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Publishers of award-winning illustrated books on art, history, archaeology, world cultures and more.

Winner of ACE Best New Publication Award goes to..

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We’re excited to announce that A Little Gay History has won the Association for Cultural Enterprises’ award for Best New Publication in the General Publication category!

Find out more about Richard Parkinson’s book here

The lives of others in runic inscriptions

A guest blog by Martin Findell

Call it perversity, but in my own research I’ve always had a taste for the unfashionable and the unglamorous areas of runic writing.  I get more excited about a name scratched onto the back of a brooch than about a large and richly decorated runestone; and as a historical linguist, I take more pleasure in trying to work out problems of the relationship between spelling, speech and the changing structure of language than in broader questions of cultural history and society.  Of course the two are interdependent, and while I concern myself with the troublesome nuts-and-bolts details of language, language is an aspect of culture and must be studied alongside other aspects of culture.  Even the briefest and most unattractive inscription is an instance of language use by real people who belonged to a community in which the act of writing had some purpose.  Rather than regale you with tales of unstressed vowels, I thought it would be more interesting to share my interest in some of the texts we find written in runes, and what they might tell us about the people who produced them.

One of the most impressive objects in the Vikings exhibition (if somewhat overshadowed by the great Roskilde ship) is a replica of the Jelling stone.  The original is at the large royal complex at Jelling in southern Denmark, and was commissioned by Harald Bluetooth to honour his parents and boast of his own achievements.  The inscription says “King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm his father and Þorvi his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway, and who made the  Danes Christian” (translation based on that in the Samnordisk rundatabas, which you can download here).

The memorial text is formulaic, and similar to inscriptions found all over Viking-Age Scandinavia (with a particular concentration in the Uppland region of Sweden, where several thousand have been found).  The stone is probably best seen as a political statement, particularly when it comes to Harald’s display of his Christian credentials; lest the viewer be left in any doubt, one face of the stone is carved with an image of the Crucifixion.

The Jelling stone is an inscription made for a king, but not by him.  The people who did the actual work – and importantly for linguists, these were probably also the people who made decisions about things like spelling – were craftsmen, possibly attached to Harald’s court, who remain silent in the historical record.

One of my favourite inscriptions lies at the other end of the scale:  a short, personal message, informally scratched on the back of a brooch found in a sixth-century woman’s grave at Bad Krozingen in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.  The inscription reads boba:leub agirike, “Bōba, dear to Agirik”.  Bōba is the name of a woman, perhaps that of the woman buried with the brooch (although not necessarily – valuable pieces of jewellery like this could be passed on as heirlooms, or looted and given to someone other than the original owner), and Agirik is a man.  It is likely that he wrote the inscription himself – it is not a work of professional craftsmanship (which the brooch certainly is), and the fact that the message is on the back of the brooch means that it would not have been visible when worn.  We have no way of knowing what the relationship between these two people was.  They might have been husband and wife, father and daughter, brother and sister, or related in some other way; but this slender piece of evidence helps to remind us that these were real people, people who knew and cared for one another.  It might not tell us much about the large-scale political and religious trends of the society in which they lived, but it brings both the words and objects of the past to life as something familiar, human and all too short-lived.

Martin Findell is Research Associate at the University of Leicester. His particular interests are in the problems of understanding the relationship between spelling and sound change in the early Germanic languages, and in the uses and abuses of runes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

His book about runic inscriptions has recently published and can be found on our website

9780714180298
Runes
Paperback with flaps, £9.99
Part of The British Museum Press series on ancient languages

See our authors at the Oxford Literary Festival

A Little Gay History

Desire and Diversity across the

World

Richard Parkinson
Tuesday March 25th

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British Museum curator and egyptologist Richard Parkinson and author of A Little Gay History examines a series of artefacts to see what they tell us about love and sexuality in the ancient and modern world. How old is the oldest chat-up line between men, who was the first lesbian, and were Greek men who had sex together necessarily gay? Parkinson uses objects ranging from Egyptian Papyri and the Roman Warren Cup to work by modern artists including David Hockney and Bhupen Khakhar in his search for answers.

Parkinson is professor of egyptology at the University of Oxford and a curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum.

Find out more about the event and book your ticket!

The Cyrus Cylinder and

Ancient Persia

Tuesday 25th March
John Curtis

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The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived the ancient world and has become a symbol of respect and tolerance for different peoples and different faiths. It was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform at the behest of Persian King Cyrus in the sixth century BC and is often referred to as the first bill of human rights. It appears to allow freedom of worship in the Persian empire and for deported people to return to their homes.

The Cyrus Cylinder is held by the British Museum and was the centrepiece of an exhibition touring the United States in 2013. John Curtis, keeper of the British Museum’s Middle East collections and curator of the exhibition,  and author of The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia, explains the history and importance of the Cyrus Cylinder.

Find out more about this event

Parthenon: Power and Politics

on the Acropolis

David Stuttard
Thursday 27th March

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Classicist, author of The Parthenon: Power and Politics on the Acropolis and theatre director David Stuttard tells the dramatic story of the conception and creation of one of the world’s most iconic buildings, the Parthenon in Athens. It symbolises Greece today and, in the fifth century BC, was the embodiment of the power of the city’s empire and of its politicians, artists and citizens. Stuttard places the Parthenon in its historical context, examines its place in the wider ancient world and looks at its subsequent history.

Stuttard has a background in classics and drama. He is well known for translating and directing Greek plays and is also author of several books including AD410, The Year That Shook Rome; and The Romans Who Shaped Britain, both co-written with well-known archaeologist Sam Moorhead.

Find out more about this event

Vikings: life and legend at Bath Literary Festival

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Last Saturday we spent the day at Bath Literary Festival with Vikings life and legend curator and author Gareth Williams. If you didn’t manage to come to the brilliant talk that he gave at the Guildhall, never fear – here are the highlights:

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Why choose to do an exhibition on the Vikings?
• Suitable topic for Anglo-Danish co-operation
• Vikings seen as ‘sexier’ than other past civilisations
• Vikings one of the most popular subjects for museum visitors
• The exhibition provides an opportunity to conserve and present a spectacular ship

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The Viking Ship – Roskilde 6

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This is the longest Viking ship found to date, at over 37m in total! It has never previously been displayed, and conserved and mounted specially for this exhibition.

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The ship is at the heart of the history of the Vikings, and of the exhibition and the related books.

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Don’t miss the Vikings: life and legend exhibition which opens today!
We’re publishing a wonderful array of Viking titles which are a great way to get acquainted with the Viking world before attending the exhibition or to follow up on your particular interests afterwards.

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Exhibition essentials:

Vikings life and legend edited by Gareth Williams, Peter Pentz and Matthias Wemhoff (paperback £25)

The Viking Ship by Gareth Williams (£9.99)

Further reading for Viking fanatics:

Runes by Martin Findel (£9.99)

The Vikings in Britain and Ireland by Jayne Carroll, Stephen H. Harrison and Gareth Williams (£10.99)

For little Vikings:

The Tale of King Harald: The Last Viking Adventure by Thomas Williams (£7.99)

Make your own Viking ship (£5.99)

The Lewis Chessmen and what happened to them by Irving Finkel (£4.99)