The Middle Ages Playlist – A Vibrant Time

While it’s easy to think of the Middle Ages as just the time between the fall of the western Rome empire and the flourishing of the Renaissance – a time regularly dismissed as an age of ignorance and isolation in Europe – but the Middle Ages were a vibrant time, which saw cultures migrate, interact, and grow; It was when the first universities were born and modern literature took shape; And it saw upheavals from the Vikings, the Normans, and the failed Crusaders – all of which made lasting legacies still helping to shape our world today.

Early episodes in this playlist alternate between free installments and episodes available to patrons only – Become a patron (at any amount you want to contribute) to unlock all the content.

The Middle Ages Episodes

Film: The Green Knight - History, Myth, and Modern Shame - A Historian's View

We consider the narrative structure, symbols, and meanings of the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the context of the Middle Ages and the Arthurian cycle, and how the movie has been adjusted to speak to modern sensibilities. I argue that the Green Knight myth has relevance today as a parable about shame.

"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time."

Previous lectures on the Arthur Cycle:
1. Creating King Arthur
2. The Rise and Fall of Camelot
3. The Historical King Arthur

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

The Middle Ages: 1066 - Sailing Into the Storm

1066 -- the year of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest -- is the most famous date in English history. Few understand, though, that far more happened in this cataclysmic and pivotal year than just the Norman defeat of an English army on a field in East Sussex. The culmination of centuries of shifting struggle over control of England, the events of 1066 show how even epochal changes in a society can hinge on minor accidents of timing, weather, health, and personal choice. Image: Modern re-enactors representing Harold Godwinson's army at Hastings.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

The Middle Ages: History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 1 -- From Ancient Origins to the Eighteenth Century

Who are the Roma -- also colloquially called "Gypsies"? Where did they come from, and how did they end up all over Europe? How have they endured through persecution, expulsions, and political upheaval, without a state or country of their own? We trace the path of this remarkable and resilient people from their mysterious origins in India to their arrival in Constantinople and medieval Europe and through the wave of persecution and ethnic cleansing in the 1600s. Image: Gypsies telling fortunes, in Cosmographie Universelle, Munster, 1552. Suggested Further reading: Angus Fraser, "The Gypsies"; Isabel Fonseca, "Bury Me Standing."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 2 -- A Stateless People in Modern Europe

The Middle Ages: Anglo-Saxon England and the Vikings, 757-1066

How did a set of seven fractious kingdoms unite into a new kingdom, known as "England," while under almost constant attack by Viking berserkers from across the North Sea? Image: The Ormside bowl, an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon silver bowl found in the grave of a Viking warrior, photographed by JMiall. Music: A 1914 Edison Records wax-cylinder recording of "Rule, Britannia," provided by the University of California Santa Barbara Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project How did a set of seven fractious kingdoms unite into a new kingdom, known as "England," while under almost constant attack by Viking berserkers from across the North Sea?Image: The Ormside bowl, an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon silver bowl found in the grave of a Viking warrior, photographed by JMiallMusic: A 1914 Edison Records wax-cylinder recording of "Rule, Britannia," provided by the University of California Santa Barbara Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

The Middle Ages: Crossing the Waters - Britain in the Dark Age

Romans, Brythons, Picts, Angles, Gaels, Saxons, and Jutes -- how did this kaleidoscopic welter of contending tribes crystallize into the medieval Christian kingdoms we know as England and Scotland? We consider the most tumultuous and mysterious period in British history, following the Roman withdrawal, as locals and Germanic migrants sought to assert power and maintain stability. Despite the great uncertainty, Britons mastered new knowledge, developed a poetic tradition, and passed on an enduring romance around the sacred power of water. Find the new Lyceum platform and app -- http://www.lyceum.fm/Cover image: 6th-century Anglo-Saxon inlaid gold disk brooch, found in gravesite in Kent. Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Back to the Dark Age - How People Adapted to the Fall of the Roman Empire

What did people do when the Roman empire fall apart around them? Recent scholarship, based on new archeological discoveries and techniques, argues that in the "dark" centuries between 450 and 750 AD, the people of western Europe, from conquering kings to ordinary peasants, improvised new political alliances, maintained law and order, improved the productivity of their land, and invented new crafts and art forms, building a resilient and inventive society on the foundations (often literally) of the old. Suggested Further reading: Peter Wells, "Barbarians to Angels" Cover image: Visigothic bronze belt buckle with garnet and glass inlays, belonging to a woman in Spain, mid-6th century AD; image provided by Cleveland Museum of Art.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

