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Old November 12th, 2012, 05:52 PM   #1
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Mategrifon - Curb on the Greeks?

On his way to the Holy Land in 1190, Richard the Lionheart made a stop at Messina. Mixing soldiers with civilians always makes for unpleasant results.Quarrels broke out, riots ensued, the gates were closed and Richard ended up building a wooden castle on the outskirts of the city to show them who's boss around them parts.

Now, my question is about the name of that castle. It was called "Mategrifon", which I've seen variously translated as "Curb on the Greeks", "To stop the Greeks", "Death to the Greeks" etc. but it's never explained why that is.

The "mate" part of the word is easily accounted for, I think. It's the same "mate" as in Old French "eschec mat" (checkmate) which can mean all those things (curb, stop, death, etc). But what does "grifon" mean? Why is it translated as "Greek"? I can't find any similar-sounding words that can be translated as "Greek" in either Old French, Latin or Italian.

Any linguists/historians on this forum that can help me?
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Old November 13th, 2012, 08:50 AM   #2

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Mastin, as I recall means something along the lines of guardian.

Grifon, well as I seem to recall it was a derogatory slang term for Greek/Muslim population.

Though from other things I have read, the Mategriffon might also mean Griffon-Killer.

I can have a look in the Old French Dictionary when Im in university tomorrow.

Last edited by DreamWeaver; November 13th, 2012 at 08:56 AM.
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Old November 13th, 2012, 09:21 AM   #3

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Here is a take on it:
Griffones is a corruption of Greek, by which the inhabitants of Sicily Crete, and Calabria were generally known, and despised by, the Crusaders. Wanley supposes that the griffin in heraldry was to signify a Greek, or Saracen, whom they thus represented under the figure of an imaginary eastern monster, which never existed accept as an armorial badge. There was an ancient piece of artillery called the Mate-griffon (ie: the destroyer or terror of the Greeks) which threw both darts and stones (Grose's Military Antiquities, ed 1801, i.382).
Notes and Queries - Google Books
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Old November 13th, 2012, 11:11 AM   #4
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we indeed know that griffin is one of the sumbols we find in roman / byzantine tradition as also to the previous ancient greek one.

As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. The griffin was also thought of as king of the creatures. [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griffin"]Griffin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]

so this symbol can be found in Roman [byzantine] flags, in emperial, in official and private clothes [possible also to cloth covers of horses], as a decoration in palaces/houses, as a jewel , in relegious, imperial and private sculpture and painting etc

Click the image to open in full size.

the draco / griffin style in late Roman army [14th + century ] appearing as flag army.
[from the Alexander romance , Hellenic institute Codex Gr. 5, Venice, f.36v]


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Alexander the great [dressed as a roman/byzantine emperor] in a chariot drawn by griffins who lift him up in the sky by means of two poles with fresh meat.
Venice, Basilica di San Marco, Byzantine relief in north fašade,
late eleventh century

this also shows the clear connection/continuity of the Helinistic greek empire spirit to the Roman/byzantine greek speaking empire, reprsented the founder of the first, dressed in Roman/byzantine style , and this symbolism is view in Venice of 11th century.


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Roman/Byzantine imperial dress with griffins, 1204+.

Alexios V Doukas , from an illuminated manuscript, surnamed Mourtzouphlos was Byzantine Emperor (5 February – 12 April 1204) during the second and final siege of Constantinople by the participants of the Fourth Crusade. [ame=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexios_V]Alexios V Doukas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]


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Panel with a Griffin, 1250–1300
Byzantine; Possibly from Greece or the Balkans

In the ancient world, the mythical beasts called griffins were symbols of royalty and protectors of the dead. They continued to play these roles for Christians. A legend popular in the Byzantine era told of griffins carrying Alexander the Great through the heavens so he could view his vast realm. Carved griffins such as the one illustrated here are found on later Byzantine tombs, where they may have been placed to identify the dead of royal status and to afford them protection. The design of the relief is similar to patterns on Byzantine silks. Panel with a Griffin [Byzantine; Possibly from Greece or the Balkans] (2000.81) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art


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Panel with Cross and Griffins, 500–700
Byzantine; Made in Egypt

This wooden panel, possibly from a piece of furniture, is decorated with three roundels like those on textiles. A Greek cross is flanked by a pair of confronted griffins, mythological creatures whose images were often represented in the art of the ancient world.
Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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byzantine silk (griffin on silk dyed with murex)


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The Borradaile oliphant,Byzantine, 11th. A sounding horn carved with rows of interlocking medallions. An animal is displayed in each circle (winged griffins, heraldic eagles, lions, peacocks and snakes).


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Rosette casket with battle scenes, animals & griffins

Rosette ivory casket with battle scenes, animals & griffins
broad side A
Byzantine, 12th century
Berlin Bode Museum


and many more.


So i reapeat the mention of okamido:
Griffones is a ...corruption of Greek, by which the inhabitants of Sicily Crete, and Calabria were generally known, and despised by, the Crusaders. .....
as also he mention, and i copy from the 'Notes and Queries ' :

.....King Richard had expended great labour and diligense in erecting a castle to which he gave the name of Mate Griffin; at which the Griffones were very much exasperated...........
Speaking of the people of Cyprus.......All those who put to shore in safety, the Griffones stripped of their arms........The King ....boldly attacked the Griffones.........

so as we see Roman/byzantine used this symbol to Roman/byzantine flags, imperial official and private clothing, jewells etc as also as Roman/byzantine relegious symbols, gives a medieval portrait of Roman/byzantine symbolism, which was used as a description term from Crussaders.


Last edited by ANAX; November 13th, 2012 at 11:48 AM.
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Old November 13th, 2012, 01:47 PM   #5
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Thank you for your replies.

Anax, I'll try and find that study you mentioned in your pm. It seems to be just what I need.
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Old November 14th, 2012, 05:35 AM   #6

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well the dictionary was of no real help, Griffun is listed as meaning Greek with no real explanation why. Griffain meaning fierce or cruel, mat, mater meaning checkmate, to checkmate.

Reasosn given in above posts seem as good as any other reason for the time being.
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