Richard the Lionheart is a beloved figure in English history, but the name has sparked controversy with many historians who found the king to be not so virtuous. On his history blog for The Telegraph, Dr Dominic Selwood tries to debunk some of the myths surrounding King Richard I.
Their Imperial Majesties, Brennan Augustus and Caoilfhionn Augusta made the long journey to l’ile du Dragon Dormant on 17 May 2014, AS XLIX, where they witnessed the tournament to determine their heirs.
Numerous outstanding combatants presented themselves, but the day was won by His Grace Duke Edward Grey of Lochleven, fighting for the honor of Countess Þóra Eiríksdóttir.
At the start of court Edward and Þóra were invested as the Prince and Princess Tir Mara, to the delight of the populace assembled.
Next The Ladies of the Rose present awarded tokens to worthy fighters. Tokens were presented to Ávaldr Valbjarnarson, Wilhelm von Ostenbrücke, Thorvald Olafsson, and Culann mac Cianian.
Wilham de Broc was called forward and presented with the Shield of Chivalry.
Thomas of Ravenhill was named the Admiral of the Armies.
Christobald Della Rocca was called forth before the court, and inducted into the Order of the Tyger’s Cub. He received a scroll by Bebhinn Inghean Ui Siodhachain with translation by Brunissende le dragonet.
Genofeva Clerica was called before the court, and named a Lady of the Court. She was presented with an AoA scroll by Robin dit Dessaint, with words by Tadea Isabetta di Bruno and Translation by Kirsa Oyutai.
East Kingdom Minister of the Lists Sabina Luttrell was presented a token by His Majesty Brennan for her outstanding job with organizing the day’s lists.
Their Excellencies l’ile du Dragon Dormant, Angus McHaley & Tadea Isabetta di Bruno, Her Excellency Stonemarch Jocelyn del Espada, Their Excellencies Havre des Glaces Godfroy de Falaise and Alisay de Falaise swore fealty to Their Majesties.
It was announced that the proposed Canton of Basingstoke in the area known as Down East Maine, sponsored by the Barony of Endewearde was granted Incipient status.
Áine an Neamheaglach was called into court. Their Majesties presented business passed on to them by Kenric II and Avelina II, and named her a Lady of the Court. She received an AoA scroll by Caterina Giaocchini with translation by Eginhard d’Aix la Chapelle.
Ekaterina Solov’eva Pevstova was called before Their Majesties. She was made a Lady of the Court, and awarded an AoA with a scroll by Shadiyah al-Zahra’.
Yolente Van der Brugghe was called into court. She was made a Lady of the Court, and awarded an AoA with a scroll by Jonathan Blaecstan, with words by Jean Oste de Murat and translation from Arthur de Beaumont
Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina was called into the court. Citing her Roman research and creations, Their Majesties called forth the companions of the Order of the Maunche. She was inducted into said order, and received a scroll by Nataliia Anastasiia Evgenova.
Now was called before the court Cristoforo Donatello dei Visconti. His incredible works as a tailor duly noted, he was named a Tailor to the Crown and received a scroll by Ursion de Gui.
Ehorik Ansgardson was called into court. He was named a Lord of the Court, and presented with an AoA scroll by Ignacia la Ciega, with words by Godfroy de Falaise and translation to English by Arthur de Beaumont.
Katarzyna Gwozdz, called Varju, was requested to present herself before the court. Her dedication and hard work cited, Their Majesties called for the companions of the Order of the Silver Crescent. She was thus inducted into the order, and presented a scroll with illumination by Ryan Mac Whyte, calligraphy by Kay Leigh Mac Whyte, words by Marguerite ingen Lachlainn and translation by Arthur de Beaumont.
Though not present during court, the following gentles were also awarded Arms, and presented with scrolls: Abygaelle du Havre des Glaces, AoA scroll by Harold von Auerbach, with words by Jean Oste de Murat and translation by Arthur de Beaumont; Matheo du Havre des Glaces, AoA scroll by Jonathan Blaecstan, with words by Jean Oste de Murat and translation by Arthur de Beaumont; Külicejin of Dragon Dormant, AoA scroll by Borujin Acilaldai translated by Eginhard d’Aix la Chapelle.