The Middle Ages: Freemasonry - Its Origins, Its Myths, and Its Rituals

Freemasonry: What is it? Where does it come from? What is one taught as a Freemason? What do they do in their closed-door rituals -- and why? Freemasonry in the 1700s is my own field of research, and as a thank-you for reaching 50 patrons, I give a deep illumination of this unusual Society's roots in the gatherings of stonemasons in the late Middle Ages, its mythical connections to Solomon's Temple and the Crusades, and its elaborate system of symbols and initiatory rituals, which cast the Masons as a quasi-priestly caste with a shamanic connection to the world of the dead. Suggested Further Reading: David Stevenson, "Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland's Century"; Margaret Jacob, "Living the Enlightenment"; Jessica Harland-Jacobs, "Builders of Empire"; Ric Berman, "The Foundations of Modern Freemasonry"; Steven Bullock, "Revolutionary Brotherhood"; Jasper Ridley, "The Freemasons"

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see Freemasonry -- Its Growth and Spread Before 1789

The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 2 - A Crumbling Tower?

In the second part of our exploration of the history of universities, we discuss the apotheosis of the university in the American republic, the rise of the German-style research university, and the arrival of women in the elite universities. We end by considering the current crisis of universities, as humanities departments disappear, sexual-assault scandals tarnish prestigious schools, and the public turns an increasingly jaundiced and cynical eye toward the academic "ivory tower." Suggested further reading: Walter Ruegg, ed., "A History of the University in Europe," 4 vols.; William Clark, "Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University"; Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The Objectivity Question and the American Historical Profession"; Henry Adams, "The Education of Henry Adams"; Chad Wellmon, "A Wild Muddle: Have American Elite Colleges Lost Their Moral Purpose Altogether?" Image: "Alma Mater," Columbia University, New York City, photographed by Beyond My Ken. Intro music: Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in D minor, played on harpsichord by Wanda Landowska.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 1 - Flower of the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 1 - Flower of the Middle Ages

Universities are unique -- a quintessential product of the High Middle Ages that has miraculously survived and even flourished in the modern world. In the first part of the history of universities, we examine the origins of the first universities in the power struggles of Popes and emperors; the ways that medieval students learned, lived, and annoyed their elders; and the ways that universities adapted to and withstood serious challenges from Renaissance humanism and the republic of letters. Next will be the rise of universities in America, the modern research university, and the current crisis of academia. Suggested further reading: Walter Ruegg, ed., "A History of the University in Europe," 4 vols.; William Clark, "Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University"; Olaf Pedersen, "The FIrst Universities."Image: "Master and Scholars," illustration from "L'Image du Monde," copybook by Gautier de Metz, 1464, in collection of British Library. Intro music: Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in D minor, played on harpsichord by Wanda Landowska.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 2 - A Crumbling Tower?

The Middle Ages: The Jews of Europe, from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution

The Middle Ages: The Jews of Europe, from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution
Currently available to Patrons only, on the Patreon App and website:

We trace the winding paths by which Jews, after the diaspora, sought out social and economic niches in which they were able to survive within European Christian society. We uncover the origins of the two main Jewish groups in Europe -- the Sephardic and Ashkenazi -- and consider how they adapted to changing conditions, including the increasing assimilation of German Jews in the 1700s, which led on the one hand to the beginnings of Jewish reform and on the other to the appearance of Hasidism, a mystical renewal movement. Most importantly, we consider the deep and long-denied influence of the messianic fervor that swept over Europe in the 1660s surrounding the mercurial and mischievous Greek rabbi, Sabbatai Zvi.

Listen on Patreon Full Episode Details

Middle Ages 11: The Pulsating Body -- The Medieval World View

We cap off the series of lectures on the Middle Ages by piecing together how the people of the high and late Middle Ages understood their place in the cosmos. From the lowliest peasants to popes and emperors, medievals believed they formed the limbs of a living, breathing social body, and that body or tree was part of a Great Chain of Being connecting rocks and dirt to stars and planets and ultimately to God. Through these metaphors we can understand why medievals disapproved of commerce and abhorred high finance. We end with a commentary on the great, crowning statement of the late medieval mind, the prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode DetailsRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 10: Sex and Sexuality in the Middle Ages

Middle Ages 10: Sex and Sexuality in the Middle Ages
Currently available to Patrons only, on the Patreon App and website:
Quick Sample:

We examine the ways that medieval people described, displayed, and generally failed to control their sexual appetites. While theologians sermonized on the dangers of carnal lust, parishioners surreptitiously met in churches and stables, kept themselves amused with dildoes, or luxuriated in brothels all over Europe. We also trace how medievals categorized one another's sexual "orientations" using the complex concept of sodomy, and briefly consider the intense scholarly debate over the nature of same-sex bonding ceremonies in the Middle Ages.

