September 2015

This is an index and summary of the things I've talked about over the last month. Links for multi-post subjects go to the first post (even if it's before this month), you can follow the internal navigation links from there.


The Lancashire Cotton Famine - In Our Time episode about the effect that the US Civil War had on the cotton industry in Lancashire.

Total: 1


"Rescuing History: ARCE Recording Sheikh Abd el-Gurneh" Andrew Bednarski - September EEG meeting talk.

Total: 1



Doctor Who: The Magician's Apprentice.

Doctor Who: The Witch's Familiar.

Total: 2


The Greatest Knight: William the Marshal - programme presented by Thomas Ashbridge about the life & times of William the Marshal.

Total: 1


Egypt Holiday 2014: Deir el Medina.

Egypt Holiday 2014: Medinet Habu.

Total: 2

Tags: Admin

Perhaps the hardest bit of these posts is coming up with something for spoiler space when I advertise them over on Facebook or G+! This evening I'm all out of random witty thoughts to share, so hopefully a couple of sentences saying that will suffice.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

It seems the moral of the story is "don't do what you're told", particularly if it's an ancient sociopath that's doing the telling ... a sensible idea. But overall a reasonably subversive set of messages we're being sent so far this season. If you're shown something, don't believe it; if you're given an order, don't blindly obey. Or perhaps just: think for yourself.

Obviously Clara and Missy survived, and the Doctor didn't kill Davros-the-child, nor Davros-the-old-man. Although I suppose the implication is that the Dalek sewers/graveyard are going to kill Davros and all the Daleks, but that'll just be a localised problem that they overcome easily and off camera before the next story they show up in. I wasn't actually that keen on the reveal that the Doctor had somehow planned to give his regeneration energy to the sewers to spoil Davros's victory. I know they had to come up with some way to have the Doctor win in the end and escape, but I thought that undermined the difference between Davros & the Doctor that was set up - that the Doctor can have compassion even for his enemy. Though maybe it wasn't really the Doctor's plan, maybe he was just using the "cat defence" when he realised he'd been tricked - "I totally meant to do that".

J was right - Clara was the Witch's Familiar, with Missy in the role of the Wicked Witch. Another compare & contrast set up - again we're shown that no matter the Doctor's faults, the point is that he cares and treats people as people not just as particularly useful pointy sticks. Another parallel between the two halves of the plot is neither Clara nor the Doctor being all that convincing with their "how dare you I'll kill you" threats. Although the Doctor at least didn't actually utter the threat just tried to imply it without saying it. But the Daleks didn't believe him any more than Missy believed Clara.

Seems the season arc this time is about why the Doctor really left Gallifrey, although I'm guessing that just as we never found out the Doctor's name we won't find this out either. But we've had Missy rubbing it in Clara's face about her shared past with the Doctor (did she really say "when we had a daughter"? I only half caught that). And Davros overtly mentioning it too. Moffat also clearly wants us to remember the confession disc/last will & testament or whatever that disc really is. (I did like the double fake out with that - the Doctor grabs the glasses and Davros & we assume him to be playing the fool, then it turns out the sunglasses are the new screwdriver (at least for now)). Oh and the ring the Doctor is wearing ... called to our attention several times towards the end of the episode. I can't remember if he wore a wedding ring before or not but it couldn't've been pointed out more if it had had a flashing neon sign above it this episode.

Nice call back to Clara's initial story with her inside the Dalek. And I liked thematically the idea that Daleks are all about taking emotion and feeding that energy into negativity & destruction. For me it fits into the "think for yourself" theme that these two episodes have - after all how many times does one see a picture or headline in the media or in a widely shared facebook post that's designed to tug at the heartstrings or generate outrage, and then the story attached encourages the reader to hate "those responsible". And often if you take the time to look into the story properly it turns out to be bobbins - but it served its purpose in getting people worked up and their hatred pointed in the direction the original authors wanted.

Curious to see if the title of the next episode (Under the Lake) continues to be significant ... though that may've just been a thing for that two-parter. All "Under the Lake" makes me think of in that sort of context is Excalibur, and nymphs, so perhaps just literal this time. (No spoilers for that episode in comments please, J prefers to remain totally unspoiled.)

