Author Archives: guinevere11

Researching Medieval Women

This project has been fascinating! I have thoroughly enjoyed researching noble women from Medieval France and England. I have learned so much about not only culture and customs of the time period, but how women (and ideas about women) have and have not changed over the course of hundreds of years. At first I struggled to narrow down my ideas enough to find good sources and craft a valid and feasible topic for research. I was reminded that you definitely have to do some digging before deciding on a topic, and I ended up changing my original idea for this project a few times over the last couple of weeks.

My favorite part of this project was the chance to notice the differences and similarities between modern day women and women from the past, 12th century Europe specifically. As I researched and read about these women, I briefly encountered experiences of women from other cultures and time periods which piqued my interest even more. There were so many avenues I could have explored with this topic and it became difficult for me to choose which path to follow with my research. It was also difficult to pare down the information I gathered to a blog post of 250 words…I went over every time, and still had oodles of information I would like to have added.

The topics I chose to research were:

1. The history, ‘rules’ and a bit of the psychology of courtly love

2. Medieval marriage and the differences between the marriages of noblewomen and peasants

3. How marriage contracts during Medieval times differ from modern day marriages

4. Historic women warriors and the significance of armor in 2 examples from Medieval history (the Amazon warrior Camilla and French knight Silence from Romane de Silence)

5. Property inheritance regulations regarding women as heiresses to titles and property

6. Women acting as regent rulers for underage heirs and absent (or dead) husbands

I had a ton of fun and definitely learned a lot. (Thanks for this opportunity and all your help Prof. P!)

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Oh I Just Can’t Wait To Be Queen

Although Medieval society was mostly a patriarchal and male dominated society, landowning upper class women would often be called upon to act in their husband’s stead in the case of absence or death (Jewell 127). Historian Rowena Archer stated “virtually all women of property could expect to exercise a measure of administrative responsibility wherever and whenever the need arose” (as qtd by Jewell 127). The reign of Eleanor of Aquitaine as Queen of England, and Blanche of Castile as Queen of France demonstrate two influential women who were both called upon to fulfill administrative responsibility in the absence of their husbands and the minority or absence of an heir.

The documentation of Eleanor acting as regent Queen is found in the writs run in her name during the absence of her husband King Henry (Richardson 195), as well as the limited documentation spanning the time between her husband’s death on July 8, 1186 and her son Richard’s coronation on September 3 that same year (Richardson 201). Other than an order for the release and trial of prisoners, and for fealty to be sworn to Richard, there is no other documentation from Eleanor in the 8 weeks between Henry’s death and Richard’s coronation (Richardson 201). Yet there is little doubt that during this brief period she exercised “very great, perhaps paramount authority” (Richardson 201). Being the intelligent, capable and determined woman it appears she was, she could hardly be considered just a ‘regent’ ruler acting in place of an absent husband (Richardson 201).

Blanche of Castile presents another extraordinary example of a woman as the ruling entity (even if for only a brief time). At a young age (and in place of her older sister) Blanche was chosen by her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to wed the future Louis VII (Abrate 659). Married at age twelve, Blanche enjoyed a surprising and rare happy marriage with Louis VII, and gave birth to twelve children (Abrate 659). She was trained from childhood to be a queen, but had to wait until her mid-thirties to become Queen of France, and then within three years lost both her beloved husband and her status (Abrate 659). She has been portrayed as a woman who is “discerning in her political judgments and thoroughly honest” (Jordan 1049). Her political accomplishments as regent and short time ruling mark her as a great queen and influential woman in French History (Abrate 659). Though she was ambitious and desired the power and title of   a queen, she gracefully surrendered power to her son Louis IX and his wife Marguerite (Abrate 660). In the review of Blanche de Castile by Gerard Sivery, Jayne Abrate describes Blanche de Castile as a heroine in French history, stating that “although a woman could not succeed to the throne, France was repeatedly saved, perhaps in spite of itself, by a woman’s hand” (Abrate 660).

Works Cited:

Abrate, Jayne. “Review: Blanche de Castille by Gerard Sivery.” American Association of Teachers of French: The French Review 65.4. (1992): pp 659-660. Web. JSTOR. 20 Apr 2012.

