Scandinavian Time Measurement During the Viking Era

The Scandinavians lived in and colonized places so far north that the time measuring conventions of continental Europe were inadequate. Not only were the days of winter so much shorter than they were further south, the sun barely rose above the horizon, with a track that arched only slightly higher at noon than it did during the rest of the day.

In the rest of Europe, the day was divided into 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime. The length of these “hours” varied depending on the time of year. Only on the equinoxes was an hour of daylight 60 minutes long. In other words, on the summer solstice, in Rome an hour of daylight was 76 minutes long using our modern measurements, and an hour of nighttime was 44 minutes long.

The further north you travel, the longer each hour of daylight becomes. By dividing the hours of daylight into 12 unequal hours, on the summer solstice you end up with a ratio 80 minutes per hour of daylight to 40 minutes per hour of nighttime in Paris, 85 minutes of daylight to 35 minutes of nighttime in northern Germany, 90 minutes of daylight to 30 minutes of nighttime in Stockholm, and 105 minutes of daylight to 15 minutes of nighttime in Reykjavik, Iceland. The reverse was true in the winter, when a daytime hour would measure 30 minutes long in Stockholm and only 15 minutes long in Reykjavik. Clearly the 12-hour convention of southern Europe works poorly in lands nearing the Arctic Circle.

Instead the Scandinavians divided the day into eight equal parts. In the winter the sun would still be below the horizon for much of the day, but “daymarks” (dagmarks) could be measured even during the shortest days of the year. That’s because daymarks relied on the direction of the sun. The Scandinavian system divided the horizon into eight sections by direction (north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west and northwest).

Of course the most important daymark each day was noon, when the sun was at its zenith. Known as “Highday” or “Midday” (hádegi or middag), it was the mid-point in the sun’s path across the sky. Unlike the geographic locations of sunrise and sunset, which moved significantly during the year, at midday the sun was in the same place every day.

Equinoctal View of the South Horizon from a Scandinavian Farm

Most Scandinavians used a landmark to identify midday, or highday. There are numerous mountains in Norway named Middagsfjället, Middagshorn and Middagsberg, for example, and in Iceland, Hádegisbrekkur (for highday). Other geographic features used to mark midday were mountain passes, bridges, and fields.

Opposite midday was midnight (miðnætti). In latitudes approaching the Arctic Circle it is easy to establish a landmark for midnight by watching the horizon during June. Although the sun has set before midnight, it is so close to the horizon that the twilight is often bright enough to note where the sun is beneath the horizon. When the sun reaches its lowest point, it is midnight. And of course, at midnight the sun is due north, just as it is due South at noon.

Summer View of the North Horizon from a Scandinavian Farm

Half-way between midnight and midday was mid-morning or rise-measure. This is when the sun is due east. On the equinoxes the sun would rise at this point on the horizon. During the summer the sun would rise long before the nighttime sleep period was over, and during the winter people would wake up long before the sun rose. The sun would rise closer to the midnight marker in the summer and closer to the midday marker in the winter, but the geographic marker for mid-morning would be some feature due east, such as a tree, a valley or another mountain peak. Likewise the point half-way between noon and midnight, mid-evening, was located due west.

Winter View of the South Horizon from a Scandinavian Farm

In between these four cardinal points of the compass were four more geographic markers for times of the day. Between midnight and mid-morning was ótta, roughly 3 am, and between mid-morning and midday was day-measure, about 9 am. After noon was undorn, about 3 pm. And at about 9 pm is night-measure. In all eight directions are used to tell the time, a system that makes sense when the sun is in the sky for wildly different amounts of time during the year. The system uses the location of the sun, whether the sun can be seen above the horizon or not, to tell time.

Summer View of the South Horizon from a Scandinavian Farm

In Anglo-Saxon England during the Viking era, they used a system similar to that of the Scandinavians in that there were eight “tides” to the day. But contact with the Roman Catholic Church and European culture in general led to differences between the English tides and the Scandinavian átts. The English tides don’t seem to be tied to a geographic direction the way the Scandinavian time-telling system was.

For more information on this topic, check out the web page “Telling Time Without a Clock: Scandinavian Daymarks” written for teachers by staffers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The page is at http://hea-www.harvard.edu/ECT/Daymarks/#3back. Another good online source is “Time and Travel in Old Norse Society,” a paper published by Thorsteinn Vilhjalmsson of the Science Institute, University of Iceland.