So Doctor Who is back - that kinda snuck up on me, I didn't notice till about a week ago that it was coming up. It's about the only fiction I watch on TV and pretty much the only thing I write up for this blog in a timely fashion - more a stream of consciousness bit of chat about the episode than a review per se, and probably won't make much sense if you didn't watch it. And yes, I'm waffling right now in this intro paragraph as its sole purpose is to not have spoilers in the entry preview on facebook/G+ ;)

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

So now we're past the spoiler warning let's start with the end! Believe nothing you see is my takeaway from the rest of the episode. That was pretty much the theme running through the whole thing - not just the walking out into Skaros when they thought they were on a space station. But also the snakey-dude and the crypto-Dalek. And of course Missy who wasn't as dead as all that at the end of last season (I mean, we knew she wasn't but we "saw" a "death" for her). So I don't believe any of that ending either: not the deaths, not the destroyed TARDIS, not the Doctor going back to kill child-Davros. (Did we even see the deaths live? Or did we just see both on Davros's screens as the Doctor did? You can do a lot with special effects after all ;) ) Of course, I'm just left wondering what else I've forgotten to disbelieve ...

Oh and I think one shouldn't believe Missy with that "you're the puppy" line to Clara. Missy came to Clara for help, the Doctor seemed to react worse to Clara's potential death than Missy's ... if she's just a pet, she's not just the cute puppydog. After all, it's not like Missy turned good, as she demonstrated herself.

Damnit, wrote the above paragraph and it was niggling at me why that felt significant and I got about three lines further into this post & I think it's just come to me. Look at the title of the episode: "The Magician's Apprentice". Isn't that Clara's relationship to the Doctor? Next episode: "The Witch's Familiar". Clara again? Or is Missy the Witch rather than the Doctor? Or Clara the Witch for that matter? (Or I'm totally off-base with this, but I must pay more attention to the titles than I usually do.)

It really wasn't where I expected the season to start. I mean: the Daleks, the Master (Mistress, whatever), a two-parter. That feels season finale rather than opener. And more self-contained than a Moffat season normally starts off like - by which I mean that if there is a season arc/season big-bad set up in this one then I didn't spot it. Moffat may've just got more subtle tho ;) Or I've missed something blindingly obvious ... or believed something I shouldn't've. I'd call out the fairy-tale feel of the episode titles, but after a few seasons I think fairy-tale is just part of the underpinnings of Moffat Who.

I liked the 80s cheesey music vibe running through this. And the Doctor's "axe fight" was awesome :D As were the crap jokes that were only going to work in a few hundred years time. Clara's levelled up in badass too - both in terms of leather jacket wearing motor bike riding, and in terms of being called in by UNIT as much in her own right as because she's the conduit to the Doctor, and facing down Missy. Obvious film reference was Star Wars, and I did enjoy seeing the seedy spaceport bar Doctor Who style.

Looking forward to finding out what happens next, about the only thing I'm sure about is it won't be what I expect.

At the beginning of September Andrew Bednarski came to the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about an American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE) project to document the now-demolished village of Qurna. He was involved in the project from 2011-2014, so this is the time period he told us about but the project is still ongoing. This is a bit of a departure from our usual sort of talk - whilst still Egyptian archaeology, most of the subject was considerably more modern.

The "village" of Sheikh Abd el-Gurneh (or Qurna) is located in the Valley of the Nobles. This area is best known as the place across the mountains from the Valley of the Kings where the New Kingdom aristocracy built their tombs. There are also older tombs (Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom) in the area, and more recent tombs too. And various waves of habitation including Coptic monasteries. The most recent phase of occupation started in around the 16th Century when people who lived near the area began using the tombs as places of refuge from a variety of circumstances ranging from political unrest to the heat of summer. By the 18th Century there was some sense of particular tombs belonging to particular families. In the 19th Century and afterwards these families began to build houses in the area as well as making use of the tombs. Calling Qurna "a village" is a bit of misnomer, it is more a series of loosely connected hamlets each of which is associated with a particular family. Because the Egyptian government in the 1980s was concerned that modern building methods would damage the local antiquities the Qurnawi (the villagers) were forbidden to use concrete. So unlike in the rest of Egypt traditional methods & materials (mostly mudbricks) were still used up to the early 21st Century.

