Knights Templar worshipped the Turin Shroud

Turin shroudA Vatican researcher has uncovered evidence that the order, which was brutally suppressed in 1305 by King Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V, guarded and venerated the Shroud.

In an article published by the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, a historian, Barbara Frale, said she had uncovered “missing clues” to both the mysterious fate of the Templars and the Shroud.

Vatican documents included an account of a Templar initiation rite in 1287 of a young Frenchman, Arnaut Sabbatier.

“(I was) shown a long piece of linen on which was impressed the figure of a man and told to worship it, kissing the feet three times,” said the document.

The shroud, a long piece of cloth bearing the image of a man’s face and body, is kept in Turin is dated from at least 1357 when it was first displayed by the widow of a French knight.

A similar relic is known to have been worshipped in Byzantium, now Istanbul and to have disappeared from there during the sack of the city by Crusaders, including Knights Templar, in 1204.

The Templar order, whose full name was “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”, were founded in 1119 by knights sworn to protecting Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099.

The order amassed enormous wealth and helped finance wars of medieval European monarchs, over 700 years later legends of their hidden treasures, secret rituals and power have fascinated millions and dominated the bestseller lists with books such as “The Da Vinci Code”.

Rumours about the secret initiation ceremonies of the Templar order and the allegation of idolatry, specifically the worship of images of bearded men, were crucial in 1307 when hundreds of knights were arrested, tortured into giving false confessions, and then burned at the stake.

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Fake Viking swords revealed

viking-sword-ulfberht-inscription-leiden1It must have been an appalling moment when a Viking realised he had paid two cows for a fake designer sword; a clash of blade on blade in battle would have led to his sword, still sharp enough to slice through bone, shattering like glass.

“You really didn’t want to have that happen,” said Dr Alan Williams, an archaeometallurgist and consultant to the Wallace Collection, the London museum which has one of the best assemblies of ancient weapons in the world. He and Tony Fry, a senior researcher at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, south-west London, have solved a riddle that the Viking swordsmiths may have sensed but didn’t quite understand.

Some Viking swords were among the best ever made, still fearsome weapons after a millennium. The legendary swords found at Viking sites across northern Europe bear the maker’s name, Ulfberht, in raised letters at the hilt end. Puzzlingly, so do the worst ones, found in fragments on battle sites or in graves.

The Vikings would have found it impossible to tell the difference when they bought a newly forged sword: both would have looked identical, and had razor sharp blades. The difference would have only emerged in use, often fatally.

Williams began to test the Ulfberht blades when a private collector brought one into the Wallace, and found they varied wildly. The tests at the NPL have proved that the inferior swords were forged in northern Europe from locally worked iron. But the genuine ones were made from ingots of crucible steel, which the Vikings brought back from furnaces thousands of miles away in modern Afghanistan and Iran. The tests at Teddington proved the genuine Ulfberht swords had a phenomenally high carbon content, three times that of the fakes, and half again that of modern carbon steel.

The contemporary fake Ulfberhts used the best northern metal working techniques, which hardened the metal by quenching – plunging the red-hot blade into cold water. It enabled them to give the blade a keen edge, but made it fatally brittle.

In the 11th century the Russians blocked the trade route, and the supply of crucible steel ended. Evidence is emerging that the swords from burials are the fakes, or the work of less prestigious makers. The genuine Ulfberhts have mostly been found in rivers. “I don’t think these were ritual offerings,” Williams said. “They are mostly from rivers near settlement sites, and I think what you have almost certainly is some poor chap staggering home drunk, falling into the river and losing his sword. An expensive mistake.”

Their work has also proved that many of the Ulfberht swords in some of the most famous weapons collections in the world are fakes. The Wallace’s is the real McCoy, but the one brought in by the private collector which started the hunt turned out to be fake.

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VIKINGS were keen to make an impression

The Vikings are traditionally known for leaving destruction in their wake as they traveled around Europe raping, pillaging and plundering.

But Cambridge University has launched a campaign to recast them as “new men” with an interest in grooming, fashion and poetry.

Academics claim that the old stereotype is damaging, and want teenagers to be more appreciative of the Vikings’ social and cultural impact on Britain.

They say that the Norse explorers, far from being obsessed with fighting and drinking, were a largely-peaceful race who were even criticised for being too hygienic.

The university’s department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic has published a guide revealing how much of the Vikings’ history has been misrepresented.

They did not, in fact, wear horned or winged helmets. And they appear to have been a vain race who were concerned about their appearance.

