Previously featured on Bloomsbury Medieval Studies:

Please note: While our current topic in focus is free for all to read, the below content from previous topics in focus is only accessible to subscribers.

  • Life and Society Across the Medieval Age
  • Science in the Global Middle Ages
  • Medievalism on Screen
  • Medieval Animals
  • Disability and Impairment in the Medieval World
  • Books and Manuscripts in the Middle Ages
  • Magic and the Medieval World
  • Global Queenship and Powerful Women of the Middle Ages

  • Life and Society across the Medieval Age

    A global approach to medieval studies has the potential to expand our understanding of medieval and modern global developments while simultaneously transforming the ways that we approach this particular age. In this exclusive article from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages Carol Symes outlines how such a study need not encompass the globe in any territorial sense. Rather, it should encourage the investigation of life and society of peoples across continents, their movements, networks, interactions, affinities, borrowings, ways of knowing, forms of agency, systems of belief.

    With carefully curated eBook chapters, encyclopedia articles and high-resolution digitised images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this Topic in Focus is your gateway to explore life and society across the global Middle Ages.

    Scandinavia - Life in Scandinavia during the Viking Age

    Scandinavia was composed of an amalgam of peoples in the Viking Age, but depictions of the period tend to make the population appear more uniform than it was in reality— part of the process of creating a national history of modern Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In this engaging survey from The Vikings (2019), Sæbjørg Walaker Nordeide and Kevin J. Edwards analyse religion, economic life and material culture in and beyond the Scandic homelands in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries. Click here to discover more.

    This mid-twelfth century chess piece was carved from walrus ivory in Norway, likely Trondheim. This bishop piece shows a seated prelate with a mitre and a crosier blessing. He is flanked by two attendants, and the back of the throne is decorated with a knot formed of coiling foliage. Gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by J. Pierpont Morgan in 1917, this unique object has been made digitally available on the Bloomsbury Medieval Studies platform.

    Middle East – Iran after the Mongols

    In this chapter from Iran after the Mongols (2019), Sussan Babaie explores the impact of the Mongol invasions of the first half of the thirteenth century. It traces representations of the complex frameworks that articulated, freshly and more powerfully than any moment in the history of Greater Iran since the Arab invasions in the seventh century, the reinterpretation and reinstatement of Iranian cultural identities across a vast region.

    Purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1895, this gold earring has been attributed to Iraq, probably from the eleventh to thirteenth century. This earing was worked with filigree with an outside band decorated with swirls. A hexagram, also worked in filigree, is depicted on the centre of the piece, formed by two triangles with a swirl on each vertex. It is thought that the hexagram is an allusion to King Solomon.

    Asia – Life in India under Muslim Rule

    The Delhi sultanate was established as a corollary of military expeditions by the Ghaznawids (352–582/962–1186) and Ghūurīds (558–602/1163–1206) that extended the eastern Islamic frontiers into Gangetic plains. This chapter from Muslim Rule in Medieval India (2016) by Fouzia Farooq Ahmed offers insight into regime formation, regime perpetuation and regime disintegration of Muslim states within Indian settings. In the process, it describes the political dynamics of medieval Muslim states in non-Muslim societies.

    This painting on silk by Chinese artist Xia Gui depicts a Chinese landscape on a rainy day. Dated to the Southern Song Dynasty, c. 1127-1279 CE, it was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1982. The dramatism used to depict nature, particularly the trees behind the hut and the storm surge to the right, portray the rainy weather conditions. The two red seals present on top are the seals of preceding collectors.

    North America - Medicants and Mesoamericans

    Some of the earliest post-contact writings in indigenous languages by missionaries and those of native elites demonstrate complex theological production in the Americas. Aligning contemporaneous native and mendicant writings in native languages moves religious and cultural translators beyond the traps of binary stereotypes whereby early colonial Mesoamerica may then be studied as premodern and possibly commensurable with premodern Europe in terms of socio-cultural contexts. Click here to read more about 16th-century Mesoamerica from this article from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages.

    This knife handle was carved from walrus ivory during the eleventh or twelfth century by the Punuk in Alaska. One end is rounded, and the other side is concave with a pointed end. Two fine lines are engraved around the edge, and other lines emerge from the border ending in a circle. Dated from the eleventh to twelfth century, this unique item from the Metropolitan Museum of Art is made digitally available on the Bloomsbury Medieval Studies platform.

    South America - Maya Civilisation

    The Maya area is divided into the northern Maya lowlands of the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico, the southern Maya lowlands of Belize and the Petén District of Guatemala, and the southern Maya highlands of Guatemala. In this thematic overview from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages, Heather McKillop explores the social, political, economic and agricultural history of the Maya Civilisation from 600-1500.

    Dated from the eleventh to the thirteenth century, this pair of gold earflares, or earplugs, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art was created in Peru. The medallions are decorated with anthropomorphous figures made with different repoussé sheets of gold. This technique was used to capture the features of the faces, and to ornament the headdresses and collars of the figures. The rim of the medallion is finished with soldered beads.

    Africa – The Mamluk Sultanate

    Due to its geographical location between Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean, the Mamluk Sultanate (1250-1517) occupied a central position from which it derived much of its power, wealth and prestige. At the same time, its position in world history, and Islamic history in particular, following the hiatus of the Mongol invasion, enhanced the role of the Mamluk Sultanate as the embodiment of a Muslim and Arab revival. Click here to read more from Practicing Diplomacy in the Mamluk Sultanate (2014).

    Click here to explore this sculpture of a seated figure modelled out of terracotta during the thirteenth century by the Dejenné people of Mali. The figure is represented with its right leg hugged into its chest and its head dropped on its knee. The only ornaments are a series of raised and punched marks along the back of the figure. The posture may suggest the sublime absorption of deep prayer. The prominent facial features are seen in other Dejenné works.

    Oceania - Aotearoa-New Zealand in the Middle Ages

    By 1000 CE, the Pacific was a place in transition. Most, though not all, islands had been colonized. Those newly colonized islands showed signs of early environmental stress caused by exploitation and population increase. These islands and those to the north in Micronesia were also showing signs of societies on their way to complex hierarchical social stratification, while those in the western Pacific, such as Papua New Guinea, are poorly known due to the lack of archaeological work. This article from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages looks at each region in more detail.

    Click here to discover an ink illustration of a shipwreck tale from the twelfth-century collection of stories from the Maqāmāt (Assemblies) of al-Hariri illustrated by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti in Iraq. The illustrator of this particular copy, who worked in southern Iraq in the first half of the thirteenth century chose to populate his island with exotic creatures such as parrots and monkeys as well as a harpy and a human-headed and winged feline, two motifs commonly used in metalwork and other decorative arts.