The Qurnawi have an uneasy relationship with the archaeologists, government and the archaeology of the region. Much of the labour force for archaeological projects is drawn from the local population, and so the Qurnawi have been involved in and useful to many high profile digs. However they've also exploited the antiquities for their own benefit in the past - one of the most famous tomb robbing stories is about a Qurnawi family, the Abd el Rasuls. They discovered a cache of Royal Mummies in TT320 in the 1880s. These mummies were reburied in that tomb in around 900BC as the tombs they'd come from were no longer secure (and the administration of the time also used the opportunity to recycle some of their tomb goods). When the Abd el Rasul family found them they didn't let anyone else know and removed items from the mummies bit by bit to sell on the antiquities black market. They were eventually stopped by the Antiquities Service. After tracking the items back to the Abd el Rasul family, "persuasion" was applied by the police to find out the location of the tomb so it was official excavated. Bednarski recommended the film "The Night of Counting the Years" (or "Al Mummia") which is a dramatisation of this story.

As a result of this concern about the Qurnawi damaging or otherwise misusing the antiquities they live in and around there have been a succession of efforts made by the Egyptian government to encourage them to move elsewhere. for instance in the 1940s a model village was built nearby as New Qurna and it was hoped the Qurnawi would like it better than their homes and so move in - but that didn't really happen. In the early 21st Century a concerted effort was made to relocate the villagers - they were moved several miles to the north to (another) New Qurna purpose built village. This time their houses were bulldozed after they left to prevent them returning, despite the fact that this meant driving heavy machinery over a site with many underground tombs. In 2011 the money and the political will to finish the job vanished, so the site was left covered in rubble preventing archaeologists from working as well as being unsightly if any tourists did visit.

The ACRE project started at this point. They had several aims - to clear the site and study the village, to open and re-open monuments to tourists, to employ locals and to train inspectors and conservators. For the work on Qurna they employed about 600 local workmen for 3 years, and tried to pick one person from each household of Qurnawi to spread the money evenly. They moved the rubble left by the bulldozers by hand as any more machinery on the site would only further damage the antiquities. The project was fairly low budget, which meant there was some controversy about them doing the work at all. Bednarski was sure they'd made the right decision - yes, a 20 year high budget project would've been able to do more, but the money wasn't there and time was potentially limited (if the political will to demolish the site returned).

They aimed to record the stratigraphy of the site through to the most modern time as it's not a separate thing from the antiquities - it's a part of the continual use of this land for the last several millennia. The work was primarily done by Egyptian archaeologists, who were trained in Western archaeological methods, and used to train more archaeologists. They tried to only remove loose debris, and also took care not to expose walls too much as the government was concerned people might move back in if that was done. Because the people who had lived in these houses were involved in the excavation it was possible to get a much more completely picture from the evidence than is usually possible. When there were features that weren't clear they could ask questions. Despite these houses being built in, on and around tombs the archaeologists and workers were forbidden to enter any tombs as the government was convinced that they were "really looking for the next KV62", as they couldn't see why anyone would be interested in the last 200 years of the site's history. Bednarski said he wouldn't really have wanted to enter the tombs they did clear modern debris off - several had been used as latrines!

Overall the project found and recorded over 3000 features, and recorded more than 1000 objects. Some of these objects were small pieces of ancient material sometmes damaged during the bulldozing of the site. These included limestone fragments and mudbricks. There were also bits of tourist souvenirs from the last couple of hundred years - ranging from local crafts to pieces of imitation antiquities. And other more unusual objects - like a modern magic/curse object intended to render a man impotent which had to be ritually disposed of before the workers would continue excavating. As well as these sorts of things they found a lot of pottery, and now have the largest corpus of modern Egyptian pottery. They've constructed a typology, and what they found has helped date the earlier parts of the settlement. This corpus has also opened up more questions - for instance there's no fineware (the equivalent of a fancy dinner service for guests), why not? Or was that all taken away when they moved? But you'd still expect some broken and discarded over 200 or so years. There's also nothing between the end of the Christian period and the beginning of the modern period - no Islamic wares. But there is textual evidence of people living in the area during this period, so it seems odd not to find pottery (or the textual evidence is wrong).

