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IMC 2023: Sessions

Session 124: Networks, Materialities, and Intertextualities in Gildas

Monday 3 July 2023, 11.15-12.45

Sponsor:Ceræ: An Australasian Journal of Medieval & Early Modern Studies
Moderator/Chair:Gwendolyne Knight, Historiska institutionen, Stockholms Universitet
Paper 124-a'Non Britannia sed Romania': Rediscovering Roman and Post-Roman Britain in the Early Middle Ages
(Language: English)
Katrina Knight, Department of History, Emory University, Atlanta
Index terms: Historiography - Medieval, Language and Literature - Latin, Social History
Paper 124-bThe Courtenay Compendium: A New Witness of Gildas' De excidio Britanniae
(Language: English)
Luca Larpi, School of Arts, Languages & Cultures, University of Manchester
Index terms: Language and Literature - Latin, Manuscripts and Palaeography
Paper 124-c'Pardo similis moribus et nequitiis discolor': Leopards, Morality, and Tattoos in Gildas' De Excidio Brittaniae
(Language: English)
Erica Steiner, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences (Celtic Studies), University of Sydney
Index terms: Art History - Decorative Arts, Language and Literature - Latin

Paper -a:
This paper looks at the development of Roman and post-Roman Britain in Gildas' 6th-century text De Excidio Britanniae. It argues that although Britain continued to grapple with the Roman colonial failure and its aftermath, Gildas nevertheless strongly indicates the beginnings of a coherent British culture which had no expectation of imminent conquest, contrary to the traditional view of Britain created by Bede and other early English writers. As colonial narrators, English writers had a vested interest in recontextualising the conquered British as weak and failed. Without the English filter, however, Gildas's Britain, while beleaguered, becomes a story of post-colonial success rather than post-colonial failure.

Paper -b:
The previously unkown Coutneay Compendium (late 14th century) was sold by Sotheby's in 2008 and it is currently held by the Royal Danish Library. Mostly famous for containing the only substantial Marco Polo's account to come to the market in almost a century, it also has other important historical texts. In particular, this is one of the only two surviving manuscripts that preserve the full text of Gildas Sapiens' De excidio Britanniae (the other, Cotton Vitellius A VI, is now badly damaged). This paper investigates the relation between the Courtney Compendium and the rest of the manuscript tradition of the De excidio, with the aim of determining its place in the stemma codicum and assessing its importance as a new witness of Gildas' work.

Paper -c:
Throughout the ancient world - in Europe as well as further afield globally - tattooing was practiced by many different societies for reasons that can broadly be reduced to: either being a cultural mark of high status, or being a penal mark of punishment/servitude. But by the beginning of the early medieval period in Europe, the near East and northern Africa, tattooing was fast becoming a fringe practice rather than a ubiquitous one. Some regional bastions of high-status tattooing remained within these areas for a few more centuries at best, especially as (contrary to popular understanding) tattooing was reinvented in some areas as an acceptable (though not entirely encouraged) Christian devotional practice. Meanwhile, tattooing was becoming less and less of an acceptable penal practice, and - ironically - this was mostly also prompted by different interpretations and applications of Christian thought.

The British Isles of the early medieval period were one such region where tattooing persisted for longer than elsewhere, and this can be seen in a wide range of literary evidence relating to, as well as composed in, the early medieval period (as well as a limited amount of material evidence). However, one of the few sources known to have been composed in early medieval Britain, the De Excidio Brittaniae, has never previously been recognised as containing evidence for tattooing. This paper will seek to identify a number of passages within this text as describing the contemporary practice of tattooing – some of which are straightforward, and some, like the description Gildas gives of Vortipor in the title, are more convoluted and potentially point to an anti-tattooing thematic undercurrent within the DEB.