    Eastern Europe - City and Trade in Eastern Europe

    In this chapter, Henryk Samsonowicz explores long-distance commercial exchange as one of the main thrusts behind the creation of new economic centres in Eastern Europe in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries. This was quite different from the widespread local commerce – a mode of supplementing the household economy, and which drew in agriculturalists, hunters and nomads, among others. Generally speaking, that latter type of commerce was conducted over relatively modest spaces, encompassed small quantities of goods, and focused upon local markets, which attracted inhabitants of nearby localities.

    This Figure 1 image shows the very first miniature illustrating the Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle from the twelfth-century collection of stories from the Maqāmāt, dated around the fourteenth century. It is painstakingly spot-on in its observation, depicting the king of Hungary in the fourteenth century in the presence of Hungarian barons, in occidental dress on his right, and the dignitaries of the auxiliary peoples, in oriental attire on his left. This purposeful variety of costumes presents the diversity of Hungarian society that constituted the medieval Hungarian kingdom.

    Western Europe - House and Home in Western Europe

    The period around 1150 is an important point of transition in methods of house construction. The study of European houses is therefore often divided into two parts: the early and high Middle Ages (800–1150) and the late Middle Ages (1150–1450). In this chapter from A Cultural History of the Home in the Medieval Age (2021), Mark Gardiner presents the general trends in the structure and form of houses over the six centuries, primarily with vernacular houses.

    This thirteenth century copper aquamanile from the Metropolitan Museum of Art was made in medieval Germany in the shape of a crowing rooster. Aquamanile’s were vessels used to pour water over hands, usually during the celebration of Mass or at a dinner table. The details of the feathers are engraved with fine lines, and a twisted feather has been formed as the handle. The vessel would have been filled through the hole on the tail’s feathers and the open beak served as the spout.

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    Science in the Global Middle Ages

    Image Showing Hunayn ibn-Ishaq al-'Ibadi Isagoge.
    Hunayn ibn-Ishaq al-'Ibadi Isagoge (Wikimedia Commons)

    How the Science of Medieval Islam Shaped the Western World

    Long before the European Renaissance, while the western world was languishing in what was once called the 'Dark Ages', the Arab world was ablaze with the knowledge, invention and creativity of its Golden Age. John Freely’s Light From the East (2011) tells the story of how Islamic science, which began with the translation of Greek manuscripts into Arabic in eighth-century Baghdad, preserved and enhanced the knowledge acquired from Greece, Mesopotamia, India and China. Through the astrologers, physicians, philosophers, mathematicians and alchemists of the Muslim world, this knowledge was carried from Samarkand and Baghdad to Cordoba and beyond, influencing western thinkers from Thomas Aquinas and Copernicus. This chapter begins the tale with the science and knowledge of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

    Image Showing Westerner and Arab practicing geometry 15th century manuscript.
    Practicing Geometry, 15th Century (Wikimedia Commons)

    Baghdad’s ‘Golden Age’: Islam’s Scientific Renaissance

    The flowering of the ‘Abbasid caliphate between 750 and 1258 CE is often considered the classical age of Islamic civilization. This chapter from The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire (2009), explores the Abbasid era which began with what is often called Baghdad’s ‘Golden Age’. During this time, Muslims built on the Arabo-Islamic intellectual foundations laid by the Umayyads to develop numerous branches of learning and practical expertise. The religious sciences became more sophisticated, literature and the arts moved in new directions inspired by Sasanian political theory, and the sciences of the Greek curriculum – mathematics, philosophy, astrology, astronomy and medicine – were translated, interrogated and improved upon by Arabic-speaking Christians and Muslims.

    This image shows The Coming of the Mongols, 2018.
    The Coming of the Mongols, 2018 (I.B. Tauris)

    Scholarship and Science under the Qara Khitai (1124–1218)

    One of the distinctive features of the history of Greater Iran in the period between the Seljuqs and the Mongols was the establishment of the Qara Khitai, or Western Liao Empire, in Central Asia. This chapter from The Coming of the Mongols (2018) seeks to shed some light on Muslim intellectual activities under Qara Khitai rule. Based on a variety of Muslim and Chinese literary sources as well as archaeological evidence, and following the careers of twelfth-and thirteenth-century scholars, including migrants from the Qara Khitai realm who were active under Mongol rule, it reconstructs the main fields of knowledge and achievements of Central Asian Muslim scholars under the Qara Khitai and their impact on the later Islamic world, including Iran.

    The Interdisciplinary Nature of Medieval Science

    This image shows Escribano, c.1456.
    Escribano, c.1456 (Wikimedia Commons)

    Philosophy and the Sciences

    It is often believed that Medieval thought was inimical to the sciences, and that the sciences did not begin to flourish until scholasticism was overthrown. This view has now been discredited by many historians. In this chapter from Why Medieval Philosophy Matters (2019), Stephen Boulter examines how the methodology of the sciences, particularly the design of experiments, also presupposes scholastic principles. Through explorations of the connection between scholasticism and the sciences, and also the connection between scholasticism and everyday experience, he argues that scholastic ideas are deeply embedded in the scientific world view. If scientific experiments matter, so does scholasticism.

    This image shows The Elephant Clock, 14th Century (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
    The Elephant Clock, 14th Century (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Early 14th Century Syrian Elephant Clock

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies provides access to a rich collection of objects from across the Medieval globe. This particular piece bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1956, depicts an early 14th century folio from an illustrated manuscript dated A.H. 715A.D., 1315. This folio is from the “Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices" by al-Jazari, a treatise of fantastical devices. Here, the elephant clock is depicted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper. According to the text, every half hour the different parts of the mechanism would have moved to release a ball into the pot. The time would have been determined by counting the balls in the bowl.

    This image shows God and Science, circa 1220-1230.
    God and Science, circa 1220-1230 (Wikimedia Commons)

    Alchemy and the Sciences

    Alchemy presented its practitioners with the exciting prospect of witnessing through experimental science the mysteries of creation and the eternal struggle between good and evil, God and the devil, and the spirit with nature. The alchemists’ endeavours in the 14th century were dominated by the search for the original prime matter that was regarded as the origin of all life - known as the ‘first water’ or the ‘philosopher’s mercury’. The conflict between mercury and sulphur was seen as crucial to understanding the laws of nature and therefore a necessary precondition for the existence of life in the corporeal material world. Click here to read more from The Rise of Alchemy in Fourteenth-Century England (2012).

