Interesting, Humourous or Just Plain Weird Primary Sources

Kentucky James VII

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I read a lot of primary historical sources for my history degree, and while the majority are fairly boring chronicles (300+ pages that read like the events log in mount and blade aren't fun to read), occasionally you come across stuff that's interesting, laugh-inducing or just weird.

My favorite, off the top of my head, was a guy called Usama Ibn Munqidh, a syrian mercenary-poet who roamed around the middle east during the early crusader period. His book is full of vivid first-hand descriptions of mediaeval combat, but he's best when he describes stuff that happens to him when he ends up in the crusader states. here are a couple of examples:

(frank=christian european)

The Franks are void of all jealousy. One of them may be walking along with his wife. They meet another man who takes the wife aside to have a private conversation with her, while her husband stands by, waiting for her to conclude the conversation. If she lingers too long for his patience, he might leave her alone with this other man and go on his way.

My father (may Allah's mercy be on his soul!) built a bath keeper there named Salim, who told us this:

"I opened the bathhouse in Ma'arrah. We had a bathhouse and was working there. To the bath came a Frankish knight. Now, the Franks do not like to wear the cloth around their loins while they bathe. So this Frank reached out and pulled the cloth off from around my legs while I was bathing! He threw it away. Then he noticed that I had shaven my pubic hair. He shouted in surprise and told me to come closer, and he touched my private parts. "This is great!" he exclaimed. "Do the same for me!" He lay on his back and had me shave him . The hair was as thick as his beard, but I shaved it off. When I was done, he kept touching it and smiling and shouting, "This is great!" Then he said, "Do the same for my wife!" "He had his servant bring the lady, and she entered the men's bath and lay on her back. When I hesitated, the knight insisted, "Do to Madame what you have done to me!"
So I shaved her hair, too, while her husband was looking on. When I was done, he thanked me, gave me some money, and left."

Here is an illustration which I myself witnessed.

When I used to visit Nablus, I always took lodging with a man named Mu’izz, whose home was a lodging house for Muslims. The house had windows which opened to the road, and there stood opposite to it on the other side of the road a house belonging to a Frank who sold wine for the merchants. He would take some wine in a bottle and go around announcing it by shouting, "So and so, the merchant, has just opened a cask full of this wine. He who wants to buy some of it will find it in such and such a place." The Frank's pay for the announcement made would be the wine in that bottle.

One day this Frank went home and found another man with his wife in the same bed. He asked him, "What could have made you enter into my wife's room?" The man replied, "I was tired, so I went in to rest." "But how," asked he, "did you get into my bed?" The other replied, "Well, I found a bed that was spread, so I slept in it." "But," said he, "my wife was sleeping with you!" The other replied, "Well, the bed is hers. How could I therefore have prevented her from using her own bed?" "By the truth of my religion," said the husband, "if you do this again, you and I might have a quarrel." Such was for the Frank the entire expression of his disapproval and the limit of his jealousy.

This one reads like that scene from four lions.
Whenever I visited Jerusalem I always entered the Aqsa Mosque, beside which stood a small mosque which the Franks had converted into a church. When I used to enter the Aqsa Mosque, which was occupied by the Templars, who were my friends, the Templars would evacuate the little adjoining mosque so that I might pray in it. One day, I entered this mosque, repeated the first phrase, "Allah is great," and stood up in the act of praying, upon which one of the Franks rushed on me, got hold of me and turned my face east ward saying, "This is the way you should pray!" A group of Templars hastened to him, seized him, and repelled him from me. I resumed my prayer. The same man, while the others were otherwise busy, rushed once more on me and turned my face eastward, saying, "This is the way you should pray!" The Templars again came in to him and expelled him. They apologized to me, saying, "This is a stranger who has only recently arrived from the land of the Franks and he has never before seen anyone praying except eastward." There upon I said to myself, "...I have had enough prayer." So I went out and have ever been surprised at the conduct of this devil of a man, at the change in the colour of his face, his trembling and his sentiment at the sight of one praying southwards towards Mecca.

And finally, Here's a first hand description of how difficult it was to pierce chainmail.
[...] By this time the vanguard of the Frankish horsemen had reached me, so I retired before them, turning back my lance in their direction and my eyes toward them lest some one of their horse should prove to quick for me and pierce me with his lance.

In front of me were some of our companions, and we were surrounded by gardens with walls as high as a sitting man. My mare hit with it’s breast one of our companions, so I turned it’s head to the left and applied the spurs to it’s sides, whereupon it leaped over the wall. I so regulated my position until I stood on a level with the Franks.

The wall only separated us. One of their horsemen hastened to me, displaying his colors in a green and yellow silk tunic, which I assumed did not have a coat of mail underneath. I therefore let him alone until he passed me. Then I applied my spurs to my mare, which leapt over the wall, and I smote him with the lance. He bent sideways so much that his head reached the stirrup, his shield and lance fell off his hand, and his helmet off his head. By that time we had reached our infantry. He then resumed his position, erect in the saddle. Having had linked mail under his tunic, my lance did not wound him. His companions caught up to him, all returned together, and the footman recovered his shield, lance, and helmet.

