Where to execute a criminal in the Middle Ages?

Do you have morbid fascination with gallows, pillories and other sites of execution and infamy? If you do, you will probably never confess this interest, lest your colleagues shall fear you as a closet maniac. Unless, of course, you are one of a handful of people working on the archaeology of justice, who confessed and even celbrated our fascination with hangings, decapitations, amputated hands of forgers, burned and drowned witches and suchlike.

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Medieval Churches in Latvia

Romanesque, early Gothic and late Gothic churches were all present on the landscape of medieval Latvia. Many of them have survived wars and fires and still make their mark on the surroundings. Constructed from the twelfth century onwards and rebuilt throughout their history, medieval churches offer a standing testimony to the malleability of history, a reminder of the instability, permeability of meaning. Burned to the four walls and erected once again (Krimulda Church), rebuilt to suit the latest tastes already in the Middle Ages (St. Peter’s Church), or ruined to the four shattered walls, plaintively exposed against the blue waters of the Daugava River (Ikshkile Church) – these are just a few examples of the still beautiful monuments of sacred history which have the power to take the visitors back in time.


St. Peter’s Church in Riga as printed in S. Munter’s Cosmography

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Horseback Archery – a Medievalist Sport

Say ‘horseback archery’ and what would you think? Archaic, esoteric, oriental, arcane?

Indeed, horseback archery was and still is a vibrant tradition in Asia, from Iran and Turkey to Korea (home of the World Horseback Archer Federation) and Japan. More recently, however, horseback archery has crossed the east-west divide and is increasingly popular in Europe, the UK and the States.

The object is simple – to release arrows into a target while galloping. At the same time, there are infinite variations in rules, equipment and styles across schools and countries. You can release arrows, for instance, into a series of targets set alongside the track. Alternatively, you may be asked to shoot three arrows into the same target. Whatever the rules, speed and feeling are the key, in diference from the foot archery, where the archer has time to deliberate and aim.

Like all combined sports, horseback archery is a singularly difficult art to master. Combining two hard and rare skills, archery and riding, it is breathtakingly beautiful to watch and fascinating to practice.

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Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmasand Happy New Year!

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Matter of Epic or Romance: Comparing Castles in the UK and Latvia

As all my attention is given to an article about medieval hillforts and stone castles in Latvia which I am currently preparing, I could not but glance back to my early musings on Daugmale hillfort – and a castle in Bangor, which I once visited in very romantic circumstances


On Easter Monday, me and my husband visited Ynys Mon, or Anglesey as the Saesneg call it, on a pilgrimage.
The goal of our pilgrimage was the sacred well at which St. Seiriol, a Welsh 6-th century royal hermit once lived. Later the place became a local centre of worship, with two Celtic crosses; the crosses are still there, presently placed inside the later church building, though originally they would have stood in the open. In the twelfth century, the Celtic monastery became reorganised as a Norman Augustinian monastery. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the place into the hands of a local family, who built a dovecot and a deer park next to the priory and the church buildings. In the eighteenth century, some enthusiasts of the Celtic revival added a brick structure over the well at which side St. Seiriol would have lived. The Penmon priory is thus…

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Horseback Archery In Korea: A Traditional Sport.

Over the past couple of decades archery from the back of a horse has seen a revival as a sport and recreational activity. Countries all around the world, both those with and without a tradit…

Source: Horseback Archery In Korea: A Traditional Sport.

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Hillforts in Latvia

Today is the ‘Birthday of Latvia’, as my little son proudly announced to me coming from the kindergarten. Moreover, I was putting some spit and polish on my article about medieval castles in Latvia, so I found a collection of maps listing Latvian hillforts particularly useful.

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Medieval Welsh Horses Had Weird Names

While preparing my article on the early editions of the Welsh Arthurian material, I came across a passage from Loth’s French translation of the Welsh triads. And the first triads were, who would guess it, about horses.

Here they are, Horse triads from the Black Book of Caermarthen:

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Medieval Horses Love Water!

November has come, with its dull winter days, the first snow and cold, wet horses. Apparently, it was no problem in the fifteenth-century France, where the calendar page from the spectacular Bedford Hours show a horse splashing in a fountain:


Perseus and Pegasus, the Bedford Hours

Calendar page for November from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410–1430, Add MS 18850, f. 11r


All right, that’s Perseus and Pegasus, so they are supposed to be there. Still, to me, the picture looks very realistic, minus the wings, which appear very haphazardly slapped upon the white horse, anyway. Maybe the knight is going for a dress-up party? It’s Halloween, after all…

Still, I wonder whether they would be splashing in the water in November – might be a bit too cold for this kind of fun. I am not sure the knight looks very keen on it, nd even the horse seems slightly hesitant, probing the water with its hoof.

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What did medieval people know about Hungary?

What do the Old Norse sagas, the chronicle narrative of Jean Froissart and the Old Serbian annals have in common? How about the Dominican collection of pious exempla by Jacobus de Cessolis, Liber de moribus? Well, to give you yet another clue, think of the late French Arthurian romance of Melyador and the anonymous fifteenth-century Middle English metrical romance Capystranus. Still no nearer to the answer? Hungary and the Hungarians! Surprising as it may sound, Hungary makes a frequent and variegated appearance in a variety of medieval narrative sources across Europe, from Iceland to Italy, not to mention Germany, France, England and such close neighbours as Poland and Serbia.

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