What I did on my Summer Vacation: Or Historical Research for Fantasy Stuff – Alma Boykin

What I did on my Summer Vacation: Or Historical Research for Fantasy Stuff – Alma Boykin

So, by now everyone knows I’m back in-country from three weeks in Germany, more or less. Part of what I was doing over there was research for a book and a short story that may well become a novella or book if I’m not careful, and for some long-term non-fiction projects. The primary research target is a fantasy novel.

But this is a fantasy world without elves, majestic heroes, and so on. There’s no great quest, no dying empire. It’s nog high fantasy, which means I can’t pull pre-packaged story bits off the shelf, so to speak, and expect readers to follow. The world is roughly high medieval (1100-1300), and it needed to be built from scratch. Which means research below the usual kings-n-bishops level of medieval popular history. The fun part was having a good excuse for going to old cities and looking at how buildings were constructed and used, and following trade routes (did you know that stone for mill wheels and construction was a big-ticket trade item? Me either.) The not so fun part was economics and the politics of trade. Business history makes me twitch.

When I say build from scratch, it includes currencies and weights and measures. Fortunately, coins tend to survive, especially because people buried varying quantities of them, and there is documentation about who minted what and what the exchange rates were, more or less. But fantasy novel prices tend to be seriously inflated as compared to real world prices. Not even at the famous Champaign Fairs would someone pay a pure silver coin for one night’s lodging, unless he was taking the entire inn and stables. Assuming he went to an inn and not to one of the buildings set aside for people from his city or confraternity. Most people rarely saw large denomination coins, like a gold solidus or a Lübeck mark. They saw smaller, thinner silver coins, or pieces of coins and bits of jewelry. Broken rings were the small change of Europe, as it turns out. You valued metal by weight, based on your local system.

Your local system? Oh yes. Six years ago, I was in Bernkastle-Kuse, a pair of small, old towns in western Germany on opposite sides of a river. Embedded in the wall of one of the buildings facing the market square in Bernkastle is a piece of metal, sort of like a yardstick. It was the local cloth measure. Visiting merchants or people selling cloth from out of town had to abide by the local measure, and there it was, for all to see and readily available to sort out disputes that arose. Weights also varied from place to place, although a few became standardized relatively early, like the herring-barrel. One herring-barrel weighed about a thousand pounds and remained comparatively unchanged for several hundred years. And yes, it held herring. Herring was one of the major trade items, up there with dried and/or salted cod, salt, and fabric. Oh, and wax and honey and grain. Russia’s greatest exports were furs, honey, and wax, and goods originally from Central and East Asia that came via trade to Novgorod. Tons and tons of wax, because Christendom needed candles for worship and for every-day use. And for documents, and for medicines, and other things.

So I had to start with the big picture, meaning an overview history of the largest “international” trading group at the time, the Hanse. Once I got that sorted out, I could look at specific products that my protagonist might deal with and in, then what sort of transportation he had access to. I decided that luxury goods would not do. He’s to pragmatic for that, and his parents couldn’t afford to apprentice him to a fur-dealer or silk-merchant. So he deals in leather and hides, and is glad because while he doesn’t make the money, he also has lower risk. Everyone needs leather. And most lords and robbers are not as interested in hides as they are in silk and spices.

What does his world look like? That required a combination of archaeological reading and ground-truthing. Not much remains of true early-medieval cities and ground-plans today. Cities grew and changed, people improved things, tore down and recycled old things, and in some cases there was the Great Urban Renewal following the 1939-1945 period. For example, in all of Hamburg, there is one row of perhaps seven buildings tucked away near St. Michael’s church that show what the city looked like before 1900. Even Bruges Belgium, which seems at first like a town trapped in amber, expanded and has been modified, the streets widened, the largest building torn down and its internal canal filled in because the space was needed for something else. You have to look at smaller cities, in pockets and corners, and the overall shape of things, literally. And add several layers of plaster and dirt.

Once inside town walls, Tycho Rhonardia’s world is narrow and smelly, often muddy. He wears wooden platform sandals over his shoes to avoid the dirt and ordure, as does everyone else who can afford leather shoes. There are few open spaces, aside from a market space near the temples (this is a pagan world). Fire is a constant danger, and night is when honest people are indoors unless the moon is bright. He stays in his confraternity’s section of his Free City’s merchant house in the merchants’ quarter, at least in the city where the story starts. The traders arrange themselves by place of origin and which patron deity they follow, but follow pre-agreed rules and organization when they travel overland or by sea, or if they have a group dispute with a local lord. This is very much what happened in the North Sea and Baltic between around 820-1400, as traders from the Low German region and surrounding formed protective associations that became the Hanseatic League.

If you’ve made it this far, and are not drowsing, you can understand why most of this is deep background that won’t be “seen” in the book. Tycho is a fish in water, and he knows this world inside and out. And it all sounds dreadfully like that boring economic history class your advisor put you in because you were late registering one semester. Where’s the fantasy part?

Ah, magic. This world is full of small magics, and mages are bound by guilds just like craftsmen and merchants were. You have preservation mages, weighing mages, scribe-mages who confirm the authenticity of documents and serve as notaries of a sort, transport mages of varying strengths, mages who assay metals and confirm the validity of coins, mages who make things fire-resistant, who heal animals, and so on. A mage certified in one specialty is not permitted to work in another, even if he has the ability, unless he goes through a second apprenticeship and journeyman period and pays dues to both guilds. Very few mages bother with the trouble and cost. And magic doesn’t work on large bodies of water, only small ones and then it doesn’t “stick” too well. But magic is every where, and ninety-nine out of a hundred people use it and see it in action. Tycho doesn’t. And keeping this secret shapes a lot of his life, including remaining faithful to his wife and not taking a trade-wife while he is away.

Because he can’t use magic, he uses his other senses. And he’s a bit eccentric: he collects coins, the strange and rare ones. He’s amassed a large collection over the years. And when odd coins begin appearing, coins that the mages can’t detect as counterfeit, he’s one of the first to know. And he knows what coins can tell you, and what they can’t. Meester Tycho also knows who to ask about the grain trade and foreign herbs when mages begin dying from contaminated bread. You see, there is a connection between the two…

242 thoughts on “What I did on my Summer Vacation: Or Historical Research for Fantasy Stuff – Alma Boykin

  1. Local measures: yes indeed. My father (a metrologist) had a textbook about this, showing the weights and measures used in various towns and provinces all over western Europe. It had a lovely picture in it somewhere, showing the way the Rhineland Foot was defined: officials in one town (the capital?) went to a church one Sunday morning, stopped the first 12 adult men leaving the service, and had them line up their feet. They took that 12-foot sample, and divided it in twelve to get the average. Presto, the Rhineland Foot.
    Did you know that, officially at least, the US, the UK, and Canada all had different inches until about WW2? In reality they didn’t because the only precise inch was the one made by Johansson, who used the Canadian round number.