For anyone who's interested in the human element of history, do you have any examples of things you've read, like the above?


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btw,  :smile: he wasn't really a mercenary, he and his relatives were in charge of the citadel of shayzar.
he was a diplomat, man of letters, warrior and poet, however upon reading his book
his true passion is revealed, he is more of a hunter at heart who greatly enjoys the outdoors.
whats funny is that once he gets started on the hunting stories, he never stops
before realizing that he should leave the rest to the chapter on hunting tales later in the book!

:mrgreen: there are other tales as well,
- a siege of shayzar by the Romans delivering "three head-shot fatalities by trebuchet/catapult ammo!"
-the mamluk who was scared of snakes and served a lord (Usama's uncle!) who was terrified of mice!
-sultan anur's pet lion who got butted by a ram and was executed for the humiliation!
-the so called "mujahid leopard" who fed on unwary traveling crusaders in an abandoned church,
-stories about horse thieves.....etc. and much more!
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0! Those are hilarious.

Edit: I'm already on Amazon looking into buying some of this dude's writing. Thanks for mentioning him!


Master Knight
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My favourite has got to be from the napoleonic wars. This line from a chapter summary (chpt 17) in "On the road with Wellington" by A.L.F. Schaumann: "Mr. Augustus saves a young Lady and sups with her in a House built of Buiscuits"

Kentucky James VII

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I almost forgot: snippets of grafitti found in Pompeii. One can imagine this sort of thing happened all over the roman world.

And this: the earliest surviving drawings by a child (medieval russia). He probably would've grown up to be a taleworlds regular judging by his interests


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All this is great! Thanks for sharing.
I sort of want Onfim's dad as my new avatar.


Grandmaster Knight
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Came across the following the other day:

"shyte uppon your Queene; I would to God shee were dead that I might shytt on her face!"

Jeremy Vanhill saying some rather nasty things about Queen Elizabeth I in 1585.


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Representation of Götz von Berlichingen with his famous quote:
"But he, tell him, he can lick my arse!"  :mrgreen:
from Goethe's play (plaque in Weisenheim am Sand)



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:mrgreen: Tax-evasion, banditry and messengers under the Ilkhanids...

:lol: Tamerlane & the poetry of Hafiz

:party: Hulagu's Gifts and Tributes



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Unorthodox ways to rule (that place where the dog suppousedly lived is still called Saxhaug, from earlier Saurshaug):


Eystein, a king of the Uplands, whom some called the Great, and
some the Bad, once on a time made war in Throndhjem, and subdued
Eyna district and Sparbyggia district, and set his own son Onund
over them; but the Throndhjem people killed him.  Then King
Eystein made another inroad into Throndhjem, and ravaged the land
far and wide, and subdued it.  He then offered the people either
his slave, who was called Thorer Faxe, or his dog, whose name was
Saur, to be their king.  They preferred the dog, as they thought
they would sooner get rid of him.  Now the dog was, by
witchcraft, gifted with three men's wisdom; and when he barked,
he spoke one word and barked two.  A collar and chain of gold and
silver were made for him, and his courtiers carried him on their
shoulders when the weather or ways were foul.  A throne was
erected for him, and he sat upon a high place, as kings are used
to sit.  He dwelt on Eyin Idre (Idre Isle), and had his mansion
in a place now called Saurshaug.  It is told that the occasion of
his death was that the wolves one day broke into his fold, and
his courtiers stirred him up to defend his cattle; but when he
ran down from his mound, and attacked the wolves, they tore him
into pieces.  Many other extraordinary things were done by this
King Eystein against the Throndhjem people, and in consequence of
this persecution and trouble, many chiefs and people fled and
left their udal properties.

Legendary manliness:

Now they say that Gunnlaug and Audun Festargram, and seven of them together, went up to Hladir to the earl. Gunnlaug was so clad that he had on a grey kirtle and white long-hose; he had a boil on his foot by the instep, and from this oozed blood and matter as he strode on. In this guise he went before the earl with Audun and the rest of them, and greeted him well. The earl knew Audun, and asked him tidings from Iceland. Audun told him what there was toward. Then the earl asked Gunnlaug who he was, and Gunnlaug told him his name and kin. Then the earl said: Skuli Thorstein's son, what manner of man is this in Iceland?

Lord, says he, give him good welcome, for he is the son of the best man in Iceland, Illugi the Black of Gilsbank, and my foster-brother withal.

The earl asked, What ails thy foot, Icelander?

A boil, lord, said he.

And yet thou wentest not halt.

Gunnlaug answers, Why go halt while both legs are long alike?

Then said one of the earl's men, called Thorir: He swaggereth hugely, this Icelander!It would not be amiss to try him a little.

