Christmas Desserts

As we come up to Christmas Day, let’s have a look at the history of several popular Christmas desserts.

Mince Pies

Dating from the Middle Ages this English dessert, like the name suggests, originally contained meat based mince. While meat disappeared from the pie in the 19th century (barring suet), the combination of ingredients in it today dates back from its origins which were inspired by Middle Eastern food that English soldiers experienced during the Crusades. It is not known exactly when they became associated with Christmas, but prior to the restoration of Charles II, their shape was oval and was thought to represent the manager; they also sometimes included a baby Jesus on top. During Oliver Cromwell’s rule mince pies were considered Catholic idolatry and were frowned upon. During the 19th century recipes for both meat based mincemeat and fruit based mincemeat existed but by the end of the century the sweet version, that is made today, dominated.

Yule Log

This popular cake is named and designed after the European Christmas tradition of the Yule Log – a log chosen specially to be burnt on a hearth on Christmas Eve through to Twelfth Night. This tradition happened throughout Europe. The cake itself dates back to at least 1615 with a recipe of the cake featured in The English Huswife. In the 19th century, Parisian bakers popularised the cake, known as bûche de Noël in French, creating the more elaborate designs like you see today. Today the cake itself is more well-known than the origins it is based on.

Christmas Pudding

As we know it today, Christmas Pudding did not appear until the 19th century although it had its origins in the 14th century as pottage – a broth using many of the ingredients that are still in it now, alongside meat. It was served as a starter rather than a dessert. Its association with Christmas did not come until the 18th century. The Victorians were originators of the Stir Up Sunday tradition – the making the pudding on the fifth Sunday before Christmas where each family member took a turn to stir the mixture from east to west. This was meant to represent the journey of the Magi and bring the family good luck for the year. Like Twelfth Night Cake, it was also customary to hide small items within the mixture to symbolise what the future would hold for the person who found that item. A coin could signify future wealth, while a thimble would signify spinsterhood.

Christmas Cake

Like the Christmas Pudding, the Christmas Cake originated from pottage but also from the traditional Twelfth Night Cake. During the 19th century Christmas cake mostly supplanted the Twelfth Night cake and began to use elements such as marzipan for decoration. The expanding British Empire and migration to the colonies – hence the popularity of Christmas Cake outside of Britain – and within Britain itself, also meant that many people began to boil their Christmas Cake with alcohol to preserve the cake during travel. Like mince pies and Christmas Pudding, the spices of a Christmas Cake are meant to represent the Magi.


This German fruit bread has its own festival in Dresden and like those above has developed over its history. Originally it was much less sweet due to restrictions by the Catholic Church during Advent on the use of butter. Eventually Pope Innocent VIII 1491 allowed the Prince Elector of Saxony, his family and household to use butter for Stollen while bakers were allowed to as well as long as they paid a fine that was used to fund churches. This stopped several decades later when Saxony became Protestant. The festival around Stollen dates back to when the rulers of Saxony were presented with a Stollen by the bakers of Dresden. This stopped with the fall of the monarchy in 1918 but was resumed in 1994. The shape of the Stollen is meant to represent the swaddled baby Jesus.

The Livonian Crusade – The Beginning of The End of Paganism in Europe

The Northern Crusades, otherwise known as the Baltic Crusades, were religious wars that took place in the 12th and 13th centuries in order to subjugate and forcibly baptize the indigenous peoples of various parts of Northern Europe such as Finland and North and Eastern Germany, but most significantly the areas of modern day Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The official starting point for the Northern Crusades as a whole was Pope Celestine III’s call in 1195, but the Christian kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, Poland, and the Holy Roman Empire had already begun to subjugate their pagan neighbours before then.

The part of these Northern Crusades that seems to have been the main focus of the action, and continued in some form or another for almost 100 years was the Livonian Crusade which took place across what is now the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia. This crusade takes it’s name from the Livonians, who were the indigenous inhabitants of modern Northern Latvia and Southwestern Estonia, usually referred to as Livonia. Other than the Livonians, during this period the other groups in the region that were a target of this crusade were the Latgalians, Selonians, Estonians, Curonians, and Semigallians.