Despite being forbidden to enter tombs during the excavations at Qurna, the ARCE (and Bednarski) did have permission for some excavations of antiquities. He finished his talk by telling us a bit about the excavations at TT110, which is the tomb of Djehuty, Royal Cupbearer to both Hatshepsut and Tutmosis III. Even though this tomb has been damaged in the past (and was dismissed by early 20th Century archaeologists for this reason) it is still of historical interest - it has representations of both Pharaohs that Djehuty served, even though Hatshepsut fell out of favour late in Tutmosis III's reign. The project also provided a training opportunity for Egyptian archaeologists, and a third aim was to provide a new tourist site. A lot of the tomb was filled with debris, and they discovered that this included about 60 bodies. There was evidence that the tomb had been reused as a tomb in antiquity particularly during the Greek & Roman periods, but a lot of the fragments came from its use in more modern times as a "mummy processing area" by tomb robbers. They took mummies from other tombs and burnt them to release the gold & other precious objects. The fires are part of why the tomb was so damaged, and the leftover parts of the mummies were flung into another room of the tomb to dispose of them. The project was able to clear the pillared hall of the tomb from debris and clean up the reliefs in the transverse hall to allow them to be read & recorded. There's evidence of the removal of Amun's name during the Amarna period, which adds to the historical interest of the tomb.

The forecourt of TT110 showed evidence of changing use throughout the millennia since the tomb was first constructed. The top layer was village rubbish as expected. Below that there were more pieces of antiquities, indicating it had been used a dump by tomb robbers just as the inside of the tomb had been. Below that was evidence that the forecourt had been lived in during Late Antiquity. The original forecourt had included a mudbrick wall to shore up the rock face that the tomb was cut into - clearly some worry that it might collapse. During the very last week of work on the site that season, whilst they were clearing the forecourt for tourist access they discovered two New Kingdom era coffins containing Late Period mummies, buried next to a pottery assemblage from the Late Period or Greek era. And since Bednarski has left the project they've also discovered two more tombs that share this forecourt - a tomb of an 18th Dynasty doorkeeper called Amenhotep (or Rabiu) and the tomb of his son Samut.

Bednarski's talk was more focussed on the archaeology than the history (as it was mostly modern-ish structures he was excavating). One of the things that made it particularly interesting to me was the idea that he kept coming back to about how they were in a unique position of being able to excavate and record at a point where they could still ask people who'd lived there questions. The data from that project could be invaluable in future when interpreting other similar sites excavated when they're are less contemporary.

First Pylon at Medinet Habu

The temple at Medinet Habu is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt. It was Ramesses III's memorial temple, known in Ancient Egypt as the Mansion of Millions of Years of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt User-Ma'at-Ra-Mery-Amun in the Estate of Amun on the West of Thebes. And typing out a name like that always makes me wonder if it was significantly shorter in Ancient Egyptian or if they had shorter names to refer to the temples by! The design of this temple is quite similar to the other mortuary temples we visited earlier in the trip - those of Seti I and Ramesses II. Possibly a standard design, although Kent Weeks in his Luxor guidebook ascribes it to being another instance of Ramesses III emulating Ramesses II (along with naming his sons the same things as Ramesses II named his and so on).

My photos from this site are, as always, on flickr and you can click here for the full set or on any photo to go to it on flickr.

The Gateway at Medinet Habu

We started our visit with a bit of explanation from Medhat about the temple, mostly concentrating on the harem and the entrance to the temple. The gate that leads into the temple enclosure is much more like a fortification than one would expect for a religious site. This might be a case of literalising a metaphorical concept of the enclosure wall protecting the sacred space from profane contamination, or it might be that the unsettled political and economic climate of Ramesses III's time necessitated protection. This is the time of the Sea Peoples, a mass migration of people across the Mediterranean that caused disruption in several of the more settled countries in North Africa and the Middle East. It was also a time of domestic problems - including possibly a successful assassination of Ramesses III himself. (There was a paper three years ago about this which I wrote about at the time, where they claimed to've identified the fatal wound and the killer's mummy.) The fortified gate includes windows at a high level which had stone heads along the window sills. Medhat told us that these, like the design of the gate, are based on Assyrian structures. But executed in a typical Egyptian fashion - where the Assyrians used real human heads cut off their enemies, the Egyptians made stone ones so that their enemies were symbolically mutilated and displayed for eternity.

Palace at Medinet Habu

After this we were let loose to explore ourselves. John and I started by having a brief look at the palace to the southwest of the temple proper. The walls of this have been partially restored so you do get a sense of the shapes of the rooms (although not of how it would've looked - as it's difficult to imagine how the ruined half-walls looked when decorated and lived within). These included an audience chamber where Ramesses III would've held court. And it even has an en-suite toilet in a small chamber on one side, all mod cons!