Jewell, Helen. Women in Medieval England. Manchester University Press: 1996. Google Books. Web. 19 Apr 2012.

Jordan, William C. “Review: Blanche de Castille by Gerary Sivery.” Medieval Academy of America: Speculum 67.4, (1992): pp. 1048-1049. Web.  JSTOR. 20 Apr 2012.

Richardson, H. G. “The Letters and Charters of Eleanor of Aquitaine.” The English Historical Review 74.291 (1959): pp. 193-213. JSTOR. Web. 19 Apr 2012.

“King of France: Louis VIII.” Web. 20 Apr 2012.


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Women’s Rights: Property Inheritance in Medieval Society

For a woman of wealth and status in medieval times, her most important role was to produce a suitable male heir (Medieval Women). In the tradition of patrilineality and primogeniture, the inheritance of titles and property in medieval times was passed through the male line to the oldest son (Wikipedia contributors: Patrilineality; Jewell 60). In situations where there is no son and only a single daughter, she was sole heiress. In the case of several daughters, they were treated as coheiresses and partition of property would result (Jewell 122) In birth order, the eldest daughter was immediately ousted as heiress with the birth of a brother, and inheritance diminished with the birth of each sister (Jewell 20).

"Eleanor of Aquitaine"
Mural in the Chapel of St. Radegund
(Wikipedia contributors)

As king Louis VI of France (aka Louis the Fat) lay on his death bed, word was brought of the death of Guillaume, Count of Poitou and duke of Aquitaine (Kelley 1). The untimely end of this feudatory and the lack of a male heir left Guillaume’s eldest daughter Eleanor the duchess of a particularly influential feudal territory (Kelley 2). Not to mention that she was only fifteen at the time (Kelley 6). As King Louis’ vassal, Eleanor’s marriage contract was his prize to bestow as he wished. Under the circumstances it best suited his interests to peacefully unite Poitou and Aquitaine with his own lands, more than doubling his own feudal lands in the aquisition (Kelley 2).

Because of Eleanor’s inheritance it was decided that a hasty union between the duchess and Louis the Young, second son and heir to the throne of France following the death of his elder brother Philip, would be favorable (Kelley 2). Though young, she had spent much time traveling throughout the fiefdom and had experience with ducal business (Kelley 6). Upon the death of Louis VI, and her union with Young Louis (only two years her senior), the duchess of Aquitaine became Queen of the Franks in late summer of  1137.

Following the unsuccessful Second Crusade, Eleanor sought an annulment of her marriage (Wikipedia Contributors: Eleanor of Aquitaine). In early spring of 1152, Louis agreed to the annulment, Eleanor’s lands were restored to her and she later married Henry, Count of Anjou (Kelley 82). With this union she  became the Duchess of Normandy and Poitou, and the Countess of Anjou (Kelley 83).  She also enjoyed new freedom from restraint and surveillance, allowing her to diffuse ideas from the enlightenment throughout her domain (Kelley 85). Eleanor was young, rich, liberal and ambitious, demonstrating that while women were somewhat disadvantaged in their right to property inheritance, it was not an impossibility to create or become part of a powerful, successful, wealthy fiefdom.

Works Cited:

Jewell, Helen. Women in Medieval England. Manchester University Press: 1996. Google Books. Web. 19 Apr 2012.

Kelley, Amy. Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings. Massachusetts: 1950. Google Books. Web. 19 Apr 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Patrilineality.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Eleanor of Aquitaine.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Women’s Property Rights.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 29 Feb. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

“Medieval Women.” History Learning Site. Web. 19 Apr 2012.

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Warrior Women

Throughout history there have been legendary women warriors and leaders. In Greek mythology Athena was the goddess of war and wisdom and Artemis was goddess of the hunt and leader of the Amazonian women, an all-female society of fierce warriors (Goldstein).

Oil Painting on Silk, "Hua Mulan goes to War" (Wikipedia contributors).

