Category Archives: Antiquity

Al the Britons doe dye themselues wyth woade: experimenting with woad and its history

Jodi Reeves Eyre, PhD, RPA

Image Credit: By Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Image Credit: By Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
We are, apparently, living during a ‘post-truth’ time when alternative facts have just as much impact on some people’s decisions and beliefs as, well, fact facts. The concept of the “alternative fact,” which refers to promoting emotional or biased assertions over facts, has historic precedent. Julius Caesar, when documenting his campaigns in Gaul, noted that:

Al the Britons doe dye themselues wyth woade, which setteth a blewish color vppon them: and it maketh the more terryble to beholde in battell.[1]

Surely if woad were so widely available, there would be decent archaeological evidence for its application. There is one early find at the Iron Age site of Dragonby. The site revealed woad remains, in the form of seeds and pods, as part of a waterlogged assemblage from a late Iron Age pit. The exact purpose of the pit has not been identified.[2] The seeds and pods can be considered circumstantial evidence when it comes to claiming that the plant was introduced for its dye because the material needed for dyeing, the leaves, may not survive nearly as well. The difficulty of finding woad leaves archaeologically means that we can only rely on the indirect evidence of the plant as a possible dye from Dragonby.

As a conqueror displaying his military strength and emphasizing the legitimacy of his triumph, Caesar may have called on Romans’ traditional concepts of fierce barbarians. Blue had negative connotations within Greco-Roman culture, being associated with ghosts, death, and, perhaps worst of all, barbarians.[3] By including such a charged description of ‘blue’ Britons, Caesar set down more than an ethnographic account. He used existing preconceptions for his political advantage. It is doubtful, however, that Caesar conceptualized the lasting legacy his charged description would have on social memory and identity. Even today, it is common to see depictions of ancient Britons painted blue, despite limited botanical-archaeological evidence and possible evidence to the contrary. The image of bluely decorated warriors can be found everywhere from the early 20th century, one example being the National Anthem of the Ancient Britons and another the anachronic depiction in the movie, BraveHeart.[4]

But, why?

Because it’s tradition, apparently. The 1565 translation of Caesar’s De Bello Gallico, above, translates the word vitrum as woade (woad, Isatis tinctoria). This translation, by Arthur Goulding, is the earliest I’ve identified. Gillian Carr and several others give other possible translations as being “dye themselves with glazes” or “infect themselves with glass.”[5] So why is vitrum so often translated as woad in this context?

Woad was an important crop for some English abbeys during the medieval period, and a key crop in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[6] What better way to form a defense against an encroaching foreign material than to highlight the cultural importance of its proud, “indigenous” counterpart?

Enter vitrum as woad. Caesar may not have a historical monopoly on shaping a narrative to support a cause. In fact, he may not even have a monopoly on shaping his own narrative to support a cause. Still, just as there is limited evidence regarding the use of woad in ancient Britain, there is limited evidence supporting the reasons behind the historical trend in translating vitrum as woad.

Despite the potential mistranslations and lack of archaeological, textual, and iconographic evidence, people are still interested in the question, “does it work?” Without a recipe or replicable evidence, experimentation depends primarily on how other pigments are made ethnographically or in the past under other conditions and contexts. We know woad is a dye, and we know that it can color the skin and that it can be added to a binder to make a pigment. Some experiments reveal that woad, when compared to our perceptions of its color and use, is a poor choice for corporal decoration in terms of dyeing, tattooing, or staining the body. Want to replicate the results of these studies or develop your own? Carr describes her experiments in her article, and a link to my initial methodology and experimental recipes can be found in the footnotes below. Find out for yourself whether it works by using woad and other pigments and dyes to paint or dye your skin blue.[7]

Sharing research and experimental results is one remedy to the promotion of potentially alternative facts (such as blue Britons) through critical engagement of evidence. The lack of recipes or physical remains is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to encourage the exploration of other materials, methods. The confusing, and possibly sordid, history of woad in Britain also provides an opportunity to explore not only the history of translations of Caesar’s works and how identity and social memory reflect our relationship with plants, but it is also an interesting context in which to explore the use (or misuse) of woad.

