The title kind of sums up my somewhat vague impressions of the ‘Zoo this year: John Haldon’s De Re Militari address on the logistics of Manzikurt, 1071, the SSCLE dinner hosted by Tom Madden on Friday, and three very interesting papers on Mandeville on Sunday morning.   Now, some of you might think that this vagueness was induced by the over-consumption of the beverages available at Kalamazoo, but you would be very wrong.  In fact, I was ill nearly the whole time.

What a bummer.  I thought it was allergies, starting the day before Megan and I left, and it turned into a relentless, debilitating…something, I don’t really know what it was, through which I still managed two morning workouts, as well as sessions, dinners, my own presentation, and numerous conversations of which I remember quite a bit.  And the dance–actually, the dance was fun, and my cure.  Note: next time you’re under the weather, drink a lot of red wine for the tannins, and then do a dance marathon.

Speaking of weather, can’t medievalists get just a BIT of love, for crying out loud???  Two days of sweltering heat and humidity, followed by a roller-coaster drop in temperatures, near-freezing rain, and high winds.  The drive to and from was one of the worst in my five years of going there…Not to mention all that wonderful construction in Ohio.

As for the conference itself.  Meg and I arrived around 6 p.m. on Wednesday, met up with our brave fellow-travelers Chris, Peter, Sam, Seb, and Seb’s friend Courtney, and had the obligatory dinner at Bilbo’s.  Good grub, and not too pricey. Met up with our friend Ryan, whom we hadn’t seen for some time; saw Bernard Bachrach arrive as we were leaving. Considering the topic of his paper the next day, it’s…reassuring…to think of Dr. Bachrach going to a place called “Bilbo’s” for a bite to eat. You’ll understand in the next paragraph or two.  Afterward, I stayed up for a while working on my paper. Yes, yes, it wasn’t done yet. So sue me.  I wasn’t alone, I assure you!!!

Thursday: I started off hearing my friend PeterSposato‘s talk entitled “Debating Knightly Courage: Martial Bravery and Prudence (Mesure) in the Depictions of Mercenaries during the Florentine-Visconti War (1390–1392)”–yeah, that’s a mouthful. I’ve razzed him about that in the past. Apparently it went over very well, as he got a lot of interested questions afterward–I left after his paper, as I was trying to make it over to Bernhard 208 to catch Bernard Bachrach’s paper “Was the Song of Roland a Military Satire?”  I’ve always been interested in Italian chivalry and historiography, as it shows up as nearly-empty spot in my bibliographic surveys of chivalry. The reason for that is largely due to a long-standing and interlocking series of scholarly attitudes on the non-importance of “chivalry” per se in Italy, and is a trend that Peter is devoting a lot of energy combating. Thus the thrust of his paper–that the chivalric discussions we see elsewhere in Europe were happening in Italy as well.  Excellent as always.

As for the De Re Militari session, well, that got moved around a bit, as one person couldn’t make it at all, and David Bachrach was lost in a plane somewhere between Cincinnatti, Detroit, and one other city. So I missed Bernard Bachrach’s paper, since he wound up going first, and had to gather the gist of it from the Q&A session, and from the summary posted by Peter and Sandra on In many points, I think Dr. Bachrach is right–knights at the time would have recognized all the mistakes Roland was making; but that’s what Oliver is for, after all. The interesting point, I would think, is that they love Roland anyway–he’s still the hero. That says something about knightly mentality. Now, his other idea, that the Anglo-Norman version was written as a mocking response to the French adulation of their hero, is interesting, but I’m not sure how the different manuscript versions portray Roland.  John France voiced the opinion, and I almost-quote, “Romance and Chanson de geste bears as much relation to warfare as CSI does to police work.” I guess there’s an element of truth in that, though it’s been shown that Willehalm, for example, is pretty savvy  in it’s portrayal of battlefield tactics. BUT, anyway, it was interesting, as it returns to that vexed question, ‘how would these chaps have interpreted chivalric literature?’

A couple other great papers as well–Rob Howell gave another fascinating paper on 1oth-century Shropshire and the defense issues facing Aethelflaed and Aethelred in Mercia. He’s a really bright chap, and is managing to challenge  a lot of earlier assumptions about strategy, mobilization, manpower, and general policy by carefully comparing the size of forts with the patterns of devastation and analysis of what exactly the Mercian rulers were protecting. His conclusion in this case is that, if you look carefully, you can see that Aethelflaed had decided to sacrifice western Shropshire, which was to exposed to be defended from Welsh raids, and concentrate instead on protecting the communications routes to Cheshire and the economic heartland of Shropshire.   And, lastly, Kelly DeVries gave his paper in this session, and discussed a rare sarcophagus he’d come across in Istanbul. It was a husband-wife sarcophagus, and on the side it depicted the wife’s household items, and the husband’s arms and armor–something very rare in the Late Antique period, which is when Kelly thinks this probably was made, i.e., not Byzantine, as the museum notice said. But more information on the depiction, the inscription, and the implications of the type of armor and weapons portrayed, remain elusive.

For the 1:30 session, I attended #88, the next De Re panel, which consisted in a series of interesting presentations by Steve Walton, Valerie Eads, Benjamin Michaudel, and Mark Geldof.

