have heavily influenced strategy games to this day. For example Starcraft 2, a more recent real-time strategy with one of the largest competitive and eSports scenes around, uses the exact same model. The basic gist of the game is to collect resources, construct production buildings and defences, and produce units and upgrades that are used to battle other players and assault their base.

So this style of gameplay lends itself quite well to exploring certain historical themes. At the very start of a match you are given a few villagers and you are in the ‘Dark Age’. Your first goal will be to build up your settlement until you can advance to the ‘Feudal Age’. These ‘ages’ are a core part of the game that indicate the advancement of your civilization, and as you progress through them eventually reaching the Imperial Age you will unlock a lot of technology and new capabilities. But we’ll start at the beginning first, in the Dark Age. To advance to the next age you need to construct one of the key buildings and collect a certain amount of resources, which in this case is food. At this point the player is beginning to explore the basic needs of settlement growth, as more villagers are needed to gather wood for buildings, more food is required, and more houses are needed for them. Each thing must be kept in balance or else production comes to a halt. Once this is achieved properly, and you reach the Feudal age, you see a change in the settlement. Temporary tents become permanent wooden buildings, you start being able to assign your villagers to work on farms to produce food more efficiently, and allowing your population to increase more rapidly. This is just a small example of how the ‘economy’ gameplay can give an interesting, if simplified view on how settlements can start, then expand and develop in different ways.

The use of upgrades in the game can also convey some historical concepts. For example, your basic units such as the spearman and archer can be upgraded to become a pikeman and crossbowman, and then halberdier and arbalester. All units in the game feature upgrades such as this, including different infantry, cavalry and siege weapons. There are aslo the minor upgrades in the game, of which there are many. Once a blacksmith building is constructed you are able to develop, based on the current age, different types of armour starting with padded, then chain, and then plate. This shows yet again a basic, but useful representation of weapon and armour development in history. There is a lot of other research included in the game, which would take far too long to go through, but it covers the development of fortifications, of tools, of religion, of farming and other working methods, and different strategies of warfare.

The combat in the game has some interesting touches and unexpected details, despite the battles mostly consisting of whichever player with the most resources throwing endless hordes at their foes. In a balanced fight, there is an advantage to using certain unit types, as for example your cavalry may be useful for their speed to use hit and run tactics, your archers do considerable damage to infantry, and spearmen have a bonus against enemy cavalry. These types of factors, paired with the use of unique units and bonuses given to each culture, can generate some interesting engagements. For example, if the Britons and the Franks cultures are in play (representing the English and the French in the later ‘ages’) they have certain advantages. The Britons can use longbowmen, and have several upgrades to their archers which give them greater range and quicker production rate. Whereas the Franks have better upgrades for their knights. These are fairly accurate representations in a broad sense, and if you are playing against either of these, there are  accurate ways to counter their advantages.

Looking at a larger scale rather than the minute gameplay details, there are other ways the game conveys history though play. What I mean here mostly is the ‘campaigns’. Each campaign is set around a historical event or series of events. The gameplay in the multiple missions of these campaigns can vary in a few ways, with some starting you with a large army to engage in battle, some starting you at the end of a battle as a lone survivor, or as a famous historical figure recruiting allies to join their small band of men. The game leads you through a story with different objectives changing as you go, you usually traverse a large map and encounter many different scripted events, but there is also the freedom to go off the rails and explore, which you are also rewarded for. These stories have a lot of historical content, but of course with a fair amount of embellishment delivered via some lovely cheesy voice acting and supplemented by some written background information and hints.



Before I go on any longer, I should conclude. I could talk for a long time about this game, as it is still one of my favourites. It was probably one of the first things to ever get me properly interested in either gaming or history, and I still think it does it will. There are some flaws in the history of the game. It is often very simple, due to the nature of games in 1999 there wasn’t a lot of room for them to include too much detail, and game mechanics at this time couldn’t allow for decent simulation style games in real-time. But for the most part, it does a good job with what was available, opting for a more simple and representative approach rather than a completely accurate sim. This allowed the game to be better balanced, which probably helped it gain most of its popularity and influence in the years after its release.

