Medieval Round Table

Winchester King Arthur's Round Table cake By Hannah Vanyai
Winchester King Arthur's Round Table Cake
by Hannah Vanyai

The Medieval Round Table is an informal discussion group open to interested students, academics and independent scholars. The Round Table meets monthly, usually on the first Monday of the month for presentations of papers, discussions of participants' work in progress, discussions of readings etc.


Professor Stephanie Trigg
School of Culture and Communication

Andrew Stephenson
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies

To be added to the mailing list please email Andrew Stephenson


6.15 pm except where noted otherwise.


Old Arts room 209 - Graduate Seminar Room 2

Programme for 2020

3 February

Christine Grundy

Migration and Violence in the Middle East:  The Medieval Climate Anomaly and the First Crusade

This paper examines the effects of a climatic warm period, known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) on the Middle East and Europe.  It discusses the extent to which we can detect an intersection in the natural and human forces in one of the most significant examples of violent invasion to occur in the eleventh century: the First Crusade.  As we will discover, both the scientific evidence and the historic record indicate that throughout the eleventh century up until about the 1080s there was recurring drought in the Middle East, after which rainfall increased.  In the meantime, the climate in what is now Eurasia, from Britain in the west to Constantinople in the east, was comparatively mild.  Famines were rare in Europe in contrast to the Middle East and continued to be so throughout the eleventh century.  Against this backdrop the Latin Christian nobility and the papacy considered an invasion of the Middle East at the request of the Byzantine Empire.  Although these requests were a matter of discussion and debate from 1074, it was not until 1096 that the invasion commenced.  This paper will consider the climate impacts which may have influenced the timing and the nature of these events.  By integrating the political motivations and the social impacts with the climate fluctuations we will examine how these factors interacted, showing that there is no simply uniform response; that the invasion of the Middle East succeeded more by good luck than good planning, and that the causal factors whilst enmeshed with the climate factors are not simple.

2 March

Constant Mews, John Crossley, Carol Williams - Monash University

6 April

John Weretka

Forma of Argumentation in the Medieval Liturgical Commentary

In his MIssarum sollemnia, Joseph Jungmann condemns the late medieval liturgical commentary.  He criticises Honorius Augustodunesis’ liturgical-exegetical work as ‘a bewildering wealth of variegated meanings, to which one could scarcely apply the title of explanation’, says that Sicard of Cremona ‘wanders along the same pathway, but adds to the confusions with a plethora of quotations’ and that ‘allegorical interpretation of the Mass ... went awry in the late medieval period.  Elements of different types of explanation were thrown together … In the last analysis, all that was needed was a little imagination to invent more arbitrary explanation for the various liturgical details which were already explained quite arbitrarily.’

Is it really the case that the late medieval liturgical commentary is nothing more than a way of concatenating piles of quotations and spurious and arbitrary allegorical reflections?  This paper will examine the medieval liturgical commentary as a pre-Scholastic form of rational argumentation on and ‘scientific’ investigation into the liturgical commentary, with a particular focus on commentary written after Charlemagne’s attempt to regularise liturgy and the way to understand it throughout the Empire.

4 May

Making Sense of the European Marriage Pattern: The WEIRD Science Controversy

Michael Warby

Ever since John Hajnal’s seminal 1965 article “European Marriage Patterns in Perspective”, scholars from a range of disciplines have sought to understand where the European marriage pattern (EMP) came from and what its implications have been.  Peter Laslett identified four key features of the EMP: married couple families, relatively late age of female marriage, minor age differences between spouses and the presence of servants who were recognised members of household but not family members.  There was also a high rate of unmarried adults.

Anthropologist Sir Jack Goody argued that EMP was result of the Catholic Church adopting a strategy of heirship to break up ancestor worship and encourage transfer of property to the Church.  His writings have directed the attention of economists and other social scientists to the distinctiveness of European family structures.

Medievalist Michael Mitterauer, while continuing the rejection by medievalists of Goody’s thesis concerning Churchly property acquisition, has recently argued that the combination of Christianity and manorialism were crucial in the development of EMP.

In November 2019, Jonathan F. Schulz, Duman Bahrami-Rad, Jonathan P. Beauchamp, and Joseph Henrich (two economists and two evolutionary biologists) published an article in Science (366, 707), “The Church, Intensive Kinship, and Global Psychological Variation,” arguing that the (Latin) Church’s transformation of kinship structures has a large explanatory role in explaining the distinctive psychology of members of Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democracies (WEIRD) societies.  In the words of the authors: “People from these societies tend to be more individualistic, independent, and impersonally prosocial (e.g., trusting of strangers) while revealing less conformity and in-group loyalty.”

This WEIRD Science article has received considerable online push back from medievalists in social and other media.  This paper seeks to thread an explanatory path through the evidence about the origins of the European Marriage Pattern while assessing the criticisms against Schultz et al.

Michael “Lorenzo” Warby is a director of Multisensory Education.

4-5 June

Medieval Round Table Silver Anniversary Conference

Details to come.

6 July

3 August

7 September

5 October

9 November

7 December

Previous Papers