    1. The history of “good enough for the purpose” measurement is kind of understated, but awesome.

      The distance that a specific type of steel will expand from the warmth of a hand holding it for more than two seconds is…really not important for technology about 1800.

      It’s incredibly important for silly little calipers in the 21st! (calibration tolerances are rule of thumb one tenth of whatever you’re going to be measuring, so if something is measuring centimeters then you calibrate it to milometers, etc.)

      1. This reminds me of a place in Western Europe famed for enameled metal. Enameling metal is tricky because different expansion and contraction of materials makes the enamel crack and/or flake off. This town had mastered the trick and was famed for it’s enameling.

        Then, in a war, they were attacked by a mercenary army and killed down to the last man, woman, and child. And the town’s secret for making it’s famed enamel died with it. It had to be re-discovered, and still might not be the same way they did it.

      2. I suspect one could track the advance of civilization by increasing accuracy (and commonality) of measurements.

        One of the arguments about outsourcing production to the Third World used* to be that the quality control often offset the labor savings.

        *I am guessing that has changed, I no longer attend to those discussions.

        1. I know it still does for China, but that’s a matter of cross cultural communication.

          We give a list of requirements and they’re REQUIREMENTS; they give a list of requirements and they’re “gosh, how important am I, that thigns must be just so”.
          We are shamed if someone checks and catches us failing to fulfill a requirement; they figure that “figure out, eventually, how to pass the checks they do” is simply how it’s done.
          That’s how we got the poisoned dog food incident– the poison mimics a protein test they put in after shipments weren’t meeting standards.

          I think the most recent work-around is to basically supply your own QA guys.

          1. Several German toy companies station their QC chemists and inspectors in China and pay them directly, so the contract manufacturer can’t bribe them into passing inferior product.

            1. Depends on the nature of the bribe….. Anyone who doesn’t conduct the testing outside Chinese jurisdiction is a sucker.

          2. Pretty much. Especially since with Chinese nationals you want to make sure they haven’t added any PLA requirements for back doors, etc.

            1. Any electronics manufacturing in the PRC has to deal with the concept of “overruns”, where Comrade Manager Chang keeps the line runnning for a few (eight, sixteen) hours past what he tells the customer paying for that line and sells that after hours product off on the side.

              1. What is often done for other manufacturing (electric winches, like those put on pickups and ATV’s is one I have personal knowledge of this being done) is they manufacture 100,000 widgets, Company X has ordered 10,000 widgets with tolerances required to be within .001 inches. Company Y has ordered 20,000 widgets but only require tolerances within .005 inches. The QC guys go through the widgets until they come up with 10,000 with .001 tolerances, they slap brand X stickers on them and ship them off to Company X, then they go through the remainder until they have 20,000 widgets with .005 tolerances, and those get brand Y stickers slapped on them and shipped off, but Company Y only pays 80% of what Company X did for widgets made on the same assembly line, because they require less exacting tolerances. Now they have 70,000 more widgets left. Of those 70,000, 20,000 have tolerances worse than .005 while the other 50,000 haven’t been checked at all. Some of them will undoubtedly make the .001 bar of Company X, while even more will make the .005 bar of Company Y, but statistically about 20,000 of them will be worse than .005. They then call up various chain stores, like Harbor Freight and offer them widgets made on the same assembly lines that make Company X and Company Y’s widgets, for only 50% of the cost of Company Y’s widgets. Company Z bites and orders 50,000 selling them for 60% of what Company Y does. Now you can buy a brand Z widget and have a 43% chance of getting a widget every bit as good as a brand Y widget for only 60% of the price, or a 15% chance of get a widget as good as brand X for less than half the price. Of course you have a 57% chance of getting a widget that is worse than a brand Y widget, but you are still paying significantly less money, and if you only need to use it a time or two there is a good chance it will work.
                Which is why Brand Z widgets tend to have such wildly varying reviews, the guys who rave in the review that their Z widget is every bit as good as a X widget for less than half the price are telling the truth.

                1. For some products, what you describe is recognized normal procedure. Consider resistors. The manufacturing process produces resistors that vary from the nominal value by significant amounts. They are measured. The ones that fall within 1% of nominal are marked and sold as 1% tolerance, the ones that are up to 5% off are marked as 5% tolerance, etc. This is why resistors (and assorted other electronic parts) have a “bimodal” value distribution, not a Gaussian one.
                  Similarly for ICs, come to think of it. It’s called “binning”. You pay extra for the fast CPU chips because those are the high speed outliers of the batch. The ones that aren’t quite so fast in test are sold as the lower speed grades, at lower prices.

                  1. This has been going on since the days of floppy disks. “Double sided” meant that both sides passed; single sided meant one didn’t. And I’m sure Dr Pournelle remembers the “disk expander” tools used to punch a notch so someone could turn the disk over and use the second side. Murphy LURVED those tools.

    2. Yup. I remember reading a story written pre WW2 where the main character refers to something as being “as precise as a Jo-block”. I wonder how many would catch that reference today?

      1. If I ever learned that when I was young, it has long since disappeared from memory. I have heard mention of a jo-block, but had no idea what that was, until I looked it up just now.

      2. I remember hearing of them, and that they would stick together because they squeezed the air out from between them.

        1. Jo blocks, after Carl Johansson who invented them. The force that sticks them together is the van der Waals force.

      3. Are you sure it was PRE WWII? I vaguely recall that line being in one of the Venus Equilateral stories and to my best recollection those were written during the war.

        1. Jo blocks = gage blocks/gauge blocks. Here is a calculator for them.

          Jo Block Calculator

          “The fundamental use of gage blocks in the machine shop involves using them as a stack. That is a collection of gage blocks put together using its natural tendency of surface tension to create a stack a specific length that is accurate to a relatively high level of accuracy.

          “To start off we must first examine the standard 81 gage block set. We have 4 series of gage block sizes in the set.

          9 Blocks from .1001 to .1009 in .0001 steps.
          49 Blocks from .101 to .149 in .001 steps.
          19 Blocks from .050 to .950 in .050 steps.
          4 Blocks from 1.000 to 4.000 in 1.000 steps.

          “As you can see we are sort of limited in stacking the gage block sets. As we only have one of each. However that may seem as a disadvantage, this one specific set will allow one to reach any size from .100 all the way up to 12.000 in steps of .0001.

          “See when we stack gage blocks we go backwards from our tenth unit (remember machine shop tenth not normal tenth!) all the way up to our inch unit using as few blocks as possible.”

          Very educational page.

            1. “He devised a method of using his wife’s sewing machine to lap 2 surfaces very carefully”

              I wasn’t aware until now that Sweden had rednecks.

