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Ancient Roman roads drove later development….

Roman road-building - WordPress

A friend in America sent me the following article, by Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post. Having just been researching the ancient route from Paris to Lyon, as it was in the late 14th century, I found it very interesting to think that the routes and places chosen by the Romans all those centuries ago, are still ruling us today.

“Ancient Roman roads drove later development 

“Prosperity begets prosperity: On a global level, economists and historians have shown that places that prospered 100, 500, even 1,000 years ago tend to be more economically developed today.

“But how? We’re less clear on the exact channels by which economic activity sustains itself over the millennia. Could dynastic wealth play a role? How about the concentration and transmission of knowledge via institutions such as schools and libraries? How does military might factor in?

“Now, a team of Danish economists has put forth a forceful case for one largely overlooked driver of economic development in Europe: roadways built by the Roman empire nearly 2,000 years ago. They demonstrate that the density of ancient Roman roads at a given point in Europe strongly correlates with present-day prosperity, as measured by modern-day road density, population density and even satellite imagery of nighttime lighting.

“Their data show that infrastructure investments are — if you’ll pardon an unpardonable pun — a pathway to long-term prosperity.

“To arrive at this conclusion, Carl-Johan Dalgaard of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues first obtained a geographic database of the major roads of the Roman era that had been compiled by Harvard University’s Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations.

“Roman roadways were massive infrastructure projects even by modern standards. They consisted of several base layers, including stone, gravel and sand, over which large stone slabs were laid. At the empire’s peak in 117 A.D., scholars estimate, the Romans had built nearly 50,000 miles of roadway across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Many of them have lasted well into the present day.

“Dalgaard and his colleagues took a map of the major ancient Roman roads and superimposed it over satellite imagery showing the level of nighttime illumination in 2010. Economists often use nighttime lighting as a proxy for economic activity: more lights, more development.

“The visual relationship is particularly striking in France. There, you can clearly see the paths of ancient roadways connecting not just major modern cities, like Paris and Lyon, but also many minor ones, too. Across inland France, nearly every junction of ancient roads is marked by a splash of light in the modern era.

“While just eyeballing it like this is certainly suggestive, it’s not good enough for social science research. So Dalgaard and his colleagues took it several steps further: They divided the entire ancient Roman empire into a grid of 1 degree latitude by 1 degree longitude squares and measured the density of Roman roads within each. For each square, they also measured modern-day population, the density of current roadways and economic activity as indicated by the satellite imagery.

“They then ran a battery of statistical tests to determine how the presence of ancient roadways was related to the modern-day variables they measured. The answer: quite a bit. Places with more Roman roads in antiquity tended to have more roads today, as well as more people and greater levels of economic development.

“Now, there’s a big question of causality looming over all this: Can we really say that ancient roads caused greater economic development down the line? Or is it more accurate to say that more prosperous areas in the ancient world simply had more of a tendency to build roads to other places as a natural result of their prosperity?

“Dalgaard and his colleagues marshal convincing pieces of evidence to argue in favor of a causal link that runs from ancient roadbuilding to modern-day prosperity. For starters, Roman roads weren’t typically built with trade in mind: Their primary purpose was to move troops and supplies to locations of military interest. Trade was an afterthought.

”Roman roads were often constructed in newly conquered areas without any extensive, or at least not comparable,existing network of cities and infrastructure,” Dalgaard and his colleagues write. In many instances, the roads came first. Settlements and cities came later.

“Then there’s the fascinating question of what happened to Roman roads built in North Africa. At some point between 500 and 1,000 A.D., wheeled transport was essentially abandoned in the region. Goods were ferried around on the backs of camels, rather than in carts pulled by oxen. The exact reasons for this are up for debate and probably involved costs, advances in saddle technology and the increasing military and political might of groups that had traditionally relied on camels for transport, Dalgaard and his colleagues explain.

“If you’re not pulling carts around, you have less of a need for paved roadways. As a result, the Roman roads in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) weren’t maintained the same way they were in Europe, where cart-based transit remained dominant. ”The implication of these developments is that since ancient roads fall into disrepair in the MENA region, to a much greater extent than in Europe, one should expect to see much less persistence in infrastructure density.”