Listen on Patreon Full Episode Details

Middle Ages 9: Knowledge and Ignorance in the Middle Ages (and Today)

We examine how medieval scholars battled over the meanings of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and of the Christian religion, while illiterate artisans made breakthroughs in architecture, engineering, metallurgy, and alchemy. The vast body of medieval scholarship came under attack during the Renaissance as so many "metaphysical obscurities," while today we stand on the precipice of a true Dark Age of ignorance.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Middle Ages 8: The Knights Templar

Middle Ages 8: The Knights Templar
Currently available to Patrons only, on the Patreon App and website:
Quick Sample:

We examine the true history of the first brotherhood of warrior-monks, who rose to extraordinary power in the High Middle Ages, functioned as a shadow empire reaching from Jerusalem to the far corners of Europe, and then fell to their ruin amidst lurid accusations of religious and sexual crimes. Apart from the endless myths and conspiracy theories, the Templars left a lasting mark on Western society through their militarization of Christianity.

Listen on Patreon Full Episode Details

Middle Ages 7: The Later Crusades and Their Legacies

We examine the long train of crusading expeditions of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, from the triumphs of Richard the Lionheart to the trainwreck of the sack of Constantinople. We consider the many ways that modern myths have distorted the Crusades for political purposes and erased the Crusaders' central motivation: control of Jerusalem.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode DetailsRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 6: The First Crusade

Middle Ages 6: The First Crusade
Currently available to Patrons only, on the Patreon App and website:
Quick Sample:

We follow the bloody deeds and improbable victories of the first crusading army, as it slogs its way through Syria toward the ultimate prize.

Listen on Patreon Full Episode Details

Middle Ages 5: The Crusades - Why Did They Happen?

We examine the forces that led the Pope to put forward the far-fetched scheme of mobilizing Christian knights to reclaim Jerusalem in 1095, and briefly consider what lesson the launching of the first Crusade holds for our own world almost 1,000 years later.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode DetailsAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 4: The Late Middle Ages

Middle Ages 4: The Late Middle Ages
Currently available to Patrons only, on the Patreon App and website:
Quick Sample:

We discuss how the civilization of the High Middle Ages broke down under the onslaught of the Black Death, peasant uprisings, and the gunpowder revolution.

Listen on Patreon Full Episode Details

Middle Ages 3: the High Middle Ages

We examine the flourishing of the Middle Ages between 1000 and 1300, which gave us chivalry, Gothic cathedrals, epics of King Arthur, and nearly all of the romantic images that we still associate with the medieval era, even as the noose of social conformity and repression began to tighten around the people of Europe.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see History as it Happens: Notre Dame and the Nine Lives of Gothic Cathedrals

Middle Ages 2: The Dark Age -- The Beginning of the Medieval World

Middle Ages 2: The Dark Age -- The Beginning of the Medieval World
Currently available to Patrons only, on the Patreon App and website:
Quick Sample:

How Europeans picked up the pieces in the wake of the breakup of the Roman Empire, created a new society that briefly flourished in the spectacular reign of Charlemagne, and then were plunged back into chaos at the hands of the Vikings.

Listen on Patreon Full Episode Details

Middle Ages 1: Exploding the Myth of the Middle Ages

In my first lecture on the Middle Ages, we start by clearing out the junk, such as the notions that medievals smelled bad and hunted witches, and then look into the mystical and apocalyptic roots of the idea of the "middle age."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Film: The Green Knight - History, Myth, and Modern Shame - A Historian's View

We consider the narrative structure, symbols, and meanings of the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the context of the Middle Ages and the Arthurian cycle, and how the movie has been adjusted to speak to modern sensibilities. I argue that the Green Knight myth has relevance today as a parable about shame.

"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time."

Previous lectures on the Arthur Cycle:
1. Creating King Arthur
2. The Rise and Fall of Camelot
3. The Historical King Arthur

Listen on SoundCloud

The Middle Ages: 1066 - Sailing Into the Storm

1066 -- the year of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest -- is the most famous date in English history. Few understand, though, that far more happened in this cataclysmic and pivotal year than just the Norman defeat of an English army on a field in East Sussex. The culmination of centuries of shifting struggle over control of England, the events of 1066 show how even epochal changes in a society can hinge on minor accidents of timing, weather, health, and personal choice. Image: Modern re-enactors representing Harold Godwinson's army at Hastings.