An ancient Chinese ballad tell of Hua Mulan, dressed as a man and took her father’s place in the emperor’s army and was never discovered to be a woman (The Ballad of Hua Mulan).

Margaret of Anjou receiving the Book of Romance: original painting from an illuminated manuscript by the Talbot Master (Wikipedia contributors)

Other women from historical England such as Margaret of Anjou and Catherine of Aragon, as well as Joan of Arc from France were successful warrior-leaders and their actions were immortalized in legends (Wikipedia contributors: Women Warriors in Folklore).

Artist's interpretation of Joan of Arc, 1485: Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490 (Wikipedia Contributors).

Although there exist many examples of women proving themselves capable warriors, there still exists gender discrimination, particularly in regards to the actual armor worn by women warriors. Camilla, an Amazonic female warrior portrayed in Virgil’s Aeneid, is depicted as entering the fray clothed in tight fitting and exotic garb that emphasizes her idealized beauty while simultaneously demonstrating that she is not an equal to the male warriors (and all their bejeweled armor) portrayed in the Aeneid (Stock 59). Not surprisingly, it is Camilla’s lack of  armor that results in her death–not because of the lack of protection, but because of the increased fascination and attraction she has toward the magnificent armor of another (male) warrior, Chloreus (Stock 58). This distraction results in her being struck down and killed, emphasizing her femininity and demonstrating that although she was an extremely powerful warrior she was lacking the crucial element in becoming an equal match for the male opponents she faced in battle (Stock 59).

In contrast, the title character of the Roman de Silence defies all feminine restrictions in knighthood and assumes all the male-gendered  responsibilities and prerogatives of knighthood. Not only does Silence receive her own armor, but she has a classic arming passage, individual combat and epic battle scenes that equal an male medieval literary warrior (Stock 69). Eventually Silence gains the reputation as the most skilled knight in France, and receives a magnificent suit of armor as a gift from the King of France (Stock 71). Silence’s cross-gender identity formation hinges largely on her armor, because in order to be successful she must ‘pass’ as a male knight (Stock 73). Her adoption of male qualities allows her to be successful in a traditionally male-dominated arena, but effectually ‘silences’ her natural weapon of femininity–her words (Stock 74).

In comparing the two women warriors from medieval legend, we see that both women were disadvantaged in some way. Camilla retained the prowess and power of her femininity, but her death was brought about by her fascination with (and personal lack of) the full armor worn by her male opponent. Silence on the other hand was granted the full armor and literary prowess of arming and battle scenes, but ultimately ended up sacrificing her femininity to gain success in a masculine world.

Works Cited:

Goldstein, Joshua S. “Amazon Women: Myths of Amazon matriarchies.” War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa. Cambridge University Press: 2001. Web. 18 Apr 2012.

Stock, Lorraine K. “’Arms and the (Wo)man’ in Medieval Romance: The Gendered Arming of Female Warriors in the “Roman d’Eneas” and Heldris’s “Roman de Silence.” Arthuriana 5.4, Arthurian Arms and Arming (1995): pp. 56-83. 29 Mar 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Hua Mulan.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Joan of Arc.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “List of women warriors in folklore.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Margaret of Anjou.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

“The Ballad of Hua Mulan.” c.5 A.D. Web. 18 Apr 2012.

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Modern vs. Medieval Marriage

What are the differences between a formal union of man and woman in modern day United States and Medieval times? Much of what we learn about both modern and Medieval marriage the relationships between husband and wife is found in literature or modern day media. Examples from literature such as Tristan and Isolde, Sir Gawain, and Arveragus and Dorigen illustrate relationships that are as varied as those seen in modern times (Berenboym).

John William Waterhouse: Tristan and Isolde Sharing the Potion - 1916

In today’s society it goes without saying that, in a relationship, we expect to love and be loved in return, especially before committing to marriage. Love is considered essential in creating a successful and enduring relationship, but was insignificant in Medieval marriage contracts. Today we see most lackluster marriages coming to an end with a divorce rate in the United States of almost 50% (Worldwide Divorce Statistics).  However,  it is made apparent through literature that in medieval times loveless marriages were common, and love usually existed outside of marriage. In the legend of Tristan and Isolde the lovers are separated by the betrothal and marriage of Isolde, a beautiful Irish princess, to King Mark who is Tristan’s uncle (“Tristan and Isolde”). Although tragically their true love is denied them in life, they are united in death never to be separated again (“Tristan and Isolde”).