[1] Caesar, Julius. The Eyght Bookes of Caius Iulius Cæsar Conteyning His Martiall Exploytes in the Realme of Gallia and the Countries Bordering Vppon the Same Translated Oute of Latin into English by Arthur Goldinge G. (London: Willyam Seres, 1565), http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A17521.0001.001?view=toc, Book V.

[2] Veen, M. Van Der, Hall, A.R. and May, J.  ‘Woad and the Britons painted blue,’ Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 12 (1993), 367-71.

[3] Pastoureau, Michel. Blue: The History of a Color (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

[4] Gibson, Mel. Braveheart (Warner Bros., 1995).

[5] Lewis, Charlton T.  and Charles Short. “Vī^trum,” A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper; Carr, Gillian. “Woad, Tattooing and Identity in Later Iron Age and Early Roman Britain,” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 24, no. 3 ( 2005): 273–92, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0092.2005.00236.x).

[6] Carr, “Woad, Tattooing and Identity”; Pyatt,F.B., et al. “Non Isatis Sed Vitrum Or, the Colour of Lindow Man,” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 10, no. 1 (1991): 61–73, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0092.1991.tb00006.x; Thirsk, Joan. “The Agricultural Landscape: Fads and Fashions,” in 1. S. R. J. Woodell, ed., The English Landscape: Past, Present, and Future, Wolfson College Lectures 1983. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

[7]  Carr. “Woad, Tattooing and Identity”; Fish, Pat. Woad and it’s mis-association with Pictish BodyArt, available at: https://www.hippy.com/albion/woad.htm; Reeves Flores, Jodi. Woad is me: Woad as a corporal decoration in Iron Age Britain, (master’s thesis, University of Exeter, 2008), 31-53.

*****

Jodi Reeves Eyre has a PhD in Archaeology from the University of Exeter and served as a CLIR/DLF Fellow on Data Curation in the Sciences and Social Sciences at Arizona State University (2013-2015). She is a member of the Secretariat for the group EXARC, an ICOM affiliated organisation representing archaeological open-air museums, experimental archaeology, ancient technology, and interpretation. Jodi is also a co-founder of Eyre & Israel, LLC, which provides research, editing, and digital curation consulting. Her work promotes the preservation of cultural heritage and explores perceptions about the past and social memory. She has conducted ethnographic research among other archaeologists, woven on models of ancient Greek looms, and painted people blue.

Twitter: @thejodireeves

Theodorus Priscianus’ recipes for breast engorgement

By Louise Cilliers

We know very little about Theodorus Priscianus, only that he was a student of the famous Carthaginian physician, Vindicianus (late 4th century CE), and was thus also a native of North Africa. We can also deduce that he was a professional doctor. The work for which Theodorus is known, is the Euporiston (a book of easily obtainable remedies), which consists of four books of medical recipes, of which the fourth, the Gynaecia, contains treatments for women’s diseases. Due to its practical applicability, the Gynaecia was very popular in the later Middle Ages; it was excerpted on numerous occasions.

A carving showing a Roman midwife, Wellcome Collection. Credit: Wellcome Library.

The Gynaecia is dedicated to a midwife, a certain Victoria. In his preface, Theodorus states that he wants to “support her with his knowledge”, and he requests her to “faithfully, diligently and carefully… carry into effect the remedies for female ailments” as set out in his treatise. This knowledge was then to be disseminated among midwives and other women to help them in treating ailing women.

Theodorus’ Gynaecia comprises recipes for ten female ailments which he discusses. They are: engorgement of the breasts after parturition, swelling or contraction of the uterus, the mole, atresia, sterility, abortion, haemorrhage of the uterus, injuries to the uterus, the flux, and gonorrhoea. I will focus on engorgement of the breasts after parturition.