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies at the IMC

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies is excited to once again take part in the 2022 International Medieval Congress taking place this July in Leeds, UK, and online. You will be able find us at the Bookfair, and we will also have a host of information available online too. Whether you will be attending in person or virtually, we look forward to seeing you there.

    In anticipation of the Congress, we have brought together a carefully curated collection of eBook chapters, encyclopedia entries, digitised primary sources, and pedagogical teaching and learning tools from across the Bloomsbury Medieval Studies. Whet your appetite for the big event with this Featured Content on the theme of Borders and Migration.

    Borders and Migration Across the Medieval Globe

    Image of the cover of The Easter Frontier, 2019 (I.B. Tauris)
    The Easter Frontier 2019(I.B. Tauris)

    Conceptualizing the Eastern Frontier in Medieval Geographic Literature

    This chapter from Robert Haug’s The Easter Frontier focuses on the conceptual image of the eastern frontier of the early Mmedieval Islamic world in the works of geographers writing in Arabic and Persian during the ninth and tenth centuries, and provides a framework for understanding how contemporary authors viewed the eastern frontier. Arabic and Persian geographical sources of the ninth and tenth centuries describe a greater Khurāsān and Transoxiana that is not easily defined by clear borders. Instead, as we see when we examine large walled oases such as Balkh and Bukhara, this is a geography of nodes and networks.

    Image of the cover of The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier, 2015 (I.B. Tauris)
    The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier, 2015 (I.B. Tauris)

    The Islamic-Byzantine frontier

    Frontiers have long served as temptingly rich fodder for historians, ideologues and archaeologists, and the Byzantine–Islamic frontier has not escaped such manipulations. What is at stake is the continuous simplification of Muslim–Christian encounters throughout history and the appropriation of an assumed or envisioned past that has been grafted onto modern interactions. This chapter from A. Asa Eger’s The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier (2015) contributes to a more complex vision of the frontier than traditional historical views by juxtaposing layers of a real ecological frontier of settlement and interaction with an imagined military/religious ideological frontier.

    Image of the cover of The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier, 2015 (I.B. Tauris)
    Migration in the Medieval Mediterranean, 2021 (Arc Humanities Press)

    Borders and Migration in the Medieval Mediterranean

    In Migration in the Medieval Mediterranean (2021), Sarah Davis-Secord argues that the cross-Mediterranean movement of peoples was a central aspect of the Mmedieval world. She outlines numerous examples of people who moved across barriers that might seem as impenetrable as walls or modern state borders—those of religion, language, or political allegiance, for example. And while they did not have to confront passport control kiosks, hostile coast guards, or immigration officers, for many Mmedieval migrants the process of establishing a new life in a new land was fraught with difficulties, dangers, and obstructions similar in many ways to those of modern refugees. Others, however, appear to have found successful lives and profitable positions in new places. Click here to read more.

    Research and Teaching Guides on Bloomsbury Medieval Studies

    Image of the cover of The Easter Frontier, 2019 (I.B. Tauris)
    The Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages 2019 (I.B. Tauris)

    Early Medieval Migration and Mobility

    The Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages (2019) is exclusive to Bloomsbury Medieval Studies, and takes an inclusive approach to the history of the middle ages. This article by Johannes Preiser-Kapeller explores the topic of borders and migration from a global perspective. The fourth–sixth centuries CE have been described as a “Migration Period” par excellence, especially into the territories of the (Western) Roman Empire, and other macro-regions across Afro-Eurasia such as China, Central Asia, India, or Iran. Furthermore, the time period leading up to the ninth century CE saw migration movements on a similar scale, such as the Chinese Empire of the Tang dynasty or the Arab Caliphate. The “hidden migrations” that fall below the radar of written historiography, such as the one of Bantu-speaking groups in Sub-Sahara Africa, are also explored.

    Image of the cover of The Easter Frontier, 2019 (I.B. Tauris)
    Map of the World from Psalter c. 1265 (The British Library)

    Medieval Maps of the British Library

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies provides access to a unique collection of 12th-15th century maps from the British Library. The digitized editions of works by Matthew Paris, Ranulf Higden, Bartholomaeus Anglicus and more, allow users to explore how contemporary cartographers understood the Medieval world and its borders. This example from The Map Psalter c. 1265, shows a remarkably detailed map of the world. Jerusalem is in the centre, the Red Sea is coloured red, and depictions of mythical monstrous races are arranged along the lower right-hand extremity. The British Isles are at the lower left extremity. The author is unknown, but the initials are similar in style to the Sarum Master and the artist of the Stockholm Psalter.

    Image of the cover of The Easter Frontier, 2019 (I.B. Tauris)
    Map of the world from Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon, 1299-1364 (The British Library)

    Research and Teaching Tools to Globalise your Study

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies provides a range of exclusive and specially-commissioned pedagogical resources that introduce students to key subject areas, support instructors to build and globalise their curriculum, and serve as jumping-off points for further research. Thematic Lesson Plans serve as a tool for instructors to structure classes, and the carefully curated Subject Guides bring together the site’s extensive content into manageable lists. The Primary Source Commentary Articles give students an accessible overview of key Medieval documents, while the Introductory Article series offers global overviews of important themes. This Commentary Article from Victoria Flood explores the digitised map of the world from Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon..

    Medievalism on Screen

    It is often assumed that those outside of academia know very little about the Middle Ages. But the truth is not so simple. Non-specialists learn a great deal from the myriad medievalisms – post-medieval imaginings of the Medieval world – that pervade our everyday culture. From film and television, to computer games and internet memes, the ‘Medieval’ is an active and vibrant part of our culture today. Bloomsbury Medieval Studies provides numerous ways with which to explore this fascinating topic: from eBooks to images, this Featured Content is your gateway into the study of medievalism on screen.

    Image Showing Game of Thrones book.
    Game of Thrones (Pixabay)

    The Medieval World of Game of Thrones

    'All men must die’: or ‘Valar Morghulis’, as the traditional Essos greeting is rendered in High Valyrian. And die they do – in prodigious numbers; in imaginatively varied and gruesome ways; and often in terror within the viciously unpredictable world that is HBO’s evocation of George R R Martin's fantasy series, Game of Thrones. In this vital follow-up to the popular Winter is Coming (2015), acclaimed medievalist Carolyne Larrington explores themes of power, blood-kin, lust and sex in order to draw entirely fresh meanings out of the sensational series. Click here to read more from Larrington’s brand new book, All Men Must Die.

