MiddleAges02

Middle Ages & Illuminated Manuscripts

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Urban Development

Aside from supplying bodies for the Crusades, population begins to create commercial adjuncts to existing towns and cities. New cities are also created that are devoted to manufacturing and trade. Not ones to miss out on a good thing, the Church and lords and other minor nobility also participated. They sponsored locators who publicized and supervised development. The locators used heralds with bells or horns, and offered promises and benefits like personal freedom, free land, or an equity stake in the local mill.

The holders of virgin lands … sought to attract the immigrant by offering him the most advantageous material and personal conditions, and … had recourse to publicity to entice him. The charter of the (new town) which was to be founded was promulgated throughout the country, just as in our day the press publishes the most flamboyant prospectuses…” – Pirenne

This is a very Marxist ideology: government-sponsored commerce. The growth of towns leads to trade and industry, which lead to prosperity and progress. Urban snobbery begins here too: city dwellers in the middle ages already are looking down on their rural brethren. New urban dwellers are free men, either by charter or by breathing city air for “a year and a day.”  This length of time still exists today: the maximum criminal penalty for a misdemeanor is a year in prison. You often hear of someone being sentenced to prison for “a year and a day.” This is the minimum length of time of imprisonment for a felony. The judge is telling the criminal that what you did is more serious than a misdemeanor, which is why they add one day to the sentence, to make it classified as a felony.

 Heralds, Market Criers And Doorwaymen

During the Middle Ages, the largely illiterate public led to an expanded role of the town crier. There are records of barkers in Britain at the Stourbridge fair in the 3rd Century. In the late Middle Ages, a herald was usually the only crier licensed to roam the streets. Other criers were either in the central markets or posted outside shops. The guilds and local authorities tried to fix markets in squares, large buildings with many shops, or concentrated along streets often dedicated to a specialty in order to maintain standards of quality and price, order, convenience, and (often) control competition. But there was a natural counter-tendency for sellers to wander and new commercial sites to spring up.

 The Wine Criers

In France in 1141, Five of them got the right to cry the wine of certain taverns. They went around, honking horns to get attention, and extolling the virtues of the wine. There were a lot of these wine criers in Paris after a while, standing in the street with oaken casks dolling out free samples.

“Whoever is a crier in Paris may go to any tavern he likes and cry its wine … and that there is no other crier employed for that tavern; and the tavern keeper cannot prohibit him. If a crier finds people drinking in a tavern, he may ask what they pay for the wine they drink; and he may go out and cry the wine at the prices they pay, whether the tavern keeper wishes it or not… Each crier is to receive [receive what daily] daily from the tavern for which he cries at least four denarii.” – 1258 Charter of the Wine Criers of Paris.

The theory was that one free drink would entice people to come in for more. This is an excellent example of the prejudices against merchants in the Middle Ages. They had to overcome roadblocks at every turn of the road.

  •  “I had but sixpence for crying a little wench of thirty years and upwards that had lost herself betwixt a tavern and a bawdy house.” – Soliman and Perseda, 1599.
  • “Cooks to their knaves cried “Hot pies, hot! Good griskin (pork) and geese – go dine, go!” – John Langland, Piers Ploughman.
  • “One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot cross buns! … Come buy my whitings fine and new … Dust, O! Dust, O! Bring it out today, Bring it out today! I shan’t be here tomorrow! … Strawberries ripe and cherries in the rise! … Fuller’s earth, fuller’s earth! Freshly dug to clean your wool! Come and buy, my sacks are full! … Sprats big as herrings, sprats all live, ho! … Stinking shrimps today! Lor! Ow they do stink today!”
  • “The taverner is more to blame than I, for as I passed before his door, and he being seated at it as usual, called to me saying, ‘Will you be pleased to breakfast here? I have good bread, good wine, and good meat.'” A servant excuses himself to his master in the French Debates of Gringald and Gorgen.

The Commercial Revolution

The risk of robbers on the road and limitations of having to use pack animals limited the volume of goods. The importance of international fairs declined as shipping improved. There was a rise of trade by sea: first Venice in Italy, then Genoa, Pisa, and even landlocked Florence and Milan. The Hanseatic League offered protection to the ships of its member cities. They could now travel to distant ports for products that Western Europe desired.