 

Twelfth Night, Christmastide and Epiphanytide

Adoration of the Magi by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

As it grew dark on Christmas Eve and people filed into church for the Vespers service, the late afternoon/evening service now held around 4 pm, the Christmas season officially began for medieval folk, at least for those in the Christian West.

Unlike us, who begin our Christmas season before the holiday, at Thanksgiving or even earlier, our medieval counterparts began the season with the religious events surrounding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Decorations were put up right before Christmas, often on Christmas Eve. I imagine our medieval alter-egos would have frowned on the concept of decorating to celebrate the birth of Jesus before Advent even began.

We live in a secular country that notes holidays like Ramadan and Yom Kippur on its calendars. It’s hard to truly comprehend how much religion and the Christian liturgical calendar were part of everyday medieval life. For the common folk the liturgical calendar was more important than the Julian calendar. Letters were dated by the holy day or week, for example “written on St. Catherine’s Day” or “on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday.” Few used the complicated Roman calendar to date personal correspondence (“vij kalendas Februarias”). Everyone knew when Holy Rood Day or Michaelmas was.

The first day of Christmastide, December 25, was followed by the second day, the Feast of St. Stephen, then the third day, the feast of St. John the Evangelist, and so on. On the evening before the twelfth day of Christmas, January 5, the celebration of Epiphanytide began. The Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrated the visit of the three wise men, or three kings, to the baby Jesus, also celebrated the baptism of Christ during SCA period and to a lesser extent, the miracle at the wedding at Cana. It ended eight days later, on January 13.

Christmas, Epiphany, Lady Day, All Saints’ Day, the feasts of the Ascension of Christ and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary are some of the most important Church holy days, known as Solemnity Days. These days outrank regular saints’ days and memorials. The celebration of Solemnity Days always began the day before, at Vespers.

All these Christian holy days, which is, of course, where our word holiday comes from, were part of the liturgical calendar for the year. Some, like Christmas, were fixed dates. Others, like the first Sunday of Advent, were moveable dates that were computed from when another Church holiday fell on the calendar. Easter, that most complicated Church holiday, determined when many of the other church events took place. I suspect that most people didn’t worry about computing each year’s calendar and simply let their churchmen tell them when to feast and when to fast.

When exactly did Christmas end? Christmastide ended on Twelfth Night. Shakespeare mentions people taking down the Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night. If you include Epiphanytide, you extend the holiday season another week. But in some places they remove Christmas decorations on Candlemas Eve (Feb. 1), and some calendars describe Feb. 1 as the end of the Christmas season. Christians believe February 2 is when Jesus was presented in the Temple and when Mary was purified, so continuing the season of the birth of Jesus until February 2 has some logic to it. However, it seems to be more of a post-SCA period practice.

So what happened after Epiphanytide? The weeks between major Church events were known as Ordinary Time. These weeks were numbered, from one to 34, and usually began the Monday after a significant church time period. For example, Ordinary Time begins on January 14, the day after the end of Epiphanytide, with the first Sunday of Ordinary Time on January 20 this year.

Below is part of a reconstructed medieval liturgical calendar. Since my persona is 12th century English, it represents the holidays and saints’ days my persona would have known.[i] It covers the time from the birth of Jesus to his presentation in the Temple.

Reconstructed Medieval Liturgical Year

 Constructed Using 2018-2019 as the Example

Dates marked with (M) are moveable feasts or days of worship. Dates in bold are Solemnity feasts[ii], Church events deemed more important than regular feast days. Optional or obligatory memorial observances are in italic.

Christmastide (beginning of a week off for the peasantry)
Christmas/Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ Dec. 25, 2018
Feast of St. Stephen Dec. 26
Feast of St. John the Evangelist Dec. 27
Childermas (Feast of the Holy Innocents) Dec. 28
St. Thomas Becket (from 12th century) Dec. 29
Feast of the Circumcision (eight Roman days after Christmas) Jan. 1, 2019
Twelfth Night (eve of the 12th day of Christmas/end of Christmas) Jan. 5
Epiphanytide[iii]
Feast of the Epiphany (Visit of the Magi/Baptism of Christ) Jan. 6
End of Epiphanytide Jan. 13
Ordinary Time (ordinal – the counted weeks)[iv] Jan. 14
(Begins on January 14 this year)
First Sunday of Ordinary Time Jan. 20
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time Jan. 27
Candlemas/Feast of the Presentation of Christ/Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Feb. 2

[i] Modern liturgical calendars have additional holy days or have removed or added saints’ days. For example, the celebration of the baptism of Jesus is now held on the Sunday after Epiphany in the Roman Catholic Church.

