Announcing the "Weird Medieval History" Contest

The following is not a joke.  I made a logo and everything.*

For reasons that escape me, the marketing people at the Halloween costume website Costumes, Inc. contacted me to ask if I’d run a promotional contest for them here at Got Medieval.  I was all set to turn them down until they anted up the cold, hard cash gift certificates and I figured what the hell?  Sell out early and often, I say.  So here’s the deal:
I want to find the weirdest claim about the Middle Ages** on Wikipedia.***  And I mean the weirdest.  That’s right–so weird that normally oriented typefaces fail to capture the weirdness, requiring the use of type variants that are tilted slightly to the right!  The claim doesn’t have to be weirdly mistaken, either. True but weirdly inappropriate claims or the old weird but true factoids are fine, too.  In return for this nugget of oddity, I am putting up a bounty of a $75 gift certificate to Costumes, Inc.  That’s enough to get the inappropriately sexy Guenevere costume and still have room to buy a wig to go with it.  How could you resist? Here are the ground rules.
  • Entries must be received by midnight (EDT) October 18th.  That’s two Mondays from today.
  • Entries should be no more than 100 words of quoted text.
  • Entries must be posted either to the comments thread here on this post or on the comments on the contest announcement over at the Facebook page.
  • The fact must exist on Wikipedia as of noon today, October 4th.  No editing funny stuff into Wikipedia just for the purpose of winning this contest.
  • Only one entry per person.  If you submit multiple entries, only your latest will be accepted into judging.
  • The weirdness of the factoids will be judged by a blue ribbon panel of medieval experts. Their decision will be final.
  • Said experts will be allowed to use any standard they desire, no matter how arbitrary said standard may seem to impartial observers.****
  • Ties, should they occur, will be broken by my dog in some as of yet unspecified (but awesome) way.
  • Unfortunately, due to customs issues, entrants must be U.S. residents of legal age.
  • Winners will be announced on Tuesday, October 19th, so you’ll still have time to shop for Halloween.
All clear?
Now, as further enticement, all entrants will be put into a random drawing for an additional $25 gift certificate to Costumes, Inc.  That’s $100 total in fake store-specific money on the line, people.  All you have to do is scour Wikipedia for weird junk and post your findings here or at the Facebook page.
And finally, as if all this wasn’t enough, Got Medieval readers are entitled to a 15% off coupon at Costumes, Inc.  You don’t even have to tell them that I sent you, but they’ll probably guess from context because the code is “gotmedieval15“.  Use it in good health.  For some reason, the guy who contacted me thought you might want to use the coupon to buy something from their Medieval and Renaissance line, but I know you’re just as likely to pony up for the “Saucie Marie Antoinette” or the “Fierce Flapper,” because my readers refuse to be constrained by artificial periodization.
*And there’s probably no more than a fifty percent chance that I’d make a fake logo.
**Defined as 500 to 1500 A.D. for convenience’s sake.
***If the contest overlord (your humble bloggist) determines that there are not enough entries by next Monday, the acceptable sources for the weirdness might be opened up to include other sites.  But please don’t let it come to that.
****Any other medieval bloggers want to help judge?  Drop me a line at the blog’s email address.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Catherine Blakeney

    Entering! From the "Medieval Christianity's Views on Muhammed" entry: "Medieval scholars and churchmen held that Islam was the work of Muhammad who in turn was inspired by Satan. Muhammad was frequently calumnized and made a subject of legends taught by preachers as fact.[9] For example, in order to show that Muhammad was the anti-Christ, it was asserted that Muhammad died not in the year 632 but in the year 666 – the number of the beast – in another variation on the theme the number "666" was also used to represent the period of time Muslims would hold sway of the land.[8]"

  • Bianca

    Dunno Carl, can't go wrong with hearsay about "Pope Joan":

    "Her deception was only unearthed when she collapsed in childbirth during a papal procession through Rome. According to one version, the angry crowd then stoned to death Pope Joan and her newborn child. All subsequent popes were then supposedly subjected to an examination whereby, having sat on a dung chair containing a hole called sedia stercoraria, a cardinal had to reach up and establish that the new pope had testicles, before solemnly announcing "Duos habet et bene pendentes" — "He has two, and they dangle nicely."[citation needed]