These peoples inhabiting the Eastern shores of the Baltic were, by the time of the first crusading in the late 12th century, surrounded by several increasingly powerful Christian states. The Orthodox Slavic principalities to the East, and the Catholic Kingdom of Poland and the HRE to the West. During a period of over 150 years leading up to the arrival of German crusaders in the region, Estonia was attacked multiple times by the Slavic states, as well as Denmark and Sweden. This makes it seem that invasions of these lands were inevitable to continue even without the call for a crusade by the Pope and being led by Bishops and holy orders. Suggestions have been made that it is the perspective of the chronicler Henry of Livonia, who wrote the main source for much of these events, that all the military action in the area was due to the crusade, when that isn’t necessarily the case and much of it may have used the Papal decree of crusade as an excuse for expansion.

Map showing conquests in the region (top right) by 1260

Christianity had already come to these areas before the crusades through the settlement of some Swedes and Danes in Latvia in the 11th century. Later there were German traders in the area who were now using the old Viking trade routes to Byzantium. Saint Meinhard of Segeberg then arrived in 1184 with the mission of converting the pagan Livonians. Although Meinhard became bishop in part of Livonia in 1186, Pope Celestine III proclaimed a crusade against the Baltic pagans in 1195.Shortly after this Meinhard died after attempting to forcibly convert local Livonians, and eventually an official crusading expedition was led by Meinhard’s successor; Bishop Berthold of Hanover, which arrived in Livonia in 1198. Shortly after arriving however, Berthold and his forces were killed by Livonians in battle. Pope Innocent III then reiterated Pope Celestine III’s call for a crusade in response in order to avenge this defeat. This time a larger force was assembled and, led by Bishop Albrecht von Buxthoeven in 1200, arrived in Livonia and set up the Bishopric of Riga in 1201, which is now the modern capital of Latvia. From here Albrecht set up the knightly order of ‘The Livonian Brothers of the Sword’ in order to aid in conversion, but perhaps more importantly to protect German trade in the area and secure German control. By 1206 the Livonian chief, who had already been baptized in 1189, was finally defeated in a decisive battle, and the Livonians were declared to be converted. The Livonian chief, Caupo, was to become an ally of the crusaders until his death in battle in 1217.

After the successful conversion of the Livonians their land was essentially taken over by the crusaders and the Bishopric of Riga. Several lucrative trading posts were taken over, and construction began of some important castles in the area; Koknese Castle and Cēsis Castle. Military alliances were also made with some nearby Latgalian principalities.  The remaining Latgalians were apparently easily subdued and absorbed into the Bishopric of Riga, one of which was attacked despite already being Orthodox, the excuse being that they were in alliance with Lithuanian pagans.

Remains of Koknese Castle in Latvia

In 1208 the crusaders deemed themselves ready to venture North and begin campaigns against the Estonians. Estonia at the time was comprised of serveral counties that were led by elders that loosely cooperated with each other. The crusaders began sending raids into Southern Estonian counties with the help of newly converted Livonian and Latgalian allies. The Estonian tribes however appeared to put up a fierce resistance and occasionally were found to have struck back with counterattacks at crusader held areas in Livonia. This part of the crusade was to prove more difficult than those before, and would take much longer. At various points between 1208 and 1227 armies of different sides would wreak havoc across Livonia, Latgalia and Estonia. The Livonians and Latgalians would be on the side of the crusaders or Estonians at various points, as well as the Russians of the Republic of Novgorod getting involved with either side at times. The Estonians used hill forts effectively to defend and serve as centers of each county, and these were to be besieged, captured, and re-captured multiple times.