So the game offers some interesting representations of historical events, cultures, economy and warfare. While looking back on it now after having studied history, it clearly offers only a basic understanding of these concepts. However, it conveys these concepts in such and engaging and fun way, that it could be a perfect introduction to medieval history to a complete beginner. I’m a good example of this, as after playing though the Agincourt campaign when I was about 12, I was given extra marks in school for knowing about Henry V and his command at the battle. :)

Suffragette: Some Thoughts

It is somewhat staggering that it has taken just over a hundred years since the end of the Women’s Social and Political Union’s (WSPU) campaign for a film based on the British fight for women’s suffrage to be made. This is made even more staggering that on television the only production on women’s suffrage was the BBC drama Shoulder to Shoulder in 1974, which my mother recalls watching as a teenager. Therefore it is unsurprising that Suffragette has been under a lot of pressure to satisfy many, with varying different views, as the only available screen representation (Shoulder to Shoulder has yet to been released on DVD, nor does it seem to ever have been released on VHS) of such a significant movement in Britain.

I was one of the many, having been fascinated with the women’s suffrage movement since I was a child. Would the film address the differences within the movement itself, principally between the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU)? Would the film focus on leaders of the movement such as the Pankhursts’ or Millicent Fawcett or Emily Wilding Davison? Would the film mention or examine the class and race issues that were present within the movement?

I recall being surprised when the first details of the film were released that it would focus on a working class suffragette. The movement as a whole, and especially the WSPU, has been considered to be dominated by the middle classes. The hierarchy for certain was dominated by middle class women, with Annie Kenney the only working class woman involved in the WSPU leadership. Working class women had far more to lose than their middle class counterparts; after a prison sentence a middle class woman was generally more likely to have a home to return too, working class women less so.

However the choice to make the film’s protagonist working class was a brilliant decision, not just from a story perspective but also from a historic perspective. Rather than a film focusing on the politics or focusing on events and dates, the film focuses on the circumstances of Maud’s life (played by Carey Mulligan), that cause her to become involved in the WSPU; a victim of sexual abuse, an orphan, forced into a job that not only pays her poorly because she was a woman, but also one that would kill her young. As Maud explains when asked what the vote would mean to her, it could give her control over her life. Her fellow suffragettes similarly show the circumstances that allow inequality in a world without the vote. Maud’s colleague Violet, played by the outstanding Anne Marie Duff, like Maud had worked in poorly paid jobs since her teens and is married to a violent drunk, who despairs of her daughter facing the same future as her. The organiser of their activities Edith, played by Helena Bonham Carter, was denied the opportunity for a university education by her father and never got to realise her dreams. The framing of the reasons these women fought, and in such desperate and violent measures, highlights the struggle that women at this point in history had to deal with. It could have been easy to focus instead on just the battles, the politics and the prison sentences but as a film Suffragette gives us the motivations behind these women’s actions.

Nor does the film shy away from the consequences these women faced. The brutality of prisons sentences is shown several times throughout the film. I was pleased to see that a scene was included where Edith insists that as political prisoners they should be entitled to wear their own clothes while they are manhandled into prison uniforms. While not explained at length in the film, political prisoners were classed as first division prisoners, enjoying privileges such as wearing their own clothes among others. The authorities refused to acknowledge suffragettes as such, which was the reason for Marion Wallace Dunlop to go on hunger strike, which would soon become WSPU policy. While it would have been nice to seen such a scene explained in further detail, it is understandable because to keep the majority of the audience interested, the writer of the film, Abi Morgan, was treading a careful line throughout to avoid it becoming a history lesson.

Morgan also managed to avoid falling into the trap of making the male characters of the film one dimensional. While certain men will try to claim that the film is anti-men (i.e. it actually illustrates the brutality and misogyny against women, especially when the film is set), a much more realistic portrayal exists in the film. The male characters with the exception of Edith’s husband are against women’s suffrage, just as most men and many women were at the time (which is also acknowledged on several occasions) but they are not portrayed as one dimensional villains. Maud’s employer is shown realistically as a sex pest and cruel, something definitely not unrealistic for the period nor even now therefore I would argue not entirely one dimensional. Maud’s husband Sonny, played by Ben Whishaw, despite his actions as the film continues becoming more deplorable, we see what many men from this period were like. While we may not like or find perhaps much sympathy for him, we can understand his feelings and actions which are shaped by the society he lives in. Similarly Brendon Gleeson’s Detective Steed, while we naturally root against him, he represents a man who believes in the law and the natural order of things, but he is not evil or a monster, he too is shaped by a patriarchal society.