    Image Showing a Film Production.
    Film Production (Pixabay)

    Medievalism in Film

    In The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination: Memory, Film and Medievalism, the first evidence-based exploration of the wider public’s understanding of the Middle Ages, Paul B. Sturtevant adapts sociological methods to discover how conflicting medievalisms in contemporary imaginings of the Medieval world contribute to public knowledge of the Middle Ages. Based on extensive focus groups, the book details the ways – both formal and informal – that people learn about the Medieval past and the many other ways that this informs, and even distorts, our present.

    This image shows Morgan with Lancelot under an apple tree in a Siedlęcin Tower fresco.
    Morgan with Lancelot under an apple tree in a Siedlęcin Tower fresco (early 14th century) (Wikimedia Commons)

    Enchantresses on the Screen

    Arthurian stories have been filmed since the very earliest days of the cinema; while directors usually emphasize battle scenes, the powerful bonds between Arthur and his knights, or the agonizing love triangle, a few film or made-for-television movies have featured Morgan and Nimuë. The enchantresses are envisaged in strongly visual terms, and their images are popularized in other media; the nineteenth-century paintings are a mouse-click away. This chapter from King Arthur’s Enchantresses takes in the enchantresses as they appear in poetry and painting, in politics and the theatre, on the Internet and TV, in high culture and popular culture to discover why the Arthurian enchantresses continue to bewitch us.

    This image shows Mjollnir.
    Mjollnir (Pixabay)


    In 1962, the comic-book superhero The Mighty Thor, brainchild of Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee, arrived on the scene in the United States. The Mighty Thor has had a continuous presence in US culture, and in many other countries, for almost 50 years, and there is little sign of his popularity waning. This chapter from Martin Arnold’s Thor: Myth to Marvel explores the development of Thor in American culture and film. Arnold argues that ideas about Thor and Scandinavian antiquity have generally involved a shift away from the purview of scholars, polemicists and the literati, and into mass markets, where entertainment substitutes for aesthetics and unbridled imagination substitutes for serious analysis and accuracy.

    This image shows the Universal Studios, Harry Potter.
    Universal Studios, Harry Potter (Pixabay)

    Objects of Comfort in Swedish Country Houses

    With contributions from 29 leading international scholars, Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture explores a range of media and sources, from adaptations of Dante, Beowulf, and Chaucer, to Spamalot, Lord of the Rings, and Medieval memes. In this chapter Renée Ward explores the wizarding world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which participates extensively in medievalism. With his adaptations of Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, director Christopher Columbus initiated the trend of employing Medieval historical sites as sets for the Harry Potter film franchise, selecting locations such as the Gloucester Cathedral Cloisters and Alnwick Castle as the backdrop for Hogwarts and its environs, which provide audiences with visual access to excellent examples of Medieval architecture.

    This image shows Gustave Doré’s illustration for Canto 31 of Dante’s Paradiso.
    Gustave Doré’s illustration for Canto 31 of Dante’s Paradiso (Wikimedia Commons)

    Why Dante Matters: 700 years on

    This year marks the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, widely regarded as one of the most significant and influential writers in European history and culture. In a body of work spanning from romantic poetry to philosophical and political treatises, culminating in his eschatological and theological epic The Divine Comedy, Dante offers both contemporary and modern readers profound reflections on the nature of the self, divinity, friendship, power, and human fulfilment, which have continued to instruct and inspire to this day.

    Written in exile from his native Florence following the intense political factionalism which devastated the city at that time, Dante’s Comedy channelled the personal anguish of his unmoored later years (“how bitter is the taste of another man’s bread, and how hard is the way up and down another man’s stairs” – Paradise XVII) into a work of ecstatic revelation, with Dante the pilgrim traversing the depths of Hell before encountering the very essence of the divine.

    In his latest study of the poet,
    Why Dante Matters, John Took explains how Dante’s writings continue to speak to the world of today, committed as he was to the welfare not only of his contemporaries but of those ‘who will deem this time ancient’. Read the introduction to this volume here, as well as those of two other examinations of Dante’s life and works on Bloomsbury Medieval Studies: Barbara Reynolds’ Dante: The Poet, the Thinker, the Man, and Sheila J. Nayar’s Dante’s Sacred Poem.

    Medieval Animals

    The centrality of animals within Medieval culture is abundantly reflected in the surviving source material: animal fables and zoological encyclopedias in the broadest sense are among the most widely distributed texts of the period, and hardly any building or illuminated manuscript survives that does not feature animals in its decoration. Bloomsbury Medieval Studies provides numerous ways with which to explore this fascinating topic: from A Cultural History of Animals in the Middle Ages, and eBook chapters exploring fish farming and plague transmission, to exclusive articles from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages and carefully curated images from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this Featured Content is your gateway into the global study of animals in the Middle Ages.

    Animal Studies

    This is showing a stonepaste bowl decorated with human figures and animals.
    Prince Bahram Gur hunting with Azada (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Global Medieval Animal Studies

    Animals were an integral part of the human experience during the Middle Ages. Sharing the environment with mammals, birds, fish, and invertebrates, humans lived in close contact with the animal world and interacted with them on a variety of levels. Therefore a clear understanding of the human cultures of the Middle Ages necessitates understanding their relationships with the animal world. In this exclusive article from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages, Todd Preston explores this complex relationship and the impact animals had on the social, intellectual, and spiritual lives of Medieval people.

    This is an image shows a silk and metallic embroidered badge or patch.
    “Rank patch with lion”(The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Lesson Plan: Animals of Medieval Europe

    Bloomsbury Medieval studies offers a range of pedagogical learning and research tools to support students conducting independent study, as well as tutors creating their own academic programme. In this exclusive Lesson Plan, Sophie Page examines the impact of animals on Medieval religion, philosophy and political ideologies, and of activities like husbandry, the creation of environments and the destruction, conservation and importation of species. Organized week-by-week, each section examines a key aspect of Medieval animal studies and offers selective key reading, thought provoking discussion questions and suggested homework tasks.

    Image showing silk and metallic embroidered badge or patch.
    Textile with animals, birds and flowers (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Animals and Ecotheory

    Animal studies does not always overlap with broader environmental disciplines. Environmentalists are concerned with issues of extinction and how animal movements and extinctions reflect climate change and other global issues, while scholars and activists concerned with animals focus on philosophical issues of rights and agency, as well as how the characteristics of animals define or limit the human (or not). Both approaches are valid, indeed necessary. This chapter from Anglo-Saxon Literary Landscapes focuses on how depictions of animals and humans interact in Medieval texts, and attempts to locate those interactions within these broader environmental questions.

