An Archaeological Study of The Bayeux Tapestry
by Trevor Rowley
An Archaeological Study of the Bayeux Tapestry provides a unique reexamination of this famous piece of work through the historical geography and archaeology of the tapestry. Trevor Rowley is the first author to have analyzed the tapestry through the landscapes, buildings and structures shown, such as towns and castles, while comparing them to the landscapes, buildings, ruins and earthworks which can be seen today. By comparing illustrated extracts from the tapestry to historical and contemporary illustrations, maps and reconstructions, Rowley is able to provide the reader with a unique visual setting against which they are able to place the events on the tapestry.
This approach allows Rowley to challenge a number of generally accepted assumptions regarding the location of several scenes in the tapestry, most controversially suggesting that William may never have gone to Hastings at all. Finally, Rowley tackles the missing end of the tapestry, suggesting the places and events which would have been depicted on this portion of William’s journey to Westminster.
I’m not sure what I expected here. It’s a tapestry. I didn’t know how much archaeological evidence was going to be interesting or compelling. I had a moment of “uh oh” when the colors of the thread used were being analyzed; Is this going to be a bore-fest? Actually, I am amazed at how much I liked this. It was so engaging. The use of landscape archaeology to illustrate the tapestry was very effective. It was world building for me, as if I was reading a regular fiction book.
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the story of Harold, Earl of Wessex and William the conqueror and events that lead up to the Battle of Hastings. We follow the the tapestry and analyze the people, symbols and possible places that are shown. Each of the scenes is shown with beautiful full color illustrations and pictures. As we are taken through the scenes in the tapestry we are guided through archaeological evidence that correlates with the scenes. This includes full sites such as Westminster, or artifacts like boats or reliquaries. Each is analyzed as it would have been experienced by the tapestries contemporaries. It was very interesting to see the artistic influences that the tapestry makers were using. For example, there is evidence that Trajan’s column in Rome was influential. There are also comparisons of architectural details from existing buildings to those that are stitched on the tapestry.
Trevor Rowley does such a wonderful job rebuilding the world of Harold and William that you get a sense of the changing landscape. This was my favorite part about the book. I loved how the landscape that is described is in transition between changing art, architecture, and cultural changes. For example, what roads were used on a certain part of the journey; The remnants of Roman roads or something earlier? What were the building materials used? Were they part of an old Roman fort? I could imagine crumbling Roman ruins and infrastructure that were being reused into new buildings and new artistic designs, which incidentally would become Romanesque.
By the end of the book I really felt like I was transported into the tapestry. At first what seemed like rather juvenile stitches in time, now seem complicated and well thought out. This is now part of my bucket list of things that I must see in person before I die.