This is a very common problem that women experience after having given birth, and various procedures, such as poultices laid on the breasts, were followed in ancient times. Medicaments, made from vegetables and herbs used in the kitchen, were also given. Theodorus clearly has empathy with women whose breasts are taut, swollen or painful after birth. In not too serious cases, he recommends that a soft sponge soaked in a mild astringent, such as vinegar, be applied to the breast, and held in place by a light bandage. Alternatively soothing poultices, for instance, bread soaked in water-mead and oil or fresh pork fat can be laid on the breasts.

If the problem of engorgement has been resolved but the mother still wants to feed the baby, the breasts should be smeared with rush, egg and saffron, or crushed raisins mixed with the flour of beans, or pounded sesame seed mixed with vinegar and honey, or a mixture of pounded leaves of ivy and figs, or (even more directly from the kitchen) fresh pounded cheese with vinegar-honey – if these substances be made into a poultice, they would apparently have increased the fecundity of the milk.

If the patient cannot bear the weight of the poultice, the breasts must be steamed, and an even softer sponge soaked in an extract of marsh mallow, linseed and fenugreek plants be applied.

Purslane, one of the plants used in ancient breast poultices. Credit: Wellcome Library,

But if milk production should be stopped completely, alum or the seed of fleawort or coriander of purslane must be added to the aforementioned poultice, or the powder of a pounded millstone mixed with a wax salve should be applied. But if the breast has produced pus, it must be opened with appropriate aid, so that with one voiding they can be healed completely.

Throughout Theodorus warns that medicaments should be mild, and that all poultices should be applied with moderation, with consideration for the tender breasts.

Further reading:
You can find the text of Theodorus Priscianus’ Euporiston (in Latin) here.

What is a Recipe? Week 3

Welcome, welcome, welcome. Please pull up your chair and make yourself comfortable. We have a wonderful week ahead, with something going on every day.

We’ve had some great conversations already.  On Day 1, we wondered what is a recipe, considered their sensory and experiential nature, and appreciated their wildness.  On Day 2, stories emerged as the theme du jour: from favourite recipes and family history, to big stories, to reading and literacy…

Snowdrift Secrets, early 20th century. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

And this week, we dare you to take a crack at writing your own recipe story, with the ‘Cooking with Anger’ Netprov event on all month. Emotions as story ingredients, anyone? Perhaps in the ‘Henri’s Kitchen’ series, which is back on Tuesday with time-travelling cookery and a lively master-servant relationship in the kitchen. And in a podcast that considers cosmetic recipes in Ovid’s poetry (Thursday), Marguerite Johnson further blurs the boundaries between literature and recipes.

Experiments are another theme. Siobhan Clarke’s 1791 potato growing experiment continues both days on Twitter and Instagram and Sietske Fransen tweets on Tuesday about her trawl through the Royal Society archives. Also on Twitter (Tuesday), Emily Thompson takes a look at some seventeenth-century instructions for growing saffron.

Edison phonograph with a carbon microphone, 1878. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Taking a turn away from written stories and recipes, we’ll also be considering the oral functions of recipes. Peter Jones (on this blog, Tuesday) examines the oral and written transmission of medieval recipes used by medieval friars interested in alchemy. Véronique Ginouvès of the MMSH will consider (in an English and French blog post on Thursday) the uses of collected oral recipes within the context of a sound archive.

There are many other recipe treats on — such as Louise Cilliers’ blog post (here) on ancient recipes for breast engorgement, Simon Walker’s YouTube video and Twitter chat on a First World War recipe from the trenches, and my own reflections (Twitter and blog post) on teaching early modern recipes.

Once again, we have several institutions joining us to tweet, insta, facebook, and blog about their collections: Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives (Monday); Folger Shakespeare Library (Tuesday); Wangensteen Historical Library (Wednesday); and Provincial Archives of Alberta and Royal College of Physicians, London (Friday).

It’s going to be a recipe-packed week for us, and we look forward to more recipe chat with you.