“Indeed, that’s exactly what Dalgaard and his colleagues found. The correlation between ancient roadways and modern-day development so prevalent in Europe is much smaller and less significant for the Middle East and North Africa. ”As ancient roads are left to decay they ultimately become a less reliable predictor of modern road location in the MENA,” they found. ”Roman road density does not predict current day economic activity within the MENA region.”

“In sum, Dalgaard’s research adds historical heft to the idea that infrastructure investments can be a driver of economic growth. While most research into that question has focused on short-term results, Dalgaard’s paper suggests that infrastructure investments today could continue to bear fruit for thousands of years to come.

Across Inland France - WordPress

Across inland France, nearly every junction of ancient roads is marked by a splash of light in the modern era. WASHINGTON POST ILLUSTRATION | DATA FROM NOAA EARTH OBSERVATORY, NATURAL EARTH AND DIGITAL ATLAS OF ROMAN AND MEDIEVAL CIVILIZATION

Ancient roads - WordPress

Ancient Roman roads superimposed on 2010 satellite imagery of nighttime lighting in Europe. WASHINGTON POST ILLUSTRATION | DATA FROM NOAA EARTH OBSERVATORY, NATURAL EARTH AND DIGITAL ATLAS OF ROMAN AND MEDIEVAL CIVILIZATION

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A delightful walk around Middleham….

Walking at Middleham

If you like walking, Richard III, Middleham Castle and horses, this is the thing for you. Get out your walking gear…!

Discovered in Norwich

Whilst visiting Norwich to see the Whitefriars plaque to Lady Eleanor Talbot, Richard’s sister-in-law, in Tomblands near the Cathedral, I happened to take lunch in a particular hostelry, the Glass House. It is principally named for the city’s stained glass industry and various panels, also commemorate the author Harriet Martineau, the rebel Robert Kett, Cotman and the other “Norwich School” artists.

The panel nearest the main door was this one (left). Sir Thomas, who bore the name of a North Norfolk village, served John of Gaunt, helped to implement Henry IV’s usurpation before joining Henry V as an archery commander at Harfleur and Azincourt, and eventually dying in 1428. The other pictures are of Sir Thomas,  Henry IV and the Upper Close at Norwich Cathedral. 

The strict etiquette of Elizabeth Woodville’s churching….

Leo of Rozmital

The Travels of Leo of Rozmital in the 15th century are fascinating, and if you register (free) for a virtual library card here you can read about them for 14 days. You can access up to five books all told.

Between 1465 and 1467 Leo (a Bohemian nobleman and celebrated jouster who died this day in 1486) undertook diplomatic missions for his brother-in-law, the King of Bohemia. He and his companions kept meticulous records of their travels. You can find out more about him here

Anyway, my reason for dipping into his travelling records was to glean all the information I could about travelling in Europe in the medieval period. My year of interest at present is 1394, but nothing much changed between then and the reign of Edward IV. This is how I happened upon the following passage:-

“. . .Edward IV was known for his lavish hospitality, and when the travellers had been luxuriously lodged in an inn, and had been kissed by the hostess and maids, they were formally welcomed by a herald and certain Privy Councillors. They were then given audience of the King and invited to a mighty banquet with sixty dishes, after which the King bestowed collars or badges (symbola) on his guests and knighted certain of them. He would have knighted others, but the honour was declined, perhaps on account of the fees. Later, at court, they saw Elizabeth Woodville churched in great state after the birth of the Princess Elizabeth. Another banquet was prepared, at which Warwick, the King-maker, acted as host, and after this they were conducted to an alcove, which which they watched the Queen at dinner. So strict was court etiquette that even the Queen’s mother and the King’s sisters had to kneel before the Queen while she was at table, and not a word was spoken during the whole meal, which lasted for three hours. Afterwards there was a state ball, at which Margaret of York (soon to be married to Charles the Bold of Burgundy) and other ladies danced. Then music was provided by the King’s choristers, and Tetzel tells us that here, and later at mass he had never heard such fine singing. . .”

I’m sure I can hear some medieval teeth-grinding! Warwick must have had a very fixed smile when it came to Elizabeth Woodville, and while I can imagine her mother, Jacquetta of Luxemburg, kneeling willingly enough to her, I think the King’s sisters would not have been so eager. More fixed smiles and grinding of teeth. Did they have to kneel there at her feet for three long hours? For their knees’ sake, I hope not.