This is certainly one of the strengths of the film, we are forced to acknowledge that this is our history, these are our ancestors, not heroes or villains from a fairy tale. Combined with the film’s questioning of the morality of suffragette techniques that could be branded as terrorism, the film poses moral questions and debates that historians have had for many years. There is no clear moral right and wrong, only shades of grey. Without debate women should have had the vote far earlier than they did, without debate the way the authorities dealt with women’s suffrage supporters both suffragettes and suffragists was wrong but were the suffragettes right to act in the way they did? The film does not give an answer for this question, instead it gives us the viewpoints and leaves us to decide. It is that which makes this film so brilliant. Whether as a viewer we agree with it or not, Maud gives us perhaps the most powerful answer a suffragette would give, and one we should certainly think upon:

We break windows… We burn things; cos war is the only language men listen to… cos you’ve beaten us and betrayed us… and there’s nothin’ else left.

Bulgaria declaration of war, and the response.

World War One is known for the battle in Europe, and perhaps some of you have read about the failed campaign in Gallipoli. However the Allied Powers were also involved in Bulgaria and the Balkans. In 1915, Bulgaria declared war on the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary), even though the Allied Powers tried to entice Bulgaria to side with them, the promises on land from Germany proved to sway their power to the Central Powers. This in turn would mean that they were at war against France, Russia and Great Britain, which leads us nicely to the invasion of the Balkans.

It must be noted however, that the actions taken by either side all link up. The landings at Gallipoli for example, bloody and worthless, brought a negative impact to the relations between Britain and Bulgaria. This is important as Bulgaria was seen as an important political and military ally, as Italy had only just entered the war on the side of the Entente, therefore the situation in the Balkans was extremely important. It therefore suggests that the role of Gallipoli was far worse than thought, as it was a political disaster, pushing Bulgaria towards the Central Powers.

Therefore on 6 September 1915, Bulgaria signed papers and made it known of their new found friends which were the Central Powers. It led to the signing of three separate documents which would relate to the political and military situation that Bulgaria found itself in. The first of these documents were signed by the Prime minister and the German ambassador , it was to be called the Treaty of Amity and Alliance between the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the German Empire.

In the treaty it was agreed that both sides agreed not to enter an alliance or agreement directed against the other, which effectively blocked Bulgaria from siding with the Entente. It was also agreed that Germany was obliged to protect Bulgarian political independence and territorial integrity against attack. In return Bulgaria was obligated by contract to take action against any of its neighbouring states if they attacked Germany. Bulgaria was now committed, it had chosen its side.

Now the whole reason why the French army was to land in the Balkans is quite clear, its main aim was to help the Serbian army which was struggling against the Central Powers (including Bulgarian army). Initially however, the forces sent would be meagre, due to the large scale assaults happening on the Western Front during this time. They would land at the Greek port of Thessaloniki, however their effectiveness was small.

The French and British divisions marched north from Thessaloniki in October 1915 under the joint command of French General Maurice Sarrail, and Irish General Bryan Mahon (Commander, British Salonika Force, 1915). However, the War Office in London was reluctant to advance too deep into Serbia. So the French divisions advanced on their own up the Vardar River. This advance gave some limited help to the retreating Serbian Army, as the Bulgarians had to concentrate larger forces on their southern flank to deal with the threat, which led to the Battle of Krivolak (October–November 1915). By the end of November, General Sarrail had to retreat in the face of massive Bulgarian assaults on his positions. During his retreat, the British at Kosturino were also forced to retreat. By December 12, all allied forces were back in Greece. The Germans ordered the Bulgarians not to cross the Greek borders, reluctant to risk a Greek entry into the war in response to a Bulgarian invasion in Macedonia. The Allies for their part took advantage of that, reinforcing and consolidating their positions behind the borders

The conflict in the Balkans would end in September 1918 , when finally, the Serbs, British, French and Greeks forces managed to break through on the Macedonian front and Tsar Ferdinand was forced to sue for peace.  It is just another chapter in a bloody conflict, I hope it has been useful to learn about, it has certainly been interesting to research!

