Before I tell you about the curious history of medieval battle snails, I realize that I should explain something about my own history: I spent my 20s getting a PhD and teaching college, yes, History. History history history.
Despite teaching this stuff and earning the title of doctor of philosophy (I’m Dr. Robey, if you’re nasty), when I write about History, you can bet I’m going to use sources. A post where a writer (even if they’re an expert in the field) just fires things off with no evidence, especially if the topic is controversial, would be considered a “hot take.” A hot take is “deliberately provocative commentary” that’s “usually written on tight deadlines with little research or reporting, and even less thought.” Hot takes are considered unacceptable no matter the size of one’s audience, but they’re particularly problematic when put out by people with significant reach since the hot take might end up misinforming the people they influence.
Just as problematic would be using quotes, say, but taking them out of context and pasting them elsewhere without citing the source. Similarly, failing to read provided sources on a topic and then claiming ignorance of those commonly discussed, accessible works would be viewed as sloppy and ill-advised.
I mention all of this not to insult your intelligence — I have no doubt that such conventions are obvious — but for the sake of my younger readers who wish to thrive in their studies.
Medieval battle snails, while part of History, aren’t my area of expertise, so I’m especially anxious to show my sources in the event I’ve somehow misunderstood or misrepresented something or if we simply have new info I’ve not yet encountered. Tell me in the comments if you have snaily intel.^^
The Curious History of Medieval Battle Snails
Spinning and fighting – Knight defending himself and his wife with a distaff against a giant snail (KB78D40,14th c.) pic.twitter.com/PyOL6tFZy6
— Damien Kempf (@DamienKempf) November 11, 2015
In the medieval period, people drew and painted knights fighting giant snails in the margins of manuscripts. According to Lilian M.C. Randall in a 1962 article for the scholarly history journal Speculum, the practice of drawing small images of knights fighting with snails began in the late-1200s in Northern France. From there it spread to Flanders and England, where it continued in the fourteenth century. Randall theorizes that the battle snail could be a stand-in for the hated Lombards.
— Medievalisms (@AllMedievals) August 18, 2015
Rachael Gillibrand wrote that scholars have theorized that battle snails are meant to symbolize cowardice, the resurrection of Jesus, actual snails that destroy vineyards, mistrust, and even female genitalia.
— GroovyHistorian (@GroovyHistorian) July 10, 2016
Even the experts at the British Library’s Medieval manuscripts blog are uncertain about the precise meaning of the snails, but they provide a good roundup of examples of snail marginalia from their collections.
— GroovyHistorian (@GroovyHistorian) July 8, 2016
The worst coverage of medieval battle snails comes from the UK’s Mirror, which — without sources to back this up! — asks “But what if snails actually did used to be that big?” and calls for inquiry into whether giant snails were simply wiped out by knights. I assume that this is British humor at work??
That said, it’s only the second sketchiest snail article I’ve read this week, so go Mirror, way to take a rare win of sorts.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is that in these medieval illustrations, the knights are always on the defensive, on the verge of losing against a mere mollusk.
— Mandy the Mollusc (@69quietgirl) December 5, 2016
The lesson, if I may modify a well-known expression, is that if you come at the snail, you best not miss.
Some Snail Skincare Picks
I’m not actually super into skincare that has a heavy snail mucin component; I find that it takes too long to sink in to my skin. That said, I’ve tried a number of good snail products and can suggest a few if you want to add some snail battles to your skincare routine.
As I mentioned in my cheap starter routine post, Mizon’s Snail Ampoule is a great way to try snail without spending a ton or dealing with it in its stringiest form.
THE snailiest snail that ever snailed. This essence hydrates, softens, and may help wounded skin heal faster. I like it, but find that it takes forever to sink in on my skin, so it’s not usually in my routine.
Seriously snaily masks with a stringy, gooey essence that dries down fantastically and hydrates well.
Pure Smile Snail Lip Treatment Balm (made in Korea for the Japan market)
True story: the one snail product I fucking live for is this Pure Smile Snail Lip Treatment, strange as that sounds. It’s not very snaily at all, more like plasticky almost and it can heal ANYTHING. Sadly, it’s discontinued and the remaining tubes are overpriced. Pure Smile’s new lip treatment smells incredible and works pretty well, but it’s not the miracle worker that this is. The closest thing to the original is the vinyl lip gloss from Pat McGrath’s lip kits (which contains no snail).
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