Gunnlaug looked at him and sang:

    A courtman there is
    Full evil I wis,
    A bad man and black,
    Belief let him lack.

Kentucky James VII

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Completely forgot about this one:

In the 1500s, during an inquisition in northern Italy, they tried this loudmouthed miller called menocchio. He owned a ton of books, and his wife accidentally spilt drink on one of them, so she put them in the oven to dry them off. They burned. A lot of peasants would have had book sharing schemes, so they could read without having to buy the same book for everyone.

Menocchio probably read into these books a bit too much, and formed this weird interpretation of christianity that's obviously influenced by his life as a miller. a record of his account during the trial says:

"I have said that, in my opinion, all was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed – just as cheese is made out of milk – and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels. The most holy majesty decreed that these should be God and the angels, and among that number of angels there was also God, he too having been created out of that mass at the same time, and he was named lord with four captains, Lucifer, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. That Lucifer sought to make himself lord equal to the king, who was the majesty of God, and for this arrogance God ordered him driven out of heaven with all his host and his company; and this God later created Adam and Eve and people in great number to take the places of the angels who had been expelled. And as this multitude did not follow God's commandments, he sent his Son, whom the Jews seized, and he was crucified."

He refused to shut up even after they pardoned him, so they bought him back and burned him at the stake.


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Soviet Radio Yerevan jokes...



Radio Yerevan was asked: "What will be the results of the next elections?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "Nobody can tell. Somebody has stolen yesterday the exact
results of the next elections from the office of the Central Committee of the USSR."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "What is chaos?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "We do not comment on national economics."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Could an atomic bomb destroy our beloved town, Yerevan, with its splendid buildings and beautiful gardens?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "In principle, yes. But Moscow is by far a more beautiful city."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is it true that Adam and Eve were the first communists?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "Probably, yes. They both dressed very sparingly, they had modest requirements toward food,
they never had their own house, and on top of all that, they believed that they were living in the paradise."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Does one get 10 years of prison for saying that Brezhnev is an idiot?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "In principle yes, because that's a state secret."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Would it be possible to bring Socialism to the Sahara?"
"Yes," replied Radio Yerevan, "But after the first five year plan, we'll have to import sand."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Why did they establish a Ministry of Navy in landlocked Armenia. Do you have a sea?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "To spite Azerbaijan. They established a Ministry of Culture."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is it true that there is freedom of speech in the Soviet Union the same as there is the USA?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "In principle, yes. In the USA, you can stand in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, DC, and yell, ´Down with Reagan!´,
and you will not be punished. In the Soviet Union, you can stand in the Red Square in Moscow and yell, ´Down with Reagan!´, and you will not be punished."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is it true that the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky committed suicide?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "Yes, it is true, and even the record of his very last words is preserved: ´Don't shoot, comrades.´"

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is it true that conditions in our labor camps are excellent?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "In principle, yes. Five years ago one of our listeners was not convinced of this,
so he was sent to investigate. He seems to have liked it so much that he hasn't returned yet."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is it true that the Soviet Union is the most progressive country in the world?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "Of course! The life was already better yesterday than it's going to be tomorrow!"

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is it true that in the Soviet Union no one lacks a stereo system?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "In principle, yes, you hear the same from all sides."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is it true that half of the members of the Central Committee are idiots?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "Rubbish. Half of the central committee are not idiots."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "What is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "An optimist learns English – a pessimist Chinese."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "What would happen if one of our leaders had a heart transplant and received a Western heart?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "In principle, nothing. The heart plays no role with our leaders."

"Dear Radio Yerevan, I don't know what's the matter with me. I don't love the Party any more.
I feel nothing at all for Comrade Brezhnev or any of the other leaders of the Party. What should I do?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "Please send us your name and address."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Is there censorship of the press and radio in the Soviet Union?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "In principle no, but it is unfortunately not possible to go into this question in any detail at the present time."

Question to Radio Yerevan: "Is it correct that Grigori Grigorievich Grigoriev won a luxury car at the All-Union Championship in Moscow?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "In principle, yes. But first of all it was not Grigori Grigorievich Grigoriev, but Vassili Vassilievich Vassiliev;
second, it was not at the All-Union Championship in Moscow, but at a Collective Farm Sports Festival in Smolensk;
third, it was not a car, but a bicycle; and fourth he didn't win it, but rather it was stolen from him."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "What if socialism were built in Greenland?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "First snow would become available only through ration cards,
and later snow would be distributed only to the KGB officers and their families."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "What is the socialist friendship of nations?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "It's when Armenians, Russians, Ukrainians, and all other
peoples of the USSR unite in a brotherly manner and all together set out to beat up the Azeris."

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Can Communism also be in the USA?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "Yes. But who would give us our wheat then?"

Radio Yerevan was asked: "Which four factors inhibit the agricultural development?"
Radio Yerevan answered: "Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter."


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The zoology according to 14th century Russian scribes
Can you spot the difference?