Cities grew by maintaining connections with the Byzantine Empire and trading goods with the rest of Europe.

Trade by sea led to the shipment of bulk goods like grain or wool being carried long distances. Towns came to rely on the imports. Sicily shipped grain to Flanders during their famine in 1315; England stopped making wine once they came to rely on regular shipments; salt came from the Bay of Biscay. [Salt was more valuable than gold for centuries. The word “salary” comes from the fact that Roman soldiers were paid in salt.]

 Advertising trends:

Theatrical shows advertised with public processions featuring acts, music and other entertainment on the bill.

Butchers would advertise mutton (meat was a treat for most people) by hiring a crier to lead a sheep through town, selling each leg. If all four quarters of the sheep weren’t sold, the sheep went back to the pasture.

Barkers would stand in front of stores saying, “What do you lack?” then roll off the list of products for sale in the store. This expression eventually became “Whatchalack?”

Urban dwellers formed manufacturing groups, trade associations and guilds. By the early 14th C., the competition for limited markets and the desire to preserve hard-won rights made guilds exclusionary. They became intolerant and innovation and exploitative of workers. Medieval guilds prohibited competitive advertising among members but did promote group interest. A guild symbol might be displayed on banners or signs at the guildhall and as trademarks on finished goods. A guild with high standards could command higher prices than those of other towns. But when individuals such as jewelers or metalworkers were required to put their individual mark on items it was actually a way of fixing responsibility for poor quality: since prices were generally fixed, pride was the major incentive for doing a superior job. Some early printers’ trademarks include:

  • The orb and cross of the Society of Venetian Printers (looks like the Nabisco trademark)
  • Individual marks of William Caxton, the 1st English printer
  • Aldus, who held a monopoly on printing the Greek classics in Venice. Rip-off artists copied the mark

but, Aldus pointed out gleefully, reproduced the dolphin pointing the wrong way.

Naturally, with this nascent complex industry, many things can and did go wrong. Some entrepreneurs made fortunes; others went bankrupt. To protect themselves from the unseen, developments like partnerships, credit and insurance. Competition led to some areas to specialize, i.e., the woolen-cloth industry in Flanders. There had never been trade on this scale in the western world: trade that encouraged specialization and raised the quality of products.  Raising quality is one thing that advertising does. If someone is making a product and a competitor starts advertising that theirs is better, it forces #1 to raise its quality in order to prosper. By the same token, advertising is one of the best ways to reduce cost. If you’re selling Coke for $1 and the store next door starts advertising it for 80¢, you have to react. This is the free market at work.

By the 14th C., all of Christendom was in the network of international commerce. Meanwhile, the Church reacted against freethinking. The nascent nation-states of Europe were flexing their muscles, which contributed to the Hundred Years War, 1337-1453.

England wanted to control Flanders, which was an important market for English wool and a source of cloth. This is the war that Joan of Arc emerged. She raised the siege of Orléans and saw Charles VII crowned king of France. Then she was captured and killed. The war wiped out France in a big way: farmlands were ruined, population decimated by the war, famine and the Black Death. However, the war also destroyed a lot of the feudal nobility, which enabled France to unify under royal authority, which in turn led to the growth of a solid and loyal middle class. The war was the first step in England’s transition from a small, gray island into a major sea power.

Bubonic Plague: Also called the Black Death because of the black hemorrhaging. Earliest known occurrence is in Athens in 4th century BC Reappeared in Rome in 3rd century AD, where 5,000 people a day were estimated to have died. The most widespread epidemic began in Constantinople in 1334, was spread throughout Europe (helped by returning Crusaders) and in less than 20 years wiped out nearly 3/4 of Europe and Asia. England, as an island nation, dodged many of the blows for years, but in 1665 the great plague of London decimated the city (See Daniel DeFoe: Journal of the Plague Years). Spread to people by fleas from infected rats. The Great Fire of London in 1666 burned most of the city down but also, thankfully, killed most of the rodents, abating the plague. The disease is still around today, especially in many parts of Asia.

