Winchester Seminars on Comparative Medieval Cultures: Second Session Notes

On the 8th of November, 2012, some of the members of the W.U Hstry teams went to a session of the WSCMC: Winchester Seminars on Comparative Medieval Cultures. We listened and took notes from two different talks. A somehow comprehensive version of the notes that were taken will be provided in the following paragraphs. We hope you find the information as interesting as we did!

The Ecology of Crusading: The Environmental Impact of Conquest, Colonisation and Religious Conversion in the Medieval Baltic, by Dr. Aleks Pluskowski and Dr. Alex Brown, from the department of Archaeology of the University of Reading – Some notes of interest taken during this seminar:

About the Geopolitical Situation before the Crusades in the Baltic:

-In the 12th century there were different tribes, and multicultural centres with Scandinavian, Slavic and Prussian groups coexisting together. Their strongholds were the main places for trade and the basis of their territorial units. However some of this sites were destroyed before the crusades due to feuds and land disputes with the Polish and the Rus. The Crusades were so successful because of the disunity within these tribes.

-Their religious systems were very linked with the environment. Peter of Dusburg records these habits in 1326. Spirituality was a very important factor in the east Baltic tribes. They had different cults. It is known of horse sacrifices in Natangia. All this rites end with the crusade and the proper introduction of Christianity in the area, which had been under Christian influence since the 10th century although unsuccessfully.

-Impact of the Crusades – mainly of the Teutonic order – reflected in the transformation of the medieval Baltic society: increase of urbanisation and rural colonies, also improved Christian infrastructure, as well as reorganisation of the territory. It was a theocratic society, and fiefs were paid to the Papa State.

The Project:

-Environmental focus- project from 2010 to 2014 investigating the impact of crusading activity in the environment and the shaping of the crusading state in the post-medieval period. The importance of castles.

-Methodology: paleobotany, geoarchaeology, zooarchaeology and historical studies.

-Pollen analysis: key to the understanding of past vegetation and human activity. IT had been changing since the Iron Age. Role of wood: increasing quantities of timber needed for the construction and maintenance of castles and towns.

Radzyn Chelminsk (Kulmerland):

-10th and 13th century increase in cereal pollen and other traces of human activities. Some woodland areas survive, while the agricultural production improved – Localised responses to the landscape. Backed up by document sources.

Southern Estonia:

-Little evidence for intensification in the human impact until the 14th century in the pollen diagrams, but lower than in the heartland. Why?-very little happened in the countryside after the conquest, but it all improves with the activity of the Hanseatic league; rise of agriculture and manorial system.


-Importance of zooarchaeology research. Before the crusade there was a higher degree of biodiversity. Afterwards the landscape was reorganised with the following consequences: small biodiversity, dominated by open landscapes and the improvement of the wool industry.


-Resources for the production of crossbows in an inventory (later medieval period): 1200 male goat horns, 800 horns from sturgeon made into plates, 20 elk bones…

General conclusions:

-Regional comparisons: Klaipeda that limits with Lithuania has a higher biodiversity, similar to that of Viljandi (Estonia).

-Manors supporting castles show a higher biodiversity index-everything was being exploited…Introduction to new technologies…

-Crusades impact in the mental landscape too as it was related to the spirituality of the area – complicated responses; pre-Christian activities continue into the 16th century. Bear claw amulets only appear after the crusades; bear as a symbol of resurrection, sign of syncretism, associated with older women in cemeteries.




Military Orders in Central Europe: Purpose and Fortifications- The Teutonic Knights in Hungary and Slovenia, by Dr. Matthew Bennett from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurts. – Some notes of interest taken during this seminar:

Research difficulties:

-Although document research is available and has been done, there is little in the archives.

-The Teutonic orders were all over the Germanic lands in Europe, sometimes difficult to keep up with their track.

-The case of Slovenia: Slavic territory with a Germanic overlay, infiltration of the German feudal order.


-Invitation to the Teutonic knights to settle in this area due to the risk of nomadic invasions. Castle building as a result of complaints and rebellions. Teutonic knights seen as the competition by the local nobility. This situation might have not been able to fit in other socio-political structures at the time.


-Not much research has been done previously in this area. Sloven (its ancient language) is almost as old as old English.

-Recent reconstruction of spiritual landscape; the whole identity of the region is incredibly recent.

-Aristocracy and ecclesiastical figures of the area were particularly powerful.

Velika Nedelja:

-It is a typical castle in this area, located in a high place. It has towers surrounding it and has a rounded shape altogether. Underneath it seems to lay the block house type of basic structure. Also, it is next to a church: this is a big religious and political statement of the circumstances of the region and whole territory.

-The courtyard: looks like the cloister of a monastery. Its own name means monastery, which demonstrates how early this settlement was established and the importance of its patronage.

Militarised Monastery of Zice

-Actually a Carthusian monastery, quite unique. Does not look like monastery but rather like a small fortress. Interior walls-cells now disappeared. It has an artillery tower in the middle of it, dating from the 15th century.


-There was a general military religious experience in the region studied. The role of both the military orders and the ecclesiastic institutions were essential in the sociological experience of central Europe, very different from what is known of the Western europe culture and perhaps any other contemporary societies.

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