There is a much more detailed description of this occasion between pages 44-49, including a mention of the queen being escorted by “two dukes”. Might these have been Richard and George? It seems the kneeling ladies were spared, being allowed to take their own seats as soon as the first course had been served to the queen. Thank goodness for that. But I’ll bet those of Edward IV’s blood were still not amused.

There is a lot more in this fascinating book—including many anecdotes, naughty and polite—and I recommend registering for a virtual library card. It is also available at Amazon.

 

A very busy presenter

Rob Bell seems to be on television a lot at the moment. Although he is an engineer and not quite a historian, many of his programmes go back in time as structures were built. Walking Britain’s Lost Railways, for instance, goes back under two centuries because of the subject matter, but Great British Ships (both Channel Five) has already covered HMS Victory and the Mary Rose, which was built in 1510 and sank in 1545. At the same time, possibly literally, Bell is appearing on BBC1 and BBC4’s (repeated) Engineering Giants, projects which he narrates actively with enthusiasm and technical knowledge, together with an interest in the local culture. For example, he tells viewers of Brunel’s great feats, tries to explain why the Mary Rose sank and walks most of the Dartmoor route from Plymouth to Exeter, although a small stage of this track has re-opened in recent years.

The last episode featured Ruabon to Barmouth via Llangollen, where the Irish Ladies lived.

Another site of maps old and new….

Area of Gloucester around cathedral

I have just learned of another site that allows one to see a local area in maps past and present. Interesting, and worth bookmarking. Only West of England at the moment, as far as I can see. Let’s hope the rest of the country is eventually given the same coverage.

The illustration shows the part of Gloucester around the cathedral, then and now.

 

So where exactly is “Orwell”?

Harwich Town station is the end of the line, a twenty-five minute ride from Manningtree and the north-eastern extremity of Essex. As you cross the main road from the station car park, turning left takes you past a series of old buildings with Harwich Society plaques amid a modern setting. Some of these commemorate people such as Pepys, Christopher Newport the Jamestown settler and Christopher Jones, of Mayflower fame but the first of these is the site of the inn known as The Three Cups (left). Eventually, you will reach the Ha’penny Pier, from which the busy Port of Felixstowe is visible. Indeed, a passenger ferry across the rivers operates on most summer days.

Harwich is situated on the south bank of the confluence of the rivers Stour and Orwell. Between them lies the Shotley peninsula, which also features the village of Holbrook. Warner (Edward II, The Unconventional King, p.216) reports that Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer, Edmund Earl of Kent and his steward John Cromwell, with a thousand or more other men, landed at “Orwell in Suffolk” on 24 September 1326. However, I have never heard of an actual settlement by this name.

Contemporary chroniclers are irritatingly vague about this location and it would be difficult to satisfy the conditions precisely because Harwich is in the wrong county. This map (right) illustrates the situation – that only the north bank of the Orwell from Felixstowe to Ipswich, or the northern half of the Shotley Peninsula, fit these criteria.

The Harwich Society cannot now locate their source.

Relive the last journeys of Richard III….

Bow Bridge in the 1790s

Bow Bridge in the 1790s

There are events taking place in Leicester this month, but I have extracted the following from here, because it concerns Richard. :-

“Heritage Open Days – across Leicester – Thurs, Sept 6- Sun, Sept 9 and Thurs, Sept 13 – Sun, Sept 16

“As part of a national initiative, Leicester’s heritage buildings, parks, universities, businesses, creative venues and faith buildings will once again stage events to reveal their stories and unseen heritage to visitors.

“This includes backstage tours at De Montfort Hall, tours of Abbey Park, the Town Hall and Glenfield Tunnel, and the chance to relive the last journeys of Richard III.

“Drop-in events will be held at historic venues such at Winstanley House, Stoneygate Tram Depot and Leicester Print Workshop.”

 

The Blue Boar in Leicester

The Blue Boar Inn, which was where Richard is believed to have slept before Bosworth. It is no longer there, but the site is.

 

 

John of Gaunt’s motel….?

John of Gaunt's Motel with horse

According to Anthony Goodman’s John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe… “At his [Gaunt’s] manor of Daventry (Northants) there was the John O’ Gaunt Motel…”

I had no idea Gaunt was so ahead of his time!  (And yes, I’ve taken the quote out of context.)