“It seems that the Vikings may not have been as hairy and dirty as is commonly imagined,” the guide says.

“A medieval chronicler, John of Wallingford, talking about the eleventh century, complained that the Danes were too clean – they combed their hair every day, washed every Saturday, and changed their clothes regularly.”

The guide reveals that Norsemen were also stylish trend-setters: “Contemporaries who met individual Vikings were struck by the extreme bagginess of their trousers.

“A tenth-century Persian explorer described trousers (of Vikings in Russia) that were made of one hundred cubits of material, and a number of runestones depict warriors with flared breeches.”

The traditional view of the Vikings as “illiterate warring thugs” exaggerates considerably the reality of their life, the academics argue.

“Although Norse men and women may have sometimes liked fighting and drinking, and were sometimes buried with weapons, they also spent much of their time in peaceful activities such as farming, building, writing and illustrating.”

The guide points out that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a contemporary list of notable events beginning in the ninth century and running through to the twelfth, records some battles, but not for every year.

“Life can’t have been as violent as we sometimes like to imagine,” it adds.

Dr Elizabeth Rowe, a Viking expert and lecturer in Scandinavian mediaeval history at the university, said it was important that children should not picture the Norse warriors as an aggressive race, preoccupied with raping and looting.

“Many British children are quite likely to have Viking ancestry and we want to make them think about the reality of their past,” she said.

“It’s damaging to think that they were simply a violent society, and easy to undermine them as a people who have no redeeming qualities.

“The truth is that their culture was very artistic and they were keen to make an impression because they want to cultivate a certain look. They were very concerned about their appearance.”

The first burial ground of Viking origin in Britain was located only four years ago. Discoveries at the site have challenged the romanticised picture of a noble savage race, perpetuated most famously in Wagner’s operas and Hollywood films.

Archaeologists in Cumbria unearthed the remains of Viking men and women buried with copper brooches, jewellery, and riding gear as well as swords and spears.

Dr Francis Pryor, an archaeologist and regular on the Channel Four series Time Team, said the discovery had shown the Norse warriors to be part of an advanced society.

He said: “Far from the illiterate warring thugs in horned helmets who brought us to new depths of barbarism after landing by boat to sack monasteries and molest women, they were a settled and remarkably civilised people who integrated into community life and joined the property-owning classes.”

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The Celts

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Celts were a people who inhabited western and central Europe during the pre-Roman Iron Age (first millennium BC). Nineteenth-century European archaeologists divided Celtic cultural material into two periods: Hallstatt (800-500 BC) and La Tene (480-15 BC). This division was named for two sites containing objects that display distinctive decorative motifs identified with Celtic artisans. It is also based on the replacement of bronze by iron as the predominant metal for weapons and other tools.

Evidence of Celtic culture has been found from the British Isles to western Romania and from the Northern European Plain, south to the Po Valley in northern Italy and into Spain. Investigations of Celtic life ways and language, as well as their origin and demise, have been undertaken by historians, geographers, archaeologists, and linguists since as early as 500 BC. Debate exists as to whether “Celtic” is even a valid referent, as there is no evidence to suggest that populations that have been identified as Celtic considered themselves members of a coherent group.

Classical sources referred to the occupants of southern France as Gauls; they, along with the Galatae (Galatians) who invaded Macedonia and Greece, are presumed to be Celts. Julius Caesar recognized similarities between Celts of the British Isles and Gauls, though other sources, including Pytheas of Massalia who sailed the Celtic Atlantic in the second half of the fourth century BC, failed to make an association between the two groups. Material culture between the insular Celts of Britain and Continental Celts shows a distinct connection, however, with insular Celtic craft producers rapidly adopting Continental styles and then adapting them to their own tastes.

There is a consensus among scholars that the origins of Celtic culture may be found within the Urnfield cultural tradition (also known as the Hallstatt Bronze Age), as early as 1300 BC. Changes observable both in material culture and settlement distribution took place during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries BC at the time of the collapse of the Hittite Empire and the end of the Mycenaean civilization. Movements of large numbers of people along established trade routes are associated with this period, and they may account for the arrival of new skills and ideas, along with archaeologically observable increases in population density, evident from artifacts found in villages that were established at that time.

While proto-Celtic Urnfield populations exhibited a variety of local traditions, subsequent Hallstatt and later La Tene material culture became increasingly homogeneous. Artifacts provide evidence for broadly defined regional traditions such as those seen in Champagne, the West Hallstatt chiefdoms of Baden-Wurttemberg, the middle Rhineland, the salt mining districts of Hallstatt and Hallein-Durrnberg, and northern Italy, to name a few.