  • Eyebrows McGee

    St. Columbanus, he who miraculously creates beer for Christians and destroys beer for Pagans (also weirdly fixated on bears):

    "Among his principal miracles are: (1) procuring of food for a sick monk and curing the wife of his benefactor; (2) escape from hurt when surrounded by wolves; (3) obedience of a bear which evacuated a cave at his biddings; (4) producing a spring of water near his cave; (5) repletion of the Luxeuil granary when empty; (6) multiplication of bread and beer for his community; (7) curing of the sick monks, who rose from their beds at his request to reap the harvest; (8) giving sight to a blind man at Orleans; (9) destruction by his breath of a cauldron of beer prepared for a pagan festival; (10) taming a bear, and yoking it to a plough."

  • Antonia di Lorenzo

    Not entering, because I live outside the US. But I couldn't help noticing that the Women's Sexy Medieval Costume also comes in child size; which although otherwise identical to the adult version, is thankfully not advertised as sexy.

  • kate

    When William the Conqueror, initiated a census of his conquered land, the "Domesday Book", as it was called, was interpreted by the many of the English as being the "Book of Life" written of in Revelation. The belief was that when the book was completed, the end of the world would come

  • Steve Muhlberger

    I am posting a link on a course blog for my Canadian students, urging them to go for an honorable mention.

  • t

    On the death of John Duns Scotus:
    "According to an old tradition, Scotus was buried alive following his lapse into a coma."

  • Prof. Jenn

    Strange art supplies:

    The expensive pigment ultramarine, made from ground lapis lazuli obtainable only from Afghanistan, was used lavishly in the Gothic period, more often for the traditional blue outer mantle of the Virgin Mary than for skies. Even basic materials were costly: when the Anglo-Saxon Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey planned to create three copies of the bible in 692—of which one survives as the Codex Amiatinus—the first step necessary was to plan to breed the cattle to supply the 1,600 calves to give the skin for the vellum required.



  • Neev

    Sadly, I'm not sure if my favorite bit of historical amusement from wikipedia falls into the correct time period. The wiki says "medieval" but the actual written source is much later. Never the less, for your amusement:

    "In medieval Iceland there were several magical staves, or rune-like symbols credited with magical effects."


    "Nábrókarstafur – Necropants, a pair of pants made from the skin of a dead man that are capable of producing an endless supply of money."

    Necropants, my friends. Necro. Pants. And this is why Iceland is fucking METAL.


    (Bonus – send this page to your friends and tell them to find the thing that's not like the others.)

  • Poorscholar

    Wiki article: Norse colonization of the Americas

    There is a description of a battle between the Vikings and Native Americansunder the rubric: Karlsefni's expedition

    There are conflicting stories but one account states that a bull belonging to Karlsefni came storming out of the wood, so frightening the natives that they ran to their skin-boats and rowed away. They returned three days later, in force. The natives used catapults, hoisting "a large sphere on a pole; it was dark blue in color" and about the size of a sheep's belly,[8] which flew over the heads of the men and made an ugly din.[8] The Norsemen retreated. Leif Ericson's half-sister Freydís Eiríksdóttir was pregnant and unable to keep up with the retreating Norsemen. She called out to them to stop fleeing from "such pitiful wretches", adding that if she had weapons, she could do better than that. Freydís seized the sword belonging to a man who had been killed by the natives. She pulled one of her breasts out of her bodice and struck it with the sword, frightening the natives, who fled.[8]

  • Michael

    Historical animal trials

    Animals and insects faced the possibility of criminal charges for several centuries across many parts of Europe. The earliest extant record of an animal trial is the execution of a pig in 1266 at Fontenay-aux-Roses.[1] Such trials remained part of several legal systems until the 18th century.

    Defendant animals appeared before both church and secular courts, and the offences alleged against them ranged from murder to criminal damage. Human witnesses were often heard and in Ecclesiastical courts they were routinely provided with lawyers (this was not the case in secular courts, but for most of the period concerned, neither were human defendants). If convicted, it was usual for an animal to be executed, or exiled.

    Translations of several of the most detailed records can be found in E.P. Evans' The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, published at the turn of the last century. Sadakat Kadri's The Trial: Four Thousand Years of Courtroom Drama (Random House, 2006) contains another detailed examination of the subject. Kadri shows that the trials were part of a broader phenomenon that saw corpses and inanimate objects also face prosecution; and argues that an echo of such rituals survives in modern attitudes towards the punishment of children and the mentally ill.