    Animals within Society

    Horse and groom
    Horse and Groom (Metropolitan Art Museum)

    Animals in Sport and Entertainment

    A Cultural History of Animals in the Medieval Age, investigates the changing roles of animals in Medieval culture, economy and society in the period 1000 to 1400. The illustrated volume outlines the position of animals in contemporary symbolism, hunting, domestication, sports and entertainment, science, philosophy, and art. This chapter by Lisa J. Kiser looks at the role of animals within Medieval sport, entertainment and menageries. Kiser maintains a strong focus on the Medieval animal participants themselves, for, as Robert Delort observed in 1984, animals have histories, too, and those histories have only begun to be recorded.

    Image showing Dance of Death (1493), from the Nuremberg Chronicles
    Dance of Death (1493), from the Nuremberg Chronicles  (Wikimedia Commons)

    Ottoman Plague Transmission

    In this chapter from Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World, Nükhet Varlik examines the Ottoman plague experience, and the role of animals in plague transmission. Historical scholarship on plague has very recently moved beyond an exclusive reliance on models of rodent-host-vector-to-human transmission. A comparable change can be observed in Ottomanist historiography which explores plague’s connections to flooding, rodent behaviour, and other climatic conditions. While it is imperative to recognize the role of human agency in the spread of plague, it is equally important to broaden the study to the larger environment.

    Image showing successive phases of processing fish as stockfish product
    Successive phases of processing fish as stockfish product (© L. Kristjánsson)

    North Atlantic Fish Trade

    In Fish Trade in Medieval North Atlantic Societies, Val Dufeu reconstructs settlement patterns of fishing communities in Viking Age Iceland and proposes socio-economic and environmental models relevant to any study of the Vikings or the North Atlantic. She integrates written sources, geoarchaeological data, and zooarchaeological data to examine how fishing propelled political change in the North Atlantic.In this chapter Defeu outlines archaeological case studies for reconstructing commercial fishing in the Westfjords and the Mývatn areas of Iceland.

    Primary Material

    Image showing a mid-to-late sixth century tomb guardian made of earthenware with pigment.
    北魏/北齊 彩繪陶鎮墓獸 Tomb Guardian (Zhenmushou) (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    北魏/北齊 彩繪陶鎮墓獸 Tomb Guardian (Zhenmushou)

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies provides access to a carefully curated image collection sourced from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to complement academic research and encourage a well-rounded understanding of Medieval history. Click here to explore 北魏/北齊 彩繪陶鎮墓獸, a Tomb Guardian from the Northern Wei (386–534)–Northern Qi (550–577) dynasty. Made in the mid-to-late sixth century from earthenware with pigment, this tomb guardian was one of a pair and would have been placed at the entrance of a coffin chamber as a guardian of the deceased’s tomb.

    Image showing Marie de France
    Marie de France (Wikimedia Commons)


    Marie de France is among the most prominent authors of Old French texts and a rare female author from the Middle Ages. Her twelfth-century Lais are a series of short narrative poems of romance and adventure. Bisclavret is the tale of a warewolf, a lycanthrope who must take on animal form. Marie explains that “bisclavret” is the Breton term for what is, in Old French, “garulf,” that is, “man-wolf.”Click here to read the Lais of Bisclavret in translation from the original Old French, which is accompanied by Discussion Questions and Further Reading to support further independent study.

    Image showing a folio from an eleventh or twelfth century illustrated manuscript found in Fustat, Egypt.
    "Hare", folio from the Mantiq al-wahsh of Ka'b al-Ahbar (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    "Hare" folio from the Mantiq al-wahsh

    Created by opaque watercolour on paper, this digitised ‘Hare’ folio was part of the zoological treatise “Mantiq al-wahsh” (Speech of the Wild Animal) written by Ka'b al-Ahbar. “Mantiq al-wahsh” is an eleventh or twelfth century illustrated manuscript found in Fustat, Egypt. On the verso is a lion, while a hare is depicted on the recto. The verses above the animals contain the title of the text, the author's name, and also identifies the animals below it. Sourced from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explore this folio in exquisite detail.

    Disability and Impairment in the Medieval World

    Appreciating the fullness and complexity of disability in the Middle Ages means confronting long-lived contemporary assumptions that people who lived with disabilities during this time were markers of sin. Close attention to religious, literary, artistic, and medical evidence helps to create a nuanced and thick cultural history of disability and showcases the agency of—and varied lives led by—people who we might now consider disabled. Bloomsbury Medieval Studies provides numerous ways with which to explore the fascinating topic of Medieval disability studies: from A Cultural History of Disability in the Middle Ages, and book chapters that explore the intersection of religion and disability, to exclusive articles from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages and carefully curated research and teaching resources, this Featured Content is your gateway into the study of disability in the Medieval world.

    Representations of the Disabled Body

    This image is showing Beggars and Cripples drawing by Hieronymus Bosch
    “Beggars and Cripples,” drawing by Hieronymus Bosch (Albertina Vienna)

    Mobility Impairment

    A Cultural History of Disability in the Middle Ages is an essential resource for researchers, scholars and students of history, literature, culture and education. With chapters written by leading scholars in the field of disability studies, it explores topics such as atypical bodies, mobility impairment, chronic pain and illness, blindness, deafness, speech, learning difficulties, and mental health. In this chapter Richard H. Godden looks in depth at the study of mobility impairment: most sources represent the physically impaired using some sort of aid to help them navigate their environment, and such objects are arguably the chief visual signifier of disability in the Middle Ages.

    This is an image showing a blind spinner, led by her sister to the shrine of Louis IX
    “Agnès de Pontoise, a blind spinner, led by her sister to the shrine of Louis IX”(Gallica Online)

    Deafness in the Middle Ages

    Medieval European understandings and representations of deafness draw heavily on biblical imagery and Galenic medicine, and therefore display a great deal of continuity with ancient traditions. But Medieval writers also use deafness to think through a number of larger cultural debates particular to their period: theological discussions of knowledge, sin, and salvation; philosophical questions about the authenticity and legibility of signs; the iconographic problem of the representation of the invisible. In this chapter, Julie Singer demonstrates how the lived experiences and cultural representations of deaf people in Medieval Europe were far richer and more varied than stereotypes suggest.