[ii] Solemnities replace Sunday services when they fall on a Sunday. Celebration of Solemnity feasts begins the night before at Vespers.

[iii] Modern church calendars consider Epiphanytide a subset, or part of, Christmastide.

[iv] Ordinary Time runs from the Monday after the Sunday that follows Epiphany (January 13 this year) to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (March 5 this year), then resumes on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday (June 10 this year) and concludes before First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent (Dec. 1 in 2018).

 

Is It New Year’s Day?

January from a Book of Hours (British Library)

Tonight at midnight most of the world will celebrate the new year. But few of our medieval counterparts used January 1 as the start of the new year. When your persona marked the change of the year depended on where you lived, and when.

Are you French, Italian, German, English, Byzantine? Each of these places celebrated the new year on a different date.

At least seven different calendar styles were used in the Christian West alone. And to make matters worse, some areas (Spain in particular) would use one convention for several centuries, change to another, then change to yet another style a few hundred years later.

Depending on when and where you lived in SCA period, New Year’s Day could be:

January 1: Circumcision Style – extends from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. Named for the Feast of the Circumcision (eight Roman days after Jesus’s birth), this style, which is nearly universal now, was perhaps the least used style. Julius Caesar imposed this change on the Roman world with his new calendar in 46 BC, and many others have tried to implement it at different times during SCA period. William the Conqueror made January 1 the beginning of the new year in England, but the people used March 25 for most purposes.

March 1: Venetian Style – from March 1 of the given year (2019) to the last day of February of the subsequent year 2020). Derived from the pre-Caesarian Roman style, it was used by the Merovingian Franks and was the official style in Venice until 1797. So for the Venetians, the new year will not begin for three months.

March 25: Annunciation Style – begins the year on March 25 of the previous year (stilus pisanus 2020) or on March 25 of the given year (stilus florentinus, mos anglicanus 2019). This was one of the most popular styles during the Middle Ages. In England, March 25, or Lady Day, still marked the beginning of the new year for a variety of purposes.

Although they used the Annunciation Style in Pisa, they started counting a year earlier than everyone else. In other words, the new year might begin on March 25 in both Pisa and Florence, but in Piza it already would be 2019, and would become 2020 in March, while in Florence it would still be 2018 until March 25, when it would become 2019.

Easter Style – Begins the year on the movable feast of Easter Sunday of the given year. Sometimes the year is too short, and other times too long. This year would run from Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019 to Holy Saturday, April 11, 2020. Because Easter can fall on a day somewhere between March 22 and April 25, there is a possibility a date could occur twice in one year. The two dates had to be distinguished by marking them “after Easter” and “before Easter.” This style was the most popular one in France.

September 1: Byzantine Style – extends from September 1 of the previous year (2018) to August 31 of the given year (2019), in accordance with the Byzantine use of dating from the creation of the world.

This style was used by areas influenced by Constantinople, particularly during early period. Since Justinian’s time it was the day taxes were due.

September 24: Indictio Bedana – extends from September 24 of the previous year (2018) to September 23 of the given year (2019). Introduced by England’s “Venerable” Bede during the late 8th century, it was never used in that country, although later it was widely used on the Continent, especially in Germany and by the Imperial chancellery. It uses a date near the fall equinox, rather than the spring equinox, for the beginning of the year.

December 25: Christmas Style – extends from December 25 of the previous year (2018) to December 24 of the given year (2019). This is the style most widely used in the Middle Ages. It is the style that held sway during Anglo-Saxon England’s era, as well as being the New Year of choice for parts of France and Spain for 200 years.

Completely confused? You’re not alone. Historian Reginald Poole gave the following example:

“If we suppose a traveler to set out from Venice on March 1, 1245, the first day of the Venetian year, he would find himself in 1244 when he reached Florence; and if after a short stay he went on to Pisa, the year 1246 would already have begun there. Continuing his journey westward, he would find himself again in 1245 when he entered Provence, and on arriving in France before Easter (April 21) he would be once more in 1244. This seems a bewildering tangle of dates.”