                1. There are enough rednecks of Swedish descent in the US that I assumed there couldn’t be any left in Sweden.

              1. For values of redneck that include “know procedure for producing an optical flat” which is not the sort of thing most think of when hearing/seeing the term ‘redneck;.

                1. I think the values of redneck here are along the lines of, “hmm, what do I have that will work? Ahh, there! The little woman is over visiting Aunt Martha for a couple of days, and I’m sure I can modify her sewing machine to do that. She’ll never know the difference! Frank, hand me that 7/16 wrench and hold my beer.”

        2. I really can’t recall if it was in the Venus Equilateral stories or something by Doc Smith. Or maybe early Heinlein. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t early Asimov.

          I do know that it’s because of Heinlein I have several slide rules on display in my home office, including a really nice Log/Log Duplex (though it’s a Pickett, not a K & E).

          1. Actually, I believe that there’s a mention of Johansson blocks in Asimov’s FOUNDATION; I think it’s when Hober Mallow is in a steel mill on Korrell, showing how the Foundnation’s technology can increase productivity.

  2. Or Historical Research for Fantasy Stuff

    I see the title and my head begins shouting: “Yes, please. Dear G-d, yes please do some research before attempting Historical Fantasy.”

    (Besides, some of us have found out that history itself can be really interesting — and at times pretty fantastic as well.)

    1. Strike the “historical.” If you don’t do research before you do imaginary land fantasy you end up slapping in the way things are done in the modern world and even if it works, it’s not imaginative.

      1. It gets confusing since there’s sometimes not a consensus over things as minor as underwear, and what was done in one place wasn’t in another. I bent things terribly just by having chimneys and stone first floors in the early 14th Century. Chimneys are confusing. The Normans supposedly had a right-angled sort of flue before there were supposed to be chimneys, and it could be argued it was a smoke hood, but still . . . I

        Handwaved and set all this in a region so rocky that most raised sheep due to the problem of removing stones from the fields, so there was masonry everywhere because it was a cheap building material. May still go back and put rush on the floor of the dining hall (inn) and may have to rewrite the inn itself.

        For currency and units of measure I just have money change hands without describing it, and only once a merchant wanting to check his weights against the market’s.

          1. Exactly. Fire pit and a hole in the roof, or allowed to make its way out best it could. Smoke hood was a sort of funnel that caught it, but wasn’t always used. Chimneys in large buildings were around in places in the 12th Century, IIRC, and I won’t swear to that, but homes supposedly used the fire pit sans chimney. Supposedly home chimneys became the rage in the 16th and 17th Century, with poorly constructed chimneys collapsing and more as some buildings were retrofit – but I suspect this was in England. Elsewhere? Not sure.

            1. One of James Burkes Connections episodes (second one I think) talked about the rise of chimney’s and fire places. Can’t remember the timing exactly of when the concept of a fireplace in rooms, not to mention separate rooms came to be. He tied it to the end of the medieval warm period where it became necessary to keep heat confined to smaller areas.
              Found the episode. First series, “Thunder in the Skies”

                1. The jumping reflected an element of Burke’s argument: that all sorts of prior, often unrelated, developments must first occur and then all come together for other advancements to occur.

                  1. It’s amazing how many people will sing the praises of the printing press without realizing that it needs cheap paper.

        1. If it’s fantasy– I know that people right now build good, sane fire places without the metal rings, so if you can figure out the trick it IS possible for it to be around. It’s just AU from how this, non-magical, place developed.

          …you know, “control smoke and get the most out of fire” enchantments would be freaking AMAZING at a very weak level for wind magic.

      2. I have been reading and enjoying a lot of Asian light fantasy where this is somewhat done. The Chinese, the Koreans, and the Japanese splice in different elements because their modern societies are different.

    2. “Besides, some of us have found out that history itself can be really interesting — and at times pretty fantastic as well.”

      Thus the reason I can no longer take fictional spy stories seriously. Real spy stories, such as the Man Who Never Was, have them beat all hollow. Likewise stories about fictional epidemics — any author who can invent something more terrifying than Ebola Zaire or Zika or Lyme needs a shrink, not a publisher. IMHO, anyway.

  3. Okay, this is the type of world building I like. It’s difficult at times piecing things together, and thank you for sharing your experience with us.

    1. Someday, if I win the lottery, I’ll drag a bunch of you to Portugal for vacation/workshop. Mostly because you can see everything from Roman and Celtic ruins to castles all within day trips. Oh, and Moorish too. And because I know it, of course.

      1. Oh man! I loved touring castles (and other archeological sites) when I was stationed in Europe. The feeling of age compared to anything in the U.S. is just awesome. You could spend decades and never see it all.

        1. In Germany, we found that “antiques” had to be at least 400 years old or so. Anything less than that (let’s say 241yo) was just “old”. 🙂

          1. I caught myself grumping about “eh, it’s modern. Nothing before 950” or 1100 or so. Far northern Germany was settled late in terms of town development because who in their right minds builds a city between the North Sea or Baltic and the edge of a giant swamp (aka Northern Germany)? I’m too used to stuff from farther south that goes back at least to the Romans, if not to Bronze Age and before. 🙂

            1. Yeah, the town one over from where I lived (in Bavaria) had an anniversary celebration while we lived there. It’s 1150th. It was a big shindig.

              And, hey, swamps are underrated. They make for a nice natural barrier for all the people who would otherwise not mind pillaging, raping and burning your town. (Remember to keep things in the proper order, there.)

              1. They do, but when you have to make mounds in order to have a dry-ish house and you can’t grow food, swamps are a problem. (Which the Frisians solved by going long on dairy cattle and passing along goods, eventually becoming the major traders before the Vikings and Hanse showed up.)

                1. True. It depends on how much you fear raiding (or being caught) vs how much you don’t want to eat crawdads and swamp eels.

              2. Swamps have mosquitoes and Bad Air. One side of our family moved due to a yellow fever or malaria epidemic, and my mother had malaria or yellow fever. Since she remembers taking quinine, it was probably the former.

                1. Sacramento had some huge malaria and cholera problems in the 19th century. They decided to raise the town in the wake of the massive flooding of the early 1860s, and strangely enough, the (stagnant) water-borne diseases stopped being such an issue.

              3. On the one hand, swamps don’t make good barriers when they freeze up and are easily crossed. On the other hand, mid-winter is not prime time for waging battles, invasions, or wars.

                1. Unless you’re the Mongols, who *loved* to do it in the winter time, because the folks on that edge of Europe were usually caught totally unprepared and would freak right the heck out when the Golden Horde started dragging their artillery towards the town across the ice.

                  The history book I read on the subject suggested that the Mongols (and their artillery) were one of the reasons city walls were given up as a lost cause…

                  1. Sara. Do you recall the title of that book? I ask because that’s very different from what I’ve read. Not saying it is wrong, just different.