    This picture shows a crippled man in the margins of The History and Topography of Ireland by Gerald of Wales.
    A crippled man in the margins of The History and Topography of Ireland by Gerald of Wales (© The British Library Board)

    Desire and the Disabled Body

    Disability theory has strong but complex and troubled links with gender and sexuality studies and specifically with queer theory. The seemingly outward evidence of sexual transgression provided by a physical disability was seen as evidence not just of behavioural history but also of more general tendencies and predispositions. This was met with a mixture of condemnation and erotic fascination. The idea that ‘the lame man does it best’, for example, occurs in Erasmus’s writings as ‘Claudus optime virum agit’ or ‘the lame man makes the best lecher Click here to find out more.

    Disability and Religion

    Picture showing the healing of the blind man and raising of Lazarus
    Healing of the blind man and raising of Lazarus (Spain, 1129–34) (Metropolitan Art Museum)

    Disability and Global Religions

    In the Middle Ages, experiences of disability and religious belief intersected in different ways. A seemingly common belief across a variety of cultures, including Medieval Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam was that physical impairments, in particular, were markers of immoral or sinful behaviour either of the self or of one’s ancestors. In this article from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages, exclusive to the Bloomsbury Medieval Studies platform, Donna Trembinski examines this relationship between religion and impairment in Medieval cultures, and outlines the key debates in this fascinating field of study.

    This image a double-amputee in the margins of the Romans Arthurien.
    A double-amputee in the margins of the Romans Arthurien (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

    Cures and Canonization

    Historical records of canonization processes and miracle collections are a treasure trove for historians studying everyday life. For medieval people, the miracles performed by Christ provided the models for subsequent miracles, which continued to be performed after his life on earth by the saints. Miracles provide a unique source type for the study of medieval illness and health, as well as dis/ability. Click here to read a chapter from Church and Belief in the Middle Ages and find out more.

    Image showing Saints Cosmas and Damian perform a miraculous transplantation of a leg.
    Saints Cosmas and Damian perform a miraculous transplantation of a leg. Master of Los Balbases, Burgos, Spain, c. 1495. (Wikipedia)

    Los Milagros

    The perception of los Milagros (miracles) in the Middle Ages was informed primarily by the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo. According to Augustine, miracles ‘were wonderful acts of God shown as events in this world, not in opposition to nature but as a drawing out of the hidden workings of God within a nature that was all potentially miraculous’. For Medieval authors miracles formed part of the supernatural, as did magic, but they were also signs from God, indications of His omnipresence and omniscience. Click here to discover more about los Milagros in Medieval texts..

    Disability Studies

    Image showing old book bindings
    Old Book Bindings (Wikimedia Commons)

    Bibliography of Disability Studies

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies offers a range of pedagogical learning resources to aid individual research and course building. This extensive bibliography by Wendy J. Turner details key books, chapters, articles, essays, surveys, studies and talks on the topic of disability in the Middle Ages, enabling users to orient themselves quickly to facilitate research. The contents are selectively and lightly annotated to provide guidance to accessing the titles and/or to indicate their value or limitations as resources, and links and URLs are provided for online resources to enable a seamless access to material.

    Picture showing the Miracle at Mont St. Michel: pilgrims in motion.
    Miracle at Mont St. Michel: pilgrims in motion (British Library Online)

    Disability Theory and Pre-Modern Considerations

    As the field of disability studies has grown over the last 40 years, there has been increasing critical interest in how current notions and attitudes toward the impaired were shaped historically. An examination of the disabled as they appear in Medieval texts is a useful tool to discover what ideas about physical difference might have meant to the society at large. This chapter from Viewing Disability in Medieval Spanish Texts introduces a heretofore largely unexplored body of work within disability studies, and shows that in texts produced in Medieval Spain the disabled frequently appear as historical figures, members of a legal category, and as fictive characters.

    Picture showing Christ healing a blind man
    Christ heals a blind man (British Library Online)

    Illness and Injury Learning Resource

    Bloomsbury Medieval studies offers a range of carefully curated Subject Guides that introduce students to key subject areas, support instructors in their teaching and serve as jumping-off points for further research. Click here to download the Subject Guide PDF on Illness and Injury which brings together the key eBook, article, image, reference and pedagogical material from across the Bloomsbury Medieval Studies platform. This extensive Subject Guide provides users with a simple shortcut to help them find the material they need, with links that can easily be added to a course syllabus or reading list.

    Books and Manuscripts in the Middle Ages

    This image is showing the Liber Chronicarum, Senate House
    The Liber Chronicarum (Senate House Library)

    Hartmenn Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies is happy to introduce a new and exclusive series of Commentary Articles, designed to provide expert introductions and analyses of primary sources. In this article Dr Rosamund Oates sheds light on the historical context, reception and significance of the Liber Chronicarum, also known as the Nuremberg Chronicles. Click here to explore the digitised Liber Chronicarum incunabula (1493) from Senate House Library and discover each page in exquisite detail.

    This is an image showing The Akathistos Cycle
    “Defeated Hymns”. Headpiece, Akathistos, Stanza 20, f. 26r (27r). S. Lorenzo de El Escorial, Bibliotheca del Real Monasterio, R I 19. (© PATRIMONIO NACIONAL)

    The Akathistos Cycle

    This exclusive article from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages takes a closer look at S. Lorenzo de El Escorial, Bibliotheca del Real Monasterio, R I 19, one of only two extant Byzantine manuscripts that include examples of the Akathistos hymn in Greek. The unusual and innovative compositions of this invaluable manuscript, such as the headpiece miniatures preceding each stanza, capture the reader’s attention and stimulate further contemplation of the hymn’s content, beyond what is presented in the text.

    This picture shows a pop-up sundial in work on time calculation by Salomon de Caus, printed in 1624. Leiden.
    Pop-up sundial in work on time calculation by Salomon de Caus, printed in 1624. Leiden, UB, 676 A 6 (Erik Kwakkel)

    Books Before Print

    Though it is easy to forget, manuscripts existed for over a thousand years before Europe’s first printing press created the 1455 Gutenberg Bible. In Books Before Print, Professor Erik Kwakkel provides an in-depth introduction to the fascinating history of these medieval texts and examines “what is arguably the most notable feature of manuscripts: their individuality”. This intricately illustrated book highlights extraordinary continuities between medieval book culture and modern-world communication through in-depth analysis of medieval pop-up books, posters, speech bubbles, book advertisements, and even sticky notes.