Thus concluded a day of great chivalry, honor and prowess. The court of Their Imperial Majesties, Brennan Augustus and Caoilfhionn Augusta was closed. Long may they reign over the Empire of the East!
PS – Thank you to the Heraldic staff for the day! Master Ryan MacWhyte; Master Grim the Skald; Aotroù Conogan mab Rioc, the Breton; Lord Martyn de Halliwell; Dominus Eginhard d’Aix la Chapelle; and Behi Kirsa Oyutai
(Photos kindly provided by Lady Cat Lennox.)
Filed under: Court, Events Tagged: Crown Tournament, Crown Tourney, spring crown
Last October, researchers from the University of Pisa opened the tomb of Henry VII of Luxembourg (1275-1313), King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, in Pisa Cathedral to study the remains and grave goods. Inside the coffin they found his bones wrapped in a silken shroud. On top of the bundle were a crown, a scepter and an orb, the classic trappings of imperial power, all in gilded silver.
It was the shroud that proved the biggest surprise. When it was carefully unfurled, the rectangular cloth was just shy of 10 feet long and four feet wide. Woven out of silk in the 14th century, the shroud has horizontal bands about four inches wide in alternating colors of orangey brown (originally red) and blue. Embroidered on the blue strips with silver and gold thread are lions facing each other. The formerly red bands have some kind of decoration as well, but it’s in the same tonal range and can’t be identified with the naked eye. At the top of the textile is a dark red band with thin borders of golden yellow. There are traces of an inscription on the red band, but it’s not decipherable yet.
To top it all off, the edges along the length of the entire cloth are finished with selvages and the top and bottom edges are finished with checkered bands. That means this textile is complete, the full width of the loom on which it was woven. For such an exceptionally delicate textile to survive complete for 701 years is incredibly rare, unique even. It will be an invaluable source of information on the silk-weaving industry in the early 14th century, and if the inscription and decoration can be fully deciphered, it will also add to our understanding of Henry and his reign.
This isn’t the first time Henry VII’s tomb has been opened. It was opened before in 1727 and again in 1921. Researchers found a lead cylinder in the coffin with a parchment that was left behind in 1727, and the report from the 1921 intervention is extant. It describes the cloth as “a fine shroud woven in bands,” rather a dramatic understatement considering what a treasure it is. Archaeologists today have a much higher estimation of textiles than they did a century ago.
He was crowned King of Germany in 1308 and two years later he descended into Italy with the aim of pacifying destructive disputes between Guelf (pro-papal) and Ghibelline (pro-imperial) factions. His goal was to be crowned emperor and restore the glory of the Holy Roman Empire.
After meeting strong opposition among anti-imperialist Guelf lords, Henry entered Rome by force, and was indeed crowned Holy Roman Emperor on June 29, 1312.
“He who came to reform Italy before she was ready for it,” as Dante described Henry VII, died just a year after his coronation, having failed to defeat opposition by a secular Avignon papacy, city-states and lay kingdoms.
Henry died on August 24th, 1313, 16 days after launching a campaign against his greatest enemy Robert of Anjou, King of Naples. He is thought to have died of malaria, but the timing is obviously suspicious and there were immediately rumors that he had been poisoned. There was no time to preserve his corpse, so his people took drastic measures to skeletonize it. His body was burned until the flesh was incinerated, then the bones were soaked in wine for preservation. The head was removed and boiled leaving a clean skull. There were ashes in the coffin and signs of charring on the bones.