Literature also suggests that, although it was less probable, there was the chance of finding love  after marriage (Berenboym). In The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle we see a repulsive hag transformed into a beautiful lady, and a marriage changed from a chivalrous agreement to a marriage where love does indeed exist between husband and wife ( Hahn). While not many couples in modern society fall in love with their spouse after marriage, the plot of Gawain and Ragnelle’s romance is a motif in fairy tales like “The Frog Prince,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and others (Hahn).

Perhaps the ideal marriage is seen in “The Franklin’s Tale” from Geoffrey Chaucer’s collection of stories The Canterbury Tales. The love between Arveragus and Dorigen was not dictated by domination, jealousy or mastery, but humility, obedience friendship and faithfulness (Chaucer ch. 45).

Literature is a reflection of reality, both past and present and through literature we see that all marriages have some problem or difficulty. Literature also demonstrates that, in any time period, love is a rare gift and should be cherished and treasured by those who receive it (Berenboym).

Works Cited:

Barenboym, Marina. “Reflections on Love and Marriage in Medieval Literature.” Web. 17 Apr 2012.

Chaucer, Geoffry. “The Franklin’s Tale.” The Canterbury Tales. 1392. Web.  18 Apr 2012.

Waterhouse, John W. “Tristan and Isolde Sharing the Potion.” 1916. Web. 18 Apr 2012.

Hahn, Thomas. “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle: Introduction.” Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Medieval Institute Publications. Michigan: 1995. Web. 18 Apr 2012.

“Tristan and Isolde.”  Myths Encyclopedia: Myths and Legends of the World. 2012. Web. 18 Apr 2012.

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Medieval Marriage: Noblewomen vs. Peasants

Marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou

Noble Women:

Noble children were often betrothed in infancy. A Princeton professor, Lawrence Stone, stated these betrothals were contracts “by which children were bartered like cattle” (Searle). These marriage contracts were usually orchestrated to the political or monetary advantage of the father, whose feelings toward his own children would be emotional detachment at best (Searle). Wealth and status were the deciding factor in complicated transactions of betrothal and marriage, and age was largely irrelevant (Peakman). An example of these ‘transactions’ is seen in the marriage of Richard Neville and Anne Beauchamp (daughter of the Earl of Warwick). The future Earl was married when he was only six years old (Peakman). Not only did a woman have no choice of whom she married, but once married she came under her husband’s control and she was not allowed to divorce him (Medieval Women). It was taught that it was a woman’s religious duty and the will of God to defer to her husband: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord” (Peakman, Colossians 3:18).

Peasant Women:

While the life of a peasant was undeniably more difficult, those that were lower on the social ladder had much more freedom to love and court whomever they chose (Peakman). Poor peasant women generally did not marry until much later than those of the upper class; as young children they began working to help provide for their families, and marriage would deprive poor peasants of a much needed worker (Medieval Women). Love was a much more public affair in the lower classes. When a peasant woman did reach an appropriate age for courtship, she would most likely court a young man from the same village and would do so publicly (Medieval Women). The couple would usually meet at markets and festivals, and according to recorded ballads the woman would be wooed with gifts of food, money and clothes (Peakman). Marriage was simple and life was hard, but it seemed that the poor really could marry for love.

Works Cited:

Holy Bible: King James Version. United States: 1979, p. 1496. Print.

Peakman, Julie. “Poise and Passion in the Middle Ages.”   History Today 61.8 (2011): p 36-41. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Apr 2012.

Searle, Eleanor. “Women and Marriage in Medieval Society.” California Institute of Technology (1981): 16-19. Web. 14 Apr 2012.

“Marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou.” Luminarium Encyclopedia Project: Wars of the Roses. Web. 16 Apr 2012.