    Literature of the Medieval World

    Picture showing Mid-eight century handscroll made during the Tang dynasty in China
    Night-Shining White (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Night-Shining White

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies offers carefully chosen images of medieval manuscripts sourced from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to complement academic research and encourage a well-rounded understanding of medieval history. Click here to explore Night-Shining White, a mid-eight century handscroll made during the Tang dynasty in China. Created by Han Gan, the handscroll features red seals and many inscriptions. One such inscription explains how Han Gan came to depict a vivid image of Night-Shining White, a horse owned by Emperor Xuanzongthe.

    This image shows old books bindings.
    Old Book Bindings (Wikimedia Commons)

    Nítíða Saga

    Arguably one of the most popular late medieval Icelandic romances, the Nítíða saga survives in sixty-five manuscripts ranging from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century. It is very likely that the saga once also appeared in many more manuscripts, which are now fragmentary or simply lost altogether. Each time the story was written down, it took on a new form. This chapter from Popular Romance in Iceland explores the textual variation in Nítíða saga’s manuscript tradition, and what these manuscripts can reveal about the Icelandic people who created and read them at different points throughout history.

    Image showing a folio from a twelfth century manuscript of the Pala period. In the middle of the folio, the green female figure is Tara
    Green Tara, folio from a dispersed Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Green Tara

    The folio of Green Tara was part of an Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita manuscript, a twelfth century text of the Pala period, thought to have originated in Bengal, India or Bangladesh. In the middle of the folio sits the figure of Tara, who is seated on a lotus pedestal underneath a polylobed arch. Beside her are two female figures, one holding a vijra while the other, Mahakali, is holding skullcup and knife. Click here to discover the folio from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and explore each page in detail.

    Afterlives of Medieval Texts

    Picture showing an author writing at his desk
    Roman de la Rose f. 28r (Author at writing desk) (Wikimedia Commons)

    Digital Manuscripts

    While ‘the physical’ and ‘the digital’ are often set in opposition, they share the same belief that these objects’ physical forms—their words, miniatures, margins, fore-edges and bindings—are vitally important to uncovering complex textual meanings, and to recovering the identities, concerns, and desires of the people who made and read these books centuries before us. With this in mind, Bridget Whearty seeks to promote a codicology of the digital medieval book which fosters a richer and more rigorous curiosity into the digital labour that makes and maintains digital medieval books.

    Picture showing the Museum Wolfram von Eschenbach Museum sign visible from the town’s central square.
    Museum Wolfram von Eschenbach Museum sign visible from the town’s central square (Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand)

    Museums and Medievalism

    In the recently published Medieval Literature on Display, Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand uses collections from two German museums as case studies for a vibrant, imaginative, and provocative enactment of 21st-century medievalism. Click here to join Sterling-Hellenbrand on a virtual tour of the Museum Wolfram von Eschenbach and find out how, in reconstructing and transforming medieval narratives for a contemporary audience, the museum enacts the process of medievalism and reveals how memory, through the lens of the Middle Ages, shapes modern cultural identity and heritage.

    Picture of a maniscript in detail
    Manuscript (Pixabay)

    Manuscript Heritage

    Each manuscript has a story to tell about its afterlife. As a class of artefact, manuscripts have often been subject to huge changes in the ways in which they have been received, used, understood and valued. Some manuscripts are associated with particularly long and eventful afterlives, being the subject of legends of preservation, curation, longevity and transfer of ownership that are still unfolding. The conservation of manuscripts is key to supporting research into the history of medieval texts. Click here to learn more about the historical development of manuscript heritage, and its potential for the future.

    Magic and the Medieval World

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies provides numerous ways with which to explore the fascinating topic of magic from a global perspective: from primary texts of witch trial proceedings and a scanned witch-hunting handbook, to articles and book chapters that examine the political and social context of magic, sorcery and demon beliefs around the world.


    This image is showing the Malleus Maleficarum, Heinrich Institoris
    Malleus Maleficarum  (licensed from Senate House Library)

    Malleus Maleficarum

    The most famous of the witchcraft manuals, the Malleus Maleficarum – or Hammer of Witches – of 1486 revised key perceptions about the practice of magic and contributed to the burgeoning era of witch trials at the close of the Middle Ages. Its impact was in part due to its emphasis on the figure of the female, domestic witch over the previous association of sorcery with the male, learned necromancer. Access a high-resolution, zoomable version of the original text here.

    This is an image showing a Persian miniature of Guyuk khan by Abdullâh Sultân
    Guyuk khan image from a Persian miniature by Abdullâh Sultân (atelier). Shîrâz (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

    Fatima Khatun

    A woman with great influence in the state affairs and finance of the Mongol Empire through her friendship with Törägänä Khatun, Fatima Khatun’s downfall in 1245 was wrought by accusations of sorcery from the amirs and noyans of the ulus. As described in Wheeler M Thackston’s commentary on the Persian Histories of the Mongol Dynasties, the grandson of Genghis Khan and third Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, Güyük Khan, sentenced her to death for supposedly causing his brother’s illness through magic.

    Folio from a first half of the fourteenth century illustrated manuscript, showing sfandiyar playing a string instrument. The female next to him is a witch.
    Isfandiyar's fourth course: he slays a sorceress.(Public domain from the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Isfandiyar and the Witch

    This folio from a fourteenth century manuscript, most likely originating from Isfahan, Iran, shows a scene from the Book of Kings (Shahnama). The hero Isfandiyar plays a string instrument and uses his music and the promise of wine to lure a sorceress closer so that he may strike her with his sword.

    Political Magic

    Picture showing the coin of Almoravid ruler Ali ibn Yusuf
    Coin of Almoravid ruler Ali ibn Yusuf (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

    Queen Zaynab Al-Nafzawiyya

    “Some say that the genies [jinn] spoke to her, others that she was a sorceress and a fortune teller” - one of the most demonstrably powerful women in the eleventh-century Maghreb, Zaynab bint Ishaq al-Nafzawwiyya had a crucial role in the rise of the Almoravid Empire and in the complicated politics of its court. Read more about Zaynab’s political goals and reversals of fortune on her way to queenship in this eBook chapter.

    Image taken from An 18th century album of portraits of 86 emperors of China, with Chinese historical notes.
    Empress Wu (Wu Zetian) (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

    Wu Zetian

    The founder of the Zhou Dynasty and one of the most controversial sovereign rulers in Chinese imperial history, Wu Zetian was known for surrounding herself with magicians. She used both magical and religious symbolism to legitimize her swift rise to the dragon throne, where she remained from 690 to 705. Read more about Wu Zetian’s rise to power and the auspicious omens and superstition-based performances that she used to bolster her position in this study of global queenship.