First Courtyard, Medinet Habu

After looking at the palace we moved back to look more at the temple itself. As well as looking at the front of the temple and the outside walls we spent a lot of time in the First and Second Courts. The outside of the First Pylon has the traditional scenes of the Pharaoh smiting his enemies, and the military theme is continued within the First Court which was not only part of the temple but also the forecourt for the palace. Around the walls of the court are scenes of defeated enemies, and the penises and hands of dead enemies (not attached). Unlike Ramesses II who had his one battle that he liked to depict everywhere (Kadesh), Ramesses III had several campaigns he wanted represented. These included fighting against the Sea Peoples who attempted to invade during his eighth regnal year, and a campaign in Syria against an Amorite settlement.

First Pylon at Medinet Habu

One thing that's really noticeable about the reliefs in this temple compared to other sites we visited is the depth of some of the heiroglyphs. They vary from very shallow sunk relief to very deep indeed - so deep that pigeons can sit in the holes. I find this fascinating - the different depths are jumbled together and I feel like there must've been some scheme or rationale behind the differences. But I don't think anyone knows the reasons - I did ask both Dylan and Medhat and they didn't know.

Second Courtyard, Medinet Habu

The Second Court reliefs still retain a lot of their original colour - particularly under the colonnade. We spent a lot of time in here just admiring them and photographing them. I also found some graffiti - there is always graffiti, this stuff was mostly early 19th Century. Once through this court the temple is suddenly roofless. It feels like someone came along and sliced the top off with a (very large) knife. The Kent Weeks Luxor book says that the stone was removed by later builders using the temple as a quarry, as so often happens when a building falls into disuse over the centuries. The temple guardians in this section were fairly predatory and had closed off some of the side chapels with fences in the hope they could con us tourists into handing over extra money to see things that should've been freely accessible. One of the other people in our group (the other Margaret) managed to talk one of them into changing his tune by saying she'd report them to the Ministry, and so we did get to go into a chapel we would otherwise have missed out on. It had some interesting scenes in it of the Pharaoh reaping corn and ploughing fields - I don't think I've seen reliefs like that before in a temple.

Medinet Habu

Medinet Habu is a huge temple and has loads of well preserved things to see, so we didn't have nearly enough time here. But we'd've had to miss out other things to get more time and I don't think I could pick one to do without!

Medinet Habu

Before I listened to this episode of In Our Time I had no idea that the American Civil War had caused hardship to so many people in Britain. The cessation of cotton imports from the Southern USA after war broke out led to the cotton mills in Lancashire shutting down, and several hundred thousand of people became unemployed. And yet the directly affected workers were still overwhelmingly on the side of the Northern USA, and for the ending of slavery. Discussing this on In Our Time were Lawrence Goldman (University of London), Emma Griffin (University of East Anglia) and David Brown (University of Manchester).

The cotton industry was one of the biggest industries in Britain during the 1850s and 1860s. Cotton was imported and made into textiles in mills in the new industrial towns like Manchester and other places in the North West of England. Nowadays factory jobs are low status, and low paid, but at that time these jobs were skilled labour and were well paid. The factory production of textiles replaced the older piece work system, where weavers worked in their own homes. In the new system there were potential jobs for the whole family, from quite an early age, so families were relatively well off as compared to their rural counterparts.

The south of the US had a climate that was particularly suitable for growing high quality cotton, and so 90% of the cotton that entered Britain came from the slave plantations in the US. Thus the outbreak of war in 1861 had the potential to cause significant disruption to the cotton industry. The North blockaded the ports of the South preventing the export of cotton - and the South also didn't make much effort to break the blockade because they misjudged the mood of Britain vis-à-vis the continuance of slavery. At first the lack of cotton imports didn't cause many problems. The owners of the mills had been able to see which way the wind was blowing and had stockpiled cotton in case there was a problem. This was only an extension of normal business practice - having reserves in case the harvest failed was common practice. But by 1862 these reserves were running out and mills started to first slow down operations and then shut down all together. At first families could attempt to minimise the effects. As they were relatively prosperous they might well have savings, and providing they could keep one member of the family in a job then that income plus savings might tide them over for a while. Eventually, however, the hardship affected most mill workers and their families.