Listen on SoundCloud

The Middle Ages: History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 1 -- From Ancient Origins to the Eighteenth Century

Who are the Roma -- also colloquially called "Gypsies"? Where did they come from, and how did they end up all over Europe? How have they endured through persecution, expulsions, and political upheaval, without a state or country of their own? We trace the path of this remarkable and resilient people from their mysterious origins in India to their arrival in Constantinople and medieval Europe and through the wave of persecution and ethnic cleansing in the 1600s. Image: Gypsies telling fortunes, in Cosmographie Universelle, Munster, 1552. Suggested Further reading: Angus Fraser, "The Gypsies"; Isabel Fonseca, "Bury Me Standing."

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 2 -- A Stateless People in Modern Europe

The Middle Ages: Anglo-Saxon England and the Vikings, 757-1066

How did a set of seven fractious kingdoms unite into a new kingdom, known as "England," while under almost constant attack by Viking berserkers from across the North Sea? Image: The Ormside bowl, an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon silver bowl found in the grave of a Viking warrior, photographed by JMiall. Music: A 1914 Edison Records wax-cylinder recording of "Rule, Britannia," provided by the University of California Santa Barbara Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project How did a set of seven fractious kingdoms unite into a new kingdom, known as "England," while under almost constant attack by Viking berserkers from across the North Sea?Image: The Ormside bowl, an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon silver bowl found in the grave of a Viking warrior, photographed by JMiallMusic: A 1914 Edison Records wax-cylinder recording of "Rule, Britannia," provided by the University of California Santa Barbara Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project

Listen on SoundCloud

The Middle Ages: Crossing the Waters - Britain in the Dark Age

Romans, Brythons, Picts, Angles, Gaels, Saxons, and Jutes -- how did this kaleidoscopic welter of contending tribes crystallize into the medieval Christian kingdoms we know as England and Scotland? We consider the most tumultuous and mysterious period in British history, following the Roman withdrawal, as locals and Germanic migrants sought to assert power and maintain stability. Despite the great uncertainty, Britons mastered new knowledge, developed a poetic tradition, and passed on an enduring romance around the sacred power of water. Find the new Lyceum platform and app -- http://www.lyceum.fm/Cover image: 6th-century Anglo-Saxon inlaid gold disk brooch, found in gravesite in Kent. Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Listen on SoundCloud

Back to the Dark Age - How People Adapted to the Fall of the Roman Empire

What did people do when the Roman empire fall apart around them? Recent scholarship, based on new archeological discoveries and techniques, argues that in the "dark" centuries between 450 and 750 AD, the people of western Europe, from conquering kings to ordinary peasants, improvised new political alliances, maintained law and order, improved the productivity of their land, and invented new crafts and art forms, building a resilient and inventive society on the foundations (often literally) of the old. Suggested Further reading: Peter Wells, "Barbarians to Angels" Cover image: Visigothic bronze belt buckle with garnet and glass inlays, belonging to a woman in Spain, mid-6th century AD; image provided by Cleveland Museum of Art.

Listen on SoundCloud

The Middle Ages: Freemasonry - Its Origins, Its Myths, and Its Rituals

Freemasonry: What is it? Where does it come from? What is one taught as a Freemason? What do they do in their closed-door rituals -- and why? Freemasonry in the 1700s is my own field of research, and as a thank-you for reaching 50 patrons, I give a deep illumination of this unusual Society's roots in the gatherings of stonemasons in the late Middle Ages, its mythical connections to Solomon's Temple and the Crusades, and its elaborate system of symbols and initiatory rituals, which cast the Masons as a quasi-priestly caste with a shamanic connection to the world of the dead. Suggested Further Reading: David Stevenson, "Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland's Century"; Margaret Jacob, "Living the Enlightenment"; Jessica Harland-Jacobs, "Builders of Empire"; Ric Berman, "The Foundations of Modern Freemasonry"; Steven Bullock, "Revolutionary Brotherhood"; Jasper Ridley, "The Freemasons"

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see Freemasonry -- Its Growth and Spread Before 1789

The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 2 - A Crumbling Tower?