Lilly’s “Copenhagen Cultural Rave” Continued – Rundertaarn and SMK

Ok, more from my trip to Denmark – yes, I do enjoy my cultural raves…- Today is just a walk through/review of the Round Tower and the National Gallery of Denmark. The reason why these 2 have been chosen – aside from the ones I have already talked about – is because they were in a way or another formative or educational from my point of view. I got to experience a part of history I was not familiar with and this gave me more insight into the country I was visiting and its culture. So, I hope that with my pictures and quick explanations, you get a hint of this!



The Round-Tower is located in the city center of Copenhagen and is one of the most symbolic monuments of all Denmark.

It is a pretty impressive building, you cannot miss it.

It is a pretty impressive building, you cannot miss it.

The building is 34.8 metres high, and the only way to access the top is a spiral ramp, which is 209 meters long and twists 7 times and a half around its hollow core. This is a unique feature, unmatched in European architecture. The venue is both an exhibition hall, cultural centre as well as the oldest working observatory in Europe. It was erected by King Christian IV between 1637-1642. The objective was for this structure to hold a university library, a student church – to which it is still attached, and the astronomical observatory. The library fit its purpose up until 1861. This university library must have been one of the largest in Denmark. Opened in 1657, it used to host a collection of 10000 books. After the collection was moved elsewhere, this section of building was used for various purposes, including an art studio as well as the depot for the Zoological Museum. Nowadays it has been restored to its original function as a learning environment – exhibition hall. Right above this room, is the Bell-Ringer Loft – currently holding the bells for the Church of the Trinity – annexed to the Rundertaarn. Instead it is used as another gallery with artefacts related to the building, as well as providing a look into the 1729 dated pinewood beams that form part of the structure. This part of the building is older due to its reconstruction after the great fire of Copenhagen (1728). On the way up to the observatory one can find the planetarium – a 20th century replacement for the original 3 dimensional model by Bayer from c.1740.


The new planetarium

Finally, we reach the observatory – it wasn’t until I was up there that it occurred to me how important feature of Danish history this was. Since Peder Nightingale in the 13th century, Denmark has had a long history of astronomers. The most famous of which are Tycho Brahe and Christian Longomontanus – in honour of whom the facility appears to have been built. Brahe however died before its completion, yet Longomontanus seems to have been one of the first people to observe the firmament from this location as the first professor of astronomy as the university.  Perhaps Brahe’s most important work – multiple instruments aside – was the star-table that explained in accurate ways the movement of the moon and position of certain planets. Many say this work was crucial for Kepler’s laws later on. Ever since, the Rundertaarn has been


SMK – National Gallery of Denmark

The second part of todays post is regarding the SMK – National Gallery of Denmark.Again, like with the Nationalmuseet, I have been in many great galleries (NG in London, El Prado, Le Louvre, Uffizi), so in that sense I’m not inexperienced with big visual collections. And in that sense, perhaps the SMK cannot rival with the quantity of brilliant pieces that others may. However, what I think was the highlight of the exhibition was the opportunity to learn about some Danish and Northern European art! Europe is so prolific, with great artists all over, that somehow, somewhat, I was ashamed that the art historian in me couldn’t name a single Scandinavian artist that I genuinely knew – or liked! So this was rather enlightening. Pictures to come – In addition, the actual building itself was magnificent 19th century built with 3 levels – reminded me a lot of the Kunsthistorische from Vienna.


The facade of the SMK

Yet this building is in itself a modern art revelation. As the collection grows, it is obvious the space within becomes smaller. Many have been the museums and historical buildings I have seen butchered by a clumsy modern addition or that have been dismembered in different buildings forming a complex where to hold the exhibition. Here however, Scandinavian design shines – Instead of breaking a wall or attaching something to it, they have expanded the back of the SMK with glass panels and metallic beams, opening the space and bringing in the bigger picture, the outside world that inspires these paintings. In fact, the display is rather artistic as it opens into the botanic gardens. I couldn’t think of a better way of creating a gallery for modern art than this. It just felt right.

In any case – the building is pretty big and it hold several collections. Time was precious so I had to choose. So I decided the way forward was: European art 1300-1800, Danish and Nordic art 1750-1900, and Scandinavian art since the 1900s. The European art gallery walked through works from Italy, Holland and the Flemish artists, France and its impact on Danish taste and culture, and a general overview of Scandinavian artists around this period.