The rough beginning was compounded over the centuries by multiple moves of the coffin to different locations inside the cathedral. The face area of the skull was badly damaged. An anthropologist on the team reconstructed the skeleton and cranium, which allowed researchers to estimate Henry’s height and age. He was about 1.78 meters tall (about 5'10") and around 40 years old when he died. His knees showed signs of having been used extensively in genuflecting prayer. A high concentration of arsenic was found in his bones, and the symptoms of arsenic poisoning — nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, convulsions — could be confused for a number of natural illnesses, including malaria. Arsenic was a very popular poison in medieval and Renaissance Italy, especially among the upper classes. It even earned the monicker “the poison of kings.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean Henry VII was deliberately poisoned, however. Arsenic was a common ingredient in medications. Hippocrates himself used an arsenic compound to treat ulcers and abscesses, and once Albertus Magnus isolated arsenic in 1250, the pure element was used to treat everything from skin conditions to venereal diseases to fevers and malaria.
The artifacts from the tomb are being kept in the Museum of the Cathedral while researchers continue to study the contents. Small fragments of bones have been sent to specialized labs for analysis. Hopefully the results will reveal more about Henry’s life, death and the treatment his body received after death.
In 1939, the biggest news in archaeology was the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk, England. In a feature story for EADT24, Mike Bowden discusses how his father, Alfred Bowden, known as “Bow,’’ broke the story of the discovery. (photos)
Tournement winner and Queen’s Champion: Master Rupert the Unbalanced
83 archers participated in this year’s tournement, which was held May 31, 2014, in the Barony of Bergental and autocratted by Mistress Tamsin Whitlocke. The competition was run by the retiring Champions, Baron Master Krakken Gnashbone and Baron Colin Ursell. Their August Majesties, Brennan and Caoilfhionn, addressed the participants, then shooting commenced. The theme of the day was “Viking”, with challenges including Thor’s Hammer, ships sailing away, helmets, shields, shooting from “horseback”, and a singing Brunhilde. All participants were able to shoot the full course of 11 targets, then scores were totaled and sorted.
As the top scorers were announced, each was asked if they wished to compete for the honor and responsibility of serving as a Champion. Three top scorers chose to step out of the competition: Master Phillip Reed the Facetious (100), Lord Kusunoki Yoshimoto (90) and Lord Nathaniel Wyatt (88). The resulting 16 finalists then commenced shoot-offs against their seeded competitors; in each pairing, the winner was the first to knock down 5 small “axe-head” targets.
Here are the results:
Filed under: Archery, Events Tagged: champions, Kings and Queens Champions
Mistress A’isha bint Jamil, Chronicler of the East Kingdom, writes on behalf of our Kingdom newsletter:
Please consider submitting cover art for Pikestaff.
The issue format is 8.5 x 11”, with a 1” margin of white space. Art can be line drawings or grey scale. The key is that it must be printable on a black and white printer. Photos rendered in black and white are also an option, but if they contain any people we must have a release form from each and every one before we can use it. This generally prevents us using candid scenes shot at events.
Art can be submitted electronically as a high resolution scan. Graphical formats (gif, jpg, png, etc.) generally give much better results than pdf. If you wish to include the required cover information (month, issue number, date, etc.) in your art, please contact the chronicler (email@example.com) to confirm that the month you are submitting for is available. Otherwise the text will be added by the chronicler during the layout process. You will also need to complete an SCA creative release form (http://www.sca.org/docs/pdf/ReleaseCreative.pdf) granting us permission to publish the artwork. Releases for photos and models can also be found here: http://www.sca.org/docs/library.html.
Filed under: Official Notices Tagged: Pikestaff
Roman music, historical dress and Latin greetings set the mood for a special banquet served to 2,000 University at Buffalo students in April 2014, as part of the class "Eat Like a Roman" taught by UB’s Department of Classics. (photos)
The British Museum’s consistently fascinating blog has an entry decoding the complex iconography of Anglo-Saxon art. If you’ve ever found yourself following the intricate interlacing lines and curves of an Anglo-Saxon design, trying to identify a highly stylized animal or face mask, then you’ve doubtless wished for a labeled map. British Museum curator Rosie Weetch and illustrator Craig Williams have made that wish come true.
They select three pieces from different periods to decode. The first is a silver-gilt square-headed brooch that was unearthed from the grave of a woman on the Isle of Wight in 1855. It was cast in silver and gilded on the front surface, a technique influenced by southern Scandinavian metalwork. Created in the early 6th century A.D., the brooch is a beautiful example of Style I art, characterized by a jumble of interwoven figures art historians amusingly call “animal salad.”