After some time of war, both the Estonians and crusaders were becoming war weary, and so a three year truce was established from 1213 to 1215. This proved to be more advantageous to the crusaders however, as they were able to consolidate their political position effectively, whereas the Estonians were unable to bring their system of loose alliances into a centralised state. In 1217 there was finally a decisive battle and a turning point in the campaign against the Estonians. Although the Livonian leader, Caupo, died at this battle, Estonian leader and central figure of resistance, Lembitu, was also killed. Although later in 1223 there was an Estonian uprising against Christian held strongholds throughout Estonia, in some places with the help of Russian mercenaries, these places were retaken by the German crusaders in 1224. Later that year the Livonian Brothers of the Sword established their new headquarters at Viljandi in Southern Estonia.

Before the Estonian uprising, the North of Estonia was under attack from the Kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden while the South was being taken by the German crusaders. The Swedes made one failed attempt in 1220, but the Danish fleet under King Valdemar II landed in the present day capital of Tallinn and from there subjugated the whole North of Estonia. The Danes would also attempt invasions on the Estonian island of Saaremaa to the West of the mainland. Saaremaa would see off King Valdemar in 1206 and 1222 despite him attempting to establish and hold fortifications upon arrival. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword would also attack the islanders in 1216 by invading over the frozen sea, but were unsuccessful and provoked counterattacks from them. The islanders of Saaremaa would also prevent the Swedes in 1220 from keeping hold of territory in Western mainland Estonia When Swedish strongholds were completely wiped out. Eventually in the winter of 1227 the frozen sea was crossed again by crusaders, this time a 20,000 strong army which forced the surrender of multiple strongholds until the islanders of Saaremaa finally accepted Christianity. The inhabitants of Saaremaa would thrice fight back again, once in 1236, and again in 1261 when they once more renounced Christianity and killed all Germans on the Island. They were defeated once more by a joint force of the Livonian Order, forces of the Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek, and Danish Estonia. The Livonian Order then esablished a castle on the Island. The Island proved to continue to be a problem however until 1343 when the islanders arose for the last time, again killing all Germans and destroying the castle. This was recovered for the last time and remained under the Livonian Order until 1559.

The remaining chapel part of the Livonian Order castle on Saaremaa

As a whole the crusades, even in the general Livonian area did not end until 1290. The Curonian and Semigallian people from the Western side of the Gulf of Riga started to cause trouble, and in 1236 the Livonian Brothers of the Sword suffered a great defeat to the Semigallians. This defeat was so bad that their remnants reorganised themselves under the Teutonic Order and therefore became known as the Livonian Order. In 1242 the Livonian Order would start to conquer the Curonians but would take a long time to fully defeat them, and were even facing defeat in 1260, but they gradually subjugated them in 1267. Crusaders from Riga started the conquest of Semigallia as early as 1219, but after several unsuccessful campaigns the conquest was almost given up on in 1251. Through to the 1270s the crusaders continued to be at odds with Semigallia, and the Semigallians attacked Riga directly multiple times such as in 1280 and 1287. The last campaigns against the Semigallians took place in 1289 and 1290 when their last territories were finally taken and up to 100,000 of them migrated to Lithuania in order to continue the fight against the Germans.

The main Semigallian hillfort of Tērvete.

The Christianization of  the Eastern Baltic coasts was finally mostly complete by this time at the end of the 13th century, but it would be well into the latter part of the 14th century before the true last Pagans of Europe of Lithuania would be converted. This would prove to be one of the most complicated and lengthiest processes of Christianization in European history.


Medieval Warfare Magazine: The Knights Templar

Today we have a review of a great historical magazine for you. Medieval Warfare is published by Karwansaray Publishers out of the Netherlands. They publish other history magazines such as Ancient History and Ancient Warfare as well as one called Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy. But right now we’re taking a look at Medieval Warfare Magazine Volume 6, Issue 5. It is a bi-monthly magazine that features 60 full colour pages with great illustrations, and is edited by Peter Konieczny. The issue I have here is themed around the Knights Templar, but there are also a few unrelated parts of the magazine.