                    1. Of the three I’ve read…I think it was this one: The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford.

                      It’s also possible I’m misremembering. That does happen, because I read so many. Though I’d swear it was brought up during the discussion of what led up to Genghis installing his daughters-in-law as rulers of the trade cities along the Silk Road he conquered. Either way, it was an *incredibly* fascinating book. The Mongols were fascinating (still are), and Genghis Khan was a really, really rather awesome guy. (Atrocities notwithstanding, but it seems–despite the hysterical Eastern-Frontier European propaganda regarding him–he did try to avoid those when possible. He much preferred a city to just surrender, on account of there then being more stuff and useful people available afterwards. The Mongols really liked their stuff.)

                      The other two are Genghis Khan: Emperor of All Mankind by Harold Lamb, and Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford.

                2. Or unless you knew a trail through it. That happened at Savannah. The Patriots considered a swamp impassible to Red Coat troop movements, and it was – until the British hired Quash Dolly to show them the way through.

          2. This reminds me of the comment from someone who served in Germany during the Cold War: There are buildings there set on foundations laid in the time of the Romans.

            1. My Pastor recently visited Israel and talked about some of the archaeology going on there.

              Especially the “fun” of examining ancient finds that are under existing buildings that you can’t disturb.

              1. Jerusalem is thousands of years old. But most of the places the tourists go are Crusader era. The really old stuff is buried under the not-quite-so-old stuff.

            2. And almost at the other extreme, one reads of the frequency at which unexploded ordinance, like 500 pound (or larger) aircraft bombs, are found when digging new foundations and such in Europe.

              1. There’s some places like that in the US, but on a smaller scale. There was exploding ordinance in the Civil War, and that stuff is still around. There have been incidents. The Confederate Army rigged land mines in front of Sherman’s path that worked well enough that he countered by marching POWs ahead of his columns. Wonder if all of them detonated or were found.

                There’s also WWI and WWII camps that are almost forgotten, until construction turns up ordinance left behind. There’s even a nuke out there, off Savannah, though wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s already found it and turned it into a mailbox.

                1. Oh heck, there was a ordnance-bearing train explosion in 1973 that they found shells from in the 90s—and IIRC, when Antelope incorporated as an actual town and building took off, they found more.

        2. Try the fort at St. Augustine. Only 17th Century, though. Then there are the Indian mounds and effigies. Don’t know if the cliff dwellings out West are off limits or not.

    2. It makes for such good writing.
      But it can be VERY hard – especially since each bit leads you to another bit, which leads to another bit, which leads…. You have to know where to stop.

  4. I may be in touch also with my geek side, but I love this kind of down-in-the-weeds research. Even elements of trade; what people wanted, and used, where it came from and how much they paid for it.

    Early on, I was astounded to discover that one of the big trade-items at mid-century 1800s was … ice.
    Ice from New England lakes and ponds, cut, stacked and stored in layers of sawdust, and shipped to the South, the Caribbean, to England and India. There were fortunes made by enterprising men – more here, with additional links:

    1. Up until the teens, there were steam railroads and trolley lines whose major source of freight revenue was ice. It’d be cut out of lakes in winter, stored in ice houses nearby, then shipped out via refrigerated boxcars to cities. This traffic evaporated largely due not to the introduction of the refrigerator, but a couple decades earlier when the more-complex ice-making plants became viable.

      1. You mean the 19 ‘teens, right?
        *points to the calendar*
        We gotta remember how old we are. 🙂

          1. Sean, did you see the story the other day about the Dusing Brothers ice company shutting down? Kind of sad, but also kind of amazing they lasted this long.

            1. I didn’t until you mentioned it, then found the article online. Interesting that the closing is because most of their former business customers (markets and gas stations) are now part of chains with their own supply chains. Nine decades is quite a long time, but I think a friend’s family business has been around about that long. Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised. The Cincinnati area has a number of really long-lived family-owned businesses.

      2. You do realize that these days the EPA would bar such terrible trade, do you not? Shifting our precious fluids from one watershed to another is a horrible act.

        1. And they could steal those precious fluids, too. Which would prove they’re commies. And, hence, WW3.

        2. Don’t give them ideas. We once set poles in a “wetland” for a bridge project and were required to remove earth equivalent to the volume displaced by our poles during high water.

    2. This weekend:
      *7 year old watching Frozen*
      “Dad….why are they harvesting ICE?”
      *long pause*
      “Because they didn’t have refrigerators.”

  5. This sounds interesting! And yes, I agree that with any kind of historical background it’s vital to do the research. I’m probably cheating, because (a) my pathetic attempt at fantasy is set in an area and landscape that I know well, (b) I’ve read a lot about the Dark Ages around 400-600 AD and that’s my period setting, and (c) absolutely nobody knows anything about my area in that period except that there were Saxons in it (they founded my home town, actually). So I can invent anything I fancy by way of ‘extras’ for my fantasy. Maybe one day I’ll finish it.

    1. The best material I’ve found on the period between Rome and Charlemagne (the Dark Ages/ Late Antiquity) is all in German. The only English introduction I’ve found (aside from a Teaching Company series) is Peter S. Wells _Barbarians to Angels_ and he focuses on Europe with a few nods to the British Isles.

  6. Not even at the famous Champaign Fairs would someone pay a pure silver coin for one night’s lodging,

    So, no tossing purses of gold about? Not even small ones? But that seems so convenient!

      1. I have experienced a niacin rush on a few occasions; is that anything similar?

        I’ve even been given the bum’s rush, but I suspect that is somewhat different.

    1. If you actually figured the weight of a purse filled with gold (even a small one) you would realize that the people tossing them about were considerably stronger than the average person today.

      1. Most of the time, I’ve gotten the impression that the “purses” being tossed around were small enough that they would only hold maybe 40-50 1-oz coins, or two and a half to three pounds or so. Not light, but not too heavy that a modern adult couldn’t throw and catch one. I mean, it’s been a while, but I’ve played catch with a 16-lb bowling ball before.

        1. Speaking of which, anyone remember the old fashioned coin purses men carried? Some were squat, with two compartments enclosed by a clasp that pressure fit against the center divider, and some, “farmer” type, were long. Saw new ones for sale in the 1970s, but not since. Coinage was so valuable that it was kept in the coin purse rather than loose to prevent loss.

          1. Does it make me a redneck if I admit to having one I carry 22 shells in? I used to use old snoose cans for carrying 22 shells, but since I quit chewing years ago my handy supply of empty cans dried up, and somewhere along the line I came up with a coin purse. The squeeze top opening is both secure and easy/quick to use one handed.

            1. Not to be under-appreciated is that such purses help keep pockets from wearing out quite so quickly, which offers benefits all its own.

        2. Since they’re mentioned to be tucked into sleeves, inside of belts, dropped in blouses…. yeah, I figured it’s like those tiny little velvet bags with silky insides that they sold at Celtic fairs and stuff; can maybe hold six marbles, if you’re really shoving hard.