Another myth about men “not breaking oaths to Richard”. . . .

Henry's route through Wales in 1485

Well, I’ve heard the tale of Sir Rhys ap Thomas hiding under a bridge for Henry to march over him on the way to Bosworth, thus not breaking Sir Rhys’s oath of loyalty to Richard, but this is a new one on me!

Rhys ap Thomas under the bridge

Now we have this new variation, from  http://tudortimes.co.uk/military-warfare/1485-battle-of-bosworth/henrys-march :-

“. . .when Henry, now strengthened by Sir Rhys ap Thomas, and a contingent of men from North Wales, reached the town of Shrewsbury, to cross the Severn into England, the town gates were closed against him and the town bailiff, Thomas Mitton, announced that, as he had sworn allegiance to Richard, he could not allow Richmond to pass.

“The closure of the town of Gloucester to the Lancastrians in 1471, preventing the crossing of the Severn, had proved disastrous for them – would the same be the case for Henry at Shrewsbury? Henry assured the bailiff that he and his men would do no damage and that they would not interfere with his oath, but Mitton was adamant.

“The next morning however, there was a change of heart. . .due to the intervention of Sir William Stanley.

“Henry and his men passed through – apparently with Henry stepping his horse carefully over Mitton’s body, to preserve the word of the man’s oath – although the same story is told in other circumstances of other men, so may be apocryphal. Impressed by Henry, or perhaps cowed by Sir William, the town then paid £4 4s 10d for soldiers for him. . .”

shrewsbury_traitors_gate_640

               Traitors’ Gate, Shrewsbury town wall. Let’s hope it was the one Henry passed beneath!

But the above site is not the original source for this story. There is an earlier one.

“An interesting anecdote of Thomas Mytton is related in the following extract from Owen and Blakeway’s History of Shrewsbury, vol. i, p. 245, describing the incidents of the Earl of Richmond’s (Henry VII) march through Shropshire to Bosworth Field:- “He delayed his march to Shrewsbury till he was master of Forton and Montford Bridge, two points of main importance to his designs, as he was thus provided with a passage into the midland counties, even though this town should shut her gates upon him. Having secured that bridge, which, if the Salopians had been hearty in the cause of Richard, they would have broken down, his army encamped upon Forton Heath, and he despatched messengers to Shrewsbury to summon the town. When they arrived at the foot of the Welsh bridge, they found the place in a posture of defence; the gates shut, the portcullis let down, and the bailiffs within ready to give their answer. “The senior of these magistrates for that year was Thomas Mytton, Esq., whom we have lately seen as Sheriff of the county, engaged in the arrest of the Duke of Buckingham. He is described in an old chronicle as ‘ a stout wise gentleman’, and made answer that he knew the Earl for no King, but ‘ only Kynge Rychard, whose lyffetenants he and hys fellowe weare, and before he shoulde enter there, he should goe over hys belly’, meaninge thereby, continues our authority, ‘ that he would be slayne to the grounde and so to (be) roon over (by) him before he entryd; and that he protested vehemently upon the othe he dad taken.’

“Much conversaton, we may suppose, ensued, but Mr. Mytton continuing resolute, the Earl ‘ retornyd’, says our chronicle, ‘ wyth hys companye backe agayn to Forton . . . .’ On the following morning the negotiation with the Bailiffs of Shrewsbury was renewed, and the Earl assured the magistrates that he did not mean to hurt the town or any of its inhabitants, but only desired to pass on to try his right to the Crown. We are told that Mr. Mytton began to yeald to these suggestions, but that on account of the oath he had so lately taken to oppose the entrance of Richmond into Shrewbury, he adopted the ingenious expedient of lying down on the ground and permitting the Earl to step over him. Thereupon the portcullis was drawn up, and the Earl and his retinue admitted within the gates, to the general joy of the inhabitants, and received, we are assured, ‘ with an Ave chaire (Xaipe), and God speede the wel! the streets being strowed with hearbes and flowers, and their doores adorned with greene boughs, in testimony of a true hartie reception.'”

Well, Henry was still some way from Bosworth, so I imagine there are a few more such myths waiting in the wings. They’ll be throwing their cloaks over puddles next! Or dropping their garters!

 

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