First of all, let’s see what the magazine has to offer in just pure written content. Coming under the theme of the issue there are 8 articles. Included in these you have a good introduction to the topic and who the Templars were, their rise and fall, and the aftermath of their order being destroyed up to how they are perceived in the present day. There is then a piece by world leading scholar in research into the military religious orders and the Crusades, Helen Nicholson, about her work and how she first became interested in this particular piece of history. Aside from a couple of good articles about the history of the Templars that go into more detail on certain events, there is also a list of 10 facts about the Templars, which is a nice touch to add into such a complex theme, making the magazine a little more easy to digest in this case. The ten facts are also quite interesting! Such as this one:
Female Templars – While the Templar Rule demanded that its brothers keep women away, and forbade them from being members, scholars have been able to find scattered references to ladies who joined
the order and lived with the men. For example, a woman named Berengaria of Lorach was the ‘soror’ of a Templar house in Catalonia, where her name appears in witness lists among those of the brothers, and she is recorded as giving counsel to the commander of the house.”
The main theme of the magazine is then finished of with The afterlife of the Templars which looks at the depictions of the order after its end, and in modern popular culture. Overall in terms of just the theme of this one issue there is a good amount of content with a few different focuses and approaches that makes things interesting.


Other than the theme of the issue, there are also a few articles and other features in the magazine. The magazine starts of with Marginalia right after the editor’s introduction that is a couple of pieces of news or recent developments to do with the history of Medieval warfare. In this issue there is some news about the stone marking the spot where King Harold fell at Hastings in 1066 has been moved to a new location following a new study of the battlefield. Other features in the magazine include a very interesting one about Bellifortis, a treatise written by Conrad Kyeser in 1405 on military engineering at the time, with many designs and ideas on gunpowder weapons and siege warfare. I found this a particularly interesting read as it was completely unknown to me, and was apparently so to most people for a long time due to Kyeser not having acquired a patron by the time of his death and the therefore unlikely odds of any of his designs actually being built or used.

At the end of the magazine there are a few reviews. One was of the 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven which is quite appropriate for the theme of the issue. This is an interesting film to review as it is one of the most popular and successful out there about the crusades, and yet there are many criticisms to be made of it, majorly of its historical inaccuracies of not just the crusades, but also many fundamental facts about the Medieval world and warfare. The review here is one pretty much agree with, and tackles the choices that were made in the film that revolve around clumsily inserted modern agendas alongside poor history. The other reviews at the end of the mag are of a couple of books, one of which is particularly interesting to me; The Art of Swordsmanship, which is a translation of a fencing treatise originally written by Hans Lecküchner in the late fifteenth century, and translated by Jeffrey L. Forgeng. It was originally titled Kunst des Messerfechtens, or The Art of Messer Fencing.


Finally I just want to make some points about the design and appearance of the magazine. Overall I think it looks great. There are excellent illustrations by various people throughout, which often remind me of an Osprey book. Also the overall design is very clean, easy on the eyes, and easy to read unlike some other magazines I know of which end up looking like a bit of a mess. Here they just keep things simple and add in a few nice medieval styled designs around some of the text columns. Another little touch I like is the clearly separate boxes at the end of each article that give you sources for further reading which are a good way of including a list of sources that doesn’t look as confusing as in academic books or papers.

Overall I have to say this magazine was a great read and a pleasure to review. Now I’m certainly thinking about a subscription!

If you’d like to know more then go to their site at:


I found myself doing some research on the battle of Tannenberg 1410, a little while after its anniversary in 2010. I coursed a module on the Crusades as a university student and this is a topic I came across. Needless to say, I am not a military historian – but I thought this conflict in the Baltic, which is in essence one of the largest battles in medieval European history deserved some attention here in the blog. So today we will go for a flash back 605 years into the past to what currently is modern-day Poland.