    1. Mary, may I make a belated suggestion?

      Michael Stackpole’s “In Hero Years… I’m Dead.” Is a really good novel from the superhero genre. I don’t know if it’s possible to add it to the poll at this point, but it deserves consideration.

  7. I did not know you were in Germany, which is sad, because not-little-brother just spent the last month teaching a class there. Did you by any chance trip over a class of TAMU students, trailing after a blond professor talking about architecture, neurology, and sound, and begging him to sing? I understand they mostly stuck to cathedrals, opera houses, and musician museums, so not likely.
    I would have had him take you to dinner. He’s done this class enough to know where the hole-in-the-wall restaurants with the good food are.

    1. I understand they mostly stuck to cathedrals …

      I was reading a film review, can’t recall where in the web, this morning ranting about the new Transformers movie being an exercise in insulting the audience’s intelligence. It seems that one sequence is set in an abandoned small South Dakota town in which there is an abandoned cathedral the size of the one in Chartres … with plumbing in small rooms atop the sanctuary.

      After that the suspension of disbelief grew to epic proportions, the reviewer having determined the remainder of the film to be a battle of wills between Michael Bay’s efforts to drive him screaming from the theatre and his insistence on sitting through every increasingly unbelievable scene.

      1. There are times I look at Reality that way. So many ridiculous things that Just Are There. And yet, somehow, some fiction manages to be even less credible or self-consistent.

        1. There’s enough foreshadowing in reality that we know SOMETHING wierd is going to happen, even if not when, where, or what.

          1. Heck, the thing with prophecy is that if you FLAT OUT TELL PEOPLE WHAT WILL HAPPEN, they manage to find a way to misunderstand.

  8. While I’m not going full historical, thanks. This provided some insight for me. A sense of “place” is one of the things I tend to lack (mostly because I”m afraid of The Bog of Endless Description). This gives me several ideas on small things that I can use (some I’m already using, like the hacksilver for one culture that is mostly actually copper. Bits of amber being used as trade ‘gems’ and the like.) Thanks. I needed this. 🙂

  9. Can’t wait to read it.

    Of course, I’m Odd. When designing a fantasy RPG setting, the first things I nail down are creation myths, coinage, and calendars. People tend to look at me funny when I admit that.

      1. 😉 That’s fourth.
        Unless derailed by begats. Calendars and creation myths sometimes beg those questions.

      2. Ah, funny you should mention that, since we had an earthquake last night. The biggest I have ever felt, not big enough to do any damage, but it definetly made the house shake and the little hanging springs on the wood stove drafts chime against the stove.

    1. I do the people and their customs. (The common link there is religion – which obviously includes creation.)
      I certainly don’t consider you funny for doing coins and calendars. I decided not to do calendars just because of how deep in the weeds I would go.

      1. Ah, calendars… complications on a larger scale. And then when one gets down to the astronomical perspective, as many know, one can argue which clock to apply.

        …but choose which pendulum you will…

        1. Yes, I started by determining which cultures used lunar and which solar (after figuring out the lunar and solar orbits), then *which* lunar body (there are two). Then I tried to reconcile them.

          Then I figured out “I’m not getting paid for this……..”

            1. I was pondering that, too. But I have to feed my family and pay the mortgage, so ……..

              1. Some days I wish it had never occurred to me that different places would have different calendars. One of the pitfalls of parallel worlds. And a lack of historical savvy is the next pitfall . . .

                1. But it’s really fun when different races have different lifespans. Different calenders associate with different founders (and the like). And the beginning of the year doesn’t line up.

                  Or you can hide things in plain sight. Placing an event in “the eleventh year of King Wilhelm’s reign” disassociates it from “regular” time.

                  1. This should be remembered in historical fiction, particularly before Protestant countries went to the Gregorian calendar. Some of the accounts of that period read like they were written by Pratchett. One country was going to “ease” into the Gregorian Calendar, removing days to bring their Julian calendar back in line with the seasons over time, and ended up with a horrible mess. Then there’s the French Republic’s and the Soviet efforts at making a calendar.

      2. sigh

        Meanwhile I have concluded that one story needs a calendar so I can keep track of the time they spent compulsorily lazing about. (Kids. You don’t put ’em in the front line, so you dump them out of the way and forget them. This part of the kids’ story I go over lightly.)

        1. You can’t just sent them upstairs and have them come down in a week or two old enough to get in enough trouble to be worth a sub-plot, a la every daytime soap opera ever? I can’t give you specific examples of x’s daughter was nine and now she’s 16 and it’s only been a year our time. I figured out that’s why superheroes stay young; they are donated the lost years of soap opera children.

    2. Why?

      Get those three and you’ve got a sound chunk of world-view, an idea of what they value in as much as it’ll hit the party, and how they think of time– add in what they eat, the geography and the political organization or lack of it and you’ve got EVERYTHING.

  10. Make sure you understand the geography involved as well. For instance, my upbringing in California means that until I was an adult and lived elsewhere, “summer” meant “dry for five months.” It wasn’t until I started talking with adults who lived in, say, the Midwest that I realized that much of the U.S. considers “summer” to be “lots of rain.” There’s also certain triggers from growing up in this climate—when I read Celia Hayes’ To Truckee’s Trail, I knew the basic history behind the story, and I still cringed when the group got to the eastern edge of the Sierras in October. October’s when the winter storms can start, as her characters found out, but people used to the less dangerous ranges on the Eastern Seaboard would have no clue of what they were getting into.

    The climate and terrain are going to affect your fantasy world. Seasonal passes, weather that keeps you indoors, a climate that is too hot in the middle of the day and inspires a siesta time—all of those things will affect how your characters react. And nothing says your world has to be based in a foreign climate. You can always use your own.

    1. Some years ago I had a massive face-palm moment when I realized that for Europe, bad weather meant wet weather. Nothing killed as many people as crop losses caused by extended cool, wet spells, and the disease surges that followed. I’m used to drought being the major disaster, not flooding and water-logged soil. Drought was a problem on occasion, but extended cool wet spells were nightmares.

      1. I once saw an article which asserted that the Greek myth of Persephone could actually be referring to summer, when it was too hot to grow things. Mind you, I think they’re a bit off (the term “Mediterranean climate” applies to my area, and summer is prime growing season), but you sure as heck can’t grow lettuce and other delicate greens here in the summer. (I didn’t realize until quite late that a lot of people think that lettuces are an essential part of salads. We got ours from the backyard, and lettuce doesn’t come ripe when you’ve got the tomatoes, and the cucumbers, and the bell peppers, but about six months away.)

        1. Was reading a book with a great thing about the Summer Court in power in the summer and Winter Court in the winter, in the modern world, and no one ever thought, What about Australia?

            1. Nope. It’s clearly described as an exchange of power. Furthermore, these courts allegedly have universal significance.