Across western and south-central Europe, burials contained weapon sets adorned with similar patterns, and wealth objects indicate gift exchange relationships with Mediterranean civilizations. At about 500 BC a transformation of stylistic elements used to decorate metal and ceramic objects swept across south-central and western Europe. This increasingly uniform cultural material is associated with the beginning of the Late Iron Age and has been identified with “Celtic art.”

HISTORICAL DEPICTIONS

The earliest written reference to Celts is from about 500 BC, when Keltoi are introduced in the work of Hecataeus of Miletus, a geographer writing in Greek. In one of his few surviving passages, he indicated that the people living beyond the land of the Ligurians, in whose territory the port colony of Massalia (present-day Marseille) had been established, were Celts. Fifth-century sources such as Hecataeus and Herodotus did not provide ethnographic information about the Celts, though their work makes it apparent that Celts were known to inhabit the periphery of the Greek world. Sources from the fourth century BC, including Ephorus, Plato, Aristotle, Theopompus, and Ptolemy, characterize Celts in ways that accentuated their fighting and drinking prowess.

These descriptions of warrior Celts eager for combat were written during a period of displacement and social upheaval that coincided with Celtic migrations. Rome was sacked by Gauls around 390 BC, and around 279 BC. Delphi became the target of Galatian invaders who looted the sanctuary. These attacks immortalized Celts as barbarian aggressors in the psyche of Roman and Greek citizens. At various times throughout the fourth and third centuries BC Celts served as mercenaries in Carthaginian, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman armies.

Early historic depictions of Celtic culture indicate that theirs was an oral tradition, carefully managed by priests (druids), bards, and poets. Linguistic studies of Celtic languages began in the eighteenth century AD and concentrated on surviving insular Celtic (spoken Celtic languages of the British Isles and Brittany). Celtic languages on the Continent disappeared in antiquity and are only known from inscriptions. Celts were mostly preliterate and adopted Greek and Latin alphabets for writing, beginning in the Late Iron Age. Third- and second century BC inscriptions on pottery and coinage bear Celtic names using Greek and Latin letters. Exceptions to this adapted use of a foreign language for writing exist in several places, however: in Spain, in the form of Celtiberic; in southern France, where the language is Gaulish; and across northwestern Italy, where Lepontic inscriptions predate Roman influence. Modern linguists speculate that these were languages of Celtic origin that continued to be used as a means of resisting cultural assimilation.

ECONOMY AND SOCIAL ORGANIZATION

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Celtic economy was based primarily on agriculture and maintenance of domesticated stock, though raiding and trading also figured prominently. Wheat and other cereal grains were subsistence staples and were supplemented with legumes, fruits, and berries, both wild and cultivated. Cows, pigs, sheep, and goats constitute the bulk of animal remains at Celtic settlement sites both large and small, but the predominant species vary within different regions. Horses and dogs appear to have had a special place among the Celts and are frequently found in burials with and without human occupants, although occasionally it appears that dogs were butchered for consumption.

Celtic social organization was largely defined by a division of labor between agriculturalists and warrior elite, although the general population also included specialized craft producers and professionals within the priestly tradition. Some types of specialization are difficult to identify because of the Celtic belief in the ubiquitous nature of magic, which was thought to be present in all kinds of substances, including iron and coral, but could also be invoked by spells, oaths, and incantations. Skills such as the ability to heal were shared by a number of otherwise seemingly unrelated specialists. For example, metalsmiths were presumed to have curative powers, as were druids. Similarly, druids, bards (Lat. vatis), and poets were all shamans of a sort, though their skills and abilities were assumed to have differed. Often this was expressed as a difference in degree rather than in kind.

A warrior was a type of full-time specialist in the service of a paramount chief. Burials of the warrior aristocracy provide evidence for wealth and the long distance movement of prestige goods. Not least among the remarkable aspects of princely burials (Fürstengräber) of the Hallstatt Iron Age is the scale of labor that was mobilized for the construction and furnishing of the graves. In the latter part of the La Tene Iron Age, this practice was replaced by the monumental construction of defensive fortifications surrounding proto-urban settlements called oppida.