Attitudes to Commerce

  • Overall, merchants were held in contempt by the landed gentry.
  • “Business is in itself an evil, for it turns men from seeking true rest, which is God.” – St. Augustine
  • “No Christian ought to be a merchant.” – Medieval Church dictum
  • “We shall not permit our working people to become … auctioneers or proclaimers of rewards for the arrest of thieves or runaways, shouting in the streets with great vulgarity ….” Dio Chrysostom, 7th Discourse
  • “The monks of St. Martin-des-Champs had been lending money on exactly the same terms as ordinary bankers as early as about 1070 … ‘the bank-business of St. Andrew was managed by Jewish financiers in the service of the abbey.'” G.G. Coulton, Medieval Panorama
  • “The law gave the fairs a privileged position … most precious of all was the suspension of the canonical prohibition of usury (i.e., loans at interest) and the fixing of a maximum rate of interest.” Pierenne, Economic and Social History
  • “…. I have seen a Mountebank gash his naked arm with a knife most pitifully to behold, so that the blood hath streamed out in great abundance, and … he hath applied a certain oil unto it … (which) staunched the blood and so thoroughly healed the wounds … we could not possibly receive the least token of a gash.”  – Samuel McKechnie, Popular Entertainment Through the Ages
  • This sales pitch and demonstration is repeated with great effectiveness by 19th C. American patent medicine salesmen.The Moslems controlled the Mediterranean by the 8th C. Ibn Kaldun said “The Christians can no longer float a plank on it.” This forces Europe to turn inward for expansion. Europe’s internal expansion is parallel to America’s settlement of the west. Landlocked Europe becomes thoroughly agrarian and feudal, with a few noble and church landowners holding sway, the latter having “economic and moral ascendancy. The church was the social and economic hub of the village: they had the money, the land, and the literate few who could and did control what everyone else could see and be influenced by. They could dole out punishments to those who stepped out of line. Urban life hits bottom.

Developments

By the second half of the 10th C., relative political stability plus gradually improving agriculture (the deep-digging moldboard plow followed by the use of horses, better harnessing, iron horseshoes, three-crop rotation) led to population increases. Water and windmills become common for agriculture and manufacturing, mining, metalworking, development, gunpowder and the clock are invented.  The clock helped coordinate activity and moved time away from the abstract to a profit-making resource. There’s also the formation of modern accounting methods: Arabic numerals, gold coinage, and credit.

Peripatetics

The wandering peddlers, often traveling together in small bands, brought spices, cloth, small wares – and news. To get attention, they would often play a drum, which is where the expression “drumming up business” comes from. They would also employ musicians, dancing bears and chimps, jugglers, conjurers, etc. to entertain and draw crowds and create an atmosphere conducive to selling. These peddlers were often found at fairs.

Fairs

Trade led to the development of true capitalism and numerous fairs. The fairs played an integral role in commerce throughout the Middle Ages. Great fairs were held annually or sometimes more often, especially in the Champagne region of France. These “conventions” were enjoyable social events for everyone, from distant-traveling merchants to small landowners and workers on feudal estates. They weren’t only a meeting-place for commerce, but a wellspring of entertainment, feasts, playing, gambling, and all-around mucking about. Charlemagne had to order his serfs not to “run about to market.”

Charlemagne is the father of Europe. He ruled from 768 – 814 AD. He was taught by Alcuin and fought Avars, Lombards, Allemani, Bavarians, Frisians and Saxons. Crowned Holy Roman Emporor in 800 by Pope Leo III.Until the 13th C., Western Europe’s commerce centered on international fairs. Italian merchants who had access to the spices and other rare goods of the East would cross the Alps and meet traders from the northern European cloth-producing cities and Flanders.

The illuminated manuscript Book of Durrow is dated circa 675 CE .It’s comprised of the text of the four Gospels, in Latin; six carpet pages, and five more illuminated pages. It’s believed to come from Ireland’s Durrow Abbey, hence, it’s name. The Book has a very colorful past. It disappeared for a century and was allegorically used in that time by a farmer, who used to dip the book into a trough, believing it gave the water curative powers for his sick cattle. Trinity College, in Dublin has ostensibly provided better care for the manuscript.