In the second part of our exploration of the history of universities, we discuss the apotheosis of the university in the American republic, the rise of the German-style research university, and the arrival of women in the elite universities. We end by considering the current crisis of universities, as humanities departments disappear, sexual-assault scandals tarnish prestigious schools, and the public turns an increasingly jaundiced and cynical eye toward the academic "ivory tower." Suggested further reading: Walter Ruegg, ed., "A History of the University in Europe," 4 vols.; William Clark, "Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University"; Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The Objectivity Question and the American Historical Profession"; Henry Adams, "The Education of Henry Adams"; Chad Wellmon, "A Wild Muddle: Have American Elite Colleges Lost Their Moral Purpose Altogether?" Image: "Alma Mater," Columbia University, New York City, photographed by Beyond My Ken. Intro music: Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in D minor, played on harpsichord by Wanda Landowska.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 1 - Flower of the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 1 - Flower of the Middle Ages

Universities are unique -- a quintessential product of the High Middle Ages that has miraculously survived and even flourished in the modern world. In the first part of the history of universities, we examine the origins of the first universities in the power struggles of Popes and emperors; the ways that medieval students learned, lived, and annoyed their elders; and the ways that universities adapted to and withstood serious challenges from Renaissance humanism and the republic of letters. Next will be the rise of universities in America, the modern research university, and the current crisis of academia. Suggested further reading: Walter Ruegg, ed., "A History of the University in Europe," 4 vols.; William Clark, "Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University"; Olaf Pedersen, "The FIrst Universities."Image: "Master and Scholars," illustration from "L'Image du Monde," copybook by Gautier de Metz, 1464, in collection of British Library. Intro music: Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in D minor, played on harpsichord by Wanda Landowska.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 2 - A Crumbling Tower?

The Middle Ages: The Jews of Europe, from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution

We trace the winding paths by which Jews, after the diaspora, sought out social and economic niches in which they were able to survive within European Christian society. We uncover the origins of the two main Jewish groups in Europe -- the Sephardic and Ashkenazi -- and consider how they adapted to changing conditions, including the increasing assimilation of German Jews in the 1700s, which led on the one hand to the beginnings of Jewish reform and on the other to the appearance of Hasidism, a mystical renewal movement. Most importantly, we consider the deep and long-denied influence of the messianic fervor that swept over Europe in the 1660s surrounding the mercurial and mischievous Greek rabbi, Sabbatai Zvi.

Listen on SoundCloud

Also see all 7 episodes On Judaism and Jewish History

Middle Ages 11: The Pulsating Body -- The Medieval World View

We cap off the series of lectures on the Middle Ages by piecing together how the people of the high and late Middle Ages understood their place in the cosmos. From the lowliest peasants to popes and emperors, medievals believed they formed the limbs of a living, breathing social body, and that body or tree was part of a Great Chain of Being connecting rocks and dirt to stars and planets and ultimately to God. Through these metaphors we can understand why medievals disapproved of commerce and abhorred high finance. We end with a commentary on the great, crowning statement of the late medieval mind, the prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Listen on SoundCloudRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 10: Sex and Sexuality in the Middle Ages

We examine the ways that medieval people described, displayed, and generally failed to control their sexual appetites. While theologians sermonized on the dangers of carnal lust, parishioners surreptitiously met in churches and stables, kept themselves amused with dildoes, or luxuriated in brothels all over Europe. We also trace how medievals categorized one another's sexual "orientations" using the complex concept of sodomy, and briefly consider the intense scholarly debate over the nature of same-sex bonding ceremonies in the Middle Ages.

Listen on SoundCloud

Middle Ages 9: Knowledge and Ignorance in the Middle Ages (and Today)

We examine how medieval scholars battled over the meanings of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and of the Christian religion, while illiterate artisans made breakthroughs in architecture, engineering, metallurgy, and alchemy. The vast body of medieval scholarship came under attack during the Renaissance as so many "metaphysical obscurities," while today we stand on the precipice of a true Dark Age of ignorance.

Listen on SoundCloud

Middle Ages 8: The Knights Templar

We examine the true history of the first brotherhood of warrior-monks, who rose to extraordinary power in the High Middle Ages, functioned as a shadow empire reaching from Jerusalem to the far corners of Europe, and then fell to their ruin amidst lurid accusations of religious and sexual crimes. Apart from the endless myths and conspiracy theories, the Templars left a lasting mark on Western society through their militarization of Christianity.

Listen on SoundCloudRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 7: The Later Crusades and Their Legacies

We examine the long train of crusading expeditions of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, from the triumphs of Richard the Lionheart to the trainwreck of the sack of Constantinople. We consider the many ways that modern myths have distorted the Crusades for political purposes and erased the Crusaders' central motivation: control of Jerusalem.

Listen on SoundCloudRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 6: The First Crusade

We follow the bloody deeds and improbable victories of the first crusading army, as it slogs its way through Syria toward the ultimate prize.

Listen on SoundCloudRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 5: The Crusades - Why Did They Happen?

We examine the forces that led the Pope to put forward the far-fetched scheme of mobilizing Christian knights to reclaim Jerusalem in 1095, and briefly consider what lesson the launching of the first Crusade holds for our own world almost 1,000 years later.