          1. The reign of the Courts is affected by the locus of the majority of the population, obviously. Magic is derived from life, the highest (most complex) most emotional life is human.

            Otherwise African termite colonies would probably determine when the Faery Courts reigned.

                    1. Assuming we’re talking an ongoing series, it may yet do so. I have heard that authors writers are often wont to do that. Something about building to a climax, I think.

                    2. It might be that the movement of Earth’s seasons is an effect of events in Faerie. As for foreshadowing, don’t assume that simply because you haven’t noticed it does not mean it isn’t there.

    2. And the WI joke which is only almost true that you can enjoy Summer… if it comes on a Sunday. Had one relative who normally resided in Texas and complained that Wisconsin only had three season: July, August, and Winter. In central/northern WI it seemed like October was about ideal – too cold for grass to grow much and need mowing and cold enough that the mosquitoes weren’t out in force, usually not cold enough for any significant snow. And not as muddy as Spring.

      1. I live in North Carolina, where our calendar goes “March, May, June, August, August, August, August, and October.”

        1. No, no, we have April. I’m sure we have April. It’s that month where the highs alternate between 40 and 90 the most, isn’t it?

      2. I lived in Forks Washington for a while, which is pretty much smack in the Olympic rainforest. The common saying there is that there are two seasons in Forks; August and the rainy season.

        Note that just a few miles away is the Hoh river, and up in the Hoh rainforest (sortof a sub-rainforest of the Olympic rainforest) August tends to be rather short, or damp. The saying used to be that it doesn’t rain any more often on the Hoh than in the rest of the Olympics, it just rains harder. Having spent considerable time there I beg to differ, it rains both harder and more often.

        1. I visited there a couple of years ago. A whole ‘nother damn world for this Southern girl.

          Best part was that I’d recently reread a seriously obscure fantasy trilogy (one of those postapocalyptic 80s things) and realized halfway through my trip that it was set in the exact area I was visiting, right down to the rain shadow. 🙂

        1. Alaska (the parts I’ve lived in) has five.

          Almost Winter
          Still Winter
          Breakup (when everything is mud and ice)
          Summer (Tourist)

          Spring and Fall last for about 2 weeks in Anchorage, and about 48 hours in Fairbanks. When the ground warms up and the days are long, the plants waste no time in hustling from seeds or dormant to full summer leafing.

          Of course, we joke that there are two seasons: Road Removal and Snow Repair.

          1. Apparently the short but intense growing season in Alaska didn’t do any good until someone discovered that they could grow peonies when literally nowhere else in the world could—and during prime wedding season. Peonies are a decent export now.

    3. Ehn, in New England summers I was so used to drought that I was surprised when I saw a green lawn in July.

    4. Once upon an summer, back in college, I was hanging out with my friends. A thunderstorm was bearing down on us. I looked up, and went “Ah! A thunderstorm! We might want to go inside before we get wet. Like, Right Now.”

      The gal from the San Francisco bay are gave a squall and dashed for the three flights of stairs with a fading scream of “My laptop!” She’d left it on the open window ledge, because it’d never occurred to her that it could rain in summer.

      The gal from Alaska, as the heavens opened up, stood there gaping. “It doesn’t actually rain like this! That water bouncing off the ground, that’s a movie effect! Wait, so this driving rain stuff isn’t a theatrical effect after all?” Her section of Alaska has misty heavy drizzle, lots of which started as snow at altitude.

      The gal from Portland stared out, and jumped as the thunder hit. So did the gal from Alaska, who thought that cracking boom was surely also a movie special effect. Our darling Californian friend came down the stairs panting and clutching her laptop protectively, and cried “It doesn’t do this in summer!”

      I was very puzzled. “Um, it kinda does. All the time. In the Midwest, and the bases on the east coast, and let’s not talk about thunderstorms outa nowhere at Fort Puke… You mean there are places it doesn’t storm?”

      We stared at each other in mutual culture shock, and then the Portlandian said “So you’ve never danced in the rain, and splashed in puddles? C’mon!”

      So we splashed in the rain, and shrieked with laughter, and had hot chocolate.

        1. I was trying to figure out where you got that from, and then I realized that her college friend had a laptop.

          Funny, I’ve always pictured her as my age or slightly older (about yours, I’ll be 38 in two hours) but just looking very young for her age.
          While I’ve never met Dorothy, I’ve seen pictures and I’m pretty sure she must get carded every time she attempts to order a glass of wine.

            1. I had a laptop in 1977. It was a typewriter in a case with a 110-baud modem that connected back to a college mainframe…… And it was actually my high school.

              And what did we use it for? “Hunt the Wumpus”, I mean assignments, yeah… 😎

          1. Ah… I’m not admitting my age, but, ahem…

            I will point out this episode took place after I’d gotten my first degree, several years before the same group of us were enjoying the high-rolling life making bank on the Y2K bug. (I wasn’t coding patches, but I was feeding coders who were throwing money at me, and the money flowed.)

            The lovely darling lady who was working on her masters degree with the laptop was a chip designer. She had very advanced technology!

        2. *laughs* I just realized that I’ve been mentally dividing folks here between “my age” and “older,” with “older” being…my mom’s age. You know, real grown-ups.

          When mom was in college, she had very special permission to use the computer room.

          Yes, the room to hold the computer…. *grin*

          Awesome how getting older makes things simpler in some ways– when I was in my teens, five years difference in age was an eternity; now that I’m in my 30s, five years is “hey! Same age!”

            1. Oh, you might be darkly amused by this, too– I was one of the group that made a Marine feel very old, back in ’02, when someone asked what a running song was about and he faced a sea of blank faces when he said it was the Challenger explosion.

              We were all too young to remember it happening, if we knew it had happened at all.

                1. The kid that was born after I left home is now driving.

                  She has never known a world where 9/11 didn’t happen.

                  Some days, I’m right with you.

          1. I thought your mom was not far from my age (52), but my college had a room full of terminals with pretty much open access to them, as long as you had an account on the mini computer they had.

            1. Decade and change older– which is an eternity in computer advancements for last century.

              I wouldn’t be surprised to find out my phone has more computing capacity than my first gaming laptop, and I’m almost positive it blows the new computer my folks bought in 96 or so out of the water.

              1. Ah, definitely a bit of a difference there.

                It only takes about 10 years for new phones to exceed the capabilities of desktop computers, though that has slowed considerably as the capacity for eeking out more power has reached a point were we need to work in new directions, rather than just counting on being able to make components even smaller. And it’s about 20 years between supercomputer and phone, so your phone is probably as powerful as a supercomputer from 1996, unless it’s more than a couple years old.

                1. Reminds me of a really cool thing…. my folks taught me to do small talk with almost anybody who isn’t freaked out by the idea of talking to strangers, so when I was sitting at a play area running the royal family I struck up a conversation with a guy who was running his grandson.