The easiest way to determine how your persona would have dated the year is to use the online Calendar Utility created and maintained by Dr. Otfried Lieberknecht at: http://www.lieberknecht.de/~prg/calendar.htm. This is an amazingly useful tool. You can type in a Roman-style date and find out what its modern-style calendar date is. You can plug in any date and see what its official Roman calendar date is, along with what year it would be. For example, today is ii Kalendas (or Primus Kalendas) Januarius (the day before the Kalends of January) 2018 for me, because my persona is 12th century English. My new year is nearly four months away.

For those with non-Christian or early period personas, the task of identifying New Year’s Day can be challenging. In non-Christian parts of Europe, such as Scandinavia, parts of Germany and eastern Europe, local pagan customs prevailed. Most celebrated the new year sometime in March, usually tied to a spring fertility festival, although customs vary widely.

For those with Muslim personas or with personas that lived in Islamic-ruled areas of Spain or Sicily, tying the Muslim New Year to a Christian calendar date can be a challenge. Because the Muslims use a strictly lunar calendar, the Islamic year is only 354 days long. The Islamic new year begins eleven days earlier each year. It changes months and seasons regularly. Perhaps someone with a Muslim persona knows of a similar calendar utility to figure out historical dates. If so, please share.

And while Jewish personas would, of course, celebrate Rosh Hashanah in September, they most likely would keep secular records the same way others in their area did.

So to all of you, Happy New Year – sometime this year.

 

 

On This Day: Jeanne d’Arc Enters Orleans

On this day in 1429, a teenaged Jeanne d’Arc enters the besieged city of Orleans, rallying the French forces. By May 7 the French will break the siege, with Jeanne joining the armed forces on the field, holding her banner high.

Jeanne did not “lead” the armies. Noblemen commanders led their men on the field. However, many of these noblemen took the advice Jeanne offered them. Like the French king, the commanders believed her advice was divinely inspired. And Jeanne’s banner on the field brought hope to the French, who were losing badly to the invading English up until that time. During the year Jeanne was with the French army, it enjoyed more success than it had for years beforehand.

Jeanne will receive an arrow wound between her neck and shoulder during the May 7 battle, but it won’t deter her. She will return to the field in time to encourage the French forces to victory over the English.

 

 

Review of The History Chicks Podcast

The History Chicks
“Two women. Half the population. Several thousand years of history. About an hour. Go.”
By Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider
http://thehistorychicks.com/

Graham and Vollenweider’s podcast focuses on historical women, both real and fictional. They look at the politics, royal intrigues, social or legal restraints these women faced, the obstacles they overcame and what life was like in their time.

These are biographies for the most part, sometimes combining women in an episode, such as the “Tudor Grandmothers” episode about Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville.

The two began podcasting in January 2011 with an episode about Marie Antoinette and are now up to 145 episodes, more than 100 full episodes an hour or more long and 44 “minicasts” of 15 to 45 minutes. Minicasts are sometimes used to cover material that doesn’t neatly fit in an episode, like the “Teeny Tiny Tudor Tutorial” that looked at how the various players from Henry VII to Elizabeth I were related.

Graham and Vollenweider don’t cover historical figures in chronological order, but they do have a chronological list on their website of women they’ve discussed from the earliest, Hatshepsut, to Shirley Chisholm, who died in 2005. The pre-17th century women (and a few just over the edge of SCA period) are:

Hatshepsut: 1507-1458 BCE – #45
Cleopatra VII: 69-30 BCE – #46
Agrippina the Younger: 15-59 – #73
Hypatia of Alexandria: 355?-415 – #95
Eleanor of Aquitaine: 1122-1204 – #86
Joan of Arc: 1412-1431 – #51
Tudor Grandmothers: 1441/43-1509; 1466-1503 – #21
Katherine of Aragon: 1485-1536 – #22
Anne Boleyn: 1501/1507-1536 – Minicast
Last Four Wives of Henry VIII: 1508-1537; 1515-1557; 1521-1542; 1512-1548 – #24
Queen Mary I: 1516-1558 – #30
Lady Jane Grey: 1536/1537-1554 – #31
Elizabeth I: 1533-1603 – #43, 44
Mary, Queen of Scots: 1542-1587 – #58
Queen Nzinga: 1583-1663 – #80
Artemisia Gentileschi: 1593-1653 – #85
Pocahontas: 1596-1617 – #99

They also look at fictional characters, such as Mrs. Claus and Little Red Riding Hood, and have spent time on the women of Gone With the Wind, Jane Austen’s characters and the women of Oz. Sometimes  they look at an era rather than an individual. Their episodes on “The Gilded Age” and “1950s Housewives” are good examples of this.

