What’s new in research on medieval military history

It's a good time to catch up on the latest research in the field of medieval military history - here are eight articles published in academic journals so far in 2019. All of them deal warfare in large or small part. A few are also Open Access, but the others you would have to pay for to read. 

Viking warrior women? Reassessing Birka chamber grave Bj.581

By Neil Price, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, Torun Zachrisson et al., Antiquity, 93:367 (2019), 181-198.

Abstract: The warrior woman has long been part of the Viking image, with a pedigree that extends from the Valkyries of Old Norse prose and poetry to modern media entertainment. Until recently, however, actual Viking Age evidence for such individuals has been sparse. This article addresses research showing that the individual buried at Birka in an ‘archetypal’ high-status warrior grave—always assumed to be male since its excavation in 1878—is, in fact, biologically female. Publication, in 2017, of the genomic data led to unprecedented public debate about this individual. Here, the authors address in detail the interpretation of the burial, discussing source-critical issues and parallels.

Available in Open Access from Cambridge Core

Edward III’s household knights and the Crécy campaign of 1346

By Matthew Hefferan, Historical Research, 92:255 (2019), 24 - 49.

Abstract: The knights of the royal household were of central importance to medieval warfare. Their contributions to the wars of Edward III have, however, received only limited attention from historians. This article uses the Crécy campaign of 1346, the largest of Edward III’s military campaigns, as a case study to argue that the household knights occupied a fundamental place in the raising of royal armies at this time, and offered the king a wealth of experienced captains capable of leading vital military missions as part of wider royal campaigns.

Available in Open Access from Wiley Digital Library

There is Power in a Cohort: Development of Warfare in Iron Age to Early Medieval Scandinavia

By A.S. Kolberg, Journal of Military History, 83:1 (2019), 9-30.

Abstract: The Viking Age in popular culture is often set in a dark and lawless era, a Hollywood conception of Ultima Thule, in which individual warriors fought for personal glory. But the archaeological evidence suggests a much different reality; the tale told by the inanimate objects uncovered from archaeological sites is one of a highly organized society in which justice and equality mattered. This view is also supported by the written sources. Most scholars concede that society in Roman Iron Age to Viking Age Scandinavia was well organized, and that a process of state building was under way. Less focus, however, has been put on warfare and military tactics during this period. What was warfare really like in Norway and Scandinavia in the years before, and during, the Viking Age? In this paper, an attempt will be made to analyze the extent to which early Scandinavian society was organized for warfare, and possible external influences on Scandinavian tactics in the Roman Iron Age and up to the Viking Age/early medieval period will be explored.

Available through Ebscohost

Was the Portuguese Led Military Campaign against Alcácer do Sal in the Autumn of 1217 Part of the Fifth Crusade?

By Lucas Villegas-Aristizábal, Al-Masāq, 31:1 (2019), 50 - 67.

Abstract: In 1213, Pope Innocent III issued his letter Quia maior asking Christendom to rescue the Holy Land. He also appeared to suspend the indulgences offered for fighting in Iberia so that the crusading forces could concentrate their efforts on the venture to Egypt. Despite this, Innocent was unprepared to totally disqualify the Iberian Christian efforts against al-Andalus - a situation that created an artificial separation between Iberian Christians and the rest of Christendom. Notwithstanding, in 1217 when a fleet of northern crusaders arrived in Lisbon, they were invited by its bishop to join an expedition to conquer the Muslim-controlled city of Alcácer do Sal. This article discusses the evidence available to explain what the real status of this campaign was in the eyes of the papacy and the participants themselves within the evolving concept of "Crusade".

Available through Taylor and Francis Online

Legacy and change: medieval warfare in Castile through the chronicle of Grand Master Alonso de Monroy (fifteenth century)

By Carlos J. Rodríguez-Casillas, Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, 11:1 (2019), 98 - 113.

Abstract: This study analyzes the management of warfare in the context of the violent political situation in Extremadura in the fifteenth century. This analysis will be based on the events described in the chronicle of Alonso de Monroy, Grand Master of the Order of Alcántara. The text showcases a set of tactics and warfare techniques inherited from previous centuries, along with some of the military transformations taking place at the time, like the use of handgunners on horseback and the growing importance of infantry units on the battlefield.

Available through Taylor and Francis Online

In the Camp and on the March: Military Manuals as Sources for Studying Premodern Public Health

By Guy Geltner, Medical History, 63:1 (2019), 44 - 60.

Abstract: Historians tend to view public health as a quintessentially modern phenomenon, enabled by the emergence of representative democracies, centralised bureaucracies and advanced biomedicine. While social, urban and religious historians have begun chipping away at the entrenched dichotomy between pre/modernity that this view implies, evidence for community prophylactics in earlier eras also emerges from a group of somewhat unexpected sources, namely military manuals. Texts composed for (and often by) army leaders in medieval Latin Europe, East Rome (Byzantium) and other premodern civilisations reflect the topicality of population-level preventative healthcare well before the nineteenth century, thereby broadening the path for historicising public health from a transregional and even global perspective. Moreover, at least throughout the Mediterranean world, military manuals also attest the enduring appeal of Hippocratic and Galenic prophylactics and how that medical tradition continued for centuries to shape the routines and material culture of vulnerable communities such as armies.

Available in Open Access from Cambridge Core

The Baltic Crusades and ecological transformation: The zooarchaeology of conquest and cultural change in the Eastern Baltic in the second millennium AD

By Aleksander Pluskowski et al., Quaternary International 510 (2018), 28 - 43.

Abstract: From the end of the 12th century, crusading armies unleashed a relentless holy war against the indigenous pagan societies in the Eastern Baltic region. Native territories were reorganised as new Christian states (Livonia and Prussia) largely run by a militarised theocracy, dominated by the Teutonic Order. The new regime constructed castles, encouraged colonists, developed towns and introduced Christianity, incorporating the conquered territories into Latin Europe. At the same time, the theocracy sought to maximise the exploitation of natural resources to sustain its political and military assets, as well as provision its subjects. Arguably the most important resource was represented by animals, which were exploited for a range of primary and secondary products. Excavations across the eastern Baltic have uncovered tens of thousands of faunal remains from archaeological contexts on either side of the crusading period. Traditionally studied in isolation, the zooarchaeological data is here for the first time compared across the conquered territories, supported with isotopic analyses and integrated with other paleoenvironmental and historical sources, revealing how the new regime appropriated and intensified existing livestock husbandry practices, whilst accentuating earlier trends in declining biodiversity. At the same time, agricultural changes led to improved feeding regimes, resulting in noticeable changes in the size of stock in some regions.

Available through Science Direct

God Wills It! Supplementary Divine Purposes for the Crusades according to Crusade Propaganda

By Valentin Portnykh, Journal of Ecclesiastical History (2019), 1 - 15.

Abstract: It is well known that the crusades were represented as wars sanctioned by God, who helped the crusaders. At the same time, according to crusade propaganda, the liberation of the Holy Land was most probably not the only purpose of the crusades. Some sources allow us to affirm that the papacy and preachers had the idea that God would allow the crusaders to settle in Outremer only when they would merit it by the absence of sin. Furthermore, in the second half of the twelfth and, to a greater extent, in the thirteenth century, there was a spread of the idea that God could destroy the Saracens on his own, but was testing his faithful. In fact, all these ideas together suggested that, according to the propaganda, the liberation of the Holy Land was not considered to be God's only goal, for he also wished to bring to this land faithful people without sin who would settle there, elected by God.

Available through Cambridge Core

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