“Medieval Women.” History Learning Site. Web. 14 Apr 2012.

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Courtly Love

Eleanor of Aquitaine
The Medieval and Renaissance History Portrait Gallery

The aggressive warrior queen, Eleanor of Acquitaine, is not the most likely candidate for advancing civility in a ruthless era. Yet one of her strongest influences on medieval culture is attributed to her attempt to promote the songs of troubadours, chivalry and courtly love (Weider History Network). Although the idea and practices of courtly love certainly existed before Eleanor’s time, between the years of 1168 and 1173 she served as a catalyst to help bring about a new movement toward courtly love (Weider History Network).

During Medieval times a woman ” is elevated to the position of an ideal, a feminine ‘essence,’ if you will, who serves’ as man’s cause” (Ragland, 5). The idea of courtly love is not based on rational courtship practices, nor does there appear to be any real correlation between marriage and love. According to Jacques Alain Miller, love is the demand for nothing (as quoted by Ragland, 9). While it has been stated that courtly love was a heroic effort to “circumvent a necessary impasse between the sexes” (Ragland, 3), courtly love came to be defined as “a question to which the answers were not apparent” (15) and was driven largely by the fulfilling of “unconscious [and mostly sexual] desires” (16).

In a way, courtly love is a ‘feminist’ practice. According to Ragland, this issue of feminism hedges on “each woman’s grappling with the problem of finding a signifier to valorize her existence as Woman” (Ragland, 9).  In contrast Lacan states in the Ethics of Psychoanalysis that rather than being feminist, courtly love is narcissitic with the “feminine object being voided of any real substance, her real virtues of prudence, wisdom, etc., not being extolled (Lacan 150-151, as quoted by Ragland, 16).

Today it is generally assumed that rules do not exist when it comes to love. While these may not be considered ‘rules’ of  love, here is a list of general guidelines or explanations of courtly love as written by 12th century Frenchman Andreas Capellanus (“Courtly Love”):

  • Marriage is no real excuse for not loving
  • He who is not jealous, cannot love
  • No one can be bound by a double love
  • It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing
  • That which a lover takes against the will of his beloved has no relish
  • Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity
  • When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor
  • No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons
  • No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love
  • Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice
  • It is not proper to love any woman whom one would be ashamed to seek to marry
  • A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved
  • When made public love rarely endures
  • The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized
  • Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved
  • When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved, his heart palpitates
  • A new love puts to flight an old one
  • Good character alone makes any man worthy of love
  • If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives
  • A man in love is always apprehensive
  • Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love
  • Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved
  • He whom the thought of love vexes eats and sleeps very little
  • Every act of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved
  • A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved
  • Love can deny nothing to love
  • A lover can never have enough of the s  <3olaces of his beloved
  • A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved
  • A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love
  • A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved
  • Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women


Works Cited:

Beard, Frank. Bible Symbols or The Bible in Pictures (London: Hertel, Jenkins & Co., 1904) 81. Web. 9 April 2012.

Ragland, Ellie. “Psychoanalysis and Courtly Love.” Aurthuriana, Vol. 5, No.1. Scriptorium Press: 1995. pp. 1-20. 9 April 2012. .

Weider History Network “Biography: Eleanor of Aquitaine.”HistoryNet. 9 April 2012. Web.

“Courtly Love” The Middle Ages Website. 9 April 2012.

“Eleanor of Aquitaine.” Queens of England, 1894. The Medieval and Renaissance History Portrait Gallery. Web. 9 April 2012.

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The Upbringing of a Knight

Great knights of medieval times were reared and trained from a young age. A young boy’s early life was dictated by this ambition. Years of training and careful upbringing contributed to the prestigious accomplishment of becoming a knight, and potential candidates for knighthood were expected to display certain qualities (Prestwich, 13). Initially, the qualities of knighthood would manifest and then be fostered through play and activities. As the boy grows, he will subsequently become a page and then a squire if he displays and develops the right skills and qualities (“Knights, Squires and Pages”).