Its surface is covered with at least 24 different beasts: a mix of birds’ heads, human masks, animals and hybrids. Some of them are quite clear, like the faces in the circular lobes projecting from the bottom of the brooch. Others are harder to spot, such as the faces in profile that only emerge when the brooch is turned upside-down. Some of the images can be read in multiple ways, and this ambiguity is central to Style I art.
Once we have identified the creatures on the brooch, we can begin to decode its meaning. In the lozenge-shaped field at the foot of the brooch is a bearded face with a helmet underneath two birds that may represent the Germanic god Woden/Odin with his two companion ravens. The image of a god alongside other powerful animals may have offered symbolic protection to the wearer like a talisman or amulet.
The next example is from a century later, the great gold buckle from the early 7th century Sutton Hoo ship burial. It’s a Style II piece, characterized by more fluid intertwined animal figures. There are 13 animals on the buckle surface: snakes and four-legged creatures on the plate and tongue shield, snakes biting themselves on the loop, two animals biting a smaller animal on the top of the buckle, and two bird heads on the shoulders of the buckle.
Such designs reveal the importance of the natural world, and it is likely that different animals were thought to hold different properties and characteristics that could be transferred to the objects they decorated. The fearsome snakes, with their shape-shifting qualities, demand respect and confer authority, and were suitable symbols for a buckle that adorned a high-status man, or even an Anglo-Saxon king.
The last piece skips ahead to the 9th century Trewhiddle Style, named after the town in Cornwall where a hoard of Anglo-Saxon coins and decorated artifacts were discovered in a tin mine in 1774. The style is distinguished by enlaced animals, birds and humans, leafy scrollwork and a particular emphasis on using silver rather than gold and brass. The Fuller Brooch features the classic Trewhiddle humans, animals and plants along the border, but the central iconography is unique.
At the centre is a man with staring eyes holding two plants. Around him are four other men striking poses: one, with his hands behind his back, sniffs a leaf; another rubs his two hands together; the third holds his hand up to his ear; and the final one has his whole hand inserted into his mouth. Together these strange poses form the earliest personification of the five senses: Sight, Smell, Touch, Hearing, and Taste. Surrounding these central motifs are roundels depicting animals, humans, and plants that perhaps represent God’s Creation.
The metaphoric significance of these figures, its best-in-class quality and the unique vision of the piece may suggest a connection to the court of King Alfred the Great, who was not only a successful military leader but also had a deep and abiding passion for learning and education. The long period of Viking raids had decimated centers of learning. Alfred made it a mission to reinvigorate Latin education and, for the first time, to advocate learning in the English vernacular. He put his money where his mouth was, personally translating four major works from Latin into Old English: Pastoral Care by Gregory the Great, The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, St. Augustine’s Soliloquies, and the first fifty psalms.
Chapter XXXIV of his translation of Boethius uses the senses as a metaphor for enlightenment and understanding:
But gold and silver stones and every kind of gem and all this present weal enlighten not at all the eyes of the mind nor at all whet their sharpness for beholding true happiness but they rather blind the eyes of the mind than sharpen them For all the things which please us here in this present life are earthly and are therefore fleeting But the wonderful Brightness which enlighteneth all things and ruleth all things willeth not that souls should perish but willeth to enlighten them If then any man can see the brightness of the heavenly light with the clear eyes of his mind then will he say that the brightness of the shining of the sun is darkness beside the eternal brightness of God.
Since the motif is unique, the work of the highest caliber and the dating consistent with Alfred the Great’s reign (which ended in 899 A.D.), it’s entirely possible that the Fuller Brooch was crafted by artisans at Alfred’s court, likely for someone of great wealth and rank.
Sadly the article stops at just these three pieces, only whetting my appetite for more mapping of Anglo-Saxon designs. Weetch and Williams should go through the entire collection of the British Museum and decode every artifact in this way. Then they should animate the creatures untangling themselves from each other and make it interactive so we can select to follow one line at a time. Make it so.