Listen on SoundCloudAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 4: The Late Middle Ages

We discuss how the civilization of the High Middle Ages broke down under the onslaught of the Black Death, peasant uprisings, and the gunpowder revolution.

Listen on SoundCloud

Middle Ages 3: the High Middle Ages

We examine the flourishing of the Middle Ages between 1000 and 1300, which gave us chivalry, Gothic cathedrals, epics of King Arthur, and nearly all of the romantic images that we still associate with the medieval era, even as the noose of social conformity and repression began to tighten around the people of Europe.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see History as it Happens: Notre Dame and the Nine Lives of Gothic Cathedrals

Middle Ages 2: The Dark Age -- The Beginning of the Medieval World

How Europeans picked up the pieces in the wake of the breakup of the Roman Empire, created a new society that briefly flourished in the spectacular reign of Charlemagne, and then were plunged back into chaos at the hands of the Vikings.

Listen on SoundCloud

Middle Ages 1: Exploding the Myth of the Middle Ages

In my first lecture on the Middle Ages, we start by clearing out the junk, such as the notions that medievals smelled bad and hunted witches, and then look into the mystical and apocalyptic roots of the idea of the "middle age."

Listen on SoundCloud

Film: The Green Knight - History, Myth, and Modern Shame - A Historian's View

We consider the narrative structure, symbols, and meanings of the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the context of the Middle Ages and the Arthurian cycle, and how the movie has been adjusted to speak to modern sensibilities. I argue that the Green Knight myth has relevance today as a parable about shame.

"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time."

Previous lectures on the Arthur Cycle:
1. Creating King Arthur
2. The Rise and Fall of Camelot
3. The Historical King Arthur

Listen on YouTube

The Middle Ages: 1066 - Sailing Into the Storm

1066 -- the year of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest -- is the most famous date in English history. Few understand, though, that far more happened in this cataclysmic and pivotal year than just the Norman defeat of an English army on a field in East Sussex. The culmination of centuries of shifting struggle over control of England, the events of 1066 show how even epochal changes in a society can hinge on minor accidents of timing, weather, health, and personal choice. Image: Modern re-enactors representing Harold Godwinson's army at Hastings.

Listen on YouTube

The Middle Ages: History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 1 -- From Ancient Origins to the Eighteenth Century

Who are the Roma -- also colloquially called "Gypsies"? Where did they come from, and how did they end up all over Europe? How have they endured through persecution, expulsions, and political upheaval, without a state or country of their own? We trace the path of this remarkable and resilient people from their mysterious origins in India to their arrival in Constantinople and medieval Europe and through the wave of persecution and ethnic cleansing in the 1600s. Image: Gypsies telling fortunes, in Cosmographie Universelle, Munster, 1552. Suggested Further reading: Angus Fraser, "The Gypsies"; Isabel Fonseca, "Bury Me Standing."

Listen on YouTube
Also see History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 2 -- A Stateless People in Modern Europe

The Middle Ages: Anglo-Saxon England and the Vikings, 757-1066

How did a set of seven fractious kingdoms unite into a new kingdom, known as "England," while under almost constant attack by Viking berserkers from across the North Sea? Image: The Ormside bowl, an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon silver bowl found in the grave of a Viking warrior, photographed by JMiall. Music: A 1914 Edison Records wax-cylinder recording of "Rule, Britannia," provided by the University of California Santa Barbara Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project How did a set of seven fractious kingdoms unite into a new kingdom, known as "England," while under almost constant attack by Viking berserkers from across the North Sea?Image: The Ormside bowl, an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon silver bowl found in the grave of a Viking warrior, photographed by JMiallMusic: A 1914 Edison Records wax-cylinder recording of "Rule, Britannia," provided by the University of California Santa Barbara Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project

Listen on YouTube

The Middle Ages: Crossing the Waters - Britain in the Dark Age

Romans, Brythons, Picts, Angles, Gaels, Saxons, and Jutes -- how did this kaleidoscopic welter of contending tribes crystallize into the medieval Christian kingdoms we know as England and Scotland? We consider the most tumultuous and mysterious period in British history, following the Roman withdrawal, as locals and Germanic migrants sought to assert power and maintain stability. Despite the great uncertainty, Britons mastered new knowledge, developed a poetic tradition, and passed on an enduring romance around the sacred power of water. Find the new Lyceum platform and app -- http://www.lyceum.fm/Cover image: 6th-century Anglo-Saxon inlaid gold disk brooch, found in gravesite in Kent. Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Listen on YouTube

Back to the Dark Age - How People Adapted to the Fall of the Roman Empire

What did people do when the Roman empire fall apart around them? Recent scholarship, based on new archeological discoveries and techniques, argues that in the "dark" centuries between 450 and 750 AD, the people of western Europe, from conquering kings to ordinary peasants, improvised new political alliances, maintained law and order, improved the productivity of their land, and invented new crafts and art forms, building a resilient and inventive society on the foundations (often literally) of the old. Suggested Further reading: Peter Wells, "Barbarians to Angels" Cover image: Visigothic bronze belt buckle with garnet and glass inlays, belonging to a woman in Spain, mid-6th century AD; image provided by Cleveland Museum of Art.