                  Long story short? He went with the Army/Air Force from punch cards to “every office has several computers” as one of their technology guys, based entirely on just after he checked in to base way back when the boss went “Hey, we do punch cards in here, Bob, you’re new– you go help with these vacuum tube things.”

          2. I have the added issue that I’m in theatre and end up befriending people who are a lot younger than me—like the friend I have in college. (Very, very leftist right now, but I’ll wait until she’s been out of college for a few years to see if it sticks.) That and playing “young maidens” on stage—I spent a good decade largely indoors, and that plus good genes means I don’t have a lot of the immediate “tells” about my age. (A lot more right now due to exhaustion, but we’re looking into that.) So “my age” is pretty darned fungible when I have friends who antedate my high school experience.

            1. If you look at my face and my non-work hairstyle, most people peg me as mid-20s. If you look at my hands… Far closer to my real age. Lord bless ’em, there are some older folks (80s-90s) at the place where I sing who keep asking when I’m going to graduate college.

  11. Alma, this is the kind of stuff I’ve been trying to read for I don’t know how long, because of a world that my brain’s been trying to build. This helps like you would not believe.

    I’m really hoping to get back to work soon. RL really bit me hard on the ass and I’m still scrambling (stress = I don’t sleep well, which wrecks me for the rest of my day brainwise.)

    1. I think my brain worldbuilds subconsciously, and DOMESTICALLY subconscious at that. I was tinkering with a drawer novel that I’m trying to un-drawer and thinking about a scene where the heroine is looking at elaborate canning jars. Brain went “why are they elaborate?” “Because the person who canned them can’t read.” “Why not?” “Because $REASONS.” “…oh. Hello, plot. Was wondering where you were.”

      Now my brain won’t shut up. /wail

      1. Write it down! Even just as notes 😀

        Me I ended up failing to sleep because the book I picked up to random chapter reread* to ease meself to sleep had me realise that the ‘villain’s plan’ resembles the state of the US today and there’s a Vulcan socjus zealot, appealing to emotion to sway opinions and policy while disguising it in ‘facts and logic’ when there isn’t anything resembling facts or logic there.

        *(It’s a fairly simple technique because staring at nothing doesn’t work with me – the mind knows the story, and if the story is enjoyed, the mind quiets. This time though… I was on the verge of drifting off when the brain piped up.) *sigh*

        1. …Spock’s World? <.<

          I reread childhood books to get to sleep. Given that these included S.M. Stirling and Holly Lisle, I am often not sure *how* I get to sleep.

          1. Okay, I could see S.M. Stirling, but I always found Holly Lisle both easy reading (very little struggles with suspension of disbelief) and kind of relaxing. Just never imagined her stuff as nightmare inducing type stuff, before.

            1. Early Holly Lisle is relaxing (mostly). Vincalis the Agitator, while being one of my favorite books, gives me the screaming meemies in a couple of places, and THEN there’s the Tales from the Longview that she’s currently writing. Highly recommended BUT. Maybe it’s just a particular vulnerability of mine, I dunno. 🙂

          2. BTW, it wasn’t until dinner that I realized “hey, she recognized it from the description!” ^^; that’s how dead I’ve been.

            I think one of my favorite couple descriptions ever comes from that book. “She decided then that she would have to bond with him, just to have a proper argument with him.”

            Also this line: “…showed him… tried to get all Zen with me…

            After playing Star Trek online and watching the reboot movies, I’m very delighted with how much of Diane Duane’s Star Trek filtered into the things. You have NO IDEA how disappointed I was that being able to play a Horta was only an April Fools joke. I actually sulked for a while! I really, really wanted to play a Horta science officer.

            1. Well, there’s a good recommendation for the movies, which I’ve yet to see due to a serious time shortage. 🙂 And the entire “tried to get all Zen with me” and *especially* its followup from McCoy are delightful.

              I am a major Duane fangirl, and was highly amused when my then-toddler was watching some direct-to-video Barbie dreck. One little half-listened-to exchange between the heroine and her mentor, and I gave the TV that Look. Checked the credits afterward, and sure enough, she was one of the script writers.

              Also, “Jim never got tired of being earnestly ‘yes, sir’ed by someone who looked like a giant pan pizza (sausage, extra cheese).”

              1. Okay, you actually have me wanting to get that barbie thing now just because Duane.

                What gave the book away lol?

                K’s’t’lk is the original ‘keep a human as part of your crew because they are from Space Australia’ supporter that I ever encountered.

                Doctor’s Orders and Spock’s World are two of my all time favorite things ever.

                Btw my son blew through all of Young Wizards up to Wizards at War; was able to source the first two Cat Wizards books but The Big Meow is proving elusive. I figure he’ll like the first because mini t-rex wizard! I actually haven’t read the second one. I bought Interim Wizardry and enjoyed it some time back.

                The thing about the Spock’s World book that struck me was how quickly I grew attached or interested in the history characters. They were present for a chapter but woah.

                1. I think it was “Vulcan socjus zealot” that tipped me off. 🙂 Ironically, the first truly obnoxious SJW specimen I ever encountered went by the username Tviokh.

                  The Barbiedreck (all one word, coined in the depths of toddlerhood) is surprisingly good IMO for tiny girls. Teeth-gratingly annoying if you’re an adult, but that goes for most kids’ TV. (I thiiiiiink the Duane-written one is called Fairytopia, but don’t quote me on that. It was pretty awful, just that one moment made me perk up and go SENPAI WROTE THIS MOVIE!)

                  I adore the Young Wizards books, but the first three are the ones I keep copies of on hand to inflict on unsuspecting readers. 😀 The later ones are great fun, though.

                  (And I can inflict my favorite YW theory on you, since you’ve actually READ the books: I got mildly irked reading Deep Wizardry since the pivotal moment hinged on Nita’s emotional bond with a shark, which is supposed to be incapable of emotionally bonding. Is Ed Just That Awesome, or did Nita accidentally open up a capability for friendship when she started nicknaming him? Names have power if you’re a wizard, and she did shorten his name specifically because it scared her…)

                  1. I think you’re on to something there; though it may be that Ed also had willfully denied himself those connections of love and friendship, because as Master Shark, he would have had to end their distress at some point, the he would be distressed… I think that’s where their emotional bond really got solidified, that conversation. For once, someone felt sorrow for the Master Shark, especially the Silent One’s player – instead of the usual, but completely understandable emotions felt for him. Most people use “I’m sorry” to ask for forgiveness, express regret, or pity. I got that Nita was expressing both sorrow and regret in her burst out “I’m sorry!” “For once, Sprat… so am I.”

                    So it started with the nickname – largely because like Kit having issues with Fred’s truename pronunciation, Nita was having problems saying it, but also had the interesting effect of her seeing Ed as a person, as opposed to The Master Shark, without discounting what he was, so yes she did open the capability for friendship then.