PROJECT DETAILS

‘Cooking with Anger Netprov’, Mark Marino and Rob Wit

This week-long event is modelled on TV cooking competitions. Cooking with Anger is a netprov where storyteller chefs improvise a tale and a recipe from a given basket of ingredients. Many have written about cooking with love; now it’s time for all the other emotions.

  1. Get a basket from the Protag-o-Matic ingredients machine. Copy and paste your basket at the top of your tale.
  2. Create a small dish of a stirring story — 300 words or less — using ALL the ingredients from your basket. Use people places and things as narrative; use food items for a recipe folded into the fiction. Season the tale with the emotional spice packet.
  3. We encourage you also to post a video in which you either tell the story, tell about the story, or tell how you made the story.

    Eyes expressing extreme emotion, from coldness to rage, c. 1794. After: Johann Caspar Lavater and Thomas Holloway.
    Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Website:          Cooking with Anger
Twitter:            @markcmarino and @Netprov_RobWit

Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives

Will be sharing recipe-related material from their collections on Twitter.
Twitter:                 @CUSpecialColls

“Spuddenly Farming: A reconstruction of Rev. Mr. Cochran’s Potato experiment, 1791”, Siobhan Carlson

Following the American Revolution, the British crown gave Loyalists land to farm throughout the Canadian Maritimes. This migration gave rise to the emergence of an English print culture in the region that included agricultural recipes. Amongst these entries, on the 24th of March, 1792, the Royal Gazette and Miscellany of the Island of Saint John, printed the experiment entitled, “To determine whether it is best to plant large or small Cuttings of Potatoes; in a Letter from the Rev. Mr. Cochran to the Secretary of the Agricultural Society for the County of Hants, dated Winsor, Feb. 1791.” The experiment outlines the best methods to grow Prince Edward Island’s famous export – the potato. The goal of this project is to reconstruct the experiment, to think about/consider the experience of Maritime Settlers.
Instagram:            @SpuddenlyFarming
Twitter:                 @Spuddenly_Farm

“Recipes in the Early Royal Society Archives”, Sietske Fransen

The seventeenth-century fellows of the Royal Society were interested in every part of the natural world. They collected and reproduced a large variety of recipes, from the making of pigments to finding the recipe for the best French bread, to a recipe for universal medicine. During my research days in June, investigating the visual practice of the early Royal Society (www.mv.crassh.cam.ac.uk), I will tweet the various recipes I encounter in the archive of the Royal Society. At the end of those weeks the found recipes will feature in a blogpost on recipes in the early Royal Society.
Twitter:             @sietske_fransen and @MVCRASSH
Blog:                    www.mvcrassh.cam.ac.uk and recipes.hypotheses.org

“A Relation of the Culture, or Planting and Ordering of Saffron (1678)”, Emily Thompson

She will look at a recipe by Charles Howard as a recipe (an atypical one to be sure, but a sound set of step-by-step directions for attaining a particular outcome i.e., the production of saffron). She argues that Howard’s recipe may be identified by its purpose, ingredients, procedure, equipment and administration. The recipe can be contrasted with later treatises and gardening manuals that build on his work and flesh it out into something beyond his dispassionate and precise step-by-step approach.
Twitter:                 @joiedelivre

Folger Shakespeare Library

Will be sharing its extensive recipes-related holdings via social media.
Twitter:                 @FolgerResearch

“Henri’s Kitchen”, Harry Hayfield

Harry Hayfield, a resident of Ceredigion in Wales, has long had an interest in the stories of the Musketeers which are set in early 17th century France, this led in turn to an interest in the Stuart period of history and joining a living history group. However, as a registered carer for his grandparents he is unable to get to many of the events and yet wanted to do something to help. One day he was watching “The Little Paris Kitchen” broadcast on the BBC and thought “These are recipes designed by the French, therefore could they be converted in the 17th century versions of themselves?”. Doing some research he found that they could, and therefore will contribute four of the recipes as shown in the programme as if cooked by Henri de Ceredigion (Harry’s Stuart persona) a cadet member of the Musketeers, with able assistance from Planchet, his manservant cum stable lad.