  • Kelly

    Though the Wonders of the East is a much older series of legends and used up through the colonization of the Western hemisphere – some pretty fanciful stories:

    My husband brought up:
    trial of a dead body

  • Pamela Patton

    From an entry on St. Wilgefortis: "According to the narrative, sometimes set in Portugal, a teen-aged noblewoman named Wilgefortis had been promised in marriage by her father to a pagan king. To thwart the unwanted wedding, she had taken a vow of virginity, and prayed that she would be made repulsive. In answer to her prayers she sprouted a beard, which ended the engagement. In anger, Wilgefortis's father had her crucified."

  • Showroom Lugnuts

    I am the husband of Kelly above, and here's the blurb on the "Cadaver Synod"–not just a trial for a dead body, but a trial for a dead pope–whom his successor disinterred so he could actually be present in the courtroom. The Wikipedia article features a lovely painting depicting this trial.

    Probably around January 897, Stephen (VI) VII ordered that the corpse of his predecessor Formosus be removed from its tomb and brought to the papal court for judgement. With the corpse propped up on a throne, a deacon was appointed to answer for the deceased pontiff.

    Stephen had the corpse stripped of its papal vestments, cut off the three fingers of his right hand used for benedictions, and declared all of his acts and ordinations invalid. The body was finally interred in a graveyard for foreigners, only to be dug up once again, tied to weights, and cast into the Tiber.

  • Gopher Public Health

    @Prof Jen:

    the comment on the # calves to make the bibles is likely correct.

  • writemedieval

    My entry is a Wikimedia image. Does that count as less than 100 words?

    A Bad Hangover in Fourteenth-Century Italy

    This is from the entry on vomit in the Casanatense manuscript of the Tacuinum Sanitatis.

    I'm in Canada, so if I win I'll just have to donate the prize to some unsuspecting American.

  • eccecattus

    Not from Wikipedia, and not quite a proper entry, but Google Translate has gone live with a Latin translator that's still in alpha. It's hilarious and poetic. It gives this bit of exuberance:

    For he hath no dropsy size is derived from the belly, humor corrupted, and really, and morally falsator current market value is the dropsy, because it is consistent in the place shut up in an underground secret, nor is moved, and so easily corrupted by moisture contracts, and as the more you drink, the more he thirst, the appetite of these things are so never shall be quenched.

    For this bit of Benvenuto da Imola's commentary on the Divine Comedy. Delicious.

    Hydropicus enim habet ventrem magnum ex humore corrupto; et realiter et moraliter falsator monetae est hydropicus, quia stat inclusus in loco occulto subterraneo, nec movetur; et sic faciliter contrahit humorem corruptum, et sicut quanto magis bibit, tanto magis sitit, ita appetitus istorum est inextinguibilis.

  • BBJ

    I vote for the Necropants, myself, but:

    During the Age of the Sturlungs the average battle consisted of fewer than 1000 men with the average casualty rate of only 15%. This low casualty rate has been attributed to the blood-feud mentality that permeated Icelandic society which meant that the defeated army could not be slaughtered honourably to a man. — Birgir Loftsson op.cit.

  • ThisWas

    Creative use of medieval cookware from an account of the death of Richard the Lionheart:

    "In the early evening of 25 March 1199, Richard was walking around the castle perimeter without his chainmail, investigating the progress of sappers on the castle walls. Missiles were occasionally shot from the castle walls, but these were given little attention. One defender in particular amused the king greatly—a man standing on the walls, crossbow in one hand, the other clutching a frying pan which he had been using all day as a shield to beat off missiles."

  • Lady A

    Charles VI of France

    "In 1405, he refused to bathe or change his clothes for five months. His later psychotic episodes were not described in detail probably because of the similarity of his behavior and delusions. Pope Pius II, who was born in the middle of the reign of Charles VI, wrote in his Commentaries that there were times when Charles thought that he was made of glass, and this caused him to protect himself in various ways so that he would not break."

