Recommended History Books

What sorts of history/geography/mythology books should I be looking into to help me get to understand the time period? General histories are preferred. Histories detailing specific things like alchemy/hermeticism would be interesting.

It's not comprehensive, but this was useful in getting a view of the big picture and looking for places where I wanted to focus deeper.


My favorite historian (especially for Normandy) is Georges Duby. Good books about women, knighthood, everyday life - easy to read, absolutely accurate (he was a professor - probably the greatest French professor of Medieval history ever)

If you like Duby I imagine you'd like Marc Bloch's work: Feudal Society (2 volumes). While we're on French histories, LeRoy Ladurie's "Montaillou: Promised Land of Error" is quite good, and while it's not a general survey of the Middle Ages, it does focus on the social and political life of a small village in thirteen century Provencal.

Carl Stephenson wrote a thin book on feudalism that's a nice read: "Medieval Feudalism".

H. G. Koenigsberger's "Medieval Europe 400-1500" is a general survey that I'd recommend.

Are you interested in translated source texts? I find those more valuable for Ars related material than modern histories.

Matt Ryan

Frances and Joseph Gies have written a number of books about Medieval life.

Here is a link to the Amazon page:

For my mediaeval Europe survey courses, I'm having my students read the following:

Jo Ann H. Moran Cruz and Richard Gerberding, Medieval Worlds: An Introduction to European History, 300-1492 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, ISBN: 0-395-56087-X)

...supported by the following primary source reader, if you want a sense of how people at the time saw the world:

Brian Tierney, The Middle Ages, Volume 1: Sources of Medieval History (Sixth Edition, New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1999, ISBN: 0-07-303289-1)

I hope that this helps.

It is quite interesting to have a peek at Raul Glaber and Gregory of Tour's work, as contemporary writers.

Thanks. Added them to my xmas gift list. Which source texts?

Quite awesome, all. Also, since I've got a giant folder named 'Silk Road Campaign', I might as well ask what's good for that, as well.

Gee, there are hundreds. It really depends what you are looking for. Almost any area has something. I'll just list my favorites:
Hugh of Poitiers, "The Vezelay Chronicle". Great stuff that really shows the relationship between petty nobles and monks. (Little)
Galbert of Bruges, "The Murder of Charles the Good". Nice and violent.
Chaucer "The Canterbury Tales", 14th century but things don't change that much. Sexy, funny. The same goes for The Decameron.
Robert of Clari, "The Conquest of Constantinople" and Villehardouin's "Conquest of Constantinople". Great, pertinent stuff.
"The First Crusade" ed. Edward Peters, a compilation of source texts from . . . you get it.
"The Sagas of Iceland" are fabulous. Even if you're not setting a saga in Iceland "Njal's Saga" is a brilliant read.

Let me also add Umberto Eco's "Baudolino". It's fiction, set at the end of the 12th century. Eco uses actual medieval myths current at the time and weaves a fascinating tale (I think). I've bought and given away to friends four copies of the book. I recommend every Ars player to read it.

I'm sure I"m missing some really obvious ones, like Gregory of Tours and Geoffrey of Monmouth. I'm sure other folks could add to this list with little effort.

Matt Ryan

For primary sources, see also the Internet Medieval Sourcebook:

The Magnificent Century is a great book set right on the time period that Ars Magica is set in. It covers Henry's rise and his reign, in England.

Bug me about this in about 1 week or so and I'll post a bibliography for the Silk Road...



I'll put some down here that I have recommended as general reads to other medievalists. You can get these off of JSTOR at your local university (if you don't have access to JSTOR, email someone who does for the PDF. . . ).

Pearson - Nutrition and the Early-Medieval Diet (Speculum 72)

Fascinating nutritional analysis that concludes that the average medieval peasant, despite a surplus of calories, nevertheless was always hovering on the edge of malnutrition. May or may not be relevant to your saga, as you like, but an interesting avenue of inquiry.

Caciola - Wraiths, Revenants and Ritual (Past & Present 152)

Necromancers are standard to many sagas--but just what do medieval sources think of the walking dead?

...and is the main bibliographic source for the Severin bit in "Tales of Mythic Europe". It seriously rocks.