It’s one of the earliest surviving decorated manuscriå and one of the first examples of where the visuals and text are integrated and complement each other. It’s one of the earliest Carpet Pages, which as the name implies is a manuscript where ornamentation blankets the entire page. In addition, it’s one of the first manuscripts that integrates interlacings and zoomorphics. The faithful believed that interlace could “trap” evil. So the interlace carpet pages serve to protect the texts. The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospel books in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with Celtic knots and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours, enliven the manuscript’s pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasise the themes of the major illustrations.

The Book blends many influences: Mediterranean spirals, trumpet scrolls, and bird motifs, Roman glass enameling patterns, Germanic animal designs, and Celtic red dotting and illuminated initials. While the scribes who composed Book of Durrow only used reds, yellows, and greens, these colors are fully leveraged.

The Book of Kells, c.800 AD, is the finest illuminated masterpiece from the golden age of early Irish art. It’s an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels, written on vellum, with rich colors and intricate decorations. The Book of Kells is believed to have been started in a monastery on the island of Iona, Scotland, then completed in Kells. It was stolen from a church c.1000, and then found in a bog a few months later, without its jewel-encrusted cover. Trinity College, Dublin now curates it.

The manuscript takes its name from the Abbey of Kells that was its home for centuries. Today, it is on permanent display at the Trinity College Library, Dublin. The library usually displays two of the current four volumes at a time, one showing a major illustration and the other showing typical text pages.

Celtic Design: Book Of Durrow and Book Of Kells

The illuminated manuscript Book of Durrow is dated circa 675 CE .It’s comprised of the text of the four Gospels, in Latin; six carpet pages, and five more illuminated pages. It’s believed to come from Ireland’s Durrow Abbey, hence, it’s name. The Book has a very colorful past. It disappeared for a century and was allegorically used in that time by a farmer, who used to dip the book into a trough, believing it gave the water curative powers for his sick cattle. Trinity College, in Dublin has ostensibly provided better care for the manuscript.

It’s one of the earliest surviving decorated manuscriå and one of the first examples of where the visuals and text are integrated and complement each other. It’s one of the earliest Carpet Pages, which as the name implies is a manuscript where ornamentation blankets the entire page. In addition, it’s one of the first manuscripts that integrates interlacings and zoomorphics. The faithful believed that interlace could “trap” evil. So the interlace carpet pages serve to protect the texts. The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospel books in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with Celtic knots and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours, enliven the manuscript’s pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasise the themes of the major illustrations.

The Book blends many influences: Mediterranean spirals, trumpet scrolls, and bird motifs,Roman glass enameling patterns, Germanic animal designs, and Celtic red dotting and illuminated initialsWhile the scribes who composed Book of Durrow only used reds, yellows, and greens, these colors are fully leveraged.

The Book of Kells, c.800 AD, is the finest illuminated masterpiece from the golden age of early Irish art. It’s an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels, written on vellum, with rich colors and intricate decorations. The Book of Kells is believed to have been started in a monastery on the island of Iona, Scotland, then completed in Kells. It was stolen from a church c.1000, then found in a bog a few months later, without its jewel-encrusted cover. Trinity College, Dublin now curates it.

The medieval era of Europe lasts from the fall of Roman Empire in the 5th C. AD until the Renaissance in 15th century. Rome was divided into the Western and Eastern Roman empires when Western Rome lost political unity. But Mediterranean trade with Eastern Rome (centered around Constantinople, later the hub of the Byzantine Empire) continued. The Church held it all together and provided a link to the past, but exerted much less influence than before.

Renaissance scholars looked at the Middle Ages as a period of barbarism. Serious study of the Middle Ages began less than 200 years ago. The arts (painting, sculpture, architecture) of the Middle Ages were scoffed at for centuries as amateur hour. The term “Gothic” was a slur to refer to the barbaric northern European origins of Goth architecture.

Commerce and advertising took a big step backwards as urban centers declined and fell to various tribes. Those who could leave did so, as people fled cities and pledged allegiance instead to the owners of feudal estates. Classical learning was lost as illiteracy rose and in fact, reading and writing were considered effeminate. Only the clergy were literate at this point in time. Trades were hereditary: a father would teach his children his trade, who would teach their children. Prices for goods and services became more fixed, and taxation and regulation increased.

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