Collection of iatrochemical and chemical recipes
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

“Distilling and Deflowering”, Peter Jones

He will discuss alchemical recipes associated with English mendicants, collected in the Tabula medicine text of 1416-25. The word ‘deflowering’ is a term that describes the way that they culled recipes from various sources—written and word-of-mouth—before recording it in the book. His blog post will appear at The Recipes Project.

“Historical Chocolate Tasting Events”, Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and  Medicine at the University of Minnesota

Animated gif of chocolate bar with link to the full article in newsletter and additional link to historical choc tasting events at GYST Fermentation Bar, a collaborative effort with the Wangensteen Library. Also links to their digitized collection of recipe books.
Facebook:            https://www.facebook.com/umnbiomedlib
Twitter:                 @umnbiomedlib
Instagram:           @umnlib

“Recipes from the Sound Archive”, MMSH

The MMSH sound archive blog has a monthly feature on old recipes collected through interviews. In English and French, Véronique Ginouvès discusses what is a recipe when it comes to the sound archives.
Twitter:                 @Bagolina and @phonothequemmsh

“Theodorus Priscianus and Women’s Ailments”, Louise Cilliers

In a post for The Recipes Project, she considers the recipes of a 4th century physician from Constantinople: what did he use to treat women’s ailments?

Lady looking into mirror, 18th century.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

“Recipes for Beauty in Ovid”, Marguerite Johnson

Recipes for beauty were commonplace in the ancient Mediterranean and among the most comprehensive sources for cosmeceutical blends was Ovid’s Medicamina Faciei Femineae – 100 lines of which remain extant. When Marguerite Johnson translated the lines for her recent book, Ovid on Cosmetics (Bloomsbury 2016), she approached the task by taking the embedded lists of creams and treatments as recipes, and discussed the ingredients of each one and the methods of preparation. In this podcast, Marguerite will discuss the five recipes in the Medicamina with a focus on the ingredients – from honey to the mysterious alcyonea – and their properties for beautifying and preserving the skin.
Twitter:                 @MMJ722

“Introducing the Margaret Baker Project”, Lisa Smith

Over the year, my students on The Digital Recipe Book Project module read about early modern recipes and their wider social and cultural framework. We worked alongside other classrooms in the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective who were also working on Baker’s book. Along the way, they learned how to read old handwriting, transcribed several pages of a seventeenth-century manuscript recipe book by Margaret Baker, and built a website about Margaret Baker’s recipes. In this presentation, I’ll discuss the challenges of teaching recipes and working with Margaret Baker, as well as share the students’ insights from the year.
Blog:             drbp.hypotheses.org
Project site:     UofE Baker Project
Twitter:          @historybeagle

Ship’s biscuit, England, 1875
Credit: Science Museum, London.

‘Hard Tack Lemon Pudding’, Simon Walker 

He presents the YouTube cooking series Feedingunderfire wherein he cooks trench food recipes and tests them on guests. This episode focuses on an ‘apparently’ yummy dish.
YouTube:       Feeding Under Fire
Facebook:     Feeding Under Fire
Twitter:       @Dark_Nocterna

Provincial Archives of Alberta, Canada

Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, the PAA will be highlighting some its holdings on food history over the month with Facebook posts and on Twitter.
Facebook:      Provincial Archives of Alberta
Twitter:                 @ProvArchivesAB

Royal College of Physicians, London

We’re interested in approaching the theme of ‘What is a recipe’ by considering one of the RCP’s most important publications, the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (1st edition 1618). Depending on how you define it, the Pharmacopoeia probably isn’t a collection of recipes, though it is a collection of instructions for making medical prescriptions. It was translated into Nicholas Culpeper, with explanatory text added, in 1649, and Culpeper’s version may have more claim to recipe-ness. We also have manuscript recipe books in our collection that include similar prescriptions or recipes, so we’d like to explore the issue by bringing these three sources together, and by illustrating a couple of the recipes with examples from our collection of English apothecary jars, and specimens from our medicinal garden.
Blog:                     https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/
Twitter:                 @RCPMuseum