Master Caelin on Andrede reports that he has created several albums of photos from Gulf Wars 2014 which took place in March in the Kingdom of Gleann Abhann. The photos are available to view on Flickr.
British professor and author JRR Tolkien is best known for his works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but now a deal has been made to publish the beloved storyteller's translation of the Old English poem Beowulf, complete with commentary.
For those of you who are over all this Richard III malarkey (hi anja!), I hope you understand why this post has to be. There’s a rotating spine gif here, people. How can I be expected to resist that? I’m only human. Besides, the question of Richard’s spinal deformity, its existence, nature and extent, has been the subject of many histories and even more theatrical performances for more than five centuries.
Now we have some real answers courtesy of the University of Leicester team which has published a brief paper on Richard’s spine in The Lancet. You can read it free of charge if you register on the site.
When a body decomposes, different parts break down at different rates. Ligaments that hold the spine together are some of the last ones to decompose, so usually the way the spine is found in the grave is how it was in life. The curvature in Richard’s spine could not have been a function of how he was placed. This was confirmed by examination of the bones, which found that the vertebrae of the curve are slightly different shapes and sizes. The only way those bones would fit together in life was in a spine with scoliosis.
The skeleton laid out on a flat surface, however, only shows the sideways curvature of the spine. It takes a 3D model to see the full picture of the condition. The bones were scanned on a multi-detector CT scanner which takes high resolution images from every side, allowing them to be viewed as a whole 3D structure or in slices across any plane. The bones obviously were not joined, since the soft tissue is all gone and there is no software that will take the disconnected bones and put them back together the way they were in life. Usually that work is done by creating models.
The team was able to use the imaging data to generate a model which was printed out in a polymer using the advanced 3D printing equipment of the Wolfson School of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering at Loughborough University in Leicestershire. This produces a near identical copy of the bones, only the model is durable, light weight and easily passed around, giving scientists the opportunity to study the skeletal structure without having to handle fragile human remains. Even after the king has been reburied, therefore, experts will still be able to examine his bones.
The bones of the spine join at three places: the gap between two vertebrae where there’s a disc and two facet joints at the back. With the plastic model, experts drilled a small hole in the center of each vertebra and ran a wire through them, separating each bone with a felt pad standing in for the disc. They then joined the facet joints using a similar technique. They saw that while the lumbar vertebrae in the lower spine appeared quite normal and fit together in a standard way, as they rose in the spine the osteoarthritic degeneration in the facet joints that was caused by the scoliosis increased markedly, deforming the joints. That deformity meant the bones fit together in a very specific way, an enforced thoracic curve that is the s-shaped bend in the spine we saw in the photographs of the skeleton in situ and in the lab. The measurement of the extent of the spinal curvature, called a Cobb angle, is 65-85 degrees. In today’s scoliosis patients that would be considered a large curvature to be corrected by the surgical implantation of metal rods. Once they reached the upper thoracic vertebrae, the facet joints returned to normal and the spine straightened out.
In addition to the sideways s-curve, the 3D model illuminates the spiral twist of the spine that you can only see when the spine is rotated. (You could see it even more clearly if the ribs were attached, but they haven’t 3D printed any ribs yet and probably won’t because many of them were broken when unearthed.) The model shows that the ribs on Richard’s back would have stuck out significantly on the right side, while they were sunken on the left. When he leaned forward, the prominent ribs on the right side of his back would have formed a hump. This would not have been visible, however, when he was clothed and in most any other position than leaning over, so all those pillows stuffed under costumes are way off.
The physical disfigurement from Richard’s scoliosis was probably slight since he had a well balanced curve. His trunk would have been short relative to the length of his limbs, and his right shoulder a little higher than the left. However, a good tailor and custom-made armour could have minimised the visual impact of this. A curve of 70—90° would not have caused impaired exercise tolerance from reduced lung capacity, and we identified no evidence that Richard would have walked with an overt limp, because the leg bones are symmetric and well formed.