As I mentioned in the last paragraph the South had misjudged the political and economic situation in the UK and the public antipathy for slavery. They had assumed that the UK government would intervene to protect the cotton supply, so decided to hasten that by not trying terribly hard to break through the blockade. However cotton wasn't the only important part of the British economy, and some of the other key pieces relied on trade with the North (for instance a lot of the nascent financial industry was heavily invested in Northern US business opportunities). There were also other potential sources of cotton - a bit of lead time was necessary to diversify and to improve the quantity & quality of these alternatives, but they were viable in the long term. Politically speaking the Establishment did have some sympathy with the South (a sort of fellow feeling for another aristocratic based system). But other factions in Parliament were more radical and more anti-slavery. The Government as a whole were also inclined to caution - intervening on the losing side of a civil war could be disastrous for future relations. And their caution was wise - after a while it became clear that the South were losing.

The general public was quite well informed about what slavery in the Southern US meant. There were articles and editorials in newspapers, and ex-slaves would tour the country giving talks and raising funds for the anti-slavery cause. Some escaped slaves even had their freedom bought by funds donated by mill owners & their workers. The strength of anti-slavery feeling was such that during the Cotton Famine a mill workers' association wrote to Lincoln to encourage him to continue the fight against the slave-owners, despite the effect it was having on their livelihoods. Their general sentiment was that while it was awful to be out of work, it was more important for slavery to be eradicated.

Obviously public opinion wasn't completely one-note, there are exceptions to every generalisation and there were also pockets of pro-South feeling in Britain even outside the Establishment. One place that was more pro-South was the city of Liverpool. It was here that the cotton arrived, so there were representatives from the South living there and working as factors involved in trading the cotton. This meant more contact with Southerners as people rather than as the far away subjects of anti-slavery speeches. The experts suggested that this is one of the roots of the Liverpool/Manchester rivalry - different parts of this cotton industry with different priorities finding themselves on opposite sides of a conflict (ideologically even if not actually).

The consequences of the Cotton Famine on British culture were surprisingly far reaching. For instance it began changing the way the public and the Government thought about welfare. When several hundred people were suddenly out of work the existing poor laws were found to be inadequate. One reform brought in after this was that legislation was passed to allow councils to employ the unemployed to build public works. And rather than letting people starve or putting them in workhouses (which would've been completely overwhelmed) funds were raised to be distributed amongst the unemployed so that they could buy food.

The dignity and unselfish way that the workers behaved during this period of hardship also changed the way the working class were thought and talked about at the time. There was a feeling that obviously the "working man" would riot if he had no food nor employment, and would be unable to see past his own needs to that of other people. But during the Cotton Famine there was only one riot - and that was when one town decided to distribute funds as tokens rather than money to "save" the people from the temptation of misusing the money. It was the disrespect that caused offence. And as mentioned above the mill workers were to a large extent pro-North and anti-slavery in sentiment, despite their own hardship. The overall behaviour of the mill workers during this period undermined one of the main arguments against extending the franchise to all men. Clearly the common man actually was capable of seeing beyond his own self-interest to the bigger picture. So although change didn't happen immediately, the seeds of it were beginning to be sown.

So from a conflict over slavery on the other side of the world came the first steps towards universal suffrage and a welfare state! Not something I had previously realised.

William the Marshal is one of the men responsible for the Magna Carta as we now know it. His seal is on the re-issuing of the charter in 1217 by Henry III, in his role as Regent for the king. His statue stands in the House of Lords behind the monarch's throne defending the monarchy as he did in life. Earlier this year we watched a programme that was a biography of him, which rather surprisingly wasn't part of the Magna Carta anniversary programmes that the BBC put on to coincide with 800 years (since the charter was first signed) as it was first aired in early 2014. The programme was presented by Thomas Ashbridge whose series on the Crusades we'd previously been less than impressed with (post). This programme was rather good, tho :)

After William the Marshal's death his family commissioned a biography of him in verse form, which still survives. The text is in Norman French as one might expect for a member of the nobility of the time. Ashbridge opened the programme by showing us this book and telling us a little about it. Of course, as he said, it's not all to be taken as literally true - it's primary purpose is to demonstrate what an illustrious ancestor the family had. I assume Ashbridge used other sources to corroborate the information in the programme, but he didn't say what those were.

William was born during the Anarchy, the civil war between the Empress Mathilda and Stephen de Blois. He was the second son of a minor noble and his father was on Mathilda's side - or at least, not on Stephen's. When William was 4 he was taken hostage by Stephen's forces and Stephen attempted to win a seige of William's father's stronghold by threatening to kill the child. William's father was not cowed by this threat, replying that he had the equipment to make more sons and leaving William to his fate. Clearly Stephen was bluffing, as William survived the encounter! You can't help but think it must've been pretty traumatic, tho - it included William being paraded back & forth in front of the castle whilst his life was threatened.