Seasonality @ The Recipes Project

By Elaine Leong

Franconian asparagus at farmer’s market of Bamberg (Image courtesy of Wiki Commons)

Happy May Day everyone! I am very excited to be on-point editor for the 2017 May edition of The Recipes Project. Living in Germany, where there is a ‘saison’ or a ‘- zeit’ for almost everything – Spargel (asparagus), Erdbeerkuchen (strawberry cake), Kurbis (pumpkin), Pflaumen (plums), Balkon (balconies – meaning party time!), I have grown accustomed to anticipating and welcoming the changing of seasons. Further inspired by the official first day of summer, I decided to invite a group of like-minded contributors to explore the theme of seasonality in this month’s edition.

In fact, both the joys and constraints of seasonality have been on my mind in this academic year. In the fall, through reading the letters between Johanna St. John and her steward Thomas Hardyman, I gained insight into the complex planning strategies used by early modern householders to ensure a table laden with enticing food and drink. Johanna’s frank instructions offered a glimpse into the everyday pressures faced by mistresses and servants to guarantee turkeys at Christmas, uninterrupted supplies of fresh butter, cheese, bacon all year round and a beautiful show garden in the spring and summer months. The letters very quickly revealed that whilst the St. John household was busy all year round, certain times of the year were particularly task-filled as the household collective strove to seed, cultivate and harvest and to preserve foodstuffs and produce medicines by sugaring, candying, distilling and brewing. The profound impact of the changing seasons on food and medicine preparation does not come as a surprise to those of us who spend time in recipe archives and, indeed, in the recent years there have also been contemporary calls to return to the land. For example, Johanna’s struggle with raising turkeys prompted me to revisit Barbara Kingsolver’s thoughtful Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where the author writes engagingly about her adventures in rearing heritage turkeys. As I cycle past the asparagus stands (soon to be strawberry stands) on my way to work, I relish the fleeting joy of spring produce and concurrently breathe a sigh of relief that, thankfully, I can rely on Germany’s specialist strawberry grower Karl’s to pick and make the delicious Erdbeer Traum (strawberry dream) jam which my family so loves in our Victoria Sponge Cake.

Commissioned during the ‘hungry gap’, this month’s posts work together to interrogate notions of seasonality in historical recipes across a range of geographical and temporal contexts and knowledge spheres. Food historians Rachel Snell and Molly Taylor-Polensky examine the technologies and methods used to preserve seasonal produce for year-round consumption and the various cultural reasons driving this work. Taking a slightly less sunny stance and drawing upon the recipe notebook of Rebeckah Winche, literary scholar and ecofeminist Jennifer Munroe prompts us to re-examine our interdependent relationship with other animals, plants, soil and climate on our planet.

Of course, notions of seasonality extended well beyond food and medicine, as art historian Jenny BoulBoullé  shows that artisans and craftsmen were also keenly aware of the effects of changing seasons. Representing the flourishing Artechne project, Jenny’s post reminds us of the importance placed upon season by both pre-modern artisans and 19th and 20th century scholars who so eagerly attempted to reconstruct historical recipes. Taking us into the realm of alchemy, Tillmann Taape discusses how distillation processes were used to make medicines and human bodies prevail against seasonal cycles of generation and decay.

Turning to the Chinese context, He Bian explores a late 14th century guide to living seasonally and introduces readers to the various recipes for food and medicines included within. Examining later readings and discussions of the guide, He questions whether seasonality, a classic theme in ancient Chinese medicine, came under critical scrutiny of early modern scholars. Our edition closes with a post by Caroline Petit who, taking us back in time to the ancient world, examines an intriguing story told by Galen. Taken together, these posts highlight the continued role played by seasonality in recipe practices and knowledge.

I hope that you all enjoy this special issue of The Recipes Project!