Listen on YouTube

The Middle Ages: Freemasonry - Its Origins, Its Myths, and Its Rituals

Freemasonry: What is it? Where does it come from? What is one taught as a Freemason? What do they do in their closed-door rituals -- and why? Freemasonry in the 1700s is my own field of research, and as a thank-you for reaching 50 patrons, I give a deep illumination of this unusual Society's roots in the gatherings of stonemasons in the late Middle Ages, its mythical connections to Solomon's Temple and the Crusades, and its elaborate system of symbols and initiatory rituals, which cast the Masons as a quasi-priestly caste with a shamanic connection to the world of the dead. Suggested Further Reading: David Stevenson, "Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland's Century"; Margaret Jacob, "Living the Enlightenment"; Jessica Harland-Jacobs, "Builders of Empire"; Ric Berman, "The Foundations of Modern Freemasonry"; Steven Bullock, "Revolutionary Brotherhood"; Jasper Ridley, "The Freemasons"

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Also see Freemasonry -- Its Growth and Spread Before 1789

The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 2 - A Crumbling Tower?

In the second part of our exploration of the history of universities, we discuss the apotheosis of the university in the American republic, the rise of the German-style research university, and the arrival of women in the elite universities. We end by considering the current crisis of universities, as humanities departments disappear, sexual-assault scandals tarnish prestigious schools, and the public turns an increasingly jaundiced and cynical eye toward the academic "ivory tower." Suggested further reading: Walter Ruegg, ed., "A History of the University in Europe," 4 vols.; William Clark, "Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University"; Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The Objectivity Question and the American Historical Profession"; Henry Adams, "The Education of Henry Adams"; Chad Wellmon, "A Wild Muddle: Have American Elite Colleges Lost Their Moral Purpose Altogether?" Image: "Alma Mater," Columbia University, New York City, photographed by Beyond My Ken. Intro music: Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in D minor, played on harpsichord by Wanda Landowska.

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Also see The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 1 - Flower of the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 1 - Flower of the Middle Ages

Universities are unique -- a quintessential product of the High Middle Ages that has miraculously survived and even flourished in the modern world. In the first part of the history of universities, we examine the origins of the first universities in the power struggles of Popes and emperors; the ways that medieval students learned, lived, and annoyed their elders; and the ways that universities adapted to and withstood serious challenges from Renaissance humanism and the republic of letters. Next will be the rise of universities in America, the modern research university, and the current crisis of academia. Suggested further reading: Walter Ruegg, ed., "A History of the University in Europe," 4 vols.; William Clark, "Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University"; Olaf Pedersen, "The FIrst Universities."Image: "Master and Scholars," illustration from "L'Image du Monde," copybook by Gautier de Metz, 1464, in collection of British Library. Intro music: Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in D minor, played on harpsichord by Wanda Landowska.

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Also see The Middle Ages: History of Universities, Part 2 - A Crumbling Tower?

The Middle Ages: The Jews of Europe, from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution

We trace the winding paths by which Jews, after the diaspora, sought out social and economic niches in which they were able to survive within European Christian society. We uncover the origins of the two main Jewish groups in Europe -- the Sephardic and Ashkenazi -- and consider how they adapted to changing conditions, including the increasing assimilation of German Jews in the 1700s, which led on the one hand to the beginnings of Jewish reform and on the other to the appearance of Hasidism, a mystical renewal movement. Most importantly, we consider the deep and long-denied influence of the messianic fervor that swept over Europe in the 1660s surrounding the mercurial and mischievous Greek rabbi, Sabbatai Zvi.