Similar to modern day children, activities and entertainment during medieval times was primarily a small scale replication of adult life. Model toys imitating common objects used by adults have been traced back as early as the 1300’s (“The Culture of Children in Medieval England”; Orme, 53). Similar to toy soldiers of today, fragments have been discovered “portraying knights in armour on horseback” (“Culture…”; Orme, 53).

[Museum of London: replica of a mounted knight; alloy of tin and lead]

(“Childhood in Medieval England”; Orme)

Play also became a form of military training in itself. “The liking of children to imitate adults in their play is very ancient, if not natural to humanity” (“Culture…”; Orme 63). Children during medieval times modeled their play after kings and knights, but this had the potential to turn into a “mimicry of their wars and battles” and children were often hurt, or even killed in these mock military engagements (“Culture…”; Orme 63-64). Often young noble children were given small scale weapons to practice with. Young Henry V is said to have had a sword at the age of nine (Prestwich, 20).  Research also indicates that a royal statute in 1512 required that “every man with boys in his house, aged from seven to seventeen, was to provide them with a bow and two arrows and bring them up to shoot. Play became formally merged with military training” (“Culture…”; Orme, 63). This merger of military training and childhood activities played a significant role in a young boy’s potential for knighthood later in his life.

Although a boy began his journey toward knighthood in his own home, but he could not be expected to acquire all the necessary skills and experience without specific guidance (Alchin). Around the age of seven many boys were sent to become pages where they were able to gain an education at the hands of a nobleman and his wife (Prestwich, 14). This education included: caring for and using military equipment, learning proper manners at court, learning to read and write, riding and handling horses, practice wielding lance and sword, and gaining the necessary physical strength and stamina to endure difficult training and future battles (Prestwich, 14-19).

After years of being trained as a page—around the age of fifteen—a young prospective knight could become a squire (“Knights, Squires and Pages”). Each squire would continue his training in the service of a knight, and hopefully after acquiring and proving that he possessed all the necessary skills, the young squire would “receive the accolade of knighthood” (Prestwich, 21).

Works Cited:

Alchin, Linda. “Steps to Knighthood.”  Middle Ages. 2 April 2012.

Orme, Nicolas. “The Culture of Children in Medieval England.” Past & Present, 148. (1995): 48-88. JSTOR. PDF file. 2 April 2012.

Orme, Nicolas. “Childhood in Medieval England, c. 500-1500.” Historical Essays, University of Pittsburgh. (2005). 2 April 2012.

Prestwich, Michael. “Upbringing & Training.” Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames & Hudson, 2010. Print.

“Knights, Squires & Pages.” The Middle Ages for Kids. 2 April 2012.


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The Column of Trajan: Forts

The Column of Trajan provides an accurate historical reference for Dacian military architecture in one regard: we know they built forts. As in any military campaign, fortifications play a role in both defense of an army’s supplies and troops, and are an obstacle that must be overcome in the siege of an enemy city or encampment. Much of a legionary’s time was spent either trying to undermine the defenses of another fort, or creating an impenetrable barrier around themselves (Matyszak, 149).

In an argument regarding the reality of representation, it is noted that “for all…camps and fortifications on the frieze, the basic material making up the walls is depicted in the same way: regular, horizontal rectangular blocks, with alternating joins between the rows” (Wolfram, 40). The type and material of construction however, is subject for argument. Historical evidence suggests that fortifications built during Roman Empire were constructed primarily of timber and turf, yet the representation on the Column depicts forts constructed with meticulous cut stone masonry (Trueman; Wolfram, 55).

Scene 12, image 17. Legionaries constructing a fort. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Scene 16, image 24. Building a Fort. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

The debate regarding materials in scenes of construction suggest that not only is it illogical for an army to construct a fort out of stone while on campaign, but it would be nearly impossible for any army to create the necessary defensive structures within the given time frame if they were to construct with blocks of masonry as depicted on Trajan’s column (Wolfram, 41). Explanation of the inconsistencies in material vary from blocks of timber and turf to ashlar masonry to cut stone—in reality, various fortifications were likely constructed using all three and others (Wolfram, 54).

