Sneak Peek: The Middle Ages, a Graphic History (out now!)

Friends, my comic is officially OUT in the UK! (Americans and Aussie/Kiwi friends have to wait until September, I am very sorry.) To celebrate, or tide you over in case you are still waiting I thought I would give you my loves a peek inside, and give you a better idea of what happens when you put 1100 years of history into 176 pages, with pictures.

Obviously, the first thing to tackle was our own society’s preconceived ideas about the medieval period. Why don’t we get taught more about it in school? Why do we just assume that we can ignore an entire millenium?

"There's no point knowing much about it anyway. It was The Dark Ages after all - just a bunch of religious people rolling in the dirt. Unlike me, I am very smart."
"Here we go."

We have to confront our own biases about history in order to engage with it more completely. Once we accept that maybe we are not better than hundreds of years worth of people we can start looking at some of the big themes over the period.

One thing I was really keen to talk about, as you will have probably gleaned from my series on my favourite saints on here, was the conception of sainthood and how that occupied the religious imagination.

You could become a saint because of a massive contribution to medieval theology, for example. That’s how St Augustine made it in.

But you can also do something quite outrageous and fight off the sexy temptations of devils while making friends with a lion, like St Jerome here.

"Stop tempting me, you minx!"

One of my favourite saints (who I have not go to yet!) St Adalbert took the fast track, which was getting killed by some pagans for trying to convert them, essentially after yelling “come at me bro” at them repeatedly. Others gave up lavish lives, and some just made a big impact in their local communities.

"Come at me, pagans!"
"No dinner for me/ I'm going to pray."
"Who, me?"

I also got the chance to talk about important groups like the Thessolocratic powers. This can mean either the city states like Venice who had an outsized impact on mediterranean trade, or to groups of powerful sailors like the Vikings.

Obviously, the way that medieval people felt about vikings very much differed. If you were the sort of person they attacked, you were probably not a big fan! However, if you were using them for hired muscle, as happened for example in Constantinople you might feel more ambivalent.

Vikings are still massively impressive because of the technological feat of their boats. Viking ships can go across seas, or float down rivers, because they only need a few feet of water to remain stable, hence their ability to make lives difficult.

Of course me being me, I also engaged in a fair amount of peasant and city chat. One thing I was really excited to talk about was how those two things are interconnected. Because peasants, by definition, are engaged in farming it is hard to see what they had to do with the rise of cities in the High Medieval period, but it is the contributions of the countryside which allowed for cities to happen at all. Without innovation like the three field system, there simply would not have been enough food to support people who worked exclusively in trades such as making textiles.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I am really proud of this comic, and hope that you will enjoy it. If you want your own copy (and I hope you do!), my publishers have links to help you do that wherever you are in the world.

Author: Dr Eleanor Janega

Medieval historian, lush, George Michael evangelist.

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