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Also see all 7 episodes On Judaism and Jewish History

Middle Ages 11: The Pulsating Body -- The Medieval World View

We cap off the series of lectures on the Middle Ages by piecing together how the people of the high and late Middle Ages understood their place in the cosmos. From the lowliest peasants to popes and emperors, medievals believed they formed the limbs of a living, breathing social body, and that body or tree was part of a Great Chain of Being connecting rocks and dirt to stars and planets and ultimately to God. Through these metaphors we can understand why medievals disapproved of commerce and abhorred high finance. We end with a commentary on the great, crowning statement of the late medieval mind, the prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Listen on YouTubeRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 9: Knowledge and Ignorance in the Middle Ages (and Today)

We examine how medieval scholars battled over the meanings of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and of the Christian religion, while illiterate artisans made breakthroughs in architecture, engineering, metallurgy, and alchemy. The vast body of medieval scholarship came under attack during the Renaissance as so many "metaphysical obscurities," while today we stand on the precipice of a true Dark Age of ignorance.

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Middle Ages 8: The Knights Templar

We examine the true history of the first brotherhood of warrior-monks, who rose to extraordinary power in the High Middle Ages, functioned as a shadow empire reaching from Jerusalem to the far corners of Europe, and then fell to their ruin amidst lurid accusations of religious and sexual crimes. Apart from the endless myths and conspiracy theories, the Templars left a lasting mark on Western society through their militarization of Christianity.

Listen on YouTubeRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 7: The Later Crusades and Their Legacies

We examine the long train of crusading expeditions of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, from the triumphs of Richard the Lionheart to the trainwreck of the sack of Constantinople. We consider the many ways that modern myths have distorted the Crusades for political purposes and erased the Crusaders' central motivation: control of Jerusalem.

Listen on YouTubeRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 6: The First Crusade

We follow the bloody deeds and improbable victories of the first crusading army, as it slogs its way through Syria toward the ultimate prize.

Listen on YouTubeRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 5: The Crusades - Why Did They Happen?

We examine the forces that led the Pope to put forward the far-fetched scheme of mobilizing Christian knights to reclaim Jerusalem in 1095, and briefly consider what lesson the launching of the first Crusade holds for our own world almost 1,000 years later.

Listen on YouTubeAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Middle Ages 4: The Late Middle Ages

We discuss how the civilization of the High Middle Ages broke down under the onslaught of the Black Death, peasant uprisings, and the gunpowder revolution.

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Middle Ages 3: the High Middle Ages

We examine the flourishing of the Middle Ages between 1000 and 1300, which gave us chivalry, Gothic cathedrals, epics of King Arthur, and nearly all of the romantic images that we still associate with the medieval era, even as the noose of social conformity and repression began to tighten around the people of Europe.

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Also see History as it Happens: Notre Dame and the Nine Lives of Gothic Cathedrals

Middle Ages 2: The Dark Age -- The Beginning of the Medieval World

How Europeans picked up the pieces in the wake of the breakup of the Roman Empire, created a new society that briefly flourished in the spectacular reign of Charlemagne, and then were plunged back into chaos at the hands of the Vikings.

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Middle Ages 1: Exploding the Myth of the Middle Ages

In my first lecture on the Middle Ages, we start by clearing out the junk, such as the notions that medievals smelled bad and hunted witches, and then look into the mystical and apocalyptic roots of the idea of the "middle age."

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Things You Don’t Know

Did Columbus really think that he was going to reach Asia?
What little do we actually know about Shakespeare, the person?
Why is it misleading to apply the word “religion” to Judaism and Hinduism?
Are people really becoming less religious than they used to be?
How did Tisquantum (popularly known as Squanto) already know how to speak English before the Pilgrims had ever arrived?
What did Netflix’s “The Dig” miss about the most dramatic part of the whole Sutton Hoo discovery?
What does the English Civil War of the 1640s tell us about the American Civil War, and about the present?
What can we know about enslaved Africans who were held in a specific New England house, even without written records?
Who were the Freemasons of the 1700s? How did they grow from a local Scottish fraternity to a global network?
Could all of British history have turned out differently if the winds on the English channel had shifted direction on just one day in 1066?
What did followers of the ancient and secretive branch of Christianity, Gnosticism, actually believe?
Why can no one agree on what “capitalism” actually is? And why does a lack of clear definition call into question so many other myths of the modern world?
How – and why – did universities begin in the Middle Ages, long before the scientific revolution and the “Enlightenment”?
Was there really an Exodus from Egypt like the one described in the Bible?
How did changes in the climate in the 1600s lead people to think they were living in the Apocalypse? How did this help spur the creation of institutions and forces that still shape the world today?
How did accusing people of witchcraft further several political agendas of the time?
Why did every Renaissance-era ruler in Europe have a court astrologer?
Does a single coin prove that Vikings came all the way to what’s now the United States?
Why is the dramatic 2019 fire at Paris’ Notre Dame actually a common occurrence for cathedrals around Europe?
Why don’t US citizens directly elect their President? Or have a more proportional Senate?

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