In no particular order, here are some of the pictures I took - again no spacific reason for why these peices and not others, some because I like the artists, some because due to lighting issues the pictures would not look good. One thing that deeply surprised me was how close you could actually get to the pieces. At the National Gallery in London I was told off once for being at 50cm distance from a Rembrandt!

In no particular order, here are some of the pictures I took – again no specific reason for why these pieces and not others, some because I like the artists, some because due to lighting issues the pictures would not look good.
One thing that deeply surprised me was how close you could actually get to the pieces. At the National Gallery in London I was told off once for being at 50cm distance from a Rembrandt!



Andrea Bregno (1418–1506) – John the Baptist and St Jerome


Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s St John the Baptist c.1337-1342


Pieter Brueghel den Yngre (1563-1637/8) – The Way to Calvary


Peter Paul Rubens – The Ascent to Calvary c.1634 Noticed a theme in here with John and Calvary…Absolutly not intentional!


Loved this room with the space in the middle to sit down, look, enjoy and learn as the sits are also bookshelves with reference material!

The gallery on Danish and Nordic art 1750-1900 has a pretty self-explanatory name, but I will elaborate a bit more. The way they have designed this section is by contextualisation. Therefore you get introduced into Danish art and its context within Northern Europe and other Scandinavian work. This is not divided in sections with only Danish, Swedish, Norwegian or Finnish art pieces, but rather it displays them all together, allowing the viewer to see the different artistic developments and influences across this area of Europe. Finally, there is also a smaller section which reflect on the borrowings from mainland Europe and the dialogue between Danish art and the input of other countries. Personally, I preferred this arrangement better than the one from the European gallery – I think it really helped seeing the cultural associations and trends, so for the ignorant I was, this was a much easier way to get tuned into Northern art.

Immediatedly became my favourite. By Peder Balke - Mount Stentind in Fog c. 1880

Immediately became my favourite. By Peder Balke – Mount Stentind in Fog c. 1880


Bottom right: Julius Paulsen -Midsummer Night at Tisvilde Beach 1886.   Prins Eugene - Ships at Anchor.Winter 1908  and Gustav Fjaestad - The First Breath of Cold on the Water 1895 (left and top respectively)

Bottom right: Julius Paulsen -Midsummer Night at Tisvilde Beach 1886. Prins Eugene – Ships at Anchor.Winter 1908 and Gustav Fjaestad – The First Breath of Cold on the Water 1895 (left and top respectively)


Not only paintings but also sculpture...unable to identify this one as the names were on the walls away from the actual pieces

Not only paintings but also sculpture…unable to identify this one as the names were on the walls away from the actual pieces


These 2 are by the Danish artist Willumsen (1863-1958)

These 2 are by the Danish artist Willumsen (1863-1958)


This is the extension of the gallerywith view of the botanic garden

This is the extension of the gallery with view of the botanic garden


And with these, I close my third post on Denmark. Watch out for more to come!

Nationalmuseet: Middle-Ages to Early Modern Danish History

Right, this is part 2 I guess! This one is much lighter than my previous walk through the Prehistory Gallery. There are several reasons for that: a)time was pressing, b)my phone was running out of battery and so was the camera, c)the collection is being re-evaluated and some interesting items are not on display, d)the museum is aware their Pre-history collection is their forte. Therefore, I’ll through as much context as possible and when I can, but this is going to be a mostly photographic run through the second floor and several galleries of the National Museum of Denmark.


Medieval to Modern – through the lens of a camera

You like medieval polychrome art? Here is a room full of religious panes, all from Denmark.



Did you say you also liked to see some medieval furniture? Here are some wardrobes and cupboards! I have Never seen anything like them!


St. George and the Dragon – international medieval figure. The woodcarving was originally located in the north aisle of Husum church (Slesvig). However the church was demolished in 1807, thus the statue lives now in the museum. The group was carved around 1520 by Hans Bruggermann



St. George again, from the Stokkemarke church in Lolland.c. 1500. In the museum I learnt that apparently, the Danish leper hospitals located outside many cities were indeed called St. George houses…


Another medieval favourite: St. Martin. The relief dated from around the year 1500 and it was originally located in Bjaeverskov church (Sjaelland).