This battle of Tannenberg, took place in a field between the adjoining villages of Grinwald and Tannenberg in 1410. As part of the later crusading movement, it has to be considered that the issue was not any more the reconquest of the Holy Land, but fighting the pagans across Europe, which was just as bad a threat to Christendom. The Teutonic Knights took it in their hands to dispatch justice in the name of God for this purpose. They targeted Lithuania because of various reasons. First of all, because most of the territory remained pagan, and the few people who were Christianised were Orthodox. Fortunately, or unfortunately for the Order, in 1386 a marriage between the royal families of Poland and Lithuania took place which lead to an alliance between the Order’s neighbouring states, and the Lithuanian conversion to Christianity. Yes, in case you were not aware, the Teutonic Knights decided that the best way to fight the enemy was to install themselves by the enemy, so in the Baltic, surrounding themselves by pagans and enemies… It is not clear if the acts of the Order were truly based on the fear of this alliance, greed for the neighbouring lands of their estate, or was just something to add to their wish for crusade. So, they decided with their upper hand that this alliance was just a joke and a pretended conversion to the true faith, therefore they needed to monitor and be cautious of what could come of this Polish-Lithuanian conjunction. And things eventually kicked off when trouble arose in Samogitia.

Samogitia had always been a problematic area. The territory lay in western Lithuania, just between the Teutonic lands of Prussia and Livonia, and rebellion against the Order’s influence was something common. But that time the Teutonic Knights went too far. At the beginning of the 15th century, Lithuania suffered from famine, particularly in the Samogitian lands. Poland sent supplies to this area, but they were seized by the Order, because their spies had evidences to think that they were actually transporting weapons rather than food and that the Lithuanian Duke wanted the Samogitians to rebel and exterminate the Order. This would not be something that the Duke would take kindly, and in a way he did the Order a favour by declaring war against them – Although they put that on hold due to an armistice that would expire the 24th of June (1410). In addition, the Order decided to capture the Lithuanian ruler, as they thought the truce would not apply him…Obviously violating the truce agreement, much to the anger of both factions. The resolution to this situation is what the events of the 15th of July, in 1410, came to be at Tannenberg.

June was used basically for recruitment and war preparation, because of the armistice. The Polish troops would configure about 20000 of the soldiers that fought the war. The ‘Banner’, (family or district polish unit), was subdivided into between 50 to 120 ‘lances’ of 2 to 5 men, that will fight along mercenaries from Bohemia and Moravia. War-hammers, pikes and ‘war-flails’ were the foot soldiers weapons. Cavalry would be Lithuania’s contribution to the allied army, as well as some Tartar and Russian troops. The Teutonic lines would count with not so many knights, but secular members of the Order, Prussian, Bohemian and Italian mercenaries, as well as other fellow crusaders. Once the truce was over, the action began. The 1st of July the Lithuanian and Polish armies gathered at Czerwinsk while the Order advanced to the site of Kauernick. Little victories were achieved by the allied forces on the 9th at the assault of Lautenburg, and the 13th when Gildenburg was captured and raided. Finally, the two armies will meet at Tannenberg-Grunwald-Zalgiris. (…Not enough with one name for a battle…).

The morning of the 15th of July was very eventful. Hours before the battle, the leader of the combined Polish-Lithuanian armies, King Wladislaw Jagiello, was praying when he was interrupted, several times, to be informed that the enemy had reached the place and was prepared for battle. Once both armies were settled in the battle field,  the Grand Master of the Order, Ulrich Von Jungingen, supposedly sent two swords to Jagiello and Vytautas (the Lithuanian Duke) to serve them in the battle, as they were destined to face each others during the battle. So, the fight started and the blood of both Christian crusaders and ‘miscreants-Saracens’ was spilt throughout the field. Apparently some controversial event stook place during the battle. There was a retreat of the Lithuanian ranks, which is still debated if it was due to panic or a Tartar strategy, to distract some of the Teutonic troops. Then, Jagiello was injured, but somehow saved by the Lithuanians, who came back and attacked the rear ranks of the Order. It seems that with this come back, the Teutonic troops were severely damaged, and in fact, Von Jungingen was killed, which lead to the demoralisation and escape of his knights. Thus, victory was proclaimed to the allied forces of Lithuania and Poland, and so they marched on to Marienburg (headquarters of the Order), which eventually would fall and with it, so would the Knights. In the process, Poland and Lithuania gained new territories which contributed to the assertion of their power in Central-Eastern Europe. Things got pretty ugly for the  Order. They became subjugated to the will of German princess, as they failed miserably in their mission, and their status as crusading order was next to nothing.