Graham and Vollenweider take a conversational approach to presenting their material. It’s not as bad as if Today Show hosts Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie decided to discuss Cleopatra, but it has that back-and-forth conversational feel. This is not my favorite way to listen to history, but the pair cover material others often don’t. And they could use a better mike. Compared to most other podcasts, their audio quality is poor.

But the duo is from the Kansas City area, so I have a soft spot for them. And they sprinkle current cultural references in their talks. A good example of this is when they describe Richard III  as “Scar from the Lion King,” the kind of pop culture reference that makes it easier to follow complex family relationships.

The website is good, with additional content and many illustrations. They also have a Pinterest page with illustrations of some of their subjects. They have a non-Patreon button on their website for donations, and they sell t-shirts, coffee mugs and cloth bags with quotes from some of the women they’ve profiled.

In the summer of 2017 the duo began “minicast” recaps of the first six episodes of the Netflix series “Anne with an E,” a new take on Anne of Green Gables. In December 2017 they spun off a new podcast, The Recappery, as a place for them to discuss other female-oriented historical fiction. The new one- to two-hour recaps of television, movies and other media began with recaps of “The Crown” season 2. I suspect they will cover fewer fictional women in the main podcast now.

The History Chicks began in January 2011 and their most recent episode is 102, posted in late February 2018.

On This Day: Ponce de Leon Claims Florida for the Spanish Crown

On this day in 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon lands near present-day St. Augustine to explore the Florida coast. He was searching for a “Fountain of Youth,” a magical water source said to bring eternal youth. (He didn’t find it.)

Ponce de Leon made a detailed exploration of what he thought was an island, and named it “La Florida” because he discovered it during the Easter “Pascua Florida,” or “Feast of Flowers” feast.

Ponce de Leon will return in 1521 and try to set up a permanent colony. However he will be wounded after a battle with Native Americans. His force will retreat to Cuba, where he will die.

The Real Middle Ages Podcast Review

The Real Middle Ages
By Aron Miller
therealmiddleages.com

Editor’s Note: Have a favorite history podcast? Share it with the Falcon Banner. Send reviews to rex.deaver@gmail.com.

The “Real Middle Ages” podcast is not a complete narrative of the the Middle Ages. Instead author Aron Miller tackles discreet topics for several episodes in a row before moving on to a new topic. His main focus is the European medieval period, which he describes as the period between 476 CE and 1492 CE.

In episode two he describes why he has chosen 476 CE as his beginning point and what happened in the lead up to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In episode three he discusses several competing dates that could be used for the end of the Middle Ages and why he has settled on 1492. (The first episode is an introduction to the podcast. It probably could have been shortened and added to the beginning of the second episode.) Although he proclaims in his introduction that he will not turn the podcast into a data dump of names and dates, his long beginning and end introductions do just that. In his defense, though, it’s difficult to sum up any beginning or end of a period without a lot of dates and names.

Miller states that he will “explore different characters and themes throughout the Middle Ages that demonstrate the human experience.” And one of his goals is to dispel common misperceptions and myths. For example, he explains how the costumes for a 19th century Wagner opera lead to the ridiculous horned Viking helmets we see all too often. He explains that certain peoples or periods in time suffer from what he calls the “cool factor,” which leads to all kinds of misperceptions. Case in point is the Norse, or Vikings. A mythos has developed in popular culture about who the Vikings were and how they behaved that isn’t supported by primary sources or archeology.

Miller is an academic, so his early podcasts suffer as a result. For one thing, he has three introduction episodes, followed by his introduction to the Rus in episode four. That’s several hours of introductions straight out of academia.

He starts to figure out how to do things better about episode eight or nine, although he still has poor sound quality. And his pronunciation of many words is jarring. But his writing becomes less of a masters’ thesis. He starts learning how to speak conversationally. He adds fun little facts and digressions.