  • Steve was discussing a series of iconographic displays of armor in a series of Spanish churches and monasteries, the central feature of which seems to have been some kind of mail covering across the face–whether an aventail, or some kind of balaclava. But there were numerous other features as well, and while one could trace the development and complexity of armor over time–which seems to be the case–the real question is, how does it arrive at these sites iconographically?  Steve’s assessment was that these depictions seem to move across the military border, from west to east if I’m remembering correctly, culminating most spectacularly at the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos.
  • Valerie Eads’ paper dealt with the old chestnut of whether or not there was a systematic “Appenine Defense System” among Matilda’s castles in Tuscany, and the interesting thing she discovered was that most of these castles do not communicate through line of sight. That’s rather unusual, one would think, but some castles can’t see each other, and others that can see each other are frequently blinded by thick fog. This would explain some of the details of Henry IV’s route to Canossa, as he was able to slip past patrols and circumvent castle garrisons with comparative ease. But, there’s a lot more technical work to be done.
  • Benjamin Michaudel’s paper compared Ayyubid and Mamluk siege techniques, with one case from 1188 and the other from…1289, I think. Saladin wound up taking Burzagh Castle through a diversion, which allowed a small party to scale the opposite wall unseen; the bombardment apparently wasn’t effective. The Mamluk assault on the Hospitallers’ headquarters at Marqab, on the other hand, saw an extensive artillery duel, with trebuchets on both sides engaging with each other, until the Hospitallers’ machines were destroyed. BUT, that wasn’t the point–the mines were the real attack, and that’s what brought the wall down. Not exactly what we tend to focus on in crusader-era siege warfare…
  • Lastly, Mark Geldof gave a fascinating paper on a Middle English fight text, BL Additional 39564. Unlike the German and Italian treatises, surviving English fight texts often don’t involve an opponent–they list a series of cuts and strikes, and only occasionally delve into situational tactics. This manuscript uses “parataxical” structure, in that one move follows the next move without a break, and I remember a paper from last year which suggested that we have a window here into how one would actually practice these martial arts when alone–something akin to kata, in essence. Mark pointed to similarities between the forms used here and contemporary dance instruction forms, and the potential these parallel texts have for helping us unlock terms which, taken by themselves in the fight texts, would remain obscure.

The afternoon concluded with the De Re Militari Annual Lecture, delivered by the revered John Haldon, titled “Medieval Logistics and Byzantium: The Case of Manzikurt (1071).”  I hadn’t realized that he was dealing with the digital Manizkurt logistics project cosponsored by Princeton and the University of Birmingham, which I’d known about but had lost track of over the years–though his edited volume on medieval logistics has taken up more-or-less permanent residence on my shelf. Anyway, it was a fascinating talk, centered around the simple question, “How did medieval folks plan and organize logistics?”  The Manizkurt campaign makes for a great research opportunity because we generally know the route, and we know various other circumstances, such as that troops were ordered to gather two months of supplies at Eizurum (I can’t quite read my own writing for the Greek name), and that the Byzantine army was increasingly relying on pack animals, especially in terrain where trails tended to be stepped, not level. The computer model, then, has take a huge number of calculations into account, beginning with the feed requirements for one mule, and one soldier, and expanding from there essentially–so that a force of 1000 cavalry would require about 2250 mules to campaign for 24 days.  Ultimately, a 60,000-man army, which is the top end of what the emperor might have had with him, would require at least 25,000 mules. This would quite literally empty out the entire region of transport animals, and raises further questions of method and execution.  The illustration of the computational formulas was rather mind-blowing and somewhat overwhelming, and the computer power necessary to handle these formulas is one reason that Princeton University is involved.  Essentially, you have to run test after test, adjusting the parameters of the model to discover different outcomes–and when you get an outcome that matches what we know happened, note that down carefully. Intense…

So, there it is for Thursday…I attended the White Hart Society round table for the Yale Biographies of Edward II and Edward III, which was excellent as I recall, but at that point I was starting to feel really lousy, and not looking forward to another three days of conference. Since Mark Ormrod’s Edward III bio isn’t out yet, the session wound up focusing on Seymour Phillips’ Edward II, which was fascinating fascinating. The discussion centered on how Dr. Phillips handled the pitfalls and stereotypes that Edward II entails, whether it be Mortimer, Isabella, Gaveston, Edward’s supposed survival after the poker incident, etc. Phillips himself devoted a considerable amount of space at the session to exploding various theories of Edward II’s supposed survival as a wandering monk, and who the various pretenders actually were–especially the chap apprehended in Germany in…1338, I think?   Anyway, interesting panel.

Ok, that’s it for now.  I’ll deal with the rest of the conference in another post, but I have to get to other things today, such as dissertation, conference planning, and my July seminar paper.  Later!

  1. Cliff Rogers says:

    Thanks for posting– very useful since I couldn’t be there this yar.

  2. Andrew Holt says:

    Same here Dan. This is great stuff.

  3. Dana Cushing says:

    Very much enjoyed these talks, and thought the Manzikert/game theory one was the best of the conference. Glad you’re feeling not-dead!

  4. midgardarts says:

    I just realised I said ‘peritactical’ when I should have said ‘peritaxical’. Ah well, such are the risks of the academic conference. Incidentally, a version of the 2010 talk on a similar text is published here:

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