Automatons, generally figures of plants and animals that appeared self-moving or "automatic" once they were set in motion, are the real forerunners of robots, a twentieth century term for "workers" coined by Karl Capek in his 1920's play "R.U.R. Rossum's Universal Robots." The product of master craftsmen with mechanical genius, automatons, which performed a series of movements without a human operator, usually ran by waterpower (hydraulics), air pressure (pneumatics), clockworks, or springs.
Our scribe Ellen Seiden explores the history of these mechanical marvels, some of which first appeared as far back as 3,000 years ago in Egypt.
Medieval dogs were trained for war, protection, and hunting. They provided a service to every social class in medieval society, as companions, protectors of property and livestock, guardians against enemies, and as pets of royalty. Revered in legend and myth, coveted by royalty and loved by peasants to kings, they remained a constant throughout the Middle Ages. We show you how dogs came to Europe, and how they fit into medieval life.
Why did more complex hilts become the rule on certain types of swords? And for that matter, why did "basket" hilts and similar guards eventually become so commonplace? After all, rapiers were thrusting weapons, but a little practical application will reveal that a common "swept" hilt will not keep the point of another rapier from intentionally or unintentionally stabbing the hand any more than a sieve will hold water, and the crosses of cutting swords obviously do not keep the hand from being cut. Our scribe explores the reasons the hilts of medieval and renaissance swords developed the way they did.
The Knights Hospitaller Defend Malta
The year was 1565, during the height of the summer period (18 May-11 September) on a small island, a small band of men that critics of the time (opponents of the Roman Church) would describe as archaic and anachronistic at the height of the Renaissance, would be pushed to all imaginable limits in the Mediterranean, their efforts very much altering the course of Renaissance history.
They were the Knights of Malta, formerly recognized as the Knights of the Hospital of Jerusalem or Knights Hospitaller. This small band of warrior monks numbering roughly 500, and with the help of soldiers drawn from the local Maltese population totaling around 3,000 were about to face off in an epic test of wills and human endurance with forces from the Ottoman Empire that numbered nearly 48,000 in all.
Whether dark and worn or painted and vibrant, effigies are a ubiquitous feature in the churches, chapels, and cathedrals of Britain and Europe. Some remain sharp and vivid, but many more are now worn down into obscure lumps of stone. To an informed eye, however, even the plainest effigy proffers a tantalizing hint at the life of the deceased.