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Medieval and Byzantine History Medieval and Byzantine History Forum - Period of History between classical antiquity and modern times, roughly the 5th through 16th Centuries


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Old June 16th, 2011, 03:15 PM   #1

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How aware of the outside world was Anglo Saxon England?


One of the listeners to my podcast just asked a stunning good question - as below:

How aware of the rest of the world was Anglo Saxon England (apart from the Viking invasions!)? I was wondering as in Roman England there must have been a fair few people aware of and even from (or travelled to) distant places such as Byzantium, North Africa etc. However by the time of the start of your series all the little kingdoms that become England seem to live in a much smaller world and their knowledge greatly reduced from that of earlier centuries?'

It's a good question - especially for Easrl AS England. what do you think? Particularly further afield - Middle East, Persia ...
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Old June 16th, 2011, 08:07 PM   #2
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Contact on the continent doesn't have any substantial evidence until about the 900's (I think) when a few letters between Saxon kings and the Holy Roman Empire occur. That said, around the time of the Norman Conquest a substantial amount of men went to Constantinople to join the Byzantium guard.

I recall reading something about Alfred putting arabic on a few coins to promote trade with Spain but I'm buggered to find the evidence at this hour. I may come back to it though.

Hope that helps!
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Old June 16th, 2011, 09:08 PM   #3

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Well Offa certainly had contact with both Charlemagne and the Papacy.

History Today had this article regarding contact with Islam in both Britain and Ireland: History in the News: Evidence of Early Contact with Islam
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Old June 16th, 2011, 09:22 PM   #4
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An Anglo Saxon view of the world seen from an Anglo Saxon map.

Click the image to open in full size.

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/featu...glosaxon.html#
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Old June 17th, 2011, 03:21 AM   #5

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English merchants travelled to Italy, to trade in goods that came from farther afield. In The year 1000, Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger write:

'Trade was the life of the town, and by the year 1000 England's merchants had been trading for some time in goods that came from exotic and faraway places. As the Venerable Bede lay dying in 735 AD, he had called for the 'treasures' that he wished to distribute to his fellow monks, and first out of his treasure chest came pepper - which, growing in the East Indies, had travelled tens of thousands of miles by mule train and ship to reach Baghdad and the Mediterranean. It was probably in the northern Italian town of Pavia, the ancient capital of Lombardy, that English merchants had picked up Bede's pepper. Pavia was the great centre of commercial exchange between northwestern Europe and the East, and accounts of the time vividly describe merchants' tents being pitched in the field beside the river Ticino on the outskirts of the city. Prominent among the merchants were the gens Anglicorum ex Saxorum, who haggled over silks, spices, ivory, goldwork, and precious stones with merchants from Venice and the southern Italian ports of Amalfi and Salerno.

It had been a tough journey for the Englishmen, down through the Rhineland and over the Alpine passes, and it is small wonder they were in a bad temper when they got htere. According to one early eleventh century document, the English had taken offence at the opening of their bags and baggages by the Pavian customs officials, and had grown violent. The kings of Lombardy and England subsequently held discussions about this outbreak of English hooliganism abroad, and it was agreed that England's merchants could have the right to trade in Pavia free of tolls and transaction taxes, provided that they paid a collective levy every three years.

It is the earliest detailed exmaple of a commercial treaty in English history, and under its terms the english purchased their licence to trade with the triennial payment of fifty pounds of pure silver, two fine greyhounds with gilded and emobssed collars, two shields, two swords, and two lances. In an addition clause that was presumably intended to reduce the incentives for local extortion or bribery, provision was made for the Pavian official in charge of the market to recieve two fur coats and two pounds of silver as his own cut on the deal.'
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Old June 19th, 2011, 12:26 AM   #6

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Thanks all; really interesting. I read the article about the Islamic contact, which was really interesting. It seems that Offa couldn't read Arabic; so he ended up sending the Pope a gold coin with the inscription 'there is no God but Allah alone'. Oops.

Also I'd love to understand her map. Do I remember that Jerusalem was in the middle? The Website the map was on contains the startling statement 'Bede and others knew that the earth was round.' Surely not.
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Old June 19th, 2011, 01:08 AM   #7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cerdic View Post
Thanks all; really interesting. I read the article about the Islamic contact, which was really interesting. It seems that Offa couldn't read Arabic; so he ended up sending the Pope a gold coin with the inscription 'there is no God but Allah alone'. Oops.

Also I'd love to understand her map. Do I remember that Jerusalem was in the middle? The Website the map was on contains the startling statement 'Bede and others knew that the earth was round.' Surely not.
Educated people in medieval times were well aware that the world was round. The map in the picture was probably a Mappa mundi. In 'medieval Lives' Terry Jones writes:

'A mappa mundi is a depiction of the world as aplace of experiences, of human history, of notions and knowledge. It's more like an encyclopedia. It's certainly not - and was never intended to be - a chart to be followed by travellers.

More than likely, a mappa mundi would have been a conversation piece in a rich man's house. A fashionable - and expensive - ornament to prompt after-dinner discussion. For journeys people needed not maps but travel tineraries, and that is what they had.

There is no doubt that intelligent people in the Middle Ages knew perfectly well that the earth was a globe. Aquians, in the thirteenth century, wrote that 'the astronomer and the natural philosopher both demonstrate the same conclusion, such as that the world is round, yet the astronomer does so through mathematics, while the natural philosopher does so in a way that takes matter into account.

Roger Bacon, who lived at the same time as Aquinas, had been taught that Greek mathematicians had measured the earth's circumference. It was obvious that it was rounded - for how else did things disappear beyond the horizon? As he wrote "The curvature of the earth explains why we can see further from higher elevations."

What is more, medieval scholars were actively considering the possible existence of America. They realized that the people of the world they knew inhabited only one hemisphere, and devoted a lot of discussion to what happened on the other side. Some said that it was all water. But some postulated the existence of another land mass, the antipodes, "on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us" (that is, in the far west.) And whether or not these 'antiopodes' were inhabited was a matter of intense speculation. The fifth-century theologian St Augustine had thought not, on the very rational grounds that all humans must be descended from a common ancestor and such lands, if they existed, were too far away to have been settled.'
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Old July 2nd, 2011, 07:09 AM   #8

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Quote:
The Website the map was on contains the startling statement 'Bede and others knew that the earth was round.' Surely not.
Well, the ancient Greeks knew that the world was round, and the Romans had been using [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globus_cruciger"]an orb [/ame]as the symbol for the world since at least the first few centuries AD. Also, I believe (though I've never read it) that Dante places Purgatory in the southern hemisphere? So I think it likely that Bede and his contemporaries did indeed know that the world was round.
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Old July 2nd, 2011, 11:49 AM   #9
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Yes, Bede knew the world was sphere. In fact, he uses the spherical shape of the earth in hiswork De temporum ratione (On the Reckoning of Time) to explain the changing length of the days throughout the year. It is a myth that the medieval Europeans thought the world was flat. The Medieval Europeans knew the world was a sphere, as can been seen from the works of Bede and others, having inherited the knowledge from the Classical Greco-Roman civilization.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 11:10 PM   #10

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ah well, you live and learn! slightly odd that it's such a widely held myth then - or maybe it's just me.
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