In his adolescence he went across the channel to France to a relative of his mother's to train as a knight. Ashbridge pointed out that during this time period the cross-channel connections for the nobility were still very strong and this would not be like going to a different country. Knights were a pretty new part of the culture and warfare of the time, and the stirrup was the new cutting edge technology of the day. It was a role that was really only available to the nobility, as you had to have an expensive horse. Ashbridge talked a bit about knights in general, and also showed some representations of them from this era. They were reminiscent of the Lewis Chessmen and of Norse berserker imagery - which isn't entirely a surprise given the origins of the Normans. I think I hadn't expected it to be quite noticeable in depictions of knights, because the mental image I have of "a knight" is from a later more courtly era.

The biography of William creates an image of a somewhat greedy and lazy teenager during these years (it's not entirely a hagiography)! But once he was knighted (perhaps on the eve of battle, I can't remember what Ashbridge said) he began to win a name for himself in tourneys. These are not the stylised and formal affairs of the later high medieval period, instead they are wide-ranging fairly brutal fights between groups of knights. The primary aim to was to capture some of the opposing side, who you could then ransom for a nice little cash bonus. William's biography tries to claim he was only interested in honour and victory, but it does also mention his accountant who kept track of the ransoms he was paid. So clearly William was also interested in the money to be made, and made sufficient to employ someone to look after it for him!

William entered the court of Henry the Young King via Henry's mother Eleanor of Acquitaine. (Henry the Young King was the eldest son of Henry II and Eleanor, and was crowned in his father's lifetime.) William was part of his master's entourage escorting Eleanor somewhere when they were ambushed. Most of the escort died but William and the other survivors managed to fight off the enemy forces for long enough for Eleanor to escape. He was captured, but once she was in safety she ransomed him and brought him to court. Once in the Young King's court he rises to prominence as the best knight at court.

The politics of the court is a perilous game for William to negotiate, particularly with his status as the best knight. His biography states that at one point he is exiled due to a whispering campaign about himself and the Young King's wife with hints that perhaps there was some degree of truth to it. This sounds very Lancelot & Guinevere, and may be a complete work of fantasy on the biographer's part - after all by the time the text was written all the protagonists were safely dead so no offence could be given by a bit of nudge-nudge-wink-wink-the-queen-fancied-him. This was one point in particular where I wish Ashbridge had brought in other sources and talked about how plausible this was in terms of historical fact. He did talk to another historian who made the point that the Arthur/Lancelot/Guinevere love triangle story reflects a very real anxiety of a Prince of that era. Court society at the time had a combination of a meritocracy of sorts (the knights) and a hereditary monarchy - the King or Prince was unlikely to be both the son of the right man and the best knight in his court. And if prowess at knighthood is the definition of the perfect man, then why wouldn't the King's wife be attracted to the best knight?

The next phase of William's life is in the Holy Land as a Crusader. This is just before the time of Saladin and Richard III. Obviously Richard III is not yet in the Holy Land - he is Henry the Young King's younger brother and didn't go on Crusade until around the time he became King after both Henry II and Henry the Young King's deaths. However Saladin is one of the key players at this stage. Not much is known about William's time as a Crusader, other than that it happened - however he seems to've done well at it, and increased his reputation.

William then returns to Henry the Young King's court, where he remains until the Young King's death in 1183. He then enters the service of the Young King's father, Henry II. Again he rises to prominence as the best knight at court. Henry II gives him an heiress to marry, and grants him lands - William is now a baron, a member of the landed aristocracy with a household and a retinue of knights of his own. Not bad for the second son of a minor noble. William remains a loyal servant of Henry II's until the very end - in the last rebellion of Richard I (Richard Coeur de Lion) against Henry II William fought on Henry's side. The biography says that at one point he was fighting one-to-one against Richard, and had the opportunity to kill him but at the last moment turned his lance aside and killed Richard's horse instead. When Henry II died during this rebellion (although not directly by violence) William remained loyal even after death - Henry's other servants fled, taking what they could, but William remained to see to Henry's proper burial.

It might've been thought that Richard I would exile or otherwise punish William as he had fought against Richard during the rebellion. However Richard saw William's actions as the honourable actions of a knight - he had remained loyal to his lord, and even after death did not dishonour his memory. And so William entered Richard's service, and was subsequently a member of King John's court when he in turn inherited the throne.

