27 April 2012

The great religious, political and economic upheaval of the early medieval era has been
the topic of conversation at a meeting of international scholars at The University of Queensland this week.

The Land and Sea in the Early Middle Ages Conference focused on the 300-1100 period and featured a range of research papers on topics including Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Arthurian travel, medieval naval warfare, rebel Roman emperors, harbours in Constantinople, and piracy.

“The Early Middle Ages was a time of great religious, political and economic change,” said conference convener Dr Amelia Brown, from UQ’s School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics.

“A number of creative new political, religious and economic systems that were born in this era still flourish today. New technologies were advancing knowledge and quality of life, and many of these related to seafaring.

“The sea allowed for intensive communication between the newly Christianised and Islamized coastal areas, in a way that continues up until now — for good (exchange of ideas, trade, knowledge) and for bad (refugees, warfare, the Crusades).”

The conference, held between April 26 and 28, explored the persistence of contact by sea across coastal and riverine landscapes from Late Antiquity into the Middle Ages, in areas ranging from Ireland to the Levant, and Scandinavia to the shores of North Africa.

“By comparing ancient and modern responses to the same landscape, we can learn about human capabilities, and answer some long-running questions about the development of religious, political and economic systems in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa,” Dr Brown said.

Speakers attended from the University of California, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford, the University of Sydney, the Australian National University, the University of Auckland, and The University of Queensland.

The conference was held across UQ’s St Lucia campus, with a manuscripts session in the Fryer Library and a workshop in the R.D. Milns Antiquities Museum.

“Both the Antiquities Museum and the Library allow scholars from around the world have a unique chance to see and study these physical objects from the past first hand,” Dr Brown said.

Emeritus Professor John Moorhead presented the keynote lecture on Thursday April 26, titled Roman Origins of Some Western Churches.

Plenary lectures were given by Emeritus Professor John Pryor (USyd), speaking on Limitations of Maritime Traffic and Naval Warfare in the Early Medieval Mediterranean, and Professor Calvin Normore (UCLA) who discussed The Transmission and Development of a Concept of Free Will in the 11th Century.

“The conference showcased the full range of UQ's research and teaching assets in the fields of ancient and medieval history,” Dr Brown said.

Modern researchers see the early Middle Ages as a dynamic era of seaborne travel which enabled important advances in technology, distributed new religious ideas and laid the foundations of the modern globalised world.

The conference was the eighth staged by the Australian Early Medieval Association and was officially sponsored by the UQ School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, the Friends of Antiquity (a branch of the Alumni Friends), and the Queensland Friends of the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens.

UQ is a centre of research for the areas of Ancient and Medieval history, the Classics, and Latin and Greek languages.

Media: Dania Lawrence, 07 3365 9163, d.lawrence@uq.edu.au