CELTIC SETTLEMENTS

Iron Age settlement patterns across Celtic Europe vary but reveal several prominent trends. Settlements during the earlier Hallstatt period included enclosed hillforts such as Mont Lassois, the Heuneburg, Ipf, and Hohenasperg in the west, and Zavist in Bohemia. Alternatively, ditched and palisaded farmsteads (Herrenhöfe) were the dominant Hallstatt form along the Danube in Bavaria and in other locations removed from hillforts. Individual houses on the Continent were square, whereas in Britain they were round. Following the general collapse of the so-called princely seats (Fürstensitze) by 450 BC, centralized settlement disbursed, and most of the elevated hillforts were abandoned. Throughout the beginning of the La Tene period, valley and river terraces provided the location for small villages. Several hundred years elapsed before populations once again aggregated to establish the prominently located and fortified centers that Caesar identified as oppida. Like earlier hillfort settlements, oppida were ideally situated for defense, trade, and industry.

Production of iron implements-weapons, farm tools, construction tools, and medical instruments- transformed many aspects of society, especially warfare and agricultural practices. Unlike the components of the alloy bronze, iron is plentiful across Europe. Production of iron tools intensified from the Hallstatt to the La Tene, and development of the plowshare and coulter contributed to the movement of farms and villages from the uplands, where light loess sediments had been tilled for millennia, to the heavier but more productive soils of valley bottoms. Enhanced yields provided surpluses that were bartered for items made by the increasingly specialized craft producers. Production and market centers that attracted artisans, traders, and farmers were similar to later emporia. Some even included merchant’s stalls, storage facilities, and meeting places, along with residences.

Contact with Mediterranean traders waxed and waned during the centuries of Celtic European domination. The apparent replacement of gift exchange, involving prestige items and luxury goods, by importation of bulk commodities and high quality goods that were more widely distributed among the population, attests to the strength of a trade infrastructure. Increases in minting and transfer of coinage were promoted by returning mercenaries who had been exposed to civilizations around the Mediterranean, where coins were circulated in true market economies.

ROMANIZATION AND RESISTANCE

Roman conquest of the Celts began in Gaul in the early second century BC with the founding of Aquilea in 181 BC, followed by the annexation of the rest of Gallia Cisalpina (Cisalpine Gaul). The establishment of the province Gallia Narbonensis (Narbonne) in southern France in 118 BC was part of the expanding acquisition of territory westward to Spain. Over the next one hundred years Roman provincial governors (proconsuls), including Gaius Marius and Julius Caesar, engaged in a series of battles and skirmishes aimed at gaining and holding territories as far north as present day Holland and east to the Rhine. Further conquest acquired Germany south of the Danube in 15 BC and southern Britain in AD 43. Continental Celts who had survived the battles for territorial dominion were largely assimilated into the Roman Empire over the next three hundred years as their culture was completely reorganized by Roman occupation. The Roman strategy that utilized preexisting social hierarchies and invested authority in cooperative local leaders served to absorb influential Celts into the new economy and system of government.

Archaeological evidence indicates that resistance to Romanization was present among Celts living on the margins of the empire, or even within it, in areas under weak Roman control. These included remote areas such as the East Anglian fenlands and wetland environments where dwellings on crannogs (artificial islands) made Roman administration nearly impossible. Such enclaves preserved traditional Celtic lifeways into the era of Christianization (in the sixth and seventh centuries AD) and beyond.

A late form of Celtic writing found mostly on funerary monuments, the so-called Ogham script, was used in the post-Roman fifth to ninth centuries AD. Stelae bearing this type of inscription have been found in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, and in Cornwall. The insular Celts who remained outside the Roman Empire retained their languages, oral histories, and artistic styles into the medieval period. This facilitated a migration of Celtic cultural attributes from Ireland and Britain back to areas under Roman and later Germanic influence, including areas where Celtic cultural practices had nearly been extinguished. The Brythonic linguistic survival on the Breton peninsula resulted from a migration in the fifth century AD of Celtic speakers from Cornwall to the Continent.

Throughout the spread of Christianity, the monastic tradition preserved Celtic linguistic and artistic expression and disseminated Celtic influenced early Christian ideology across southern Britain and, on the Continent, into northern Italy. Surviving Celtic languages, including Scottish Gaelic and Irish in the Goidelic group, and Welsh and Breton in the Brythonic group, are all descended from insular Celtic culture.

B I B L I O G R A P H Y

Audouze, Francoise, and Olivier Buchsenschutz. Towns, Villages, and Countryside of Celtic Europe: From the Beginning of the Second Millennium to the End of the First Century B.C. 1992.

Collis, John. The European Iron Age, 1984.

Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts, 1997.

Green, Miranda J., ed. The Celtic World, 1995.

Moscati, Sabatino, et al., eds. The Celts, 1991.