Lesson 7) Europe
Welcome back, students! We're getting closer and closer to the end of your First Year and the close of your History of Magic studies for the term. In this lesson, we’ll be touching the tip of the iceberg with regards to early magical European communities, namely the Bell-Beaker Culture, ancient Rome, and ancient Greece. I told you you’d hear more about those civilizations last lesson!
The Bell-Beaker Culture is one of the few completely magical cultures. This long-lived culture took a while to develop and occupied the European Stone and Bronze Ages that started as early as 1.4 million years ago and finally ended around 1800 BCE. The people living at that time, while simple, have made their mark on history to be certain. Aside from their claim to fame of being completely magical, other things are quite interesting to magical academic circles, namely the development of writing (though not specific to the Bell-Beaker people), their curious style of pottery, and the construction of other stone structures which still spark the interest of magihistorians and anthropologists today.
Let’s take a deeper look at some of these interesting features. Firstly, as mentioned, around the same time as this culture's development, there was an enormous global breakthrough in the development of humankind: writing. While symbols were used before this time, the era in which the Bell-Beaker Culture flourished finally saw the transition to symbols becoming text rather than just pictures of events. These symbols are believed to have often been the shape used for wand movements of spells. Similarly, they used these shapes to pass messages and words.
Next is the matter of those “stone structures” I mentioned a moment ago. Have you guessed what intriguing European stone structures I might be referring to? If your thoughts drifted to stone circles in England, you’d be on the right track! Built in roughly 3,000 BCE, Stonehenge is actually one of many similar structures in Europe (and a few in Asia) created during this period of time, and presumably by those of the Bell-Beaker Culture. Most appear to have astronomical magical functions (including Stonehenge), but others’ uses are not quite as clear.
We’ll start by speaking specifically about Stonehenge – the most well-known of this group. This monolithic structure is quite unique, as it is one of the few that has ever been uncovered by Muggles, and certainly the one best known by them (as well as other reasons we will examine in a moment). This was certainly considered quite unfortunate during the enactment of the ISOS, but by the time the 1600s came around, this area was far too well-known to completely eradicate from Muggle memory. This is for many reasons: partially because it is one of the largest monolithic structures in this group, because it was the most useful, and because magical folk had completely forgotten its use (until it was rediscovered by Alphonse Mason in the late 1800s). All of these factors contributed to the heightened fixation on and fascination with the area.
The truth about Stonehenge (and other similar, though hidden, monoliths) is that it is an enormous conduit built to channel astronomical magic (magic from the Sun or reflected from the moon or planets) for various purposes. On certain days (in some cases, days that only come once in hundreds of years), the structure can aid in fertility and childbirth. On other days of astronomical alignments, it was used to strengthen warriors or enhance endurance. Currently, it is believed that these functions were also helped by potions and/or spells, but as there is a distinct lack of records, it is difficult to be certain.
In any case, these functions are rather typical of stone structures from this time period. However, as mentioned, Stonehenge is unique in that it has multiple uses (and may have more that we are not currently aware of). More importantly, this means that Stonehenge’s magic is more frequently active, in comparison to a stone structure that is only active on one certain day. Thus, there have been recent efforts by the MoM to keep Muggles from stumbling into it at inopportune times. They have made it nearly impossible to reach the center of the circle without Ministry clearance and application via official departments under the guise of the British Museum’s desire to protect a fragile heritage site.
Until the rediscovery of its magical uses in the 1800s, most witches and wizards believed the origins of the monument was due to a sad tale also known as “The Hag and the Misfortune of DeBolbec.” Interestingly, it bears some resemblance to a similar Muggle folktale, though the Devil – a frequent antagonist in Muggle myths – is replaced by a magical creature, and the series of events focuses less on Christianity and more on magic. The tale (at least the wizarding version of it), is as follows. It is not certain entirely where these characters came from, or if they were even real people, but it is generally believed that they are based on historical persons, though they likely did not live as long ago as 3,000 BCE…
Gerbert DeBolbec was a well-off wizard who lived near Salisbury Plain with his wife Josselyn. He practiced magic quite subtly, but strengthened his skills by affecting nature rather than typical inanimate objects. His lands were inordinately prosperous but not so much as to arouse alarm in surrounding townsmen.
One neighbor, a hag named Cedany, resented his fortune. As a hag, she was only able to produce rudimentary magic, but she often reached beyond her means with unpredictable results. Josselyn, in an attempt to improve relations between their households, visited Cedany with an offer to extend magical protection to her land as a gesture of goodwill, but Cedany took this as an insult. In a fit of anger, the hag turned the immediate surroundings to stone, including Josselyn. She fled upon realizing her mistake before Gerbert could return and discover her there. Later, upon deducing the whereabouts of his wife, Gerbert destroyed Cedany’s house and attempted to right the wrongs.
He was unable to tell which stone was his wife, so he loaded the large stones into a pack that he enchanted to carry far more than it could normally hold and went in search of Cedany for answers. One of the rocks -- incidentally, the one that was previously Josselyn -- fell out and landed in the River Avon, due to a loose seam on the bag. When he realized much later that one of the stones was missing, he wept tears that soon turned into tears of fury. He was never able to recover the stone.
He was able to find Cedany, however, and upon encountering the hag, he cast the most powerful spell he was capable of, trapping her in an enchanted circle of the stones before hurling the rest in an attempt to squash her. The stone that dealt her death blow ricocheted to land farther away, carrying with it the imprint of her body (this rock later became known as the “Hag’s Heel” or, among Muggles the “Friar’s Heel”). When the magnitude of the magical energy that he had spent caught up to him, the broken wizard died of exhaustion.