However, what I think is really important is that the battle of Tannenberg has remained in the memory of these people  ever since. And evidences of such a thing can be found through the 20th and 21st Centuries. During the First World War, in 1914, a battle was fought between the Germans and the Russians between the towns of Ortelsburg and Gildenburg. But it is known as the new battle of Tannenberg due to the use of German propaganda of the medieval battle, in order to re-establish their status and authority in this area. The Polish nationalism embraced the victory at Tannenberg so much that the in the area of Galicia, by 1910 there were around 60 towns and villages that had monuments commemorating the battle – most of them destroyed during the First and Second World Wars, and reconstructed during the 60s. Finally, the Bank of Lithuania had a very nice touch with the release of 3 commemorative coins, for the 600 anniversary of the battle. So perhaps the importance of Tannerberg 1410 goes beyond the new nation making and legitimisation in the Middle Ages. I remember asking myself: “was it actually that important?”. As a victory for the Polish-Lithuanian alliance, probably. As a crusade? Apart from a blatant failure, perhaps not so much. And this, of course, is if we even give it the benefit of the doubt in terms of crusading. After deep reflexion on the subject, it becomes evident that this was no crusade, but warmongering fuelled by the 15th centuries quarrels for power and self-assertion in Europe. Pretty much every European nation at the time had internal issues due to the still prolonged and devastating effect of the Black Death, as well as the worsening weather conditions probably due to the Little Ice Age. Once again, I am going to end in controversial terms and suggest that considering the events at Tannenberg as part of the crusading movement, is a narrowed academic way of judging the entire situation. I feel I never fully understood the importance of the conflict because I was studying it from the wrong perspective – I had no background in the socio-political-economic situations of the area, and I mostly had dealt with the Teutonic Knights as a crusader order, and not an identity of its own, with agendas to fulfill and acquisitions to obtain.



At WU History it is time for out of your comfort zone! So far I have predominately looked at the eighteenth century and the twentieth century with a particular focus on cultural history. This January post would contain a biography of the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Saladin.

Saladin was the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria during the twelfth century and is considered to be a very wise and effective ruler according to historians. Saladin came from a Kurdish background and in the Islamic world he was known by another name, Salah al-Din Yusuf. In spite of Saladin becoming s great military leader he was in actual fact more interested in other things during his youth. According to source material Saladin had an interest in religion during his early life rather than taking an interest in military. This is interesting as Saladin lived in an area where there were many religions and customs which included Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Saladin also moved to different places within the Arab region, this first instance occurred soon after his birth where his family moved from Tikrit to Mosul and eventually Damascus in Syria.

Saladin was known for his great military prowess during the Crusades, The forces he led were able to triumph over European forces who came to the Holy land in order to control it during the Battle of Hattin in 1187. As a result of this battle the Muslims recaptured the Holy land, which included Jerusalem. However another crusade resulted when the European forces were defeated by Saladin and his men, known as the Third Crusade. Saladin and his forces were defeated by Richard the Lion heart and his crusaders at the Battle of Arsur in 1191. In spite of Saladin losing his territory he was a good negotiator and was able to make a pact with Richard, enabling Muslim control to remain in Jerusalem.

However before he became famous for the Battle of Hattin his military career started with his uncle, Asad al-Din Shirkuh and was a subordinate of the north Syrian military leader of Mesopotamia, Nur al-Din. He aided and eventually led in conflicts with other Muslim territories. An example of this occurred in Egypt, where Saladin offered his military service over three campaigns. In 1169 he rose through the ranks to become an expeditionary leader, after this his position in Egypt improved to the extent that he brought an end to the Shi’ite Fatimid caliphate, a powerful dynasty that ruled not only Egypt but stretching as far as the Maghreb region, North Africa. Upon capturing Egypt, it generated a lot of wealth for Saladin and using this wealth established a dynasty of his own, the Ayyubid dynasty that covered from Egypt towards parts of Mesopotamia, notably Syria and the Levant coast, bringing many major cities in those regions under his control such as Damascus and Mosul, which united the Muslims of those areas before fighting against crusaders again.