Although incongruities exist regarding mode and material of fort construction, it is generally agreed upon that the uniform depiction of Roman and Dacian fortifications throughout the frieze on Trajan’s column is a sculptural misrepresentation of military architecture, and gives very limited historical information (Wolfram).

Works Cited:

Matyszak, Philip. “How to Storm a City.” Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames & Hudson; 2009. Print (149-164). 7 Mar 2012.

Rockwell, Peter. “Trajan’s Column.” The McMaster Trajan Project, 1999. Web. 7 Mar 2012.

Trueman, Chris. “The Roman Army and Warfare.” History Learning Cite, A History of Ancient Rome. 2000. Web. 8 Mar 2012.

Wolfram, Elizabeth. The glory of Rome: Depictions of architecture on the Column of Trajan. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Pg 24-60. Web: Google Books. 8 Mar 2012.

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The Budget of the Roman Empire

Roman Currency (Wikipedia Contributors)

While there is a relative shortage of accurate information about the finances of the Imperial era, it is assumed that state expenditures of the Roman Empire were first and foremost devoted to military payments. It is estimated that these expenditures most likely accounted for half of the revenues of the Empire. Whatever these revenues may have been they were eaten up so quickly that often taxes were increased (or invented) depending on circumstances (Southern, 75-76).

For the average legionary, military life was not a life of great wealth, even though “[Roman] soldiers formed part of the rare salaried class in antiquity” (Bohec, 209). The appeal of legionary life did not lie in an opportunity to earn a large fortune, or even anything resembling affluence. Why then did so many young recruits volunteer for service under rather unappealing conditions? The answer lies in looking outside of the military: conditions of daily life were not much better. When under military service, a “[soldier] could…look forward to regular meals, pay, and free medical treatment form an army doctor” (Herz, 307). Each soldier’s level of pay was blatantly uneven and not dependent upon task difficulty or capability, but upon social status (Herz, 308).

Polybius provides the first indication of the amount of a legionary’s stipendium (pay that initially covered a six-month time period). He states that legionaries received two obols daily, centurions double, cavalrymen a whole drachma (Brunt). Polybius’s drachma is taken to mean the Roman denarius which is the equivalent of 10 asses (Brunt).


Denarii depicting various Roman Emperors (Wikipedia Contributors)

It has also been noted that the stipendium is not so much the equivalent of a modern day wage, but more a credit record to compensate for costs incurred by a legionary during the term of service, i.e. clothing, food and arms supplied by the Empire (Brunt). One example of deductions made for a soldier’s foodstuffs over the period of service indicated that “state deductions for provisions were usually higher than their cost, and that the state normally made a profit” (Herz, 311). The assumption has been made that generally, about two-thirds of a soldier’s gross income was kept back and remained under the control of the state (Herz, 311). Perhaps the most distinct example of pay deductions can be seen in a young recruit—with the necessary supply of weapons, clothing and food, a new legionary incurred a large deficit that could only be paid off after a few years of service (Herz, 314).

Although the costs of maintaining a functioning army were certainly the largest portion of the Roman budget, the political and economic benefits provided by the army’s existence cannot be translated into a financial figure. The stability and security provided by the army both internally and externally, as well as the valuable contributions to the infrastructure of the Roman Empire are astronomically important to the history of the Roman state, and “represented the largest organized and qualified work-force that was present throughout the empire” (Herz, 319). Though it was costly, the value of the Roman army was well worth the price required to sustain it.

Denarius of Marcus Aurelius

Denarius of Marcus Aurelius (Wikipedia Contributors)

Works Cited:

Bohec, Yann Le. The Imperial Roman Army. Trans. Raphael Bate. Routledge, 2000. Print. 28 Feb. 2012.

Brunt. P. A. “Pay and Superannuation in the Roman Army.” Papers of the British School at Rome. Vol. 18. British School at Rome, 1950. Pg. 50-71. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Herz, Peter. “Finances and Costs of the Roman Army.” A Companion to the Roman Army. Ed. Paul Erdkamp. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Southern, Pat. The Roman Army: A Social & Institutional History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print. 28 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Denarius.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Roman currency.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

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