He may or may not have had back pain. If his spinal curvature had been magically straightened, he’d have been 5'8" tall, about average for a man of the period. With the scoliosis he was two to three inches shorter.
The polymer model was photographed from 19 angles and the images used to create an interactive 3D model. You can click on it and drag it from side to side to examine the recreated spine from any perspective.
THLord Stefan li Rous offers updates for Stefan's Florilegium for May 2014.
Justinian Clarus reports that Duke Trumbrand the Wanderer was the winner of the May 24, 2014 Crown Tournament in the Kingdom of Ealdormere. His Grace was inspired in His endeavor by Duchess Kaylah the Cheerful.
The first nine peers have already signed up for Laurels vs. Pelicans, and the group includes a Midrealm Champion! Now the call is going out for more adventurous peers. The event raises money for the Pennsic war chest, which funds events such as the royalty dinner. The Laurels vs. Pelicans website opens fundraising on June 7 . Peers can sign up after fundraising starts (and have in the past), but are encouraged to sign up before then if possible.
So far this year’s group includes Mesterna Tyzes “Zsof” Sofia, who is the King’s Bard of the Mid. Sir Tanaka Reiko, well known for entertaining people in the heavy list arena, has signed up to wield a boffer and will be trying for a specialty weapon of the not serious type. The current list of participants is below.
People who would like to participate should contact Lord Fergus Redmead or Mistress Catrin o’r Rhyd For. The fundraiser will be at Southern Region War Camp on June 28. More information can be found at the Laurels vs. Pelicans website
Filed under: Events Tagged: Laurels vs. Pelicans
The first round of coins from the Saddle Ridge Hoard, the 1,427 gold coins discovered in Northern California in February of 2013 by a couple walking their dog, has gone up for sale and is being snapped up by collectors. Since sales began on Tuesday, more than half of the coins have sold.
The festivities began at 7:30 PM on Tuesday at the Old Mint in San Francisco, the very same building where many of the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins were first struck. Sixty of them were put on display, including the most important and valuable single coin in the collection: an 1866 $20 Double Eagle that is missing the motto “In God We Trust” on the back. It’s an extremely rare piece, as Congress had passed a law in March of 1865 authorizing the placement of the motto on all gold coins that “shall admit the inscription thereon.” The San Francisco mint apparently lacked the proper equipment to include the motto at that time. That little oversight makes the coin valued at $1.2 million.
An hour after the exhibition, one coin went up for auction at the Old Mint: an 1874 $20 Double Eagle. It sold for $15,000, with all the proceeds going to restore the National Historic Landmark and converting it into the San Francisco Museum at the Mint. The buyer was Ray Lent with Placer Partners, which is heavily involved in the cause. The mint museum will be the first museum dedicated to the history of the city, believe it or not. You’d think a place like San Francisco would be lousy with them. Here’s a video of the culmination of the auction and an interview with Ray Lent explaining why they secured the coin for the museum. There are some great shots of the space and the exhibition.
With the non-profit part done, commerce began. Coin dealer Kagin’s Inc. put up hundreds of coins for sale Tuesday night. By midnight, 225 coins offered for sale on the website were bought for a total of $2.4 million. Even more coins were listed on Amazon Tuesday night. Within an hour, 346 of them had sold for more than $1 million. At this rate, the initial estimate of the hoard’s value at $10 million will be surpassed by at least a million.
The 14 finest coins are being sold in a single lot along with the original can that was their home for near a century and a half. They’re available on Amazon for a cool $2,750,000 and yes, you can buy them with 1-Click. As of this writing, 572 coins from the hoard are for sale individually on Amazon, priced between $2,975 and $17,500. Kagin’s has 55 coins for sale on its website and numbers are diminishing rapidly.
It’s the condition of the coins and their Robert Louis Stevenson-like story that underpins their commercial success. The gold coins are nearly all in mint condition, with coins struck between 1847 and 1894 and barely circulated. They were buried in eight metal cans in the Gold Country of the Sierra Nevada mountain until their rediscovery by the property owners last year.
