— if you don’t think history is a truly inspiring subject you’re wrong (via boysncroptops)
barbotrobot said: So I've just begun work on a fantasy novel - mostly piles of research, in no small part from your incredible blog - and I thought it would be fun to ask: what's some stuff you've encountered that you can't believe has never made it into a fantasy story?
Thanks, and good luck!
Huh! Most of it, probably (although I think one or two of these have been used in historical fiction and/or fantasy in non-Western media). Off the top of my head:
- Sir Morien, considering it’s an Arthurian romance
- Khutlun, the Wrestler Princess
- Charlemagne vs. Agolant
- Xiang Fei, Badass Imperial Concubine
- Stagecoach Mary Fields
- The Trung Sisters, Warleaders of Medieval Vietnam
- The Tournament of the Black Maiden in Scotland
- Pretty much everything in this post
The feedback I’ve gotten from fantasy writers seems to indicate a lot of what I post makes good inspiration for fantasy stories. I just think it really sucks that fantasy fiction isn’t considered to be especially accountable to history (dragons and magic, y’know) until characters have brown skin. :|
lohelim said: RE: the conversation about Roman slavery, class, and race relations. I'm a classical studies major and it really bugs me when we get into conversations like this and frame it in the context of US race relations. To Romans, there were functionally only two races - Roman and non-Roman. They did not give a flying crap about skin color as long as you worshipped their gods (or made a pretense of it), paid their taxes, followed their laws, and fought on their side.
Yes, I am aware it “bugs” you. It “bugs” a lot of people.
I’m noticing a pattern, and the people it “bugs” the most are almost always academics. I am assuming you actually read the conversation, but you still sent this message, so I guess I’ll just say it all over again.
Racism today affects how we view the past.
Racism in 1930 affects how we view the past.
Racism in 1850 affects how we view the past.
Racism in 1787 affects how we view the past.
The knowledge we currently possess has been filtered though all of these centuries before it got to us, and each century between us and the ancient world has shaped how the knowledge was passed on.
Every conversation we have about Roman slavery, class, and race relations is affected by not only these factors, but who we are as the people researching, reading, and exploring these materials.
Where did your information come from? How did you form these opinions and ideas? Someone wrote a book. You read it. Someone with authority you trust told you. Knowledge was passed from human being to human being. It doesn’t come from some kind of Supreme Universal Authority, it comes from human beings. Human being are not objective.
In plain terms-in previous eras, these histories were purposely racialized because the authors who wrote them were racist, and lived in an era where furthering white supremacy was highly encouraged and well-compensated.
Instead of challenging, confronting, or refuting this influence, the reaction has been “Hey, let’s just drop it already" from most of the disciplines involving history (which is honestly just about all of them).
Instead of trying to curtail or ameliorate the voices that infused white supremacy into our education in the first place, most people seem a lot more comfortable shush-shushing the voices that want to point out that that happened. To confront it head-on, and explore how this influence continues to shape our ideas, our worldviews, and our knowledge of the past.
It bugs you. Good! I’m not comfortable, you’re not comfortable, so let’s go digging because no one promised anyone the truth is a comfortable pair of well-worn shoes that fit everyone exactly the same.
roundlittleowl said: So one of my favorite posts of yours is the one about the Roman socks (their poor, cold toes), and it made me curious about the history of knitting (though actually those socks are nalbinding?). Anyway I read an article about it and was specifically intrigued by "There is a fairly obvious trail of artifacts from Egypt to Moorish-occupied Spain, and up into the rest of Europe." I was wondering if you knew of any examples of fiber arts made/imported/etc by POC in the Middle Ages?
Yes, and it’s SO interesting!
Surviving trade goods like textiles, beads, and small, portable artworks are actually one of the reasons we know that the Silk Road has been in use pretty much since there have been humans. It’s such a fascinating history, no matter where you start or where you end up!
The Silk Road has been in use since about 500 B.C., and the pre-Historic Silk Road trade route was called the Steppe Road.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, one of the most highly prized trade items was cloth from The Middle East and Asia. It was often called “Tatar cloth”, and there are even paintings like this that show Asian traders with these kind of precious goods:
The incredible value of this cloth caused a trend in Medieval European art: “Psuedo-Kufic" characters, which were basically imitation Arabic letters, added to painted garments in Medieval European paintings to make the cloth look richer:
Tatar People (Brittanica.com)
The Silk Road in Antiquity (the Met Museum)
By the time the cloth got to Italy, it was already expensive. By the time it got to Northwestern Europe, it was nearly priceless.
There’s also the history regarding how both supply and demand for goods from Asia was generated by the massive population movement during the Mongolian invasion of Europe, and how much cultural exchange, especially in the form of fashions, there really was.
Although there was some trade in textiles between African nations and empires during the European medieval period, most of the trade took the form of gold and salt, the most highly prized commodities. The Ghana and Malian Empires exported almost unspeakable amounts of gold. In the days of Mansa Musa, Mali was providing half the entire world’s supply of salt and gold. That’s basically where the money for the European Renaissance came from.
I’m sure you’ve read about or maybe even seen “cloth-of-gold”. Ancient and Medieval textiles always have a fascinating history behind them. This is the story behind this piece of cloth-of-gold:
Beginning in 1211, Genghis Khan invaded the Jin Empire, then proceeded across Central Asia to conquer eastern Iran and the territories east of the Oxus River (today Amu Darya) known as Transoxiana. The artisans and master craftsmen from conquered cities were enslaved and distributed among members of the Khan’s family and distinguished generals.
The nomadic Mongols took these artisans, who fashioned luxury items and other highly desirable articles, to cities in Mongolia and eastern Central Asia. Historical accounts and travel narratives of the period mention them, yet little has survived of the objects, particularly the textiles, they produced.
This magnificent cloth of gold is one of the few silk and gold textiles that can be associated with those craftsmen. It is woven with pairs of winged lions within aligned, tangent roundels and pairs of griffins in the interstices. The background is densely filled with scrolling vines and palmettes. Both the overall design and the animals are Persian; yet the cloud-like ornamentation of the lions’ wings, the cloud scrolls at the terminals of the vines filling the background of the roundels, and the dragons’ heads at the ends of the lions’ tails are based on Chinese models.
The synthesis of Eastern and Western elements is purely Central Asian, which is not surprising considering that captive craftsmen from the former Jin territories were working in the same cities as the captured artisans from eastern Persia and Transoxiana. The density of its design and the fact that the design was entirely woven with gold thread are characteristic of textiles produced during the Mongol period.
The artistic and technical quality of this textile is unsurpassed among the silk and gold textiles that have survived from the early Mongol period. Given that it was once preserved in a Tibetan monastery, this textile was probably woven during the middle of the thirteenth century.
The Mongols only began to make contact with Tibet in 1240 and did not sign a treaty until 1247. In honor of that occasion, gold, silver, and two hundred precious robes were given as imperial gifts to Tibetan monasteries. A few years later, starting in 1251, members of Genghis Khan’s family began to patronize different Tibetan sects, which involved presenting gifts that, in those days, always included precious textiles. A textile of the extraordinary quality and value of this cloth of gold would almost certainly have reached Tibet as an imperial gift.
The title of my thesis about the French Restoration should have been: Charles the Tenth, Bourbon on the Rocks. But I didn’t have the guts.
History and Literature, Harvard College