When John died in 1215 William was an old man in his mid-70s, and had pretty much retired from the life of the court. At the time of John's death the country was in a perilous state - civil war was raging and the French King's son had invaded (with the support of much of the English nobility) and ruled over half the country. Despite William's age it was to him that the new King, Henry III a boy of 9 years old, turned. When he flung himself on William's mercy William pledged to serve him despite the risks of failure because that was what his honour demanded. If William and the new King had failed to prevail in the civil war then William wasn't just risking death, he was also risking the ruin of his family and household. And even at the end of his life he lived up to his reputation - he rallied support to the new King, he turned around the civil war and drove out the French. He was Regent for Henry III until his death in 1219, and as I said at the beginning of this post his seal is on Henry III's first re-issuance of the Magna Carta.

This was a really interesting programme - I didn't know much about William the Marshal before, although I knew the name, so I learnt lot from it.

Deir el Medina

View across the Village at Deir el Medina

The ancient Egyptian village at Deir el Medina was the home of the people who worked on the tombs of the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. The families who lived there were relatively high status (for common people) as they were skilled craftsmen. They were also kept isolated from the general population because they knew where tombs were and the materials they worked with were also valuable. The village also had a high literacy level, and so a lot is known about their lives from the discarded ostraca (bits & pieces of pottery & limestone) that they used to write notes.

My photos from this site are up on flickr, as always, click here for the full set, and on any photo in the post for the larger version on flickr. Flickr have changed the way their embed links work in a way that breaks my layout for small photos so I've fewer (but larger) pictures in this post and have linked a few from the text to illustrate specific things.

Deir el Medina

Village Walls

We started our visit by the side of the village proper. It's actually pretty difficult to a get a feel for it from ground level - all that's visible are the remains of the walls and it just looks like a confusing maze. Striking in an abstract visual sense, but not very informative. I think the photos J took from the mountain the day before we visited (like this one) give more of a sense of the layout. We didn't spend much time looking at the village itself tho, which was a bit of a shame - but I'm not sure you're ever allowed to go wandering in among the walls.

Ptolemaic Era Temple at Deir el Medina

Walls Around the Temple

At the far end of the site from where we started is a temple. It's enclosed within a mudbrick wall, as are the remains of other smaller buildings. The temple is a Ptolemaic era replacement of the New Kingdom temple(s) on this site. The whole site was subsequently used as a Christian monastery, and so there's a lot of Coptic graffiti on the walls of the temple. Inside the decoration still has a lot of colour and some unusual scenes for a temple. In one of the chapels is a relief showing a weighing of the heart scene, familiar from Book of the Dead papyri and tombs but rare in temples. There are also two columns with representations of historical personages who were later deified. One of these is Imhotep, the architect of the Step Pyramid some two & a half thousand years before this temple was built. The other was Amenhotep, son of Hapu, who may've built an earlier temple on this site during the New Kingdom period.

Ptolemaic Era Temple at Deir el Medina

Weighing of the Heart Scene

After we'd looked around the temple we came out of its enclosure and went round to the north away from the village to look at the Great Pit. This was originally dug to be a well, during the 18th Dynasty (I think), but they never reached the water table. It's enormous - the Kent Weeks book gives the dimensions as 50m deep and 30m in diameter, which seems implausibly large for a well (in width). Even tho it's not clear why it was built like this, it is clear that once they failed to find water the only use for the pit was as a rubbish dump. From this were excavated large numbers of pottery shards and limestone fragments originally used for writing notes. These have provided archaeologists with a fascinating insight into the daily lives and concerns of this group of high status craftspeople. There's nothing to actually see here, except a chance to boggle at the size of the pit. I still found it fascinating.

The Great Pit at Deir el Medina

Great Pit

We finished our visit to Deir el Medina by looking at two tombs of craftsmen who had lived here. As one would expect these are decorated with high quality art - this was after all the village where the best artists lived. Two tombs are open to visitors, one belonging to Inerkha and one to Sennedjem. They were very small and the passages leading down into them were twisty and steep. The scene that particularly caught my eye in Inerkha's tomb was of a cat cutting off a snake's head with a knife. There was a scene like that in Sennedjem's tomb as well, but the striking one here was an image of Hathor in a sycamore tree where the tree's trunk ended in a giant foot!