Eventually almost all of the coins will be sold. The owners, known only as John and Mary, will keep a few coins for sentimental reasons.
For 44 years, players, dancers and merchants have gathered on the campus of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington for the Annual Whitman College Renaissance Faire. Alfred Diaz of the Union-Bulletin has the story. (photo)
Silfren, from the Kingdom of Lochac, reports that the Getty Publications Archives is offering free digital backlist titles for download. Items available include exhibition catalogs and symposium papers as well as art books.
"This is the Chinese version of Tupperware," says Andrew Watsky, professor of Japanese art history at Princeton, about tea storage jars that became a staple of the tea ceremony in 16th century Japan. Watsky spoke recently with Morning Edition's Susan Stamberg about the history of the ceremony.
Under a disused municipal soccer field in Pont-Sainte-Maxence, a city in the northern French province of Oise, archaeologists from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) have unearthed the remains of a massive 2nd century A.D. Gallo-Roman building while surveying the site for future construction. Hundreds of limestone blocks, many of them carved, were found buried in the sandy soil next to the Compiègne-Senlis national highway, formerly a Roman road.
It was built at the end of the reign of the Emperor Antoninus (138-161 A.D.) and appears to have collapsed very soon after construction. The structure was an estimated 90 meters (295 feet) wide and 9.5 meters (31 feet) high, but only one meter (three feet) thick. That bold architectural choice of building so high a wall without bracing doubtless played a major role in its untimely demise, along with the sandy soil on which it was built. The facade had a series of 13-17 arches in the center, the building blocks of which are lying horizontally where they fell. They were sufficiently broken and damaged to spare them from stone scavengers, but expertly preserved by the dry sand that became their home for almost 2,000 years.
Archaeologists aren’t certain yet of what purpose the building was dedicated to, but it could have been a religious sanctuary of some kind sponsored by a hugely wealthy patron. Almost the entire Greco-Roman pantheon is represented in the high quality bas-relief carvings of the frieze. They were carved in a Hellenistic style entirely unlike anything else found in the north of Gaul. The work is so exquisite that it’s not likely to have been carved locally. It’s the kind of statuary you’d expect to find in Rome or Greece, not in distant northern Gallic provinces, even at the height of imperial prosperity in the 2nd century. Somebody paid an enormous amount of money to build this monumental structure.
There are realistic depictions of Jupiter as the horned ram Ammon, horses, griffins, floral and geometric reliefs, and a figure of Venus next to the head and hand of an old woman poised as if she’s whispering, a representation of the myth of Venus turning an old woman to stone after she betrayed the location of Venus and Mars’ adulterous tryst, causing them to be found in flagrante delicto by her husband Vulcan. There’s Juno’s peacock, Diana’s quiver and bow, and a face that could be the Medusa, although her snakes are missing so it’s hard to say. Traces of the original color paint that made ancient Roman statuary and architecture so deliciously garish have survived, an exceptionally rare discovery since the paint was often the first to go. Sections of red cinnabar, light green and yellow are clearly visible to the naked eye.
Not only is this huge building unrecorded in surviving sources, but there is no known Gallo-Roman settlement in the area. Ancient docks have been found elsewhere in Pont-Sainte-Maxence, so something was certainly going on at that locale. We just don’t know what. Even after it collapsed people still found things to do there. Coins from the fourth century have been found among the ruins.
Unfortunately archaeologists won’t have the chance to study the site thoroughly. Excavations began two months ago and will continue through the end of June. Then the team has to clear out to make way for the construction crews that will build a shopping center on the site. The fact that there’s an archaeological treasure there that is literally without precedent apparently won’t even cause a delay. All INRAP can do is move the limestone blocks to temporary storage while they find a permanent location to study and document the stones uninterrupted. How they’re going to move all those blocks without damaging them in the very short window of time they have is not yet clear.
The likenesses of several armored combatants from the Barony of Vinhold (Kingdom of the West), were captured recently by photographer Howard Yune, from the Napa Valley Register, when he visited the event. A slideshow of the photos is available online.