Beginning in episode four he tackles the early beginnings of the Rus, starting with a look at the Russian Primary Chronicle and its limitations as a source. In episode five he describes the founding of the Rus kingdom by Rurik.

He digresses during October 2017 with a two-episode look at witchcraft, but picked up his look at the Rus again in November 2017, wrapping up in December 2017 with the death of Vladimir the Great in 1015. He followed that with a question and answer episode. In February 2018 Miller began his new topic, A Norman Foundation, with a look at the beginnings of Normandy, Rollo and the primary sources for this time period.

I enjoyed listening to the Rus episodes, particularly about their interactions with Byzantium. I’m listening to the History of Byzantium and that podcast just now is getting to the same time period and the same interactions with the Rus. But I’m more interested in the Norman topic he’s just beginning.

Miller’s web page offers illustrations and maps to go with his episodes, along with a lengthy bibliography, but not much else. He has a Patreon button, but he doesn’t ask for donations, at least not in the early episodes. He does ask for reviews on iTunes of course.

I’m a binge listener, so I like history podcasts that have been around for a few years and have many episodes available. Despite the fact that Miller began his podcast a year ago, he only has 20 episodes in the can. I’ve caught up to The Real Middle Ages and now have to wait three weeks or a month for the next episode to drop. With my memory I often can’t remember the previous episode by then. But if you listen more sporadically, Miller’s slow delivery schedule may not be an issue for you.

“The Real Middle Ages” began in March 2017 and is up to episode 20 in March 2018.

On This Day: Bologna Gets Its First City Clock

In 1356 the City of Bologna’s first city clock is unveiled. Installed in the Palazzo Capitanato at the Piazza, it strikes the hours for the first time on this day.

Since it was in Italy, the clock was set to “Italian time.” The first hour of the day was a half-hour after sunset. The hours proceeded clockwise around the clock face, with the 19th hour at about the spot where we would have 12. It struck the 24th hour about a half hour before sunset, ringing the bell or bells 24 times. The clock pictured here, which is still in Venice, is similar to the one Bologna had.

Italian time required the clock minders to reset the clock every three weeks or so because the days would grow longer or shorter, depending on the season. They had to lift and move the heavy iron clock works backwards or forwards so that the first hour rang a half-hour after sunset. Strange as this system was, it continued for a long time in Italy, Hungary and some other scattered places.

Norman Centuries Podcast Review

Norman Centuries 
“A Norman History Podcast”
By Lars Brownworth
https://normancenturies.com/

Editor’s Note: Have a favorite history podcast? Share it with the Falcon Banner. Send review to rex.deaver@gmail.com.

Brownworth is a teacher and author, so his podcasting approach is more like a recitation than the more informal, sometimes irreverent look at history many podcasters present. In his Norman history podcast he doesn’t ask for questions or interact with the listeners. I imagine he’s reading his book, or at least his lecture notes. He does answer questions on his blog “Finding History” (https://larsbrownworth.com/blog/), which seems to cover all his podcasts and perhaps his books.

Brownworth is the author of the popular podcast “12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of the Byzantine Empire.” He also is the author of the books Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization, The Normans: From Raiders to Kings and The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings. The latter book made it to the New York Times bestsellers list. So this podcast is presented by a recognized expert.

And it is informative. Brownworth describes the Normans as a “footloose band of individual adventurers who appeared out of nowhere to blaze across the face of Dark Age Europe.” He begins with Rollo and follows the Normans through William, Tancred and Bohemond. He follows their adventures in France, England, Ireland, the German states, Sicily and Antioch. And he notes that the Norman Principality of Antioch outlasted the Kindgom of Sicily by a century.

It’s been a year since I listened to this, and I remember I particularly enjoyed the stories of the Normans in Outremer. His theme, that the Normans never stopped being restless, never settled down completely, is supported by a lot of evidence. And he appears to know his subject well.

But his website contains nothing more than you find on iTunes or Stitcher. No maps, no reference material, not even a place for comments. On the plus side, it also doesn’t ask you to subscribe or join Patreon. He doesn’t ask for money anywhere.

“Norman Centuries” began in September  2009 and ended with episode 20 in October 2014.