The workings of a medieval clock!


Ever wondered about the process of gilding? I have! I was deeply grateful for finding this panel showing the different stages and the method used. Another handy resource.


This, my friends, is how crossbowmen of the 14th and 15th centuries protected themselves. It is called a “storm wall”. You may notice that the shield has some spikes at the bottom to ground it while the person firing the crossbow took refuge behind it and loaded safely, firing then through the triangular incision at the front. The museum interpretation indicated that the paintings on the shield may reflect that this had the emblem of a town in southern Germany.



Yes, this is a drinking horn. This one in particular belonged to Henrik Christiernson Tornekrans, abbot of Soro. He died in 1538, so the museum estimates the horn probably dates c.1400.


In the museum they had an entire cabinet full of reliquaries. This one however was the one that really grabbed me. It is believed to have been from Soro abbey, and dated from somewhere between 1200-1250. The representations are the flight into Egypt, the visitation and the annunciation, as well as the nativity scene and the shepherds in the field (image above). The Second image which is the other side of the reliquary represented the Three Magi (image below).



Golden altar from Lisbjerb church, near Aarhus.


One of the few surviving stained glasses from the Danish Middle Ages. It was explained in the display that stained glass would have been widespread, but for some reason it has not been very well-preserved and few remain. This one represents St. Martin. It belongs to the church of Bjerreby (Tansige), c.1200-1250.


Display representing how the museum used to look and approach their representation of history. This is because the museum effectively is composed of several collections. According to the museum’s own text, the Nationalmuseet is in fact an arrangement of museums within a museum. The display represents the arrangements in the 1800s.

  It is worth explaining this in a bit more of detail. It seems that prior to the Nationalmuseet, the collections were part of the Kunstkammer. So effectively the rooms represent displays from the Oldnordisk museum, the Royal Ethnographical museum, the Royal Coin and Medal Cabinet, and the Royal Art museum. In addition, it counts with rooms from the Danish Folk museum. So a museum of museums…Interesting concept! I hope this explains to you a bit better the odd assortment of items so far, and those to come.


Armillary sphere. Model of the universe signed by the German cartographer Vopel (1543).


Bourgeois interior from Aalborg


German crossbow from 16th Century Saxony


All of these are Danish and German hunting weapons from the 16th and 17th centuries


And I am afraid here is where the fun ends in the Nationalmuseet!…However, more to come for I am a dedicated person and I got to many places in little time. Please stay tuned for more of my trip to Copenhagen!

Insult in the 16th Century

The use of insulting language in the late 16th century is easily seen in church court records of the time. After the reformation there was a sudden rise in defamation allegations being recorded in the church courts. The general type of these cases is easily seen, in situations where it is men v men, the insult is normally against a man’s reputation, or the activities of his wife. The thought being that a man’s reputation is precious, and any insult is important enough to take to court.

The cases of women v women or men v women are quite different. When women are insulted it tended to be of a sexual nature, often with the word ‘whore’ being used. The difference between the gender and the language of insult has been explored by Laura Gowing in her article ‘Gender and the Language of Insult in Early Modern London’ in History Workshop. Gowing states that after 1600 the consistory court of London found its time taken up by cases sued by women concerning insults concerning their sexual and moral behaviour. This statement is backed by numerous records of what is said in these cases.

However the records also show the cases between men and women. One such case is between Robert Coke and Joan White. The basis of the argument is that Robert found a knife in the street, which Joan then claimed to be hers. Robert then claimed that Joan ‘…liest (sic) like a whore…’, to which Joan replied ‘Whose whore am I…’. Robert then stated ‘…thou art John Cokes whore…’. This relatively simple exchange of insults was enough for it to be heard in court. The document in which these quotes originate is part of the church court record dated 30th October 1585.

The study of these documents show how insults were tailored to men and women, depending on their social standing. The fact that women were able to pay the costs of taking a case to a judge suggests that their husbands considered an insult against the woman an insult against them, as it would suggest that if their wife was a whore he could not control her sexual actions.

I find this all very interesting as it shows how the higher levels of society dealt with insult and potential controversy in the late 16th century, going to such lengths to protect their reputation as they would their own interests.


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