  • ihcoyc

    Trials by combat at common law in England were carried on with quarterstaves, on a duelling ground of sixty feet square. Each litigant was allowed a rectangular, leathern shield, and could be armed with a suit of armour, provided that they were bare to the knees and elbows, and wore only red sandals on their feet. The litigants appeared in person; women, the elderly, the infirm of body, and minors could have champions named to fight in their stead. The combat was to begin before noon, and be concluded before sunset. Before fighting, each litigant had to swear an oath disclaiming the use of witchcraft for advantage in the combat, which oath is in words and figures as follows:

    Hear this, ye justices, that I have this day neither eat, drank, nor have upon me, neither bone, stone, ne grass; nor any enchantment, sorcery, or witchcraft, whereby the law of God may be abased, or the law of the Devil exalted. So help me God and his saints.

    Either combatant could end the fight and lose his case by crying out the word "Craven", from the Old French for "broken", which acknowledged "(I am) vanquished." The party who did so, however, whether litigant or champion, was punished with outlawry. Fighting continued until one party or the other was dead or disabled. The last man standing won his case.

  • SuperGrandma

    I think some of the people from this time must have been suffering from lead poisoning.

  • Carlton

    Eilmer of Malmesbury, a monk who constructed a flying/gliding machine in the 11th century:

    Eilmer fixed wings to his hands and feet and launched himself from the top of a tower at Malmesbury Abbey:

    "He was a man learned for those times, of ripe old age, and in his early youth had hazarded a deed of remarkable boldness. He had by some means, I scarcely know what, fastened wings to his hands and feet so that, mistaking fable for truth, he might fly like Daedalus, and, collecting the breeze upon the summit of a tower, flew for more than a furlong [201 metres]. But agitated by the violence of the wind and the swirling of air, as well as by the awareness of his rash attempt, he fell, broke both his legs and was lame ever after."[3]

    It should be noted that he was going to try again, but was forbidden by his abbot.

  • emilyéle_de_la_Barthe

    Angéle de la Barthe (c. 1230–1275) was a prosperous woman of Toulouse, France who was tried for witchcraft and condemned to death by the Inquisition in 1275.[1][2] She has been popularly portrayed as the first person to be put to death for heretical sorcery during the medieval witch persecutions.[3]

    She was accused by Inquisitor Hugo de Beniols of having sexual intercourse with the Devil and giving birth to a flesh eating monster with a wolf's head and a serpent's tail, whose sole food consisted of babies. She was found guilty and burned alive.[1]

    Eating babies: both weird and Halloween appropriate?

  • Edward

    1410: Martin I of Aragon died from a lethal combination of indigestion and uncontrollable laughing.[23]


  • Skylark

    Gotta love it – library curses instead of fines (take that, intellectual-property snatchers!):

    In some Christian monasteries, prayers and curses were placed at the end of books … . “For him that stealeth a book from this library, may it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. May he be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. May bookworms gnaw his entrails… . And when at last he goeth to his final perdition, let the flames of Hell consume him forever and aye.” [10] Another example … : “Christ's curse upon the crook who takes away this book.” Or in the Latin: “Sit maledictuus per Christum, Qui librum subraxerit istum.”[11]

  • Glossaria

    Alright, Necropants is hard to beat, but I have to give a shout-out to my old friend, the Barnacle Goose, with this under-the-wire entry. Medieval science believed them to hatch from barnacles, and thus considered them fish, not fowl (which caused the Church a few issues during Lent):

    "Nature produces [Bernacae] against Nature in the most extraordinary way. They are like marsh geese but somewhat smaller. They are produced from fir timber tossed along the sea, and are at first like gum. Afterwards they hang down by their beaks as if they were a seaweed attached to the timber, and are surrounded by shells in order to grow more freely. […] I have frequently seen, with my own eyes, more than a thousand of these small bodies of birds, hanging down on the sea-shore from one piece of timber, enclosed in their shells, and already formed.”

  • Got Medieval

    And… closed. You may continue to share anything weird you come upon on Wikipedia, but the contest is closed. Expect winners to be announced as soon as I can figure corral my blue ribbon panel to a decision.

  • Johannes

    @glossaria if you are able to read german you shouldn't miss to read the articel about the barnacle goose (german Barnikelgans) in the "Lexikon des Mittelalters" written by Christian Hünemörder who blessed us with more than 50 articles about important animals such as jays and ant lions.

Bad Behavior has blocked 1081 access attempts in the last 7 days.