                    I wrote a bit about Games Wizards Play on my blog last night, and also found out there is a second Interim Errantry book called On Ordeal. Duane-sensei has been self-pubbing. The stories in there are about Roshaun’s, Ronan’s and the species archivist’s Ordeals. It was only released late last month, but I want physical copies, so I will wait for that.

            2. “Even a Vulcan will react when a silicon based life form bites him on the leg.”

      2. This is why medicine and poison bottles up to the 20th century had such different and detailed shapes and raised patterns. Not everyone was literate, had eyeglasses or had adequate lighting to read labels.

  12. Alma Boykin: Be sure to let us know when that book is for sale; I MUST have it. BTW: I enjoyed the CaD series immensely – bought all of them, reread several of them multiple times…

  13. This story is going to be fantastic! I’m the weirdo who finds the economic and bureaucratic stuff interesting so I’m really looking forward to this!

  14. This has been very helpful.
    I’ve been working on a story of a modern entrepreneur finding a gate to a magical/medieval land. He sets himself up as a Merchant Baron by selling inexpensive modern items to the local royalty/wealthy.
    The story was originally going to have him selling for gold, to bring back to our world. Then I realized that gold was even more valuable and hard to come by in that sort of setting.
    Your article has helped me further refine the story.
    As well as comments from the other Huns. Thank you all.

    1. Keep the gold (or silver) thing in mind. Valuable as those precious metals were, Europe still sent a lot of it to the Far East for many centuries, as it was among the few things that would purchase spices, tea, and other luxuries the wealthy Europeans desired. For centuries European rulers tried to put a stop to it, and largely failed.

      1. Somewhere many years ago I ran across a truly mind-twisting spin on this notion of how very rare, and therefore valuable, gold and silver were in days of yore. Have you ever stopped to think how much gold must have gone into the grave goods of ancient kings, like the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt? Think of what was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, who was really a lesser pharaoh, and then multiply it by dozens, and add in how much MORE wealthy the truly great ones like Rameses II must have been. Now the question: where did they get all that gold? And what was the effect of removing that much gold from the economy?

        Is it possible that the tomb-robbers who plundered the pharaoh’s tombs and put all that gold back into circulation were necessary? That without them, ancient Egypt’s economy would have collapsed?

        1. Most (like 99.9%) of graves in Europe from before the Christian Era were robbed before the Christian Era. Because that’s where the gold was, and gold got located, recirculated, and reburied. Grave mounds were mines but safer and closer at hand than the Harz Mountains or other sources of gold, silver, and useful metals. Likewise all the buildings of Classical Antiquity that were recycled in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Similar things happened after WWII. In one case someone went to a castle and discovered that most of it wasn’t there anymore. The villagers needed housing, so they’d dismantled the remains of the castle and were using that to rebuild. The occupying power (Britain) and the local government persuaded them to take the blocks back to the castle and provided “proper” housing materials instead.

          1. When China was switching over to magically activated symbolic grave goods, writers solemnly urged this because real grave goods would be stolen; the magical equivalents would not be.

        2. Actually, silver was more valuable than gold in ancient Egypt — but yes, keeping the gold in use was probably very helpful.

    2. Not necessarily. You see, there’s this race of people who are adapted to living long lives underground who have mining tech this world didn’t reach until 1880 or later. That affects metal availability.

      Just one of those factors to consider: medieval Europe didn’t have dwarves.

      1. Well, your imagination is better than mine if you would be able to get inspiration for the story described above from THAT book.

        I’d think that, while the storyline is very different, Magic Kingdom For Sale or perhaps Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court might be more inspirational.

        1. The transfer of an item from one universe to another (or one world to another) might have implications that you can’t foresee. That’s what I was thinking of.

  15. I *love* stuff like this. I was so disappointed when I discovered that there don’t seem to be any good books (in English, anyway) on the Italian supercompanies of the Renaissance. I came across mention of one in a book about Queen Joanna of Naples, and went “How have I not heard of these?? This is FASCINATING!”

      1. I …used up a week or so last year reading about millstones and trying to find out how they even made HOLES in the things, or worked in general. Also, if windmills or water mills or animal-run mills were better, or just something dependent on the locale… I no longer remember why I did it, but it was something my brain went on a tangent on, and… well.

    1. I’m at 32K words, four K per day or so. Barring life excitement, I should have this and a short story done by the 20th.

  16. BTW, I’ve got a story set at Evilcon, (convention of villains) and I wanted to use some Huns as background characters.
    I should ask permission before I use anyone’s online personae, right?
    I was hoping to use an aloof talking cat among the characters. Striped perhaps, with a moniker like Texas Red?

      1. I do not presume you desire to kill me horribly, beat me to an inch of my life, mock me worse than Joe Buckley in a novel (as opposed to real life), John Ringo’s already killed me twice under my offline name, so … whatever. If your story needs a punny wallaby, have at me, varlet.

    1. Not sure if I’m villianous enough to rate an invitation to a convention, but go ahead and use me if you so desire.

  17. Stuff came from all over, even back then. Tin from modern day Afghanistan, copper from the Med, etc. Quality stone was of course valuable. Those cathedrals were not just works of art, they were bloody *expensive* ones. Castle walls. The iron trade. Spices (stuff we take for granted, like salt and pepper that’s on every table). Leather and hides could be pretty darned valuable, too. Sounds like a good read is brewing, good lass. *grin*

    1. Once goods were introduced to a region, demand remained even if links were broken for a few years or decades or more. Barry Cunliffe’s book about the Eurasian steppe really emphasized that.

  18. Oh yes, gritty medieval elements, I like it.

    Leather trading was not always fun. You had to deal with the tanning process to turn pelts into usable leather, and that whole industry stunk to high heavens. The main ingredient for the initial maceration were guano and urine. And by guano, I mean “visit local chicken coops and scrape.” They often have to travel to farms and bring back mule loads of the smelly stuff.

    The tanners were generally grouped in their own street (were rent was low). When they were located near a river (as most town were), they were often forbidden from washing their equipment in the river except on the most downstream section of the town.

  19. Also, your Tycho guy will need to deal with large amounts of money — cartloads or shiploads of goods. Unless he is suicidal, he will not carry that much gold or silver on him. He will use letters of credits and counting houses, some of them belonging to rival, and settle accounts with the money counters. Unless of course he travels to uncivilized places where no banking has been established yet…

    1. Another medium is gemstones. In fact, that’s still going on: a favorite of various Colombian drug kingpins is to convert their gains into gem cut diamonds of under 10 carats (because the larger ones are “fingerprinted” via laser pattern), and burying them in the jungle via GPS. Cash would just rot in the humidity…..

    2. Wagonloads of goods, letters of credit, accounts with factors based in the merchants’ quarters of certain market towns, drawing on the credit of his confraternity if needed…

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