10 Things I’ve learned at the IMC

One of the two major conferences on the Middle Ages takes place each year at the University of Leeds. The International Medieval Congress (IMC) brings together thousands of historians, archaeologists and scholars to talk about all things medieval, and for myself it is a very educational and fun week.

I’ve heard a couple dozen papers so far, and hopefully you will also be reading about what they had to say in future issues of Medieval Warfare, but for now I just want to give you a very short version of ten things that I have learned this week:

1. Scandinavian texts from the 12th to 16th century mention the practice of wind magic, where people were buying and selling “wind knots” from sorcerers to allow them to get favourable winds while on voyages.

2. Medieval Swedes believed the the Northern Lights were caused by moonlight reflecting off of shoals of herring hovering just under the surface of the sea.

3. The Siege of Acre, which took place between 1189 and 1191, saw 8 set-piece land battles, 26 major skirmishes, and 10 naval encounters.

4. The island of Majorca was a centre of business for the redemption of slaves, with merchants working as intermediaries to send Muslim captives back to North Africa and then picking up Christian ones to return them back to Iberia.

5. If you worked on a royal galley in 15th century Aragon, it was much better to be a local rather than a foreigner, as the pay was about double.

6. In the 14th century, Venice established a coast guard to combat smuggling.

7. All those swords we have been finding in rivers dating from the Carolingian era (we know about 129 that have been found) - they definitely did not getting there by accident. Instead they were deliberately deposited, perhaps by the Vikings.

8. Swordmakers in the Early Middle Ages liked to create their blades with a pattern-welded design that had snake motifs.

9. The idea that medieval Europeans became worse at breeding horses and using them after the Fall of the Roman Empire is incorrect.

10. Our Western ideas about what an Arabic harem was and the role of women in them, are in no way based on the historical evidence.

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