As well as being a good military commander and being skilled in battle, Saladin was a wise ruler and ruled efficiently, particularly when it came to foreign affairs. In spite of being of his army killing many of the crusaders in battle and capturing many others to sell as slaves after the warring disputes over who should rule the Holy land, Saladin did allow Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem and Christian merchants to trade there without any interferences or hostility even though Saladin and his forces defeated Richard and his forces, ending the Third crusade.

History through Song Lyrics: Unconventional Sources

I would like to inaugurate this blog (without considering last week welcome post) with my favorite controversial topic in history: Non-academical history. It does not really matter how it is called, but what does matter is that it exists, and it can be use for a better understanding of history, or a more engaging, touching and easier way to get along with history. Usually, this kind of history, popular or public history, is conceived in a variety of ways. The most common are: museums, and in general the heritage industry, tv shows, and books. But today, I would like to talk about one which is not commonly considered and I, personally, think it is rather interesting and useful.

I remember how in my first year of A-levels one of my classmates made up a funny song about the French Revolution, in order to remember the main events and personalities. And thanks to that, I would never ever forget those things. The issue I am presenting here is music as a source in the learning and teaching of history. Music is an art that has been linked with history since ancient times, and it has been developed through it until the present day, and it will most likely continue the process in the future. We know about the role of entertainment of musicians in the past and nowadays…But what about the rest? It is not the most common of the cases but many artists and bands do create material related with history. Although sometimes it is needed to read deeply through the lyrics, the ideas are still there.

My research has brought together material from diverse places and periods, but I would like to focus on the most modern evidences. 1974 was a critical year in the history of Portugal; after years of dictatorship the country was ready to embrace democracy as their political system. The use of music was crucial for the coordination of the whole movement known as ‘Revolução dos Cravos’ (The Carnation revolution). Those songs used during this revolution have prevailed in history. They are a symbol and they are living history, those lyrics portray the spirit and meaning of the whole event. One of the most famous songs used for this event was “Grândola, Vila Morena”, written by Jose ‘Zeca’ Alfonso, a couple of years before this happened. Despite the fact the song was previous to the event, the Portuguese people identify themselves in that circumstances with these lyrics:

”Grândola, vila morena

Terra da fraternidade

O povo é quem mais ordena

Dentro de ti, ó cidade

…Em cada esquina um amigo, em cada rostro igualdade”

(Could be translated as: Granola, dark land, land of fraternity, your population rules within you, oh city…In everycorner, a friend, in every face equality)

The perfect song for a revolution against the fascist regime that was oppressing the population…The song by which this is remembered.

But this is maybe the most evident case. An even more modern example: in 1990, one of the most celebrated german rock band of all times, The Scorpions, released their album Crazy World, in which their famous song ‘Wind of Change’ was included [5]. Just with a quick look to the lyrics and a bit of historical knowledge, the topic can be disguised: The fall of Berlin Wall, in 1989. Such an important event in western modern history immortalised in a radio hit, famous in the whole world. And the list goes on. Published in May, 1983, Iron Maiden’s album Piece of Mind contains their famous song ‘Die with Your Boots On’. “They die with their boots on, yes they die” lyrics in honor of the disastrous and miserable General G.A. Custer’s death at Little Big Horn. The last example is from the album Lost in Space Part II, the third EP of Tobias Sammet’s metal opera project known as Avantasia, published by Nuclear Blast.The following extract is from the song ‘Promised Land’, which embraces a rather historical and religious topic; the Crusades and the Holy Land:

“Like moths to a flame
Driven by vanity
They been off to Jerusalem
Chasing a dream
Calling on me
We re just trading in needs”

The Crusades, the end of fascism in Portugal, the fall of the wall in Berlin and one of the biggest disasters in the history of war, all in music…All historical. And these are just four, rather recent, examples…We  might question now: what can music offer to the study of history for academical historians (and other humanists) but, also, how can these lyrics been used for students (like ourselves) or for lower levels, where history in most of the cases is not a choice but a must.