As mentioned, Muggles had their own version of this myth, often centering around Christian themes. Legends and folklore, such as this were often created when Muggles could find no other explanation for something’s existence (just as witches and wizards did with the tale of Cedany the hag). However, Muggle folklore had some very impactful results on the wizarding world far beyond simple stories. Some religions embraced the possibility of magic, while others, such as the prevailing European churches in the Common Era (CE) shunned magic as an explanation for unexplainable events. Scientific explanations were unacceptable as well, as many of that era’s most renowned scientists were often incorrectly labeled as sorcerers.
Christianity, particularly, began rapidly spreading across Europe in the early common era. As magical beings grew fearful of religious fallout that might draw attention to them, they decided to live far away from each other to avoid being noticed. Thus, most technological advances of that era were made by Muggles, which explains the deceleration of these advancements. Ultimately, the lack of tolerance was what contributed to the separation between the wizarding and Muggle societies, as the former could not risk revealing oneself. Thus, the International Statute of Secrecy was eventually formed.
Now onto another area of the world! So much to learn, so little time! Heading to a slightly different area of Europe, we now look at the Mediterranean, which was home to the ancient Greeks.
The Ancient Greeks had a unique relationship with their gods. They revered them and considered magical powers to be a gift from said gods. However, they also blamed the gods (and said magic-users) for all sorts of calamities, including natural disasters. Truth be told, not all magical users were kind to Muggles. Particularly in ancient Greece, the point of magic was generally seen as a tool to help yourself get what you wanted. Although, magic wasn’t used only for selfish purposes! Witches and wizards were also sometimes helpful towards the Muggles in the communities they lived in … though the intervention may not be exactly what the Muggle had wished for. We’ll go into much more detail about this phenomena in Year Three.
For now, we’ll look at a few important examples of magical interference during this time! First, in 477 BCE, Perikles began planning a magnificent building, now known as the Parthenon. The temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom. However, it was a massive undertaking and nobody knew how such a temple could be built. In truth, it wasn’t possible with that time period’s tools (at least in such a short period of time), so Perikles, a wizard, built parts of the Parthenon with magic in the night.
Another instance of magic blending into the culture of various empires during the Classical Antiquity (a period of time focused on the exploits of the Greco-Roman world) can be found in war. Many wars or battles were won due to magical blood and knowledge. One example was the Third Sacred War in which Phillip II of Macedonia, an emperor from magical lineage, observed the Persian’s military tactics under cover of concealment magic and used his newly acquired insights to strengthen Macedonia by giving them information to provide better use of magical attacks to the peril of the Greeks. By 336 BCE, when Phillip II died, Sparta and another small colony near Byzantium was all of Greece that remained free of Macedonian rule.
Alexander the Great, the slightly more famous son of Phillip II, shared his father’s gifts and used them along with his military knowledge to expand this empire to enormous proportions. However, due to his early death and following disagreements between his heirs, the empire was separated into parts. With this, Rome took the opportunity to conquer both Macedonia and Greece by 145 BCE, to become the dominant Mediterranean and world power, and thus our next topic for the day.
Similar to the ancient Greeks, the Romans were very deity-centered, but were less lenient about magic. Still, most magic generally went unnoticed by Muggles, as it was often explained away by myths or the intervention of the gods.
One prominent practitioner of the magical arts during this time was Romulus, one of the two founders of Rome. His claim to fame is perhaps not as straightforward as it seems, as his methods belong to a bit of a moral grey area. In order to populate this new civilization, he made love potions for the Roman men to use on the women of the neighboring Sabine tribe. It has been lost to time exactly how much of this was skilled potion work and how much of this was good negotiations, but it's certain that love potions were involved on some level. However, as many point out, these potions were unlikely to have been used for the remainder of the women’s lives (one main impracticality of love potions is their use long term), and so the debate remains as to just how much of the situation was magically created via bedazzling brews, though if love potions were indeed used this extensively, it casts a grim light on the tale.
Regardless of how it began and how influential it was in the formation of Rome, wizarding influence reign did not last forever. By 451 BCE, magic was curtailed by Roman law, and was further banned in 81 BCE, where love spells and poisons were no longer allowed. Laws against magic escalated and eventually culminated to completely banish Roman wizards and witches from the land.
Some attempted to propose to the wizards of that time that Muggles needed to learn their place beneath magical blood, certainly a tempting suggestion for those being driven from their homes. One such person was Senator Tiberius Gracchus. He was the first senatorial wizard to publicly claim superiority over the other non-magical Roman citizens. Unfortunately, his own cousin, Scipio Nasica, for his views and beliefs, clubbed him to death. As you are likely aware, this battle between superiority over Muggles and hiding from Muggles has not gone away even to this day.
On the map, you can see the Roman Empire at its peak. The red line demarcates the borders, starting from the west of the Caspian Sea to modern-day Spain and Portugal. In the midst of this domination, magical beings of different cultures came together by learning the empire’s language, Latin, and used it to share information. This trade of ideas led to the first meeting of the Consilium Imperii Magi (CIM or the Council of the Empire’s Wizards), which met in Rome in 132 CE.
Well, that was quite the assortment of information. I hope you were taking notes! Make sure you understand the material, and perhaps review your notes from this lesson, before attempting the assignment this week. As always, if you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to myself or the PAs before submitting. Just two more lessons to go, students! I’ll see you next week!