 

 

 

 

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Review

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
“Thinking Outside Pandora’s Box”
By Dan Carlin
https://www.dancarlin.com/hardcore-history-series/

Carlin is a former television reporter and radio talk show host who migrated to podcasts and blogs in 2005. His first podcast, Common Sense, discusses politics and current events. In 2006 he began Hardcore History, his unique take on history’s more “hardcore” aspects, mainly war, genocide, Armageddon and similar exciting themes.

In the most recent episode, posted in August 2017, Carlin takes a long, long look at indigenous tribal people up against the encroachment of technologically superior or organizationally superior cultures. After a long preamble, he launches into a discussion of Julius Caesar’s wars in Gaul, which he’s titled “The Celtic Holocaust.” His contention is that, unlike African or Native American tribes, “These people had a chance to win” even though they were “never the betting favorites.”

He points out that the Celts, Gauls and Germans were able to field large armies. Disease hadn’t ravaged the local populations the way it did in the Americas. And their weapons and warfare were similar, although the Romans had some missile technology the tribes didn’t. He also notes that the Romans had superior armor. But what they had most was organization.

This episode is fascinating, and Carlin backs everything up with either original source material (translations of Caesar’s works, and he notes which translation he’s using) or the opinions of experts in the subject. Sometimes he’ll read a passage from Caesar’s work, then follow it with a look at the Roman political situation. Why did Caesar want to focus on this aspect or exaggerate that number? What did it gain him back home? And where do Caesar’s justifications wear thin?

This is the only episode I’ve listened to so far. Carlin only issues two or three new episodes every year. The most recent ones are anywhere from five to seven months apart. But he makes up for this with very long episodes. Episodes 56-58 look at the ancient Achaemenid Persian empire. Those three episodes total nearly 13 hours. Episode 60, “The Celtic Holocaust” is just a few seconds shy of six hours.

It wasn’t always like this. Wikipedia says his first episode in July 2006, “Alexander Versus Hitler,” was only 16 minutes long. The next 15 episodes ranged from a half hour to just shy of an hour. After that they ranged from two to five hours in length.

Most of these are no longer available unless you purchase them from his website. Episodes 50 through 60 are available on iTunes, Stitcher and so on, as well as on his website, for free. A compilation of episodes 1-49 is $69.99, although you can purchase smaller groups of podcasts for $4.99 to $9.99. He also sells “extras,” the stuff that didn’t make it into an episode, for $1.99 each, such as “Wrath of the Khans” to accompany episode 47. (For the life of me, I can’t understand what didn’t make it into a five-episode, 8.5-hour topic.) Carlin also has a place to donate on his site, although he only mentions it at the end of the episode – very low key.

Carlin’s Hardcore History is wildly popular. Each new episode is downloaded by millions of people. And if you like the kind of long-form history that compares conditions in one time or place with another, or with contemporary issues, you’ll appreciate Carlin’s take.

At one point he notes that Caesar’s forces were blindsided in an ambush and wonders if Caesar had been killed then, would Rome’s borders have stayed much smaller? Without Caesar, would there have been an empire at all? He asks what would have happened if the Europeans in the Americas had faced a 100,000-strong native army. Would “manifest destiny” have occurred? Such thought arguments weave through his material.

At another point he implores his listeners to “imagine the human suffering” that followed a siege. He remembers the women and children, and what happens to them when their side loses. He asks what would you give your life for? Is freedom worth it? Is it worth the threat of imprisonment, slavery, rape, torture or death? He notes the Gauls risked all for freedom from Rome and went from being political slaves to actual slaves.

Each episode has its own webpage and artwork. The “Celtic Holocaust” episode’s striking artwork looks like the cover of a book. The page also includes a map of Caesar’s trips through Gaul and a list of “Tribes/Names/Places” with definitions. The first “King of Kings” episode begins with a brief video clip. That’s followed by a list of nearly 30 people and places with definitions. The third Persian episode’s webpage includes a map of the Battle of Plataea and a family tree of the ancient Persian kings. There’s pretty decent content to accompany each episode.

Carlin’s Hardcore History doesn’t follow a sequential timeline, so there’s no way to know what he’ll cover next. And it isn’t all pre-17th century history. Episode 59 looks at the nuclear arms race and asks “What happens if human beings can’t handle the power of their own weaponry?” Episodes 56-58 head back into the ancient world but episodes 50-55 cover World War I. Carlin’s most recent podcast was episode 60, although by the time this posts he may have issued episode 61.