    Picture showing Edward IV York, (1442-1483)
    Edward IV (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

    The Wars of the Roses

    Accusations of political crimes and treason involving magic abounded in this bloody conflict between the Yorkists and Lancastrians of England at the close of the Medieval period. In one such instance during the reign of Edward IV in 1477, Thomas Burdett was accused of engaging John Stacy and Thomas Blake to calculate ‘by art magic, necromancy and astronomy, the death and final destruction of the king and prince’. Learn more about the fate of the accused and magic as a political crime in Medieval England.


    Picture showing Witches’ activities.From Ulrich Molitor, De laniis et phitonicis mulieribus, 1489
    Witches’ activities from Ulrich Molitor, De laniis et phitonicis mulieribus, 1489 (De laniis et phitonicis mulieribus, 1489)

    Invocation and Accusation

    “Moreover, the accused gave his daughter Françoise, then aged six months, to this devil, his teacher, and Beelzebub, his teacher, killed her; and thereafter…committed and perpetrated many acts of sorcery by following his teacher’s instructions on what he should do and when he should do it.” In a series of readings from trials of witches and other workers of magic conducted by inquisitors 1245-1540, many of the accused stand trial for the summoning of demons.

    Picture showing an enthroned man wearing a fool's cap illustrates the opening verse of Psalm 52.
    The Fool with Two Demons, Master of the Ingeborg Psalter (Getty, Creative Commons)

    Demons and Mental Health

    A new article from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages explores the medieval understanding of the causes of mental illness, now generally accepted to be more varied and nuanced than often thought. Contemporary Western texts suggest a range of causes were appreciated-namely grief, illness, alcohol, poor diet, or an imbalance in the humours. However, religious belief in demons as a cause of mental illness were also prevalent: both the French theologian Thomas Aquinas and the Silesian scholar Witelo believed that demons could enter the body and upset the balance of the humours.

    Picture of a detail of a historiated initial C (Constellacio) showing an astrologer studying the heavens using a manual with the assistance of a demon in a magic circle, ca. 1360–ca. 1375.
    British Library, Royal 6.E.VI, James le Palmer, Omne Bonum, fol. 396v. Detail of a historiated initial C (Constellacio) showing an astrologer studying the heavens using a manual with the assistance of a demon in a magic circle, ca. 1360–ca. 1375. (©The British Library)

    Demons and Christianity

    The early fathers of the church in Europe attempted to forge a new Christian orthodoxy out of existing beliefs and had to redefine the practice of magic in a Christian context. This meant insisting that all magic was demonic in origin, and that the practice of it was always morally wrong. Learn more about the uneasy relationship between Christianity, proto-scientific epistemology and the concept of demons in this eBook chapter.

    Global Queenship and Powerful Women of the Middle Ages

    Bloomsbury Medieval Studies provides numerous ways with which to explore the fascinating topic of queenship from a global perspective: from articles and book chapters that place this concept in its historical and cultural contexts, to case studies of specific powerful women of the period and depictions of queens in works of art.

    Reliquary pendant with Queen Margaret of Sicily blessed by Bishop Reginald of Bath
    Reliquary pendant with Queen Margaret of Sicily (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    The lives of royal women

    The study of queenship brings together the biographical study of the lives of royal women with an analysis of their agency and activity. Queenship scholars draw on a number of different disciplines including history, literature studies, art history, politics, gender studies, archaeology, and religious studies in order to thoroughly scrutinize the wide variety of evidence from the lives of royal women.

    Read a thematic overview of Global Queenship from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages.

    Queen Tamar of Geogria: part of the 12th-13th-century Vardzia Monastery mural
    Part of the 12th-13th-century Vardzia Monastery mural (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

    Tamar the Great

    Tamar the Great (born ca. 1160, r. 1184–1213) ruled the medieval kingdom of Georgia at the height of its political power and cultural influence. Tamar has been neglected in historical works outside of Georgia, particularly in western languages, but scholars have recently begun to investigate her reign, examine her alongside other monarchs and speculate about the factors that enabled her success.

    Find out about Tamar the Great and her historical context and significance in this Core Case Study from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages.

    Image taken from An 18th century album of portraits of 86 emperors of China, with Chinese historical notes.
    Empress Wu (Wu Zetian) (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

    Wu Zetian

    Before Wu Zetian’s reign (690–705) no woman had ever dared to present herself as emperor. She was the first, and last, woman who not only played a patriarchal role, but who convinced her vassals that she deserved the “Mandate of Heaven” (tianming 天命).

    Read more about Tang Empress Wu Zetian in this Core Case Study from the Encylopedia of the Global Middle Ages.

    Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204) reconciling her sons Richard I, Coeur de Lion, King of England 1189-1199, and his heir John, King of England 1199-1216.
    Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204) Colour-printed wood engraving by Jafnes Doyle (1822-1892). (Photo via Getty Images)

    Eleanor of Aquitaine

    Eleanor of Aquitaine (d. 1204) was one of the most powerful queens in medieval Europe as well as a noteworthy patron of the arts. Her spectacular life was marked with momentous events and renown, through which she navigated the complex terrain of going on crusade, dealing with divorce and remarriage, negotiating conflict with her second husband that would result in her imprisonment, and correspondence with key contemporary figures such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Abbot Suger.

    Explore the life of Eleanor of Aquitane within the context of Medieval women and their artistic representation in Medieval visual culture.

    Billon Jital coin in circulation during Razia Sultana’s reign
    Billon jital coin in circulation during Razia Sultana’s reign over the Sultanate of Delhi (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

    Razia Sultana

    The most notable amongst all of the royal women of the Sultanate of Delhi was the regnant queen Razia (1236–1240), who adopted the gender-neutral title of Sultan. Razia has a unique position in the history of India, as both the only regnant queen of Medieval India and woman to sit on the throne of Delhi.

    Learn more about Razia Sultana in this Core Case Study from the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages.

    Stained glass panel depicting Saint Kunigunde, queen and wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II
    Stained glass panel with Queen Kunigunde (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Queen Kunigunde, Holy Roman Empress

    Queen Kunigunde, wife of Holy Roman Emperor Henry II, is depicted in stained glass with a halo, crown and holding a sceptre. She is reported to have been politically active, taking part in Imperial councils and advising her husband. She was eventually canonized as Saint Kunigunde by Pope Innocent III in March 1